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.
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.