Spiritual Abuse, PTSD, and the Aftermath

Spiritual Abuse, PTSD, Recovery, Beaverton Grace Bible Church, Chuck O’Neal

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12799416_211264669235735_6070303658308327161_nWhen someone deals with spiritual abuse, it can have lasting consequences. One popular response is making the decision to no longer go an institutional church. I get that.

I’m pretty sure I relayed the story either in a post, or in comments, that one Sunday, my current pastor read from Romans 12, the chapter that my abusive pastor went over and over for nearly two years. Yes, one chapter for 2 years! “Pastor” Chuck O’Neal’s favorite Bible translation was New King James Version (of course, specifically, the John MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV). As soon as my current pastor announced the passage, I could feel myself get tense. I later told him that if he had used the NKJV, I might have high-tailed it out of there, jumping over pews if I had to (I have long legs). Okay, slight exaggeration there, but the reality is, I felt very uncomfortable hearing those words, and I might have left if those feelings continued.

Yes, just simply hearing those words “Romans 12,” created a fight or flight response in me. I knew that my current pastor was not my abusive pastor. It’s been nearly 9 years since we left that “church,” but hearing or seeing something that reminds me of that experience sometimes takes me back to that place. I remember sitting in the pew thinking to myself: this is not Beaverton Grace Bible Church. This is not Chuck O’Neal reading Romans 12; this is my current pastor who has not harmed me, and thankfully, he wasn’t using the NKJV translation.

 

Bessel van der Kolk M.D. wrote a fantastic book called, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. He is considered an expert on trauma and how it affects the brain and body. I haven’t read the whole book, but have taken notes of excerpts that I’ve found very helpful in understanding the power of trauma and its effects on our bodies.

Here is one quote from the book. The bottom paragraph identifies a bit of what I experienced sitting in the pew (at a reduced level):

The left and right sides of the brain also process the imprints of the past in dramatically different ways.

2 The left brain remembers facts, statistics, and the vocabulary of events. We call on it to explain our experiences and put them in order. The right brain stores memories of sound, touch, smell, and the emotions they evoke. It reacts automatically to voices, facial features, and gestures and places experienced in the past. What it recalls feels like intuitive truth—the way things are. Even as we enumerate a loved one’s virtues to a friend, our feelings may be more deeply stirred by how her face recalls the aunt we loved at age four.

3 Under ordinary circumstances the two sides of the brain work together more or less smoothly, even in people who might be said to favor one side over the other. However, having one side or the other shut down, even temporarily, or having one side cut off entirely (as sometimes happened in early brain surgery) is disabling. Deactivation of the left hemisphere has a direct impact on the capacity to organize experience into logical sequences and to translate our shifting feelings and perceptions into words. (Broca’s area, which blacks out during flashbacks, is on the left side.) Without sequencing we can’t identify cause and effect, grasp the long-term effects of our actions, or create coherent plans for the future. People who are very upset sometimes say they are “losing their minds.” In technical terms they are experiencing the loss of executive functioning.

When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. But because their left brain is not working very well, they may not be aware that they are reexperiencing and reenacting the past—they are just furious, terrified, enraged, ashamed, or frozen.

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I did end up staying, and listened to the sermon. After a few moments, I was able to shake off the negativity associated with that particular passage and refocus. But it did take an intentional effort.

What’s interesting, I recovered from PTSD related to a major earthquake I experienced after 2 years of therapy. I can hear or read of earthquakes in the news, see the destruction, but I don’t go back “there” in my mind. It simply does not affect me anymore. But the spiritual abuse still does. Sometimes I do have to talk myself through it, even after 9 years.

 

27 comments on “Spiritual Abuse, PTSD, and the Aftermath

  1. I had chronic PTSD from years of abuse and after trying many things over the years, EMDR totally changed my life. I can’t recommend it highly enough for PTSD.

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  2. Romans 12, the chapter that my abusive pastor went over and over for nearly two years.

    Parsing one chapter for two years…
    That’s OCD Country right there.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing, Helena. I’ve lost track of how many people who have told me that EMDR helped them. That’s great! I don’t think Nouthetic counselors are trained in that!!

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  4. Very common to have those feelings even years later. I’ve found as I’ve made progress in my healing of PTSD, the feelings may still come, but much less frequently and I’m able to better and more quickly “talk myself through it.”

    In a similar way, I got a shock when I was a speaker at a festival this year and discovered that the very person who was the source of abuse to me ending about 20 years ago actually lived in the same town where my hotel was. I had some strange feelings and memories and fears of engaging with him. Of course, it never happened, but I had to “talk myself through it” to alleviate some of those intense feelings.

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  5. For me, a few years of cognitive therapy and the books Feeling Good (David Burns) and Toxic Faith (Stephen Arterburn) were big parts of my healing.

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  6. For years any time I heard a sermon taught in a particular style I would freeze outwardly and freak out internally. Thankfully I was able to attend a church for several years where they didn’t preach so much as share encouragement and testimony. When I started to attend a more traditional church again I had had enough healing that I could register what was going on and talk myself through it. Still took a good couple of years before I could sit through a sermon without having any reaction at all though.

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  7. My mom was very surprised when I told her, as an adult, that I sometimes had nightmares over the violence that occurred in our home. She always claimed she was”over it”, but I never believed her. I did go for counseling and it helped me so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have PTSD from my church experience in a NAR church. I was surprised when I was diagnosed because my Dad had it from war and I didn’t know you could get it from church! I went for therapy, etc. but a YL essential oils kit helped so much. You just reminded me that ‘it’ never goes away. I’ve recently started having nightmares and other issues again and the kit is on backorder. Do these pastors know they are doing such harm; do they care; will they ever care? And people who know what they do still support them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I learned about Moral Injury a few months ago and did a blog post about it.

    It is sometimes mistaken for PTSD but is not the same thing, and those afflicted with it should not receive the same treatment as those with PTSD (so say the articles I read about it – treating someone with Moral Injury using the same methods as treatments as PTSD can be harmful).

    Here’s my post about it, referencing other people’s work:
    _Regarding Moral Injury_

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  10. Roman’s 12 most of Roman’s is what Calvinist run behind to force feed their abusive interpretation of scriptures. 2 years of it is proof. He was trying to indoctrinate you and your family to becoming one of the most rigid form of Reformed Calvinism that exist to this day.

    Like your former pastor did to you, is what my former pastor did to me, they kept their theology a mystery. In fact if I remember, I asked you if you knew at the time he was a Calvinist and you didn’t know,,

    I then looked at your former church’s website and read their theology statement and though it was slightly cryptic, I figured it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I remember that, Mark. When I started this blog, I didn’t have a clear understanding on a number of topics: Calvinism, Patriarchy, complementarianism, egalitarianism. I didn’t understand that not only was I under an exaggerated form of Calvinism, but was also in an oppressed environment where women are demeaned, squelched, and treated as less-thans. These, of course, are topics that I now speak out strongly against.

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  12. Angie, you can buy essential oils at whole foods, the vitamin store, etc. I don’t know which ones you prefer (i know yl has mixes), but I’m partial to lavender and bergamot.

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  13. Lea, there is one particular kit that helps me. I don’t trust just any EO with my health issues. I think Gary Young originally started helping the soldiers coming back from war with PTSD when developing the kit. Yes, I take YL Frankincense (bergamot) every day. Thanks for caring!

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  14. Julie Anne,,

    I know that not all that practice spiritual abuse are Calvinist,, there Calvinist that aren’t abusive either.

    But I sometimes wonder if both of our former pastor’s were mentored by the same theologians because both of them oppressed those that didn’t embrace their brand of Reformed Theology, oppressing and certain women they feared would collide with their ideology and both former pastors kept their theology a mystery.

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  15. Well, I know that CON’s favorite pastor is MacArthur. Did your pastor like him? What’s interesting is if you go to BGBC website, it’s very plain that it is Calvinist now – right on the front page.

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  16. Back in 1994, I visited the city where I became a Christian and went by the church building. This was the church where I experienced the most spiritual abuse.

    I could not make myself walk in front of the church building. I had to cross the street in order to pass it. At the time, the thing I was most concerned about was that someone that knew me when I attended there would be there and want to stop and chat.

    I was 30 then; I’m 54 now, and I suspect that my reaction might be different if I were to go back there–maybe I wouldn’t be quite as tense–but who knows?

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  17. I left an abusive church 3 yrs ago…and still struggle to even go to church…when I do I disassociate threw most of it…or leave early…still cant read my bible without hearing their voice ….

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  18. Two years on one page. Wow. That in itself is abuse.

    I wouldn’t have picked chapter 12 to be misused like that. He had to work pretty hard at it. Usually it’s those early verses in chapter 13, submit to the authorities, that are used as a hammer.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Julie Anne,

    I haven’t visited BGBC’s website since they filed that ridiculous lawsuit on you. Back then they were a little more cryptic than they are apparently right now.

    I didn’t know my former pastor was a Calvinist, until I found your site about Spiritual Abuse,, Then after I interpreted your circumstances and mine, I further researched the described teachings and discovered this strange belief system referred as Hyper-Calvinism or Reformed. Though I’m sure these guys don’t consider themselves in the same magnitude as Fred Phelps and maybe they are right, as Fred Phelps cornered the Sin Centered based Theology, (rather than Christ Centered) sooner than they did.

    The word Reform (or maybe Regeneration) is what I think I remembered in the BCBG website, which caused me to do the follow up with you.

    Interesting that they are up-front about their theology now,, maybe your blog had something to do with it.

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  20. I’ve often wondered what it is in the human psyche that allows otherwise rational and cognitive people to submit to this horse poo-poo.
    In my own case and when I was a Calvary Chapelite, they promised security and certainty, both of which are high up, and maybe even at the top of the list of human wants.

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  21. Mark, I think he went more public because his street preaching buddies do the same. He has to have the right look, you know? Sadly, his buddies have no clue as to how he treats his own sheep.

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  22. Muff Potter, I was reading an article recently that discussed how highly intelligent people often make foolish decisions. Scientists attributed it to lacking good critical thinking skills. If you are being told what to think, you lose that discerning part of your brain that can give you warnings that something funky is going on (I’m being nice using the word funky).

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