Julie Anne's Personal Stories, Learn to Discern, Personal Stories, Recovery Process, Spiritual Abuse, SPIRITUAL ABUSE RECOVERY

The Bully: Familiar Feelings, Completely Different Environment

Spiritual abuse, bullies, connections, gaslighting


A few weeks ago, I started Spring term at college. The professor has a PhD in her field, and told us she’s been teaching from high school level to grad school since the 80s.  READ: she’s no spring chicken and has a lot of classroom experience. As the days continued, I listened and observed the interactions between her and the students. Something was not right. This instructor was not putting students’ education first. She spoke in circles, saying one thing, then denying ever saying it. This is referred to as gas-lighting, wherein, people end up doubting their own reality. I know I heard her say so-and-so, but then she was denied it.  Say what?

She gave us a 4-page, single-space class policy guidelines which were the most complicated set of guidelines I’ve ever seen since going back to school (now 2 years). Her words conflicted with the policy guidelines, so that, in turn, left students having even more questions.

FullSizeRender (1)When students asked for clarification on her assignments, we were the ones at fault, even though her instructions were not clear. Which instructions were we supposed to go by, her written policies, or the instructions she explained in class? We could not win. And she belittled us when we gave wrong answers, asking, “Didn’t you read the policy guidelines? That was assigned to you!”

When she asked a question, she had a very specific answer in mind. One time she asked what consists of a concluding paragraph. I mentioned that it sometimes includes a brief summary. She nearly interrupted me exclaiming, “NO! NO! NO!,” and told the class, “don’t ever, EVER, E.V.E.R say that the conclusion has a summary. I don’t ever allow my students to say that.”  Mind you, this was in the first week of school. I’m tough skinned. In my head, I’m sure I thought something like, “man, she needs to take a chill pill,” but I could tell my classmates were shocked at her demeaning response to me.

She regularly put students on the spot who made mistakes, humiliating them publicly. Once, she chewed out a student who mistakenly came into our class while we were taking an exam. A classmate later blurted out, “I’m sure that didn’t make her feel too good.”

I could go on to tell you about the day I got kicked out of class, that I spoke with the dean two times, and also spoke with the Title IX rep, the VP of Instruction, but I think you get the idea.  This was clearly a situation in which my professor used her position of authority to abuse, intimidate, and control. She sabotaged the success of her students by not making assignments clear, by changing rules, etc. Every day became a day of: what is she going to do next, and how is she going to humiliate me, rather than, what am I going to learn?

Interestingly, I can think of a few students who did not get the same treatment by her. Those who questioned her, asked for clarification, usually were treated badly. However, if you answered correctly, you were highly praised. You were on her team. She engaged you personally, made small talk with you.

So much of this situation reminded me of similar feelings at Beaverton Grace Bible Church with Chuck O’Neal. Some of us felt the abuse, others didn’t. We were held emotionally captive in that church. We sometimes thought we were imagining it. No godly man would treat us this way. But many of us knew something was not quite right – our eyes connected, but rarely did anyone say anything, and if we did, it was in complete privacy. Yet there were those who sat in the pews with their eyes and hearts glued to him. He could say no wrong. He intimately connected with them. They could not or chose not to hear what he was really saying or how he treated people.

We were all affected, whether she was dealing with us personally or not.

This is week 4. I dropped the class yesterday. I gave it my best shot. I went up the proper channels in reporting her. Hopefully, I will get my money back for the tuition, but the emotional stress of dealing with her behavior interfered with me being able to do my best work. The atmosphere was toxic and harmful to anyone who entered that room. We were all affected, whether she was dealing with us personally or not.

I had gone to this class for three weeks and spent hours doing the required homework. Part of me wanted to continue the class because I had put in so much time and effort. I also didn’t want my degree to get set back because of dropping this class, so that weighed on me. However, the thing that bothered me the most was the fact we all had paid good money to attend this class and what we were receiving was bullying and abuse. I was upset that no matter what my decision was, others would still be there enduring her bully ways.

One good thing about this experience is that I was able to identify it immediately. I also discussed it with other students who thought they were the only ones who saw it. This kind of discussion was good: we validated each other. When I was in my abusive church, the no-gossip rule was so strongly enforced that we were left to questioning ourselves and sometimes dismissed real abuse because “it can’t really be this bad, can it?”

In the end, I decided that the best thing I could do for the school is to vote with my feet (withdraw from the class) write a formal complaint, and say that this woman does not represent the institution that I have come to greatly respect. I will tell them that no student should have to pay to be bullied and belittled in a college environment; and I hope they will take measures to ensure that the school remains one of integrity, high academic excellence, and respect for their students.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I now realize how triggering this experience has been for me. It brought me right back to that church environment, the feelings of knowing we were being mistreated, and having few options to deal with it. Whether I liked it or not, I was put in a position of making a choice that would be either emotionally or financially costly. The church experience was costly as well, in many ways.

Well, I’ve done all that I can do at this point. I need to wipe my hands and move on, but whew, I tell you, that really messed with my head for a bit.  I will be sure to leave a RateMyProfessor.com review.  I hope she’s not the suing type 😉

If you’ve experienced spiritual abuse, have you also dealt with other situations outside of church that take you back to that bad experience? Having experienced spiritual abuse, were you better able to handle it? Was it as painful or did you feel you had more options this time?  I’d love to read your experiences.





43 thoughts on “The Bully: Familiar Feelings, Completely Different Environment”

  1. A whole class I was in did the same thing with a math professor who’d spend a lot of time telling senior math majors they had no business in his class, never seemed to have bathed, and would spent office hours collecting cans and bottles from empty classrooms–they’re worth a dime in MI. Total piece of work who was protected by tenure and a reputation for research, sad to say, and we couldn’t drop because if we dropped his class, we didn’t graduate.

    He might not have that anymore, though. I looked him up, and he’s teaching freshman level courses, which is about the 8th level of Hell for a professor who’s been eminent in research. Serves him right.

    Really, I think the big deal is the same as what you see in some churches–it takes a LOT to get the university to revoke tenure or a church a pastorate, and some people take that and run with it. Just like a lot of politicians, for that matter. Sometimes I think that in our major institutions, we’re actually preferring narcissists these days.


  2. If you are at a public college, like a community college, you may want to file a complaint with the Board of Trustees (in my state they’re elected to public office).
    You’re a voter and a tax payer.


  3. I have to say that the professors in my major are the tops. That’s probably why the contrast was so noticeable.

    This professor is on contract and I suspect that her contract won’t be renewed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I also discussed it with other students who thought they were the only ones who saw it.” You gave your fellow students the best gift possible, JA: you showed them they are not imagining things, not too ignorant to understand the assignments, and not alone.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. “I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost… I am helpless.
    It isn’t my fault.
    It takes forever to find a way out.

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don’t see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can’t believe I am in the same place.
    But, it isn’t my fault.
    It still takes me a long time to get out.

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I see it is there.
    I still fall in. It’s a habit.
    My eyes are open.
    I know where I am.
    It is my fault. I get out immediately.

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.

    I walk down another street.”

    ― Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Maybe there could be some sort of campaign to get the professor replaced mid-term. As a minimum this might increase the chances her contract will not be renewed. Of course, those who remain in the class, for whatever reason, would have to participate anonymously.

    Plus, I wonder why a PhD who has been around since the 80’s isn’t tenured somewhere. Perhaps some sleuthing is in order? While the professor seems to be the sort who might be impervious to embarrassment, educational institutions tend to prefer to avoid the publicity associated with scandal, including scandal attached to faculty and staff.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This professor thinks too highly of herself. There’s always someone else who can teach the class.

    I’m sure it was refreshing to be able to figure it out right away and to be able to talk about it to others. Unfortunately, you got the raw end of the deal by having to drop out and she gets to continue to teach to the end of the term. I hope this doesn’t set you back too much on getting your degree in the time that you want.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gary – this person is on contract. So hopefully, they will not renew it. I can tell they took me seriously, another professor sat in on the class a couple of days ago. Of course, she was on better behavior. I just got a phone call and have a meeting with the dean and the VP of instruction. I’m glad they have taken my concerns seriously.

    Through this process, I researched conduct rules and also student rights. If she was singling out only women or a certain race, then I could have made a Title IX complaint and the school would be obligated to notify the government and investigate. But those investigations only apply to specific groups of people who are singled out. In my case, it’s a he said/she said situation and you just hope that you are believed. I think they believed me.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. JA, I am sorry you got stuck with such an awful person as a teacher. It seems like there’s one at every school.


  10. Thank you for writing this. I sent it to my 15 year old who has the same Eng Lit teacher! The description you used were exactly the same!

    To do this to teens who really have no recourse and don’t understand the bigger picture of sociopathy is cruel. No matter what you tell some teens about such a character flaw, they see themselves as at fault. They have tried everything they know to understand, folliw directions never realizing there is nothing they can do. And they were playing into her sociopathy by trying to please! Not to mention grading is much more subjective in English Lit.

    These bully types relish the power in their little kingdom and pit students against each other. If you try and deal with them, they suddenly become the victim.

    They are usually not worth the effort unless enough people have been complaining. The best thing is to warn others.

    What an opportunity missed to teach and add richness to people’s lives.


  11. JA, in the 80’s when I was a grad student at Notre Dame, there was a parking lot security guard who was on a power trip. This may be a minor problem, but he was rude obnoxious and made life miserable for the students. I had a run in with him but the difference was I was a 28 year old married woman, not a teenager. When I asked for his name, he refused.
    Long story short. I went to the head of security and told him of my experience. I threw in that maybe he was having a bad day, but wanted to be on file if there had been other complaints. He looked me in the eye and said, “Please write me a letter and include all your information,” Shortly after, he was gone and replaced with a very nice man.
    I know this isn’t an important situation, but I think it shows that as adults, we do need to look around and see if the less powerful are being harmed. As we get older, I think we develop more skills to confront bullies! I know the other students were glad that JA used her knowledge to defend them as well as herself!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. If you try and deal with them, they suddenly become the victim.

    Oh boy, this is so true in my situation. One time in class, two students caught her giving wrong information and called her on it. She got in defensive mode and said something like, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m only human, I make mistakes, I’m not going to be perfect, no one is perfect, you know, it would be nice if you would give me some room to make error.”

    So, it was really a sorry, not sorry, wherein she ended up blaming us for not allowing her to make a mistake. It was such a trivial thing, too. So, in her pseudo apology, she heaped another pile of guilt on the students, probably convincing some to never ever ever point out where she was wrong. What a control freak!


  13. Ann, JA and others–What I notice most in this comment exchange so far is that ADULTS who are self aware and self confident are able to act with mature decisiveness in abuse situations. Spiritual abuse seems to be largely successful when the victims are immature believers and also when mature believers have had their maturity in the Lord denied and denigrated by false doctrine. So it is not only victims who need to be informed about the dynamics of spiritual abuse but it should also be an important educational tool for everyone so that they can recognize it when the coils of abuse start constricting one’s life. Some say this is best done by becoming saturated by the truth, somewhat like the story of treasury agents focusing on the real currency so that the counterfeit is clearly evident. This is very good practice, but I also believe that the symptoms of an unhealthy spiritual environment need to be made commonly known, much as a medical student must have knowledge of a wide variety of negative signs to correctly diagnose disease. There needs to be an understanding that every believer is vulnerable to deception just as every human is vulnerable to infection. I am just so sorrowful that many earnest and trusting Christians fall for twisted doctrines. The New Testament has so many warnings and admonitions for us all that we need to become ADULTS in our Christian understanding. Truth and humility go hand in hand. May we all grow up in the Lord!!


  14. JA,

    Well, there’s an example of a woman who should remain silent. 🙂

    I think you had the upper hand because she had written down her policies. You could have asked her if it was alright to record her lectures etc., and if she said yes, you have your evidence, if she said no, you simply follow her written instructions. If she broke her own written policies, you take to the dean that you complied with her established requirements, pass the class and move on.

    Here is an observed experience. I had a friend in school that got all A’s, he was smart, so was I, but the thing that he excelled at was reading the teacher. He would read the teacher in what seemed like a few minutes, then he would only give the teacher what they wanted. The result was he did less work than everyone and ended up with an A.


  15. NancyJane, Amen, we are all vulnerable to deception! That is why I believe it is important to always be like the Bereans who didn’t shy away from questioning their leaders. Unfortunately many Christian communities seem to consider “obedience to authority” as the emphasis of the Bible. JA was able to show her younger (?) classmates how to deal with an abusive authority in a mature, effective manner. No amount of education, titles, or money is an excuse to be abusive to others!!!


  16. JA – You’re doing the right thing, the nice thing is a nontraditional student has a lot more wisdom than traditional undergrads and has learned enough not to put up with a disturbed prof’s nonsense. There are some profs who I’ve told my daughter, who’s a junior here “Drop the danged class as of yesterday!” One manchild teaching creative writing here told students the first week to stand up in class and “express their inner being”. It didn’t take long before a frat boy stood up and shouted the F-bomb, at which point the young fool prof gushed at him for expressing the inner man and before long much of the class was standing up shouting various and sundry colorful obscenities. We’re not prudes, but that was not an education, just an immature 30-something boy with a mediocre education and an instructor’s contract desperately trying to be cool. She dropped and never looked back, found an adult-in-the-room from whom to take creative writing.


  17. By the way, if her policies conflict with those of the university, and it’s a state university, then her actions can run afoul of the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, specifically procedural due process.


  18. Yup, I’m going to do that. I’m also going to print out reviews at RateMyProfessor from another college that I hadn’t seen before. Some of the reviews say exactly what my complaints have been, and these reviews are from 2005/6!!


  19. “If you’ve experienced spiritual abuse, have you also dealt with other situations outside of church that take you back to that bad experience?”

    Last year in my ‘christian’ workplace, a young woman approached me (I was the office manager) to talk about the bullying behaviour she was experiencing from her colleague. The things she related to me were entirely credible, and in fact were exactly the same sort of behaviour I had been subjected to by this person some years previously.

    When I tried to deal with the situation (as my job required), my boss stepped in and shouted me down making wild accusations and forbidding me to be involved in the process. I’m sure it was a complete co-incidence that the bully was a close friend of his… NOT!

    The victim was traumatised by her colleague, and then by her boss. I stood up to this man, who is himself a bully who likes to play god, and got attacked for doing so. But it was so similar to the behaviour I’d experienced in the institutional church, I was able to recognise it and understand that we would find no justice in that place, and so I resigned. In my husband’s words, “We know where this train is headed, we’ve ridden it before. Let’s get off here!”


  20. Julie Anne,
    Thankful that you chose, by your own initiative and your own conscience, to leave that toxic learning environment. A student, sitting under this type of insecure unstable personality type, cannot actually learn in a healthy way, the knowledge required for long lasting skills required to function in that area of study. You deserve so much more that what you were exposed to and I pray our LORD will show you another way to receive and achieve.

    Thank-you for your comment. I too, worked in what appeared as a Christian(?) environment where the shop owner literally played the cd’s of Joyce Meyers and Paula White for me while I worked. She never asked me if I would like to hear these women preachers (I call them wolfettes in sheep’s clothing) while I worked alone in the small room, so there was no say in the matter. Guess I was her ‘pet religious project’ whom she assumed was unsaved due to the fact I did not listen to the garbage on Trinity Broadcasting Network.

    I had to quit a month later due to the insanity of the toxic religious environment that was not in the least Christian, according to Biblical standards. No one, I mean, no one, not even my precious pets, should be forced to listen to Paula or Joyce!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Wow, Katy, that sort of attitude sounds so familiar! I endured that type of religious bullying at work for 8 years. So glad to hear that you got out! (And so glad that I eventually did, too!!!)


  22. Julie Anne–I hope you do a post on this guy and his seminar. Do these people think we just flippantly leave? Do they think it is a temporary rough spot? Sometimes I have to make myself believe that God is here on a daily basis.


  23. Irene, when we read articles like Kirk’s, we tend to read it through the lens of how an abused wife would consider his words. When he is speaking/writing, I think that is the furthest thing from his mind. I see the same thing happening with pastors when they preach. They forget that abused women are listening to every word, trying to find hope for their situation, trying to be godly because they are so emotionally spent, they sometimes rely on spiritual leaders as the last word for their situation. Sadly, I think this leaves women in a worse place.

    I sure wish Kirk and pastors would let us know when they are talking about normal marriages vs abusive marriages. It would really help.


  24. @LivingLiminal:

    When I tried to deal with the situation (as my job required), my boss stepped in and shouted me down making wild accusations and forbidding me to be involved in the process. I’m sure it was a complete co-incidence that the bully was a close friend of his…

    i.e. the bully had GROOMED the boss.

    I remember reading somewhere that some companies deliberately hire sociopaths for middle-management positions because “They Get Things Done”. Plus they are SO obedient and and SO eager-to-please the Big Bosses.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. HUG, you nailed it. Someone completely outside the situation asked if these two were sleeping together. My response was that the relationship would have been healthier if they had been 😛


  26. HUG, I’ve suspected for a while that companies inadvertently favor “bad people persons” for management positions. More or less, they favor the guys working 60+ hours per week–hard to avoid neglecting loved ones when you’re doing this!

    In another case, a company I interviewed with wanted, it appeared, something called the “Achiever” mindset–that’s the type that is never happier than when working a lot of hours and getting a lot of projects. The down side is that, again, you get people who are happy being away from those they love for long times.

    So in both cases, yes, you’re preferring those who neglect other people for positions. One interesting thing as well is that they do a LOT of work, but not always WELL. And so that company I interviewed with was targeted by tort lawyers because of defects in the products I was hoping to help make. Oops.


  27. But it was so similar to the behaviour I’d experienced in the institutional church, I was able to recognise it and understand that we would find no justice in that place, and so I resigned. In my husband’s words, “We know where this train is headed, we’ve ridden it before. Let’s get off here!”

    Excactly. It’s difficult to dismiss those familiar feelings when you know someone is trying to control you with their bully behavior.

    Thanks, livingliminal, for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. A student, sitting under this type of insecure unstable personality type, cannot actually learn in a healthy way, the knowledge required for long lasting skills required to function in that area of study.

    I had many thoughts about why I chose to leave.

    1) I wanted to make a clear statement to the school that I would not tolerate abuse and also that I expected them not to tolerate abuse.

    2) I wanted to leave a clear message to the students that this professor is an abuser and they have choices, too.

    3) I found myself defaulting to “defend the sheep,” which I will always default to, but this is not what I am paying the $$ for.

    4) The distraction of observing her bully behavior was interfering with my learning environment. I’m always fascinated by observing behaviors, but this is not the time, nor the place.

    5) I love to write and actually want to learn how to be a better writer. I haven’t learned anything new/beneficial from this very experienced professor.


  29. livingliminal,

    You are a tougher nut than me with more endurance for sure! So glad you shared and even more THANKFUL you are out of there! The ‘scape sheep’ need to stay healthy, well, and experience joy in life too all the while living for Jesus.

    I read somewhere, maybe it was on this site, but if you can’t stomach the toxic atmosphere, vote with your feet and leave!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. That anonymous is Katy…..not too accomplished at the computer.

    “I love to write and actually want to learn how to be a better writer. I haven’t learned anything new/beneficial from this very experienced professor.”

    Good point, Julie Anne, does not a great teacher desire to see their students excel under their instruction and supervision? And in instances where the student excels above and beyond the teacher, would this not generate even more excitement for the gifted teacher, realizing deep with their soul, that they had a significant part in nurturing another human beings talents and gifts?


  31. Irene, when we read articles like Kirk’s, we tend to read it through the lens of how an abused wife would consider his words. When he is speaking/writing, I think that is the furthest thing from his mind.

    I tend to agree. I think he’s probably well meaning (hopefully that’s not just because I had a long left behind (hee) crush on him in elementary! But still. He doesn’t think through all the scenarios and he gives this breezy advice. It’s annoying.


  32. I’m sorry you went through all that and wasted your money on that class. I agree the professor seems unprofessional in her work perhaps she has some personal issues of her own that is affecting her work, not that is any excuse for her treatment of her pupils. You did the right thing reporting her actions and I guess all you can do now is pray that action is taken that is fair and just. You can also pray for the professor hoping she deals with her problems so she can see what she is doing wrong and hopefully changes although that is up to her alone. I haven’t had any experience of this type of abuse but I have read more about spiritual abuse by these extreme pastors and churches. I have even heard some of these so-called pastors on the youtube with their often racist, chauvinistic, and other ignorant sermons. I had read comments from survivors of these toxic churches and preachers and the stories are quite sad. I pray for anyone who had to endure any type of abuse of someone in authority be it spiritual abuse or in college like in your case. God Bless.


  33. Gracious hostess, I don’t know what the mood of your school is, but it strikes me that if I were a dean figuring out whether to retain or reject a professor, I’d most value a packet of information that demonstrated the professor’s modus operandi was not conducive to teaching the subject at hand. The old reviews of this professor would come in handy, and since we’re talking about writing, it strikes me that a comparison to known, authoritative style manuals in the type of writing you’re doing would come in handy.

    For that matter, even if your college is one where something like identity politics are more significant than the subject at hand, that’s the way I’d approach it–address the topic that should be on their minds even if that’s not the topic that actually is on their minds.

    Call me a dreamer or an idealist, it’s fair. :^)


  34. The more I hear of it in different circles, the more I see it is a human problem. We all seek value for ourselves and we all want to help those around us. However, at some point the idea of coming alongside someone to help them work themselves through something pales in comparison to the idea that we can use our superior wisdom and intellect to convince them. When that doesn’t work, then we seek to create a power system to make them heed our instruction.

    All of this is self-perpetuating. Your instructor may have thought years ago that she was going to dispense wisdom and the students were going to suck it up. When that didn’t go as planned, she realized that she had the ability to shift the power equation and use her position of authority to compel people to listen to her.

    I think that’s what happens when the church teaches about submission. There are a bunch of husbands out there who think they know best how to run the family. When the family starts falling apart, they shift from expecting people to defer to their superior wisdom to demanding obedience and wielding power. The same goes for elders. They get into that position because they think they have this wisdom and that they can make a positive change in the church, but when they speak, nothing changes. So, instead, they start picking on those who look like they need correction and demanding submission.

    I think that is the status quo story. I also think that there are people so broken that their whole life is focused on manipulating people to provide themselves gratification, and there are also people who don’t need to create an aura of false authority to convince people. They treat people with respect and those people are lifted by that respect to learn and succeed.

    That was a learning for me. I realized that I can’t respect others when I don’t respect myself, and it was too tempting when I was in that role of teacher to try and use it to make myself feel better, and when I didn’t feel better to start thinking that I somehow deserved the admiration of my students. Thankfully, before I got into ways I could subtly manipulate the class to provide me admiration, the classes were usually over.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Great points, Mark. There was one big clue she gave the first day of class that I tucked aside. She insisted that she be called Dr. ____. That struck me odd. I can understand older professors wanting to be called Professor ____, but to use the title, Dr. seemed overkill. I’ve been at this college 2 years and most of the professors are addressed by their first name.

    There are some pastors who refuse to be called by their fist names and will insist on Pastor ____. That is a clear indication of someone who wants to establish a strong power differential.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Anything that reminds me of that time period. Music, the way someone preaches, the tone, cant read the bible it reminds me of them it all sounds shaming and condemning.

    Liked by 1 person

Thanks for participating in the SSB community. Please be sure to leave a name/pseudonym (not "Anonymous"). Thx :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s