January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness month. Since 2020, when I began writing the story of my experience, I’ve learned more about spiritual abuse and its impact on those who’ve survived. We continue to see the headlines, watch the documentaries, and hear the heartbreaking stories of people affected by manipulative leaders and organizations.
Fortunately, more people are aware of spiritual abuse because of organizations like G.R.A.C.E. and Tears of Eden, and the work of Diane Langberg. As awareness and advocacy grow, survivors can more easily find help for their healing journeys and churches can make sure they are safer places for their congregations. Spiritual abuse not only happens within churches and religious organizations. It happens in homes, the workplace, and anywhere someone uses religion, faith, or beliefs to exert power and control over someone. It happens in one-on-one relationships or groups.
Each person responds to spiritual abuse differently once they realize what’s happening. I share about my own swirl of initial emotions in the first few posts of the Giant Church series. What’s fascinating to learn as I’ve read more stories about this type of abuse, is that most people who are in spiritually abusive environments respond with or operate in what is known in psychology as the fawn response.
This article by psychologist and survivor, Ingrid Clayton PhD, explains the fawn response well. Brace yourself for what you may understand for the first time.
Her article in Psychology Today is here: What is the Fawning Trauma Response?
From what I’ve read, learned from experts, witnessed, and personally experienced – it seems a lot of us are conditioned to fawn. We are primed for abuse. The fawn response becomes a way of being and we’re even praised for it. It can look like people-pleasing, codependency, blind loyalty, and placating.
But there is hope. We can heal and change. We can break the patterns that keep us in harmful relationships. We can learn ways of relating which align with our values and are life-giving to ourselves and those around us.
Below are more resources to help us on our journeys to awareness, healing, and hope.
- The Allender Center
- Flying Free
- Leslie Vernick
- Nikki G on Instagram
- Chuck DeGroat
- Give Her Wings
- Spiritual Direction with Marie
Let me know if any of these resources are helpful to you and reach out if you have questions or want more resources.
Photo credit: melissa-askew-mYzSRaKLMVE-unsplash.jpg