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I was just asked if I could add my blog to No Longer Quivering, a site for people who have left and are speaking out against the Quiverfull movement and people who are interested in learning about such things. My blog will now be cross-posted under the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Blog Network. I guess this is sort of a big deal for me, particularly considering the role NLQ bloggers had in helping me understand my own story.

Being a researcher at heart, even in the middle of a meltdown, when I was hit by these scary and to me inexplicable symptoms (flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, concentration problems, a generally creeped-out on-edge feeling, and feeling compelled to avoid people for reasons that made no sense even to me), I started googling late into the night (and early into the morning) for answers. I finally typed in “overcoming childhood abuse,” not even mentally sure that what had happened to me qualified as “legitimate” abuse, with all the levels of doubt and denial that were in between me and the past. I quickly discovered that that’s what this was, and I ended up making a counseling appointment where I was told I had PTSD. I didn’t accept that either (yeah, authority issues), until with more research, I realized that yes, it was true. I did.

It was through trying to solve this issue, find others like me (hopefully ones with good advice and happy outcomes), that I googled “homeschooling and child abuse.” I came across the NLQ site, Chandra’s posts, and then I looked at some other posts, Melissa’s, then Vyckie’s story. I read it all with a lump in my throat. This was exactly what had happened to me. How? People were talking about spiritual abuse. Had I been spiritually abused? Was that a real thing? I had never even considered it because that would have meant considering spirituality itself, an off-limits topic in my mind.

I spent considerable time trying to wrap my head around all this information and getting to the point of where I decided to publicly tell my story, and can honestly say blogging about spiritual abuse is still never something I imagined myself doing.

As someone who considers myself agnostic, sees the idea of God as being a giant question mark, a blank I’m not too worried about filling in, writing about spirituality seems kind of hypocritical to me, like a virgin writing about sexual experience, or an old man writing about what it’s like to be a young girl, or a pastor writing about what it’s like to be Jesus. It is a topic that is sort of removed from my day to day life, and one that I still haven’t fully addressed or worked through I think.

The concept of spiritual abuse (or even emotional or verbal abuse) existing didn’t cross my mind growing up. It was the physical abuse, material neglect, and the educational and medical neglect that I was primarily concerned with. All of those issues had a spiritual component though. It was because the spiritual aspect of life took up all the room, the fact that everything was seen as spiritual, that made life pretty dangerous sometimes and often at least generally unpleasant and sad for the physical side.

Few people knew that I had stopped believing in God at age 11 or that I’d been repeatedly told I was on a “pathway to hell” after ill-advisedly sharing my new perspective on religion with my mother. If I did mention it to anyone, I turned it into some sort of a pastor’s daughter joke. Deep down it wasn’t funny though.

I once walked out of a high school play about the garden of Eden that my then boyfriend, now husband, had invited me to. Shaking with rage, I explained to him how not only was the dialogue crappy, but in this version Eve was wholly blamed for the fall, and how inaccurate and anti-woman it was. He just looked confused. I had never talked about how attending funerals or weddings or services where I’d hear someone preach was a weirdly nerve-wracking experience for me, that even people inviting me to church or questioning my beliefs made me very uncomfortable. When my mother-in-law invited me to go see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” movie, the only possible answer was no.

I didn’t want to explain that there had been a spiritual component to me being dragged across the floor by my hair (headship, disobedience), or having my butt and legs covered in welts from an old leather belt, or living in fear of the red stick (spare the rod, hate your child). I didn’t like to discuss the fact that my siblings and I didn’t have medical or dental care before I turned 17 (trust in the Lord with all things), or that the medical neglect had started when I, the firstborn of my mother’s 9 children, had almost died due to an unexpected breech birth at home, no prenatal care, and unlicensed “birth assistants” from church rather than real midwives. I didn’t want to recall how all childhood injuries and illnesses I had, including a hernia, a broken tooth, and a concussion, were responded to with only “home remedies” and prayer. I didn’t mention how scary it was to be an 8 year old, watching my dehydrated little brother’s eyes roll back in his head, knowing “laying on of hands” is all he would get and if he died of the flu it would have been seen as “God’s will.”

My parents said it was all in the bible, that I’d come to understand. So I read the bible and saw a lot worse things happening, genocide, rape, war, women and children treated as chattel. I told my parents the bible was barbaric and disgusting, like them. I rejected the idea of submission or having some burden due to the sin of Eve. I bluntly said that girls should not be forced to constantly care for their younger siblings just because their parents didn’t properly understand birth control or abstinence. I even *gasp* told my Dad to quit loafing and go put his own cup in the sink. Because of this, and my penchant for responding to abuse with explosive violent anger (using your fists is solely a manly thing apparently), I was viewed as somehow not feminine, not desirable or womanly or any of the things I should be. My parents even told me no man would want to marry me, that because I rejected their ideas that guys too would reject me and go find other, more pleasing, girls. This hurt because, like most people, more than anything I wanted to find love, to feel I was desirable and worthy of love.

The spiritual side of me got put in a trunk with mothballs. There was no other option, really. Spirituality, faith, was just as much a tool for my parents to control and hurt me as the belt or the red stick, or being put “on restriction.” It was safer for it not to exist at all. So I grew up without feeling any sense of faith, without praying, without imagining that there was any higher power, that there was anyone there for me except the real people that I knew, and they weren’t there as often as I needed them, leaving me largely alone with my troubles, ultimately needing to solve them myself. I figure some people would describe this as incredibly sad. Others would say it’s accurate. My take? Heck if I know.

When I stopped believing at such a tender age, I never really revisited it. Well, I did a few times, going to church with friends as a teen, but I wouldn’t attend more than once after learning the same bible verses used to cause pain in my family were blithely being recited or referred to in this church, often in what seemed to be a similar context. This experience would make me so uncomfortable that it only reinforced not questioning or revising my stance. How could I feel safe? It was better to make an excuse and not even approach it, not have my friends think less of me or feel hurt when I said I didn’t want to go back to their church. How could I not like church? Was it because I didn’t respect their choices? Was it because my soul wasn’t right?

For a while I just wished religion didn’t exist. Then nobody would inquire about my “church home,” or invite me to bible study with virgin margaritas, or ask if my family was Catholic. My favorite answer for that last one, before I knew Quiverfull was the name for it: “No, they’re Nondenominational bordering on Southern Baptist with a little Pentecostal and Christian Scientist thrown in.”

My distaste wasn’t just confined to Christianity either. I was pretty rude and dismissive to a (slightly annoying) cousin-in-law who was into Wicca. When a very nice Jewish friend invited me to a Passover Seder, I found the beef brisket and matzo ball soup to be amazing culinary delights (the gefilte fish slightly less so) and the traditions very moving, but I still got a lump in my throat when it was my turn to read about Moses from the Haggadah. When Muslim friends of mine invited me to an Eid al-Adha dinner honoring the day Abraham didn’t kill Isaac, I brought a bottle of sparkling grape juice and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out and eating Egyptian macaroni bechamel casserole, fragrant Afghan rice, and spicy Pakistani mutton biryani, but secretly wished we were celebrating something that hadn’t been used as a veiled threat against me by my parents growing up.

Apparently I’ve always had low-grade PTSD symptoms that could be triggered by religious activities even though to me that was just my normal baseline level. I guess in many ways these issues also manifested as post-traumatic resilience. I had this intensity that helped me learn and remember, a semi-photographic memory, an obsession with literature and the written word, a fascination with learning what made people tick, with picking out errors in an argument. I had a little “bullshit alarm” that beeped in my head. I was also lucky (or perhaps somehow blessed). The few opportunities I had to make things better I took and those turned into more opportunities. It wasn’t because I was being intentionally strategic either, rather that I was truly excited about learning and positive human interaction. I intellectualized things though, I put a wall up, and that wall is definitely still there. So today I am an un-spiritual person writing about spiritual abuse.

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17 thoughts on “Was I Spiritually Abused?

  1. Regarding the Abraham not killing Isaac story; I have a hypothesis and since I identify as a Christian, I might get crap for this but I don’t give a rat’s ass. That story is always shoved down our throats as a good little patriarch is obedient story but what if it wasn’t.

    I believe God puts basic right from wrong in our hearts (perhaps someday, we will discover that it is encoded in our DNA somewhere but people know basic right from wrong and Abraham knew it wouldn’t be right to kill a child. What if God was looking for the moment human beings evolved to the point where they would get told by God to do something they and God knew was wrong and said in return (instead of killing the kid) God, if you want a human sacrifice you’re either going to do it yourself or take me instead.”

    What if God was looking for a patriarch who actually grew a set and wouldn’t resort to doing something wrong period.

    Now, that would have been cause to celebrate.

    Wouldn’t that be a choice example for parents to follow.

    • What if God was looking for a patriarch who actually grew a set and wouldn’t resort to doing something wrong period.

      That actually sounds very Jewish. I remember Rabbi Boteach’s old blog from years ago, where he said a major difference between Judaism and the other two Abrahamic faiths is that Islam is very much into Submission to God in all things, Christianity somewhat, but Judaism is full of stories of “patriarchs who actually grew a set” — Abraham latter haggling God down to sparing Sodom & Gomorrah if He found “a hundred righteous men… how about fifty… how about twenty… how about TEN?”, Jacob having a literal knock-down-drag-out with God (and getting his leg broken in the process), and how God seemed to like their determination and spunk.

      • “God likes me better” does seem to be a very Jewish refrain, but the other faiths say it, too. They each insist they’re the favorite child by dint of whatever characteristics they already admire in themselves. God (or “reality,” if you’re an atheist) is like the narcissistic mirror that never goes away, reaffirming whatever you already believe about yourself. Too bad so many of us already believe we suck…but using the Word of God to confirm that *anybody* sucks is a pretty good description of spiritual abuse.

  2. Learning how to separate religion from spirituality made a tremendous difference in my life. Religion and spirituality are two very different things. I often speak about spiritual abuse as well because I have found that many of the dogmatic teachings of religion cause trauma to the human spirit. For me spirit is synonymous with energy and spirituality is our connection to our true self. In this awareness my spirit is now free from any dogmatic control and I have healed the trauma that resulted from any abuse. I am now free to be all that is truly me and I have a deeply loving and connected relationship with the whole of who I am.

  3. Gah. I’ve been reading through your blog for the last half hour. And I like your writing, your thoughts, and consequently, you. Thank you for sharing this stuff with the internet. It’s helping me think through some issues right now, and I’m sure it has and will continue to provide much needed solidarity for those in, or recovering from, situations similar to those you have experienced.

    • Hi Kait,

      Thank you for such a nice note. :) That is what I so hope to do, and I wish you well as you sort through the layers of your own experience. For me, the initial hard look was the most difficult and it seemed like everything I read was triggering, and although it took more time than I expected, it has definitely evened out over time and left me feeling more “me.”

  4. It is obvious that you have been extremely hurt by your parents and others. As a parent who got caught up in the homeschool frenzy of doing everything right, my heart hurts for you. Often times because we mean well and want our kids to turn out right we put our trust in doing what we think is right instead of living by God’s higher law of love. Love is the dominate theme of Scripture but it is often missed because of pride. That results in homes that are ruled by legalism which only produces the fruit of hate and rejection. I am so grateful that we learned about God’s grace, were able to swallow our pride and apologize to our children. We now see them seek God because they love him and feel loved by him not because we “made” them. Oh, that others could walk that path and know the love that surpasses understanding.

    • Thanks for your kind note Pat. I know that the pull of legalism is not in actually living by harsh edicts that twist and contort a family, but in the “follow our system and your life will be great” idea that pulls people in. My parents got sucked in when they were young and idealistic and I think it ultimately hurt them more than it did me and my siblings. It turned them into something they should not have been and, like you said, with this frenzied state that left no room for error everything turned to error, but they were too wrapped up in it to see it. As time goes on my compassion for them has grown though. They too deserved better. I speak out so that others can consider the situation and use it to make different decisions. As far as a sense of faith, I don’t know where my journey will take me but I know that I am on one.

      • *hugs* if you want them. Your story sounds a lot like mine, minus the excessive physical abuse – my dad always preferred explosive shouting and cutting words and cold disapproval to enforce his authority which he thought should be instant and complete. No questions, no discussion or argument, no thinking unless you agreed with him. Homeschooling was miserable because he laid down the law about what we could teach and when, but mostly because we all lived in fear of making him angry, which led to things getting worse, as we could see when my mom did it – she got slapped down, not physically that I remember, but the spiritual, emotion and verbal was bad enough already.

        I had a bad enough experience that I ended up vehemently rejecting faith for awhile, and then I flirted with Wicca or something similiar, but eventually I’ve come around to considering myself a Christian again -a gay liberal feminist progressive Chrisitian, however, and there are days when I feel the need to point out the difference, and other days when I wonder if staying agnostic wouldn’t have been better. :) I agree it’s always a journey, and we never quite know where we will end up! <3

  5. When rape/abuse/incest is reported & the minister’s simply reply is, “You must be foregiving.” – it’s spiritual abuse. When in the hospital & my brother’s arm is broke, but may require surgery – more than a simple cast – & mom begs the doctor to set it – because to say ‘no’ to surgery may mean losing her son & her two daughters by neglecting their care – that’s spiritual abuse. When the minister gives one of his strong sermons that “the church” is in desperate straights financially and we need to give all that we can & we have $20 to our name – that’s it – and we give every cent – & because it’s a Holy Day & mom wonders what she’s going to feed her family when she gets home — goes to the kitchen area – and scoops up left-overs from the covered dished Holy Day – so she’ll have food for us that night – that’s spiritual abuse! When the rapist/abuser is allowed to continue living in the home, because “we all make mistakes” – so that he can continue to abuse – to rape – the beat with a horse whip that is two straps of leather sewn together with a piece of flat steel held inside – leaving bruises – welts – that’s spiritual abuse. It’s also called sexual abuse – physically abuse – emotional abuse – and spiritual abuse. I think that pretty much covers about every category. How do I know all this? That was my life.

  6. As the first born son of a catholic home, I can see reflections of what you experienced in my own childhood and those of my 3 siblings.. Though I was never denied health care, the severe discipline, the emotional, spiritual and mental distress endured was immense. I am a 40 yr old man whose mindset is fighting against the conditioning my mind went though back then. When I was confirmed @ the age of 12, I took the name of Israel for my middle name. It’s meaning being “He struggles with God”. That was and is me. I have never doubted the existence of God or his love. I have however doubted and challenged the God that people have presented from twisting the bible. It’s a daily relationship, where I seek Him and He reveals Himself to me.Keep on the Journey. Press on reading and questioning the bible for yourself. In time you will see God, the real one.The biggest step is accepting that God exists, then It’s time to find out who he is and not what people say he is.(including me). Look for Him and He will find you.

  7. Your journey has touched a very deep part of me. You have used similar phrases to ones that I have used and described in detail so many experiences that I have had!! My family were not involved in anything like what you describe and I have arrived at a different place all these years down the road but the experiences are so similar! When I reflect on spirituality I am deeply grateful for the path my life has taken…reading your story has made me even more profoundly grateful! I admire your courage and honesty and am really glad to have stumbled on to this blog!!

  8. Pingback: Being Labeled “Anti-Christian” for Speaking Out | Becoming Worldly

  9. Pingback: Crosspost: Was I Spiritually Abused? | H • A

  10. I was raised as a Catholic by a VERY loving (and still faithful) mom. I’ve recently been leaning towards atheism as my view of God and your blog is pushing me further that way. I see absolutely no good in the world (none, zero, zip) coming from the Bible, the Torah, or the Quran.

    I’m glad you got out of the hell you were living and found the strength and inspiration to write this blog.

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