Religious abuse exists in every type of faith. Oftentimes, it is not the religion itself that is the problem but the people within the practice. This is precisely why it is hard to get away.
Most likely it began with an attraction of sorts, a need being filled, companionship, and a sense of belonging. But those positive feelings were soon met with conflicting emotions of isolation, inadequacy, guilt, shame, and distrust. The confusion feels like physical abuse without the marks.
Others who have left the religion are shunned, disgraced, and humiliated. You want to pull away but are unsure of how. Try these steps.
- Learn the signs of religious abuse. Memorize and identify when they are being used against you. Saying in your head, “This is abusive behavior,” promotes awareness and empowerment.
- Get a new perspective by sidestepping religious rituals. This is not about abandoning your faith. Rather it is about viewing things from a different perspective. Are you condemned for stepping back? Or is there grace?
- Make a personal commitment not to engage or tolerate the belittlement of others who don’t believe as you. Instead show compassion. Not everyone has the same level of knowledge or understanding.
- Study your faith for yourself. Read and learn directly from the original writings instead of trusting individuals or institutions to interpret. Abusive behavior discourages such practices.
- Make friendships with people outside your faith. This reduces the dichotomous thinking (us versus them) and the isolation that often accompanies religious abuse.
- As you learn more about your faith, intentionally question one of the accepted extraneous rules. Learn all you can about it and stand your ground. Safe individuals will welcome the discussion; abusive individuals will not.
- Refuse to put on a false front. Be consistent and honest about who you are and what you are going through. “Faking it” cultivates fraud and deception.
- Don’t make quick commitments. “I need to pray/think/meditate about that,” are good phrases to use and practice. Abusive individuals try to force immediate decisions before you can evaluate.
- Find a friend who has gone through religious abuse or seek out a professional counselor. You can’t do this alone. You will need someone to remind you of past offenses and hold you accountable.
- As you step completely away from the religion, remember that it is not the faith that caused this but the people in the religion. Healthier versions of your faith do exist.
When you seek out a new religious organization, remember your experiences so you don’t fall into the same mistake as before. Your new level of knowledge from your studies will help you to better evaluate safe institutions. In the end, your faith will be stronger because of your perseverance.
There is hope for your exhaustion. Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort. If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment. Or you can send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.