The Gift of Standing in the Trenches with a Survivor

 

 

***

“Being heard
is so close to being loved
that for the average person,
they are almost indistinguishable.”
― David Augsburger

The other day, a spiritual abuse survivor and friend I met last year in Moscow, Idaho, posted the following quote by Dr. Diane Langberg on her Facebook wall. Please read it slowly and carefully. Knowing and understanding this could be the very gift you use to help propel a survivor in a positive direction towards healing.

One characteristic of dealing with survivors of trauma is the repetitious nature of that work. Survivors will say the same things over and over—“How could my father do that to me . . .” They will be repetitious in dealing with their emotions—“I am so angry that . . .” And they will repeat their losses again and again—“I cannot believe so-and-so is dead . . .”

Expect it, and learn to sit with it. The magnitude of the trauma is so great that repetition is necessary. The mind cannot imagine what happened. It cannot hold such a thought. Bearing the intensity of emotions is impossible and so the feelings must be tried on again and again. These are attempts to bear what cannot be borne. They are struggles to integrate into life what does not fit because there are no categories. Be patient, and then be patient some more. ~ Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God

 

This.this.this.this.this!!!!

What happens when people are finally out of a toxic and abusive environment, completely free from abuse?  Is it over? They might think it would be over, but sometimes that is where the difficulty begins as they realize what was done to them, what was stolen from them, how they were used, harmed, controlled by someone else. This can be a long process, and it may not seem like it is going anywhere because of the repetition that Dr. Langberg refers to above. But it’s so important to note that the pattern of a survivor repeating their story over and over again is very normal.

I remember meeting with Pastor Ken Garrett and a group of friends at a picnic. Most of the people there had been part of the cult that Ken was involved in. At that time, it had been over 12 years since people had left the cult.  Some of us shared our abuse stories. It was a safe place. We all understood abuse and wanted to listen and share in their suffering. I looked around the group. I saw tears streaming down cheeks as stories were shared. Even though this had happened over 12 years ago, the pain was still very real. I believe this opportunity was another step in their healing process. It was another time where they could say with their voice and be heard what was done to them.

Survivors will feel the need to repeat their stories. This is when they need people who will sit with them in the trenches. It is as if when they repeat their experience, they are finally allowing themselves permission to understand that it really happened to them, not someone else over there. The abuse issue, when the survivor was in the abusive environment, kept the reality of abuse at a safe distance emotionally, because it would have been far too difficult to process then. It is by repeating the same story over again that the blinders slowly fall off. Truth of the abuse is acknowledged, and they come to their own conclusions about what they incurred, “Oh, that is why I felt or responded this way,” “I didn’t realize how he needed to use me for his own personal gain,” “by abusing me, he stole this from me,” etc.

It is very important that survivors process what happened to them and that they are able to make their own connections. This is often what happens as someone is telling their story. They are hearing themselves speak it out loud. They are connecting with their own story and making conclusions about what happened to them. Finally, they are giving the abuse and conflicts the time they deserve, but this time in a safe environment without outside distractions, and especially people who might minimize their story, dismiss it, or even blame them.

Greater love has no one than this,

that one lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

One of the amazing things about this process of a survivor telling their story to someone safe, is that they are doing a lot of their own work. As Dr. Langberg said above, when they are in the midst of an abuse situation or environment, their brain is working hard to survive. It doesn’t have time to connect with the emotions. Their energy is used up for questions like: what is going to happen next? how should I respond? how can I get out of this situation? There may or may not be clarity about the situation. While they are in the midst of the trauma or abusive situation, they may not understand or have identified that they are in an abusive situation, but there is a sense of conflict, nonetheless, and that conflict takes energy.

I was speaking with a domestic abuse survivor yesterday, and she was telling me about the confusion and conflict she felt. Because she wasn’t experiencing physical abuse, she didn’t know that she was experiencing abuse, so she minimized her own abuse as simply a relational issue. This is what can often happen with spiritual abuse. There may not be an awareness that an abuser has used their power or influence to control you. You may identify uncomfortable feelings, but the abuse word may never register.

I have been the recipient of people who have chosen to go into the trenches with me and trench, spiritual abuse, advocatemy abuse journey. It is the most generous and incredible gift I have received. Having someone give you their time, listen to you, acknowledge your pain, your loss, be nonjudgmental is a rare gift these days. But it is life-changing.

Are you willing to get your feet all mucky and dirty in a trench? To listen to stories of anger and pain? Next time you see a trench, let it remind you that you can be a gift to vulnerable and abused people by choosing to give the gift of time. You can acknowledge their pain and loss, encourage them, and simply be there.

photo credit: IMG_8774 via photopin (license)

32 comments on “The Gift of Standing in the Trenches with a Survivor

  1. A gift for who J/A?
    My wife and I have been doing divorce recovery groups for years. Lots of abuse. So many tears. I often have suppress a grin when a participant finally breaks down and tells about the pain they have experienced. Getting the chance to tell their story in a safe place has started them towards their recovery. My wife and I squeeze each others hand and say a little prayer of gratitude, for the victim and for the chance to be there in that holy moment.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Ahhhhh, Loren, you are absolutely right. It is a gift that certainly goes both ways. It is such a privilege and honor to be trusted with such personal and sensitive information. I have never listened to someone and felt it was a waste of time. Thank you for what you and your wife do. Bless you!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It is a privilege and an honor when someone is willing to share with you because they trust you. Walking in the trenches also requires a lot of self-care. So if you’re willing to be open to people, please remember to take care of yourself!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: The Gift of Standing in the Trenches with a Survivor – Speak Out 4 Others

  5. That was an excellent article, Julie Anne. Samaritans, the emotional support charity, operates on the basis of providing a safe place for victims to share. It works very well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is hard to find others who will listen, unless you pay someone. I still talk about my own experiences and every time it comes up, it is relived as if it happened yesterday. I think for me talking about it somehow lets my anger out, so I have not overcome it. If it didn’t happen to them they can’t relate at all. Well meaning friends try to justify, or tell you to “move on” Spiritual abuse can leave very deep scars. It’s a lonely journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent article,JA! It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. Change for women in a battering relationship “Is often preceded by a transformative experience in which another person, one who stands outside the relationship, reflects the woman’s reality in a way that enables her to acknowledge and assess her risk [and experience] more objectively.” Survivors need to tell the story again and again and again because it takes multiple times of re-telling in order to fully process what happened.

    We break and are wounded in community or in relationships and we heal in community or in relationships. I’m so grateful for the healing community of SSB!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for this piece. “It is by repeating the story over and over that the blinders finally begin to wear off. Truth is acknowledged and they come to their own conclusion about what has a incurred.” So very true in my experience. Working through abuse has so many layers, like an onion. You peel off one layer and another is exposed. Every layer is raw and bleeding. Speaking it aloud is empowering and breaks the hold it has upon you. It helps connect the dots and make connections.

    I have been learning what it means to be one of those safe people who listens and walks alongside of others. It is a humbling experience. As stated early, it does require a lot of self care.

    This is my first time posting, though I have read SSB for many years. At the beginning I was fearful to post due to the backlash I would have received. I did not have the emotional energy to deal with it. Our family was just fighting for survival. Now, I am stronger and understand how important it is to call out abuse for what it is. Our journey has been long and hard, but also beautiful and redeeming. I think the most difficult thing for us has been finding safe people and community in which to share. I have yet to find a person with which to share my story in full. Some recoil out of fear of hearing the hard not knowing what to do with it, others are dealing with so much pain in their own stories they cannot bear hearing of another’s journey, and some are simply not mature and safe enough to hear it. Please pray for that opportunity.

    Thank you those of you who post. It is helpful to so many of us for have just lurked for years.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I think the most difficult thing for us has been finding safe people and community in which to share. I have yet to find a person with which to share my story in full. Some recoil out of fear of hearing the hard not knowing what to do with it, others are dealing with so much pain in their own stories they cannot bear hearing of another’s journey, and some are simply not mature and safe enough to hear it. Please pray for that opportunity.

    Oh, that is so true. people just don’t like to talk about uncomfortable topics and it’s easier for them to just ignore the issue. Teacher4music, I am touched that you have been reading the blog for so long and now sharing. I would be honored to hear your story. If you contact me at spiritualsb@gmail.com, we can figure out a time we are both free, if that interests you (especially this summer while I’m not in school). Thanks for sharing – such a great comment!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. It is indeed a privilege to be “the hands and feet (and ears)” of Christ for each other. I was raised in a family that discouraged the expression of any negative emotion (fear, anger, sadness). As the oldest of five (and only girl), I was very aware of unhealthy dynamics, but was told I was the crazy one. Because my voice was always muted, my sadness and fear came out in very unhealthy ways including self mutilation ( this was the 70s, thus not discussed).
    Thanks to an amazing husband, friends and a lot of therapy (which included a whole lot of repetition) I am in a healthy space. The gaslighting and fantasy world of my family are still occurring, but my boundaries keep me safe. As my parents are becoming very elderly their unhealthy defenses are starting to crumble. Some of my brothers are trying to find answers in doctrines like ESS, 9Marks authoritative churches, and heavy patriarchal “role-playing”.
    I encourage anyone who have come from an unhealthy place to find support. Over time you will recognize the unhealthy communication patterns and scapegoating that may have happened to you. By finding a competent therapist ( mentor, pastor, friend) to work through your damage you are NOT being bitter, obsessive, unfaithful, unforgiving, lacking forgiveness or any other words that may be thrown at you if you seek health. By talking about it and seeking healthy alternatives you can focus on the one person who can change-you. As for those who chose to hurt you, heathy boundaries can be established so you can continue to replace the old negative narrative with a future story of hope!!
    Thank you JA for providing a safe place where those who are hurting will not be shamed! This is truely a place we can share in one another’s burdens. Ann

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is one reason I no longer trust pastors or churches. Several times, I’ve told my story to pastors and they all either dismissed me, or blamed me. I do trust in Jesus, and He listens and stands with me.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. This has been true for me. It took a good 8 years before I could think through what happened objectively, without pain. Well, I still have pain but in a more generalized sense, it pains me to know how difficult it is to find a church home of supportive believers. I only had a couple people I could talk it through with, both of whom were there also. Most people do not feel safe to discuss what’s wrong with a church and especially in a small community where they know the people involved. It comes too close to gossiping and they are fearful of being in the position where they’d have to choose sides, so they will cut you off; even those who are sympathetic and do seem to understand, they don’t want to know the whole story. This site would have been a godsend to me during those years.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This would be a great article to send on to the appropriate people at the Christian Schools – eg. Bob Jones University. It does not seem that they “get” this sort of stuff.
    Kathleen

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you for this post. I’ve been trying to discipline myself into not telling what happened. I thought that I was making things “all about me.” I had no idea that this is something that HAS to happen. I still have so much bitterness because the abuse of 20 years has been extended throughout this divorce process and so it has now been 23 years of abuse. And God only knows how much longer it will go on as we have children together.

    While not every day needs to have an opportunity to get some of it out, I’m going to stop beating myself up when I do have a need to tell what happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “As my parents are becoming very elderly their unhealthy defenses are starting to crumble. Some of my brothers are trying to find answers in doctrines like ESS, 9Marks authoritative churches, and heavy patriarchal “role-playing”. – Ann

    I was in this kind of abusive NeoCalvinist/9Marks/John MacArthur-ite church, pastored by a graduate from MacArthur’s The Master’s Seminary.
    They were horribly abusive to everyone, including conservatives, senior citizens.
    Everyone who wanted to leave their insanity was threatened in meetings with the pastors/elders, and read out before all church members.

    They even excommunicated/shunned a personal friend of John MacArthur’s, a godly doctor in his 70’s, faithful husband and father. His “crime”? He disagreed with them in private. And they decided to punish him for it. The senior pastor told us, hundreds of members during an excommunication meeting after the Sunday church service, to “pray” for the doctor’s wife. She told me later that she’d always hated the senior pastor, the elders, the church, something was terribly wrong with it, and warned her husband they shouldn’t go there.

    Ken Blue (a pastor) wrote in his book Healing Spiritual Abuse that many people (not all) are set up for spiritually abusive churches by abusive childhoods and they don’t know what’s healthy and miss the red flags.

    As posters on The Wartburg Watch have noted that Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.) and founder of 9Marks of a [un] Healthy Church has really just put new terms on the old 1970’s heavy Shepherding Movement, whose Florida founders repented of its many abuses and that fact that it was un-Biblical.
    Wartburgers said that there’s only ONE mark of a healthy church: LOVE (which didn’t even make Mark Dever’s list, of course).

    Like

  16. I just noticed today, after commenting over at Tim Fall’s blog on the article about Bruce Ware/Council on Biblical Manhood Womanhood, that I was really angry with a man who was defending Ware. But I didn’t come right out and say it.

    So I finally had to post to Tim that I was angry, discuss all of the harmed lives at my ex-NeoCalvinist church from Ware/Grudem/CBMW’s teachings: women screamed and yelled at by pastors/elders, stalked by hundreds of church members, threatened for wanting to leave for a saner church, stalked for actually leaving.
    One wife had to disconnect her phone, email, and move out of the family home because she was harassed by hundreds of church members on the orders of the senior pastor and elders who said that she – a middle-aged, professional woman – hadn’t “obeyed” her husband.

    And then were all of the depressed women – wives, single women, daughters – beaten down and made to feel worthless in this environment.

    They peddle another Gospel, and not one of freedom or the equality of all believers.

    Like

  17. Velour stated: “Ken Blue (a pastor) wrote in his book Healing Spiritual Abuse that many people (not all) are set up for spiritually abusive churches by abusive childhoods and they don’t know what’s healthy and miss the red flags.” Yes!!!! This has been our experience. As we have delved into our church abuse, we have come to the heartbreaking realization that both my husband and my families have been/are abusive and set us up/groomed us to fall into abusive church situations. We also see that many of our friendship in those churches were unhealthy because the people were unhealthy too. So as the onion layers peel back, we discover more and more. It is hard, but it is also the only way to stop the cycle. With God’s help that is what we are doing, but some days are exhausting. We are getting quite adept at sensing the red flags now. So our mantra is “move toward the healthy” which means letting some friendships die and listening to the gut instinct or as our counselor says “emotional brain,” rather than allowing “logical brain” to talk us back into unhealthy.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Thanks so much for this post as it really hit home. I read your blog from time to time and I have commented occasionally. I need to read it more often as I’m always blessed when I “stop by.” Many of you have been spiritually abused by pastors, but I am a pastor who was spiritually abused by church members. I was in full-time ministry for nearly 30 years, 25 of those as a pastor. Looking back, I see how much spiritual abuse I endured at the hands of manipulative, hateful, and controlling church members who sadly view the church as their exclusive club which they control. They figure they are paying their dues (tithes), so they get to call the shots, right? Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed by many wonderful people in the church, but the times I’ve been cursed, spied on, publicly attacked in business meetings, and had false rumors spread about me have taken their toll and left painful scars.
    I hear about mega-church pastors who make several hundred thousands of dollars a year, some make millions (I read recently that Joel Osteen’s net worth is around 200 million), and I have to laugh. The most I ever made as a pastor was around 27,000.00 a year, and there were always people in the church who thought that was too much and insinuated that I was overpaid. God called me to share the gospel in order to help people and minister to hurting and wounded souls. I’ve never been in this for the money.
    Last year, after much prayer and planning, I made a bold move and stepped out of full-time ministry and transitioned to bi-vocational ministry and it was the best thing I could ever have done. In the last 10 months I have been happier and more at peace than ever before. What a blessing to be able to preach the gospel without being completely dependent on a congregation for my income. This has liberated me in ways I could not have imagined. Spiritual abusive church members often use money as a tool to try and manipulate the pastor. When the pastor has another income source this power is largely removed from these hateful church bullies. Had I known the joy of bi-vocational ministry, I’d have done it long ago.
    I have taken on an interim pastorate at a small congregation and these folks were spiritually abused by a manipulating and controlling pastor. For the last four months I have been doing a great amount of listening and I realize this is part of the healing process for these dear people. They are survivors telling their stories and I see divine healing in the process. I am healing also, my sweet wife is as well.
    I was so spiritually beaten up in the past that I nearly quit the ministry, but the Lord sustained me and the Lord is faithful.
    So, you are correct; wounded people need to share and heal. I am one of them, and the healing continues.

    Peace

    Liked by 1 person

  19. The Vulcan (My husband) and I had a long talk last weekend. He made a lot of awful decisions when we were in complementarian thought, and still unmedicated for ADHD. It hurt. It hurt so badly. Especially when we got out, and I realized NO ONE HAD TO LIVE THIS WAY!!

    For a while, I felt like spiritual abuse was all I could think about, talk about, eat, sleep, breathe. That hurt him too, because he was genuinely repentant, and ready to move on….but he never told me to stop talking about it. He did ask me to not bring every part of the dark underbelly of the church to him, but if I was hurting, and needed him to apologize, I talked to him, and he apologized. Again. And again. And again.

    Last weekend, I asked The Vulcan why.
    “As I was praying during our time of intense conflict, I felt strongly like the Lord was leading me to always let you talk, process, or do whatever you needed to do to get the feelings out. The Lord told me it was going to take time, and you needed that time.”

    Yeah.

    He’s a keeper.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. that is where the difficulty begins as they realize what was done to them, what was stolen from them, how they were used, harmed, controlled by someone else. This can be a long process, and it may not seem like it is going anywhere because of the repetition that Dr. Langberg refers to above. But it’s so important to note that the pattern of a survivor repeating their story over and over again is very normal.

    This is so good to see today! I haven’t had anything like what some people have, but I had a relationship last year that ended badly. It shook me completely and it’s been so hard to not to dwell. I’ve moved on and It’s been months and I still was thrown completely when I heard from the guy a few weeks ago. I keep waiting to not care, and it is taking forever. I kept texting a couple friends about it and one I was like, sorry I know I keep saying the same thing… Good to know that that might be normal.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Does ‘being in the trenches’ have a different meaning in the States as Europe? Over here it makes you think of the trench warfare of WW1. Particularly poignant at the moment is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The first day alone saw the British Army lose almost 20,000 killed, and as many injured.

    When this kind of action was not happening, life in the trenches meant constant exposure to attack and death – about 2 people per mile of trench per month. Year in year out. Living in filth and mud.

    Now I would not for one moment play down abusive bahaviour in churches, but to compare this with being in the trenches? That generation – and the subsequent one in WW2 – knew of suffering and hardship and austerity we can barely imagine, but did not need to endlessly talk about it. There may be various reasons for this, but I just can’t help wondering if we – and I include myself in this having had my own church experiences – sometimes get things out of perspective. In the case of both my father and grandfather, this didn’t seem to dominate the rest of their lives, even though they both spent years not knowing when they got up if this would be their last day on earth.

    Not quite in the same league as neo-calvinists, authoritarian pastors or complementarians, or bust ups with the Baptist diaconate!

    Like

  22. Does ‘being in the trenches’ have a different meaning in the States as Europe? Over here it makes you think of the trench warfare of WW1.

    I think it probably comes from that (Americans were ‘in the trenches’ too, remember), but it may not be a phrase that’s generally used over there in the same way. It generally means you’re in the midst of something – urban dictionary says it means ‘To have been through a lot together with someone. Specially through hard times. War analogy’

    Liked by 1 person

  23. This is good, and I have had a few awesome experiences with all this within the past year, both receiving and giving.

    The pastor at the church my wife and I attend found my blog and recognized my story from 2 sentences I told the lead pastor well over a year ago. That alone is amazing to me, but he reached out to me about it and was very understanding. He doesn’t really wear his heart on his sleeve that I see, but he really appreciated it and we sat in his office and talked about it and a few other stories (like SGM) for awhile. I’m tearing up thinking about it – it was just unexpected and liberating.

    My writing is also the only coherent way I was able to share our story with my wife. She was also an amazing listening ear on this.

    My story helped embolden my sister to write her experiences in the same church.

    My dad and I have made a level of peace after one of my old abuser pastors found my blog and shared it with him. I think he finally is starting to understand the hurt that not only he went through, but that he put us through. Telling my side has given him some license to be honest about the horror his pastor put him through as well and open and deal with that wound. I hope that this leads to further healing and honesty in my large family, where most of us struggle to open up to each other about anything.

    Empowered by a close friend, SSB, and TWW, my wife and I were able to rebuild a relationship with someone close to us whose daughter was molested and was struggling very much with it. We were able to sit and listen to them as they talked about that, and their own stories of abuse in their past, and it’s been an amazing thing for our relationships.

    I struggle a lot with feeling purposeless these days, but it helps some to remember the meaning and connection I’ve found and been able to give through opening up with others about hard subjects. Thanks for doing what you do, Julie and the rest at SSB.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Thanks for sharing, Gov. Pappy. I’m glad to hear that you have had some positive results from telling your story. What could have been very difficult sounds to be bringing more openness than you might have ever experienced. That’s good. Not easy, but good.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. “One characteristic of dealing with survivors of trauma is the repetitious nature of that work. Survivors will say the same things over and over—“How could my father do that to me . . .” They will be repetitious in dealing with their emotions—“I am so angry that . . .” And they will repeat their losses again and again—“I cannot believe so-and-so is dead . . .”

    This made me so sad.

    Because it’s just so true.

    I feel like a broken record. Harping on about the same crap.

    Like

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