Friday, May 13, 2011

Q. How could I have been so wrong? A. It’s easier than you think

   If you stand forlorn and disillusioned come May 22, you won't be the first to feel that way after trusting a spiritual leader. Though many followers of Bible answer man, Harold Camping, will be "crying mightily" and asking themselves what went wrong, many victims of spiritual abuse have asked that same question -- and  some continue to ask themselves the same question on a regular basis. 

Some spiritual abusers purposely deceive the flock for gain or power. Others unintentionally abuse, but whether intentionally or not, religious authorities who exhibit spiritually abusive traits create plenty of damage.

  After a few days (or weeks or months, in some cases) many Campingites or former Campingites, will wonder how they could have been so blind to their teacher's faults, or how they could have been stupid enough to believe him, or so gullible. They will not understand how easy it is to be taken in. They will be in very good company. Many people, emerging from spiritually abusive churches and groups, ask the same thing. How could this have happened to ME?

It’s a lot easier to fall under the spell of an errant religious leader than many people realize. It doesn’t seem to matter if you're highly educated or not, whether you are wealthy or poor, whether you have a healthy amount of skepticism or not. It doesn’t matter whether you have just a smattering of Bible knowledge, or whether you consider yourself quite the scripture expert. 
  Cult-like leaders – and especially those who seem to believe in their own special calling – can do amazing things to people’s minds, sometimes unknowingly.
  What makes these religious figures so authoritative, and how could you have fallen for it all?
 Certain factors work together in combination to bring about dependence on authoritative voices:

1. Elitism: If your Bible teacher constantly casts scorn or derision on other religious groups, churches or beliefs, he makes his followers feel special. He points out faults of Church A, then B, then C. Before long, no one is quite as enlightened as your special group.
   If Church A is worldly because of a certain practice or doctrine, then simply by not being a part of Church A, you find yourself up a notch on the spiritual ladder. YOU have escaped error or sin by not being part of Church A. Then repeat with B, C, D...
   This is how elitism works. The leader criticizes other Christians not like his followers. When such criticized Christians respond to the negativity, the leader characterizes the response as persecution. At the same time, he steps up the criticism of groups outside his authority. 
  This does two things: 1. It makes followers know that to avoid errors like those in Church A, B or C, they need to keep to the group and listen more closely to the leader. 2. He also makes it hard for followers to leave. After members have spent so long looking down at folks outside the group, and inflating the “specialness” of the group, it is hard for them to leave and join a group they’ve criticized for so long.
   Cults and spiritually abusive groups inflate their own sense of uniqueness and calling. AND they put down others outside the group frequently.
   If you’ve found yourself following your leader in criticism of outside groups, know this: It’s hard -- once you’ve started -- to back up and go a different direction. In the most cult-like groups, almost no one outside your little circle is considered authentic. You can’t just instantly erase months or years of your own critical attitudes toward outside groups. To leave the group, it means you have to realize that your criticism, though sometimes just, was sometimes not just. That’s hard to own up to. To keep from feeling uncomfortable over your negative views of others, you held on tighter to your leader and absorbed more of his negativity and disdainful views than you otherwise would have.
2. Authoritarianism: Your leader not only exaggerated the claims of the group as a whole, he exaggerated his own importance to the group. Some leaders can actually put on a humble facade, all the while stressing their own importance and uniqueness. Though some leaders come right out and demand subservience (so that you show God how humble you are, through serving them) others are more subtle. They just want you to admire and adore. By establishing themselves as the ultimate authority on spiritual things, they puff themselves up and receive an emotional boost. What followers do when they follow, or give to, or compliment such leaders is to provide the narcissist with what is called “narcissistic supply.” When you become a source of narcissistic supply to a leader, he makes you feel very important, very special. Later, when you start harboring doubts, it’s hard to just walk away. If you do, suddenly your position as chief supplier of flattery is in danger. Your own sense of purpose fades and that’s uncomfortable.
  3. Mind control: Manipulative spiritual leaders use mind control tactics. Some may even do this unknowingly.
“Trust bandit” is what Lalich and Tobias call these leaders. They take something very essential from you. In the book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, the authors point out that “even after leaving the group or relationship, many former devotees carry a burden of guilt and shame while they continue to regard their former leader as paternal, all‑good, and godlike,” according to one reviewer.  The power of manipulation reaches far and wide.
   In a chapter called the Authoritarian Power Dynamic, the authors list some traits you will find among abusive, manipulative leaders:       
 * the tendency to hierarchy
 * the drive for power (and wealth)
 * hostility, hatred, prejudice
 * superficial judgments of people and events
 * a one‑sided scale of values favoring the one in power
 * interpreting kindness as weakness
 * the tendency to use people and see others as inferior
 * a sadistic‑masochistic tendency
 * incapability of being ultimately satisfied
 * paranoia                              

   4. Black and white thinking: When these leaders speak with such convincing authority, with a voice that sounds unwavering and sure, it is hard for many not to believe what they say. They don’t seem to hesitate at all. In a world where there is so much uncertainty and ambivalence, it is refreshing, sometimes, to find a voice that seems so sure and convincing. Unfortunately, certitude comes with a price.
  With spiritually abusive leaders, “many disputable matters are classified as either ‘black’ or ‘white.’ No allowance is made for ‘middle ground’ in these areas. This is sometimes also referred to as ‘polarized’ thinking, because nearly every issue is interpreted as having only two possible answers, both of which are polar opposites of each other. Spiritually abusive groups leave very little room in between the two extremes, thus crowding out both personal freedom and the operation of God's Spirit in the life of the individual. “ See Rest Ministries chapter on black and white thinking.
  People in a spiritually abusive system become dependent on their leader’s reasoning skills, or assurances or authoritative voice. Without it, they feel lost. It’s not because they are stupid or unable to think on their own; it’s because that, first attracted to the calm and forceful assurance of the voice, they eventually became dependent on it, like on a drug.

5. Group-think reinforces the deception: In a chapter called Group Leveraging, one writer looks at mistakes made by the Kennedy administration over the Bay of Pigs incident. He says that Kennedy afterwards asked, “How could we have been so stupid?” but says that stupidity is not the explanation. Group-think was. It’s easy after you’ve gone a wrong direction to ask how you could have been so stupid, but at the time, if you look closely at what was going on, you’ll see that group leveraging was in all likelihood, going on.
Here are some traits of group-think that Rest Ministries quotes from a 1971 Psychology Today article:

"Groupthink" happens when ‑‑
1. The group shares an illusion of invulnerability;
2. The group engages in collective rationalization to discount dissonant information;
3. The group comes to believe in the inherent morality of what it wants to do;
4. The group develops stereotypes of other groups and of dissenters which protects it from accurate analysis;
5. The group puts direct pressure on dissenters in order to silence them;
6. Group members begin to censor their own thought, especially doubts they may have about the wisdom of proposed courses of action;
7. The group comes to believe in its unanimity because of lack of dissent and the belief that "silence means consent;"
8. Some members of the group come to function in the role of "mindguards" ‑‑ watchmen who "protect" the leaders from dissenting views by actively discouraging such dissenters from expressing their disagreement.

These are complicated dynamics, but very powerful ones. It may be hard for those never under the spell of such leaders to understand, but the tricks and deceits these leaders use -- in some cases even without realizing what they are doing -- are very powerful, and almost anyone can become a victim under the right circumstances.

So what do you do when you find you’ve been deceived by a religious narcissist or errant leader? Start by finding other such believers. Tell your story. Tell how you broke away from the power over your mind. Though you may have been told not to “gossip,” it is not gossip to tell your own story and is often very helpful and informative to share experiences with likeminded victims after the trauma of spiritual abuse.


The Cult Next Door said...

This is an awesome post, Provender!
Please keep writing!

Provender said...

Thanks, CND! I feel for the followers of Harold Camping today. A relative is one of them and it's going to be a hard time for her just now. The eBibleFellowship latest tweet is quoting Hab. 2:3 though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry So it is going to be an agonizing wait for them, I'm afraid. Hope things are going well for you these days!

The Cult Next Door said...

It's going awesome! I hope it is the same for you :)
I am so sorry about your relative...I will pray that they see the manipulation for what it is...
God bless!


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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse. It can happen in big churches and small. It can happen in churches that at first seem sound, biblical or healthy. Certain signatures define spiritual abuse: authoritarian leadership, claims that the group or leaders have a special calling or gifts, inability of leaders to handle criticism, harsh treatment of those who question or try to leave. These are just a few. Though the manifestation of abuse differs in externals, underneath are similar traits, repeated in abusive groups. Become familiar with spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and you will soon see how these leaders manipulate and control.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

What's happening to my church?

A message to culty group defenders

Cult Next Door posted this excellent response to those culty-group defenders -- who lambaste victims on blogs exposing spiritual abuse. These folks see nothing wrong with the abusive leader, defend the hurtful practices and blame the one exposing the tactics. They needle victims, and pile on blame. They excuse the harm of abusers, and belittle the pain of victims. Provender wishes every blog on spiritual abuse would have a little message like this for these folks.

Sometimes, they apologize

Every once in a while, church leaders in these situations apologize. A Florida blogger, FBCWatchdog, was kicked out of church and given trespass warning documents after being outed as a church blogger critic, and later was branded a "sociopath" by the pastor of his large, Florida church, in the local paper. The blogger eventually brought suit. After the ruling (and likely as part of the settlement), the pastor publicly apologized. There is much more to the story, but these are the highlights.

Using words to manipulate

It can be subtle, or it can hit you head on. When spiritual abusers are cornered, certain techniques crop up again and again. Here are some samples.

What does elitism have to do with spiritual abuse?

Does your church think it's special? What does it think of other churches? Elitism is a big sign your church or group could be spiritually dangerous. CLICK HERE for more

Misusing Scripture to Abuse

Check out The Cult Next Door's interview with Provender on twisting scriptures.

Stories of abuse and survival

Links to stories of spiritual abuse:

She had to choose between church or daughter

When he wanted to move out of state, the pastor of this Kansas UPC church said he'd be going "down, down, down."

This cult church made a virtual slave of one blogger -- 15 years of misery

What is it like to lose your son to a spiritually abusive church? One mother's story.

Her husband gave up law practice to give his all to church, and the whole family ended up shunned by order of the leadership.

Cruel stepfather is also pastor of a California "Bible-based" church (a Calvary Chapel). His children suffered beatings meted out by this pastor/stepdad. Church leaders would not disassociate themselves, only minimize and cover up the pastor/dad's violence.

This pastor said God gave instructions on how to roll and fold toilet paper properly. Soon the TP police were on the job Also, edicts on not smashing pennies!

They told her terrible things would happen if she left, and no other church would help her.

The man behind the curtain

Church blogger critic experiences wrath of abusers (including fake letter-of-resignation sent to employer) and major harassment with few attempts by church leaders to stop the abuse.

Caught in a Bible-based cult for 13 years

Holey coverups

Abusive voices remained in her head after she left the cultish group

A good blog on spiritual abuse, and some great links in the sidebar also.

This sad story includes 15 signs of abuse

This woman left the frying pan of one cult for the fire of another

Parents of woman who cut off baby's arms blame pastor 's influence for taking her to the edge

College senior trapped in abusive group for years finally escapes

Many, many stories mostly from UPC members

An SGM pastoral intern finds leaving isn't all that easy

When husband beat her after worship service, this mom sought help from church only to be abused further

Hedged in at her Canadian Baptist college, this young women had few places to turn, but managed to survive.

When humility is not humility

After divorcing for verbal abuse, this woman was disfellowshiped from a Baptist church with a message on a large screen in front of the church that read: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A CHILD OF GOD

His family chose the elders and shunned him

"Untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone"

Abusive pastor destroys congregation he was "called" to serve

Check main site

Make sure to check out the main Provender site

Contact Provender

If you have found an especially helpful site on spiritual abuse, please email Provender and we'll see about adding it. If you need to tell your story, you can also email Provender. We'll always keep your story confidential unless you wish to post it in the case studies section.

Also, if you notice broken links on this site, please contact Provender: Click Here

Featured link: The Web of Narcissism

Provender's guest posts

A Sense of Futility on Quivering Daughters blog

Spiritual Abuse is Hidden Trauma on The Cult Next Door blog

Are you covering your pastor's nakedness?

In Predators in the Pulpit, Chris Efinda discusses the covering nakedness doctrine. Enablers of spiritual abuse justify cover-ups of abusive pastors using this pseudo-scriptural approach. Efinda says that the spiritual "sons" of abusive leaders feel that hiding the wrongdoing of abusive pastors becomes a divine test of their own faithfulness. If you are acting as a go-between, or "filtering" what comes from your pastor and to make it seem more acceptable to others, are you trying to cover your pastor's nakedness? It's very likely.

Also see, Are You Covering for a Spiritually Abusive Pastor

A word from Ezekiel

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."

Ezekiel 34:1-6

A message to abusive pastors from Jeremiah 23

Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD. ...

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the LORD.

... for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

They say still to those who despise me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

...I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

...I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the LORD.

Is not my word like as a fire? says the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jeremiah 23

Tell your story

The Cult Next Door blog invites those who have been spiritually abused to tell their stories. This can be a healthy exercise for victims of abuse, especially those living under a "can't talk" rule.

Follow the leader, but with care

An editorial on how easy it is to fall into the trap of following dangerous leaders.

Search Here

To search Provender (or to see the latest additions to Provender), CLICK HERE

Order of Posts

I like to keep the list of helpful sites on Spiritual Abuse at or near the top because providing links to the best resources on this topic is the main purpose of this blog. If a post seems to disappear, you can usually find it below the first post.

Psalms for the Oppressed

A glimpse into life under the thumb of controlling church

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel by Shari Howerton details life under the thumb of an oppressive church.

Spiritually abused woman needs prayer, help

How they use words to manipulate and abuse

Spiritual Abuse Quote of the Month

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning...Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology. -- Step 5 of MargaretSinger's Six Conditions for Thought Reform, found on ICSA

Covering and Manipulation

Two sites I want to emphasize:
The site Covering and Authority ends up buried and hard to find because it was a late discovery, so I thought I'd make a handy sidebar link to this page on the concept of covering or theology of covering. This site includes many scriptural references refuting the idea of human responsibility for the sins and behavior of others.

Also, a Rest Ministries page on manipulation and spiritual abuse disappeared when Geocities closed its sites in October. Before it disappeared, I preserved part of it and now have it linked HERE. This site exposed, in vivid detail, techniques abusers use to get followers to do their bidding. Very insightful

Additional resources

Dr. Barb Orlowski has provided these additional resources she came across in the course of her research. Thanks, Dr. Orlowski.


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