Spiritual Abuse, What Not to Say, Jonathan Hollingsworth, Reconciliation
This is the second blog post referring to an article by Jonathan Hollingsworth, What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Been Hurt by the Church. The article resonated with a lot of people, so I thought it might be a good idea to discuss these unhelpful statements one by one here, and give people the opportunity to share their experiences.
I will be working through all six of Hollingsworth’s statements/questions of what not to say to someone who has been hurt by spiritual abuse. Last post, we covered when people say, “No Church is Perfect.”
Here is the second question of what not to say to someone harmed by spiritual abuse, followed by Jonathan Hollingsworth explaining why it is not helpful:
“Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?”
The last thing a victim of spiritual abuse needs to do is go right back into the environment that hurt them in the first place.
If someone has been attacked by a dog, would you tell them to go back and risk getting bitten again? Christians who insist on reconciliation in the face of spiritual abuse are forgetting one important thing: Abusive people can’t always be reasoned with.
Not only is it dangerous to ask a victim to make amends with their abusers, it also puts an undue burden of responsibility on the victim to come up with a solution. It’s like saying, “They’re the ones who hurt you, but now it’s your job to make it right.”
Oh boy! I, too, had this said to me. In general, it was said by people who had never experienced spiritual abuse and who were uncomfortable with the topic or what I was feeling. They were uncomfortable knowing that I was not free from the heavy weight of spiritual abuse. They may have meant well by wanting me to be free, but in reality, there may never be reconciliation. Would God want me to restore my relationship with an abuser? I think not – unless the abuser did a 180-degree change and fully repented.
I don’t know what the deal is, but some Christians believe that you aren’t acting like a Christian if you respond with emotions that people label as negative. (For the record, I don’t think of emotions as negative or positive – they just are.) It’s like you are expected to maintain a smile on your face at all times, so expressing strong emotions like anger, sadness, grieving, etc, is not a welcomed sight. I think they believe that if you reconcile, then you can get the smile back on your face again – and everything will be hunky dory (do people still say that?) Anyway, it really isn’t that simple.
They don’t understand that spiritual abuse is a process. There are periods of sadness and anger. There is a grieving process, and it takes time, sometimes years. Some people will deal with it for the rest of their lives in one way or another, but it won’t be as paralyzing as it was in the beginning of the process.
Asking a spiritual abuse survivor if they are working toward reconciliation is not helpful. It puts the onus on the survivor. It tells the survivor to hurry along and get fixed so others can feel comfortable.