What can #TakeDownThatPost teach us about the nature of spiritual abuse? Thoughts from Boz Tchividjian and Patricia Evans.
I don’t know what the publishers of the Leadership Journal at Christianity Today hoped to accomplish when they published the article that initiated the #TakeDownThisPost campaign. In the wake of the problems, I hope that it demonstrates that abusers have a whole different psychology than the reasonably normal, reasonably mentally healthy person.
I only read just beyond the first paragraph of the piece, just long enough to confirm what I already knew about abusers. They operate under an entirely different psychology – one that is focused on self-gratification and self-interest. Those traits usually come along with self-aggrandizement, too.
The former youth pastor turned pedophile who was given a platform by Christianity Today showed this to us quite vividly, and the article gave him exactly what he wanted: attention. And sadly, it also manifested his sense of entitlement. All of the people in his world became objects which he could use as he saw fit. He believed that the world owed him whatever he felt he needed at any given time.
In a recent article at Rhymes with Religion which referenced the article, Boz Tchividjian noted how offenders minimize their abusive actions. (Note characteristic #5.) In addition to downplaying the nature of his criminal acts, the pedophile author shifted the focus back on to himself and away from the victim. This is another part of the psychology of an abuser. Here, we see their lack of empathy. What does it matter what happens to a mere object?
What good lessons can we take away from the mistake of giving this abuser a platform? Where do we start? I think that we must first look at how the abuser sees the world.
The Goal of a Relationship
Good people often make the mistake of assuming that others see things from a healthy perspective because they understand relationships to be cooperative and mutually beneficial. Abusers take advantage of this assumption which proves to be false in their case. They see relationships as an opportunity to get what they want, and that makes them a competition where one wins and another loses. Everything revolves around them and their needs, whatever those needs happen to be. They will do whatever it takes to win that competition.
Patricia Evans notes this disparagement about relationship goals in The Verbally Abusive Relationship (pp 37-46):
Inequality vs Equality
Competition vs Partnership
Manipulation vs Mutuality
Hostility vs Goodwill
Control vs Intimacy
Negation vs Validation
Until we realize the nature of an abusive person and how they view relationships, we will be vulnerable to their tactics. What a relationship means to us is not what it means to them. If the relationship is not about mutuality and intimacy, it becomes an adventure in manipulation and control.
But what mental gymnastics allow a manipulator to use people in such a way?
Attitude at the Heart of Spiritual Abuse
A previous post discussed how all people can easily lose perspective when we are habituated into victimhood by an abuser. The target in an abusive relationship starts to see themselves through the eyes of their abuser. They believe that they must – if they want to remain in that relationship. But exactly what does the abuser see?
Two things happen here, and I believe that Jesus recognized them. In Matthew Chapter Nine, we are told that Jesus looked out on the crowds of people as went through the towns and villages, and He felt compassion for them. He recognized that they were helpless to help themselves. He also noted that they were harassed and cast down.
A closer look at the word that describes harassment (“rhipto”), explains the manner in which a person dispenses with trash. One throws it to the ground without any consideration for it. Is this not exactly how an abuser treats the people around them in their quest for self-gratification as they manifest their entitlement with lack of empathy? They are objects that have absolutely no real value that exist to serve their immediate needs.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)
The former youth pastor in the article treated the people around him as though they were objects that existed for his use. Their pain and their well-being paled in significance to his appetite for attention and pleasure. Without remorse for what he did, he rationalizes his actions, never considering why his actions were harmful. When we see precious people as objects with no worth, we can rationalize doing anything to them.
* * *
Have you ever felt like someone treated you as if you were an object, using you like one? Did they easily discard you?
Do you see this kind of dynamic at work in your church in the form of spiritual abuse? Is this phenomenon noted elsewhere in Scripture?
Can you look back on past experiences with an abusive person to identify in hindsight how they treated others as objects?
Have you treated people as a means to an end?
Photo credit: Adapted from 123rf.com.