ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Emotional Responses, Leaving the Church, Personal Stories, Recovery Process, Spiritual Abuse, SPIRITUAL ABUSE RECOVERY, Spiritual Authority, Spiritual Bullies, Stories of Hope

Dr. Dan Allender: Trauma, Our Personal Stories, and Recovery through Music

Dr. Dan Allender, Trauma, Music, Spiritual Abuse Recovery, Personal Stories



Those who have been reading here for a while know how important I believe it is for survivors to tell their abuse stories. It took a while for us to believe the lies our church leader(s) told us about who we are and who God is. Eventually, through manipulation and deceit, we then told ourselves those lies. These “recordings” played over and over in our minds until they were perceived as normal. This is all part of thought reform, patterns of coercion, manipulation, and control, that cult leaders use to keep us emotionally and spiritually bound to them and their teachings.

When we are finally in a place where we can identify truth from lies, we still have to wrestle with the recordings that play in our minds that attempt to shift us back to the dangerous teachings we heard. I strongly believe that hearing ourselves speak the truth when we tell our stories will eventually override the old and damaging recordings in our mind.

I believe this is why many survivors have a need to tell our stories over and over again. It doesn’t mean we are living in the past. No. I believe it means we are validating our experience and further pushing that false and destructive narrative out of our minds.

Telling stories is empowering. It gives us strength to stand on our own two feet and use our critical thinking skills. We own our stories, even though they are negative. But now, as we tell our stories safe from our abuser, we are in control, not our abusive spiritual leaders. We speak not as one who remains stuck as a victim, but as a survivor who can incorporate the negative experience into the fabric of our bigger life story in a positive way. It shapes us, it softens and humbles us. It still hurts at times, but we can become more resilient and intentional with this trauma behind us.

May we never tire of listening to the stories of survivors. When we do listen, we validate them and help them to become whole. Also, if we are survivors, may we never tire of telling our stories without apologies. It may be just what a listener needs to hear.

Lately, I’ve been reading about our body’s response to trauma, and this 2-minute video is fascinating. In it, Dr. Dan Allender helps us to understand the power of music used as a healing agent in relation to trauma.


I’ve been a lifelong musician (pianist and vocalist).

Yet in my darkest days, the one thing that left me

was what I love the most,

the music that spontaneously played in my heart.


Although I played the piano during praise and worship at my cult “church” and enjoyed it, I lost my love of singing. I didn’t have songs playing in my heart.

Some may recall that it was music  — me accompanying my son’s high school choir  — that helped me to get out of my cult. I looked at the world differently when I was participating in the choir. I didn’t hear my pastor’s evil words telling me that everyone who was not going to his church was probably on their way to hell. Instead, I saw people for who they were – unique individuals created in God’s image.

This was the beginning of the process of me separating from the cult. When I was busy with the high school choir, it gave me time to think of other things outside the church. Previously, the church kept my mind so busy, I didn’t have time to think. Now, at the high school choir, I gained back my self, my critical thinking, my own thoughts and questions. I came back to life again. At one time during a Wednesday night choral performance, I remember feeling a tinge of guilt come over me – I had missed the Wednesday night meeting at church. But my mind said, “I don’t care.” That was a healthy response! The idea that I played secular choral music on the piano without my pastor’s oversight or permission was so liberating. There’s probably nothing scientifically significant about my experience with music that allowed me to wake up, but I’ve always acknowledged that it was that choir experience that was pivotal in my spiritual abuse journey.

In the following video, Dr. Allender takes the topic of music a step further and notes (pun) the physical responses in our brain when we experience trauma, and then add music. He discusses how our brain physically heals through music. I love this. Is it any wonder we see so much in the Bible about worship and music? I was always impressed in the Old Testament that there was an emphasis on using trained musicians to lead music. God wanted good musicians to lead people. And when people sang and worshiped, they were moved emotionally and spiritually. And I have no doubt that many were healed through music.

So, if you are recovering from spiritual abuse or any kind of trauma for that matter, I encourage you to play music, and SING!  Your brain can regain what was lost as a result of trauma! Watch the video, it’s around 2 minutes long.


15 thoughts on “Dr. Dan Allender: Trauma, Our Personal Stories, and Recovery through Music”

  1. I like a lot of what Dan Allender stands for but I stumbled upon some patriarchal teachings of his on Fanily Life Today and was shocked that he would not ask for them to be retracted. Here’s an excerpt where he advocates husbands writing a mission statement for their wives as an example of leading her😩: “During a FamilyLife Today radio interview, author Dan Allender described how he wrote a short-term mission statement for his wife. When he began explaining the idea, I thought it sounded presumptuous. But as Dan talked about encouraging and exhorting his wife to become all God wants her to be as a woman, as a wife, and as a mother, it was clear he was not being presumptuous. He was being the kind of leader his wife ultimately wants and needs him to be.” I honestly don’t know how he squares his trauma care work with being on the board of such a patriarchal organization and being part of advocating such a servile gender norm… http://mensteppingupblog.com/tag/dan-allender/


  2. Thanks for your comment, Emily. You raise a good point about male headship and trauma.

    I am not in agreement on the definition of headship, nor use of the word authority “over” wives in the linked article (written by Bob Lepine).

    I’d like to read more of Allender’s stance on husband’s role in a marriage. The trauma and music is good. I also learned a lot in his Bold Love book – especially on what true repentance looks like for an abuser. I do not endorse Family Life Today.


  3. I”m finding it difficult to read a book, write poetry or sit for anytime at the piano. Maybe this post is God’s way of telling me to start over again with the things I love and to place all the ugliness of what the PCAustralia has done to me in a lesser place of priority in my life. Thank you Julie Anne. Here is something I wrote very early in my journey and has been put to music by one of my friends: SHOW ME HOW TO LOVE: Open my eyes so I can see what Jesus sees; Open my hands so I can serve as Jesus serves; Bend my knees so I can humble myself before You; Take off my shoes so I know I am on holy ground; Open my heart so I can love like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hear you, Rhonda (speaking to the choir – sorry, can’t resist musical puns). I still do not have the spontaneous song in my heart, but I’m a lot better off than I used to be. I’ve been putting more effort in listening to music and I find it so rewarding when I do. I guess it just takes more effort on our part.

    I love your prose. So beautiful – and how wonderful that your friend put music to it! I’d love to hear it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Julie Anne for your reply. I had stumbled upon Dan Allender’s advice for men to write a mission statement for their wives when I was uncovering how patriarchal Cru has become with its new Men Stepping Up campaign… This post I shared was one of the worst posts on Cru’s FLT and I shared it with many people I knew in Cru to say “Are you aware of how severely patriarchal your organization has become?” Most hadn’t read a lot of the marriage advice their own organization was putting out and I helped some see that it is part of this new movement to encourage men to see themselves as the “prophet, priest, and king” of the family and the church. Yikes!

    All that to say, Dan A’s name was familiar to me when a friend I admired greatly mentioned him for his good work and I told her what sort of advice he gave to FLT. She was shocked so put me in touch with him. He seems like a lovely person in so many ways but also like too many Christian men, has contradictions which make him hesitant to stand up unambiguously for women’s full equality enough to retract this post. I know at times there’s a place for remaining on the board of an organization that is more conservative than you on women’s equality but this organization is really extreme and that he didn’t feel like it was his place to ask that post to be removed which was so horrifically patriarchal asserting that one way a husband should lead is to write a mission state he told FOR his wife reveals a lot. In my book even just reading his advice is traumatic… if you know him, I’d check in with him on this. Maybe he’s changed his posture?


  6. Notwithstanding Dan Allender’s position on women/patriarchy (and I think I have steered clear of him for this reason), what he says about the interaction between the amygdala and the hippocampus in trauma is fascinating. Anything that can ground us in the present during a flashback is a good thing.

    One of the things I have noted during my recovery is that I will often begin to sing a song and realize that the words are exactly what I need at the moment. I feel this is the Holy Spirit’s work in my own healing.

    Thanks for bringing this to us Julie Anne.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sure…Music is critical to healing…but Dr. Mate provides the knowledge of why people become addicted….physiological and emotionally……abandonment is the issue.


  8. From the post:
    “When we are finally in a place where we can identify truth from lies, we still have to wrestle with the recordings that play in our minds that attempt to shift us back to the dangerous teachings we heard. I strongly believe that hearing ourselves speak the truth when we tell our stories will eventually override the old and damaging recordings in our mind.

    “I believe this is why many survivors have a need to tell our stories over and over again. It doesn’t mean we are living in the past. No. I believe it means we are validating our experience and further pushing that false and destructive narrative out of our minds.”

    This is so true! The teens and I almost felt compelled to talk through our experiences at the former church, only to be brought up short by some (including some in our family) who accused us of hanging on to bitterness and not just letting it go and moving forward. We ended up having to do our processing when certain people were absent. So some of our family members missed that (processing) part of our departure, I think, and still adhere to some of those toxic calvinist beliefs, even calling them evidence of a “loving” God. (With a “Friend” like that, who needs enemies?)

    This (the quote from the post) rings much truer to me. Yes. In retrospect (and on the nowadays rare occasions we revisit that church and its people in conversation), that is exactly what we were doing: validating our experience (no, we’re not crazy; no, we’re not deluded and “hanging on to our sin” and “loving darkness more than the Light”) and figuring out what is actually true from what we have been told is true (but isn’t).

    Thanks, JA.

    As to the rest of the post, I will have to think on it later, and maybe watch the video. I am/was a trained musician and composer. The former church, toward the end of our time there, sucked all the joy in music right out. I am still capable of composing – finished a long, involved project, as a matter of fact, some time after we left and my musical ability became unfrozen, although it has no place to go but on the shelf. Ironically enough, it was infused with calvinism, which I now believe to be an evil, toxic belief system. It is beautiful music, in places, but the lyrics that the music was composed around contain poison. I don’t know if the music can be repurposed, or if the purpose was just to prove to myself that I could finish the project after so many years.

    In any event, it feels like something inside me has been smashed into fragments. I’m not quite sure how it can be put back together again.


  9. Hah. In reading the comments, a revelation. I used to listen to the FLT radio show on a regular basis. They sounded so encouraging, so sincere, so “on the right track.” What were we doing wrong? If we could just get it right, we could have this rich, abundant life, just like they talked about.

    And now I realize that they were a part of that whole picture of our trying, and trying, and trying, and never (so long as we were lost in the system) figuring out that the fault was not in us but in the system we were trying to fit ourselves into.

    Kind of like a christianized version of Procrustes’ bed.


  10. For me, it was art. I have always been connected to music – and am again once more connected to music in a way that is healing. However, in my darkest days of dealing with leaving my abuser and walking my 4yr old through cancer – music was the background. I could no longer be part of the worship team. Yes, I enjoyed music and found it soothing and somewhat cathartic…but it was art that became my release. I art-journaled my way through Lent that first year, allowing all my raw emotions to spill out onto the page day after day as I “walked through the journey of Jesus’ last days” and my own identifiable pain. It was beautiful and moving and deep and incredibly insightful. I was taken by surprise as this was a new form of media for me. And I found it tremendously healing. I still do.


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