Spiritual Abuse: When People Ask You, “Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?”

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.

 

**

17 comments on “Spiritual Abuse: When People Ask You, “Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?”

  1. I love that you’re expanding this topic, Julie Anne!

    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.”

    Indeed. I do not see why ‘reconciliation’ would be the goal and I DEFINATELY don’t see why that would ever fall on the person who was harmed as a responsibility. Why are you not asking the abuser ‘Are you attempting to fix whatever is broken in you that caused you do this?’ ‘Have you stopped doing this at all?’ ‘Are you making amends, in a way that does not do further damage to the victim?’

    Put the pressure on the person in the wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Lea. I know how important it is for survivors to tell their story in the recovery process. I hope people will avail themselves of posts like this to do so – especially in a place where we get it.

    I think that in telling your story, you are allowing your brain to hear and acknowledge the truth – and that’s how you can own it and in a sense, push out the garbage/abuse. It’s very powerful!

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  3. I had a church leader get really upset with me half a dozen years ago. I did all I could to make amends, but she would not forgive me. When people ask me why we aren’t so close anymore, my polite response is, “You need to ask her as she has never told me.” I leave it there. I bear her no ill-will, and I always greet her when I see her, although she often walks away. I think you sometimes do all you can do, and then leave it with God.

    The interesting part: I continue to meet former “friends” of hers that she also stopped talking to. The real problem seems to be how she chooses to respond to people that she may not agree with.

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  4. Isn’t that validating, Linn? What is the likelihood that she would agree with you or take to heart anything that you might tell her? With someone who doesn’t take corrective criticism, you are barking up the wrong tree as far as trying to get anywhere.

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  5. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

    Since we attend the same “not so big” church, and we run in some of the same circles, I try to follow the above guidelines. We are also neighbors (just around the corner from each other), and I don’t see the point, or anything spiritual, about being hostile. Sometimes people change, at least that’s what I believe God does.

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  6. Linn – What I like about vs 18 is that it is not saying to reconcile – but to live at peace. For some people, if you were to bring up something to them, they would not accept it at all and would lead to further conflict!

    Thank you for posting that verse. It’s resonating with me personally.

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  7. I love vs. 18. For a couple of decades, I had to be careful about when/where I was with my dad because he could be both physically and emotionally abusive. About 10 years ago, he was suddenly elderly and reflective. Because I kept that door of reconciliation open, with prayerful wisdom for my own physical/emotional safety, we have a good relationship now. I can’t deny what happened in our home when I was a kid, but he has changed and he is sorry. You can’t ask much more from a person than that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had that thrown at me as a young adult by my beloved Youth Pastor and even friends. After suffering at the hands of a sociopathic “christian” mother who inflicted daily vile abuses on me. Who pimped me out for sex as a toddler til I was 18, and they layed it on me to reconcile? I was barely functioning. The guilt and shame ate me up for years until I accidently ran into that mother’s “friend” who was a nurse at the hospital.

    She asked me if I had seen my mother. I said not in years. She said that was good, there was something not right about her. She was the only christian besides my husband at the time who told me that my instincts were good, not to reconcile. Everyone else hinted that I was in sin.

    All I could think is that I finally got out of hell, why would I go back?
    I have actually made friends with people who knew my sister but not me. When they figured out who I was they were shocked I am not the “rebellious girl” they were told about. In fact the lies they said to cover up my running away or abandonment of the family are not in any way fitting at all of who I am and they find it shocking.

    It is irresponsible and dangerous to tell people to reconcile with abusers.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. OP:

    <

    blockquote>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.

    <

    blockquote> IMO, this is applicable with any painful thing a person is going through in life (mental health problem, grieving the death of a loved one, whatever it may be).

    A lot of Christians want you to deal with your pain (or anger) in private, all by yourself.

    They cannot be bothered to “weep with the one who weeps” (Romans 12:15). They don’t want to walk with you through your valley.

    They also think you should get over whatever pain you’re in (from mental health problems, grief, divorce, spiritual abuse) in three minutes – if you spend more than two weeks in grief / anger / sadness, they will chide or scold you for it.

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  10. (part 1)
    Linn said,

    I had a church leader get really upset with me half a dozen years ago.

    I did all I could to make amends, but she would not forgive me. When people ask me why we aren’t so close anymore, my polite response is, “You need to ask her as she has never told me.”

    I leave it there. I bear her no ill-will, and I always greet her when I see her, although she often walks away. I think you sometimes do all you can do, and then leave it with God.

    The interesting part: I continue to meet former “friends” of hers that she also stopped talking to. The real problem seems to be how she chooses to respond to people that she may not agree with.

    This is not strictly about spiritual abuse, but I have one aunt (I think she considers herself a Christian) who is like this.

    This one aunt of mine is very petty, vindictive, and holds grudges for years.

    Even over matters most would consider trivial. She cut off all contact with one of her sisters (one of my other aunts, “Aunt Betty”) over a matter that I felt bad for her for, but I did not think it was worth cutting “Aunt Betty” out of her life over.

    Then, a few years later, Aunt Betty died. She never did make up with that aunt (her sister).

    Then this same Aunt got angry at my mother for not taking her side in her dispute with Aunt Betty.

    She stamped “return to sender” on all mail and presents my mother mailed to her, she would not answer her phone when my mother called her.

    This went on for like 3 or 4 years, then my mother got very sick and died.

    Then this aunt boo-hoo’d to her brother (my uncle) over how my mother was dead, my mom was her best friend, and she missed my Mom.

    I said, “Uncle So- and- So, that is the oddest thing, because she cut my mom out of her life the last few years before Mom died, she would screen calls and not answer when Mom called. She would return Christmas gifts mom mailed her etc. That’s some way to treat your so-called “best” friend.”

    My Uncle said, he knew. He didn’t understand her behavior either.

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  11. (part 2)
    Then, a couple of years ago I very politely let this same Aunt know she hurt my feelings and stunned me in one phone call where she was pretty cranky and seemed to have bitten my head off.

    (She rarely answers her phone, by the way, and at times, I have to resort to snail mailing her to get a response from her.)

    When I called her months after sending her that letter, she actually answered her phone, and she mentioned that one part of my ten page snail-mail letter where I chatted about all kinds of stuff.

    My politely- worded line in the letter about how she got huffy with me on the phone months before-hand and how it took me aback really rubbed this aunt the wrong way. It annoyed her that I told her that in the letter, and she seemed to be offended by it, and she wanted me to explain myself.

    This Aunt has since cut me out of her life, and pretty much refuses to answer the phone if I call (she has “caller I.D”), and she doesn’t hardly respond to snail mail cards or letters (she doesn’t do computers, so you cannot e-mail or Facebook her.)

    I wonder about people like this.

    They get angry over trivial, stupid things, and when you try to make amends, they keep holding that grudge, won’t restore the relationship…
    (we’re not talking about abusive relationships here, I was not abusive to this aunt, she was actually rude to me in that last phone call; she just did not like me gently pointing out that her cranky behavior with me on the phone had bothered me. She is super thin-skinned).

    This woman (my Aunt) will cut you off to the point of death. She has two sisters (one of whom was my mother) whom she cut out of her life.

    She refused to take their phone calls, letters, or presents they mailed her (she lives alone, by the way – my mother used to send her b-day and Christmas gifts partly because she felt sorry for her, because she had no husband or anyone to spend Christmas with).

    You’d think this Aunt of mine would’ve learned something from those life experiences, but she’s pulling the same thing on me, her niece, that she did to her two sisters who died before she could make amends.

    Those two sisters of hers have died and are not coming back, and she gets choked up and teary eyed in the last 3 or 4 years when talking about both of them, especially my mother.

    (Note: I do not think victims should have to reconcile with abusers if they don’t want to, that’s not what I’m talking about. Linn’s post just reminded me of this in my own life.

    I really do not understand people who are so petty like this one aunt of mine that she is willing to totally cut people off over slight grievances (not over abuse. I was not abusive towards her, neither was my mother or her other sister who she ostracized).

    It’s as though this Aunt is a three- year- old toddler having a temper tantrum.)

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  12. Oh my goodness, Daisy, I have an aunt similar to yours. I’ve had to set strong boundaries and cut off contact with her.

    In regard to emotions, Christians who believe that we are made in God’s image need to accept that emotions are a part of how God made humans. Emotions are a part of the human experience. Christians who portray themselves as joyful in all things deny human wholeness.

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  13. Good discussion here.

    I don’t think this has been said yet but wonder just how logical is it to try and reconcile with someone who was spiritually abusive to you? Many times supposed Christian leaders and others that are abusive are narcissistic or at least high up on that spectrum. When someone is narcissistic trying to appeal to them to see what they did wrong is an uphill if not losing battle.

    Many leaders also have egos that doesn’t allow them to see what they have done wrong.

    Sadly there are some people that can see and point out others wrong and would even take offense to others holding a grudge against them will do the same to others.

    I know someone who has a sister that is either fully narcissistic or close and can never see what she did wrong in situations. It is just one of those things that some people you just can’t reason with.

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  14. Hmmm?

    “Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?”

    Often, this reconciliation becomes…
    ReconSILLYation???

    Just because you forgive the one who hurt you – your enemy…

    Doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them and be friends…
    Doesn’t mean they they are NOT still your enemy…
    And will hurt you again…

    Mat 10:16
    Behold, I send you forth as sheep
    in the midst of wolves:

    be ye therefore wise as serpents,
    and harmless as doves.

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  15. Perhaps a good answer to “are you working toward reconciliation” is to note that you have either left, or you have actually complained. The first step towards forgiving sin is, after all, to notify the other of their offense, and even “showing up as an empty pew” does send a signal to those smart enough to take note.

    And it should be noted that reconciliation is not synonymous with restoration. We can debate where we ought to draw the line, but especially when we’re dealing with church leaders, Paul did put those passages in 1 Timothy and Titus for a reason.

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  16. Hopefully not too much of a tangent. When I left my last church, a couple of people, a current elder and a former elder reached out to understand why I had stopped attending. The first one decided that the blame was squarely on my shoulders and that if I just walked on the eggshells more softly, I would get a better response. The second one bemoaned the fact that the members who were bought into the “church” idea were leaving and those who remained and those who were now coming were more coming to hear the eloquent preaching, but were not bought into the “church” so much. Our disagreement was mainly over authoritarianism – he had somehow bought into the idea that pastor/elders were superior and regular members not to be trusted…

    So, having left it at that with both of these guys, the authoritarian, when I was talking about joining my new church suggested that my old pastor and new pastor ought to somehow get together to transfer me from one church to another. The closest I could get to his description was being some sort of bride in a Wilson-esque ceremony whose blind submission was transferred from my old pastor to my new pastor.

    So, yeah, I was pretty explicit – using “not loved” as an acceptable wording substitution for “spiritually abused” or “disrespected”, but brought up specific examples where they had belittled or ignored me. Having now been trained in signs destructive to relationships — their response was a pretty good example of how to put the nails in the relationship coffin (yet act as if an olive branch were extended, no less!)

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