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Anyone go to counseling about healing from spiritual abuse or toxic church?

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I scheduled a session with a counselor who specializes in church issues. My first session is later this week. 

I feel weird about it but I realized that I'm so angry and can't move past it. (little background - we left our parish a few months ago. We haven't left our religion, just the parish.) 

The church we will probably attend isn't holding liturgies yet because of the spike in COVID cases so we are in limbo here. But I've found that I'm not that interested in going there because of all of the baggage with our old parish. 

I think that's why I need to talk to someone about it. I also want an objective opinion about what happened. As I get further away from it, I'm both seeing it as worse than I did then and wanting to dismiss it. Sorry if that makes no sense. 

I'm also hoping for an objection opinion about how some people treated us since this happened. I think we're being shunned by certain people. But then I wonder if I'm overreacting. It makes me not want to join a new church because I feel like I couldn't trust people again. 

Anyone work with a therapist about this and did it help? 

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Not exactly the same, but I've worked with a pastor who is a counselor about church issues in my past.  

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I didn't go to counseling to deal with my toxic church issues.  I did leave organized religion for several years.  It took lots of time and lots of introspection/evaluation and I used the tools I learned from years of therapy to help overcome and deal with the horrible things that happened within that church.    When I felt I was ready I did some research and found a different church/different religion that I felt was a good fit.  We have been members of that church for about 10 months now and I am very happy there.   I felt much safer leaving that religion completely and I do think that was a large part of being able to even enter church again.  I will be thinking of you and hope you can find a safe space to heal.

(hopefully this is all clear...it is early and i didn't have but a few min. to post so it is rushed)

Edited by peacelovehomeschooling
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I did not go to counseling, but I did eventually come to understand that I suffered from harsh judgementalism in some instances, and narcissism and misogyny in other ones. I now have to keep my mind on those memories of people who were kind and genuine rather than on (the seemingly) many who were not. Working though anger and hurt so that a root of bitterness doesn’t take hold in ones heart is on-going.

A counselor could be helpful in processing what happened. 

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My husband attended a toxic church and he got a lot out of happening to meet other people who had similar experiences.  
 

Edit:  I would think similar to what a counselor would do.  
 

It is very lonely to see things wrong and have everyone else say those things are right because the pastor says they are right.  

 

Edited by Lecka
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(hugs)

I've seen a therapist but not a specialist.  I think I would benefit from a specialist who was familiar with different church dynamics.

I am still so angry about what happened to me.

It is good you're seeking help.

More (hugs)

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Ugh. I'm so sorry but I do get it. I had a big crisis and left the Catholic Church to attend my childhood denomination about a year ago I think. The anger, and the hurt, and the frustration were so intense. That is supposed to be your safe space, and when it isn't, and when you feel that these people are becoming not your doorway to God but a barrier to him, it is so hard. 

For me, what helped a lot was talking to a very wonderful priest, who basically just understood, said to keep praying, and that attending a different denomination didn't change who I was, and that God understood. It also helped to hear another priest say (not to me specifically but on the same topic) that all the best Catholics he knows were away from the church for at least a decade. So I figure I've got time, lol. 

That said, the longer I was away, the easier it got, the less the hurt and pain. I DID realize though, with Covid, that the wound was still there, as my frustration with how all the churches in my area handled Covid at first re-opened that wound - that feeling of not being able to trust my spiritual leaders. So still some work there. 

As a resource, one I haven't used but have heard amazing things about, perhaps look at the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. My Episcopal parish (and others) actually hold classes based on it. https://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Spirituality-Impossible-Spiritually/dp/0310342465

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Members of our family were in this situation and did finally receive counseling which was very helpful. Yes, there are many toxic churches, sad as it is. What you wrote makes sense. From a distance you can see more clearly  what happened and yet it may feel as if it's easy to minimize now since it's in the past.

I would definitely try a counselor and see if it's helpful. It's also good to keep in mind IMHO that people caused this - not God. It sounds like you are well aware of this.

Edited by Liz CA
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3 hours ago, peacelovehomeschooling said:

I didn't go to counseling to deal with my toxic church issues.  I did leave organized religion for several years.  It took lots of time and lots of introspection/evaluation and I used the tools I learned from years of therapy to help overcome and deal with the horrible things that happened within that church.    When I felt I was ready I did some research and found a different church/different religion that I felt was a good fit.  We have been members of that church for about 10 months now and I am very happy there.   I felt much safer leaving that religion completely and I do think that was a large part of being able to even enter church again.  I will be thinking of you and hope you can find a safe space to heal.

(hopefully this is all clear...it is early and i didn't have but a few min. to post so it is rushed)

Yes, I had to leave the entire denomination - but that's mostly because my issues were not in the local church, but in the larger hierarchy. I just was SO hurt. I likened it at the time to leaving my home to go stay with a loving Aunt. In my case, the denomination I sought refuge in happens to have a LOT of members who have made that same journey, so that helps. 

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1 hour ago, Ktgrok said:

 

That said, the longer I was away, the easier it got, the less the hurt and pain. I DID realize though, with Covid, that the wound was still there, as my frustration with how all the churches in my area handled Covid at first re-opened that wound - that feeling of not being able to trust my spiritual leaders. So still some work there. 

 

I am dealing with this right now, Katie. I wondered why I was so upset at the chaos that asking people to wear masks during singing at our tiny church has caused. I realized yesterday that it really is just old wounds opening up. Counseling isn't an option for me, but I do need to pray and seek the Lord for healing. I am unclear if these old wounds are just going to surface from time to time in this life, or if they can truly be healed in a way that I won't be bleeding everywhere when there's a conflict. 

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12 minutes ago, Calm37 said:

I am dealing with this right now, Katie. I wondered why I was so upset at the chaos that asking people to wear masks during singing at our tiny church has caused. I realized yesterday that it really is just old wounds opening up. Counseling isn't an option for me, but I do need to pray and seek the Lord for healing. I am unclear if these old wounds are just going to surface from time to time in this life, or if they can truly be healed in a way that I won't be bleeding everywhere when there's a conflict. 

Hugs.

For me it helped some to seek out spiritual leaders I did find hope in. 

 

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I never went to counseling but I have talked through some of the abuses I saw/experienced in the past and that was helpful.  It was helpful to have someone who "got it" (if that's the right word??) and didn't question me.  

Given the current circumstances it sounds like seeing a therapist is a good idea.  

I also don't think there's anything wrong with just going to church and leaving right after.  

But, I understand that this is a hard time to be searching for a new church.  Both my daughter and my son and his wife are looking for new churches during this time. 

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I see a counselor for other reasons (started with coping with kids with ADHD/ASD, etc.), and it's been helpful to talk to her about church dynamics when they are bad. 

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I never went to counciling, but I would say that I have finally healed from what I consider a manipulative church.  It's hard and took a very long time.  Please be easy with yourself and give yourself time to go through the phases of grief.  I would do well for a long time, then have a trigger that would bring up issues I considered delt with.  That happens less and less now.  

My honest opinion is that you should not attend any place of worship for over a year.   Otherwise you risk getting yourself in the same situation again.  Give yourself time to work through what you need on a church and a church family.  Figure out what issues you are willing to compromise on, and which are hard no.  Do that without others telling you what you should think, do or feel.  

And big hugs- it's such a hard thing to deal with.  It hurts on so many levels!  

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No, but I think it's a good idea.

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6 hours ago, Ktgrok said:

Yes, I had to leave the entire denomination - but that's mostly because my issues were not in the local church, but in the larger hierarchy. I just was SO hurt. I likened it at the time to leaving my home to go stay with a loving Aunt. In my case, the denomination I sought refuge in happens to have a LOT of members who have made that same journey, so that helps. 

That is what I meant....I changed denominations.    I'm glad you were able to find another church home.    Your analogy is spot on.

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I am sorry you are going through this. The first thing I would tell you is absolutely go for counseling , get help because I did not and I wish I had. It was so traumatic in a way because few understand your doubts and fewer understand why you don't walk away. I was so ashamed, scared, guilty and alone. 

I don't know how to describe my journey. When I first came here, one of the easiest things should have been finding a church. It was not the language, but the culture. Still I found a church and had people pick me up and drive me when I did not have a car or know to drive. I did not fit in though and when I had doubts people did not understand, they just gave me pert verses or expected me to pray more. Made me feel guilty. I struggled so much with shame and stayed longer than I ever should have because I was afraid of losing friends. But I had to leave and many were disappointed. Some were so hurt they stopped talking to me for a while, but thankfully many of those relationships are restored today even if we are not that close. 

What helped me was talking to people I trust which were my parents and a pastor of my home church. My parents were frantic because they thought they raised me with faith with church, Sunday School, VBS and here I was stopping to go to church because I could not fit in. They never understood that much, but they never guilted me or demanded I go back to church which helped immensely because so many people threw the whole 'you will not see you family in Heaven when they die" when I did not go to church. Most of all my parents prayed for me. Speaking to my old pastor helped immensely. 

I struggled so much. 'Dark night of the soul' perfectly describes it. My one soul cry was, "Lord I should not lose you, don't let go of me" . If you have doubts in church but want to remain christian in my experience it is a lonely place. I found more support if I would return as the "prodigal daughter" to church or walk away from the faith.My christian walk does not look anything like I pictured, was raised with but it is stronger because it was tested and I came out stronger. I had to lose a lot of things in the bargain to have faith. Regular church going, not having sacraments regularly. But I have Jesus and that is who Christianity is to me, not man but God. I also have DH and my parents and I am prayed for. We pray as a family, teach our children faith but we will not put people in front of them as role models who we do not agree with. I still pray for a church though. 

I hope you find someone to help you process it for it is traumatic and many people do not understand how it can be. I will hold you in my prayers. 

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I am not seeing (or actually it is hearing since it is telemed) because of church problems but that is one area I have brought up and will be bringing up with him again.  My specific issues are that some women made fun of my disabilities, and one man gave a lecture in class about faith healing (we are Presbyterians and aren't into faith healing ---  not that God can't heal but it isn't a given at all) and stated straight out that if you aren't healed, you didn't pray enough or have enough faith (his wife died of cancer and he blamed the retired pastor for not faith healing her) and when I challenged that as did my dh (and then we left the class), some old members excused the behavior by saying it is his way of grieving (his wife died over 15 years ago and we have only lived here 9 years)  and finally, that the church is just not very good with disabilities and conditions in general.  

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1 hour ago, Dreamergal said:

I am sorry you are going through this. The first thing I would tell you is absolutely go for counseling , get help because I did not and I wish I had. It was so traumatic in a way because few understand your doubts and fewer understand why you don't walk away.

Yes, that part was hard!

 

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I will say I ended up where I am in large part because the priest at EVERY service makes a point of saying that he and the parish welcome EVERYONE, no matter WHERE you are on your spiritual journey, and that everything is in God's time, not anyone else's. I needed that. 

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I personally have not, but I know people who have and who said it was the best thing they could have done for themselves.  Sometimes that objective option and caring ear is really important. I also think people in general underestimate the pain of losing a faith community or finally coming to the realization that it was/is toxic.   It’s a struggle for the people around you to adapt to the change as well—faith was an absolutely huge part of DH’s life. When we got married, he was a deacon and, well, the golden boy of the church. Long story short because I was not a member of the church(Baptist) the pastor wouldn’t marry us, we eloped and had a lovely ceremony later where his entire church family(and most of his biological family other than my sweet in laws and SIl) refused to attend.  That was the beginning of the end and 11 years later we are just starting to come to terms with what him losing his faith and faith community has really meant(he is completely turned off to any form of Christianity now) for him, for us, for our marriage, for our family.  He stuffed it away for a long time and only the last few months has he really started to talk about it.  I can’t completely understand your struggle, but I am helping someone I love work through the hurt, and it’s so devastating.

In short...I think a good counselor would be a blessing.

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One other thing I did- after 5+ years, was find an online group of people who have walked away from my old denomination.   In some ways its healing just hearing that you aren't the only one who decided to leave, the experienced abuse, or that has to deal with family fallout.  

@Medicmom2.0. I am so sorry for your husband- that sounds so painful.  I was a committed member of my church who married outside the denomination  (he was Baptist, but that wasnt good enough).  Even though we still attended, there were digs made.  Part of the pain was the disillusionment, part was personal growth, but it's been nearly 20 years and I can still be triggered.  Hugs to you both as you work through this.  Its hard!

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I did go into therapy to deal with the betrayal of my Rabbi/spiritual mentor. The pain of that was only second to my husband's withdrawal of needed love and affection.i needed to figure out forgiveness, which I did through reading a book on forgiveness by Bishop Desmond Tutu and praying a lot in addition to therapy. Under the help of the therapist I wrote a letter to the Rabbi and asked for a path to reconciliation. Didn't get the answer I had hoped for, but I forgave him anyway. It's exactly what I needed. For the issues around Covid-19 that we talked about recently, I've yet to even try to have that conversation. Don't really want to because he hurt my husband. Don't mess with my husband.

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