Five Things I Learned from Spiritual Abuse Survivors

I finally finished editing my latest book, Broken Trust...a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse.  I learned a lot from the spiritual abuse survivors who helped me write the book. I want to share a few of these lessons here.

This is my sixth book, and by far, Broken Trust is the most collaborative effort. I have my own spiritual abuse story, but everyone’s story is different. To help broaden my frame of reference, I sent out over a hundred copies of the book, at various stages along the way, to get people’s feedback. I didn’t want to give a slanted view of the topic and my only hope in avoiding that was to get regular feedback from spiritual abuse survivors. Spiritual abuse is a sensitive topic. I didn’t want to mishandle it.

I am grateful for the advice I got from so many people. I included survivor input throughout the book so my readers would get a broader view of the problem.

What I Learned from Spiritual Abuse Survivors

As I think back on the writing process, here are a few of the more important lessons I learned from the spiritual abuse survivors who helped me with the book.

  1. Words matter. When talking about spiritual abuse, you are speaking about something that has torn people apart on the inside. I have a direct approach in my speaking and writing. Most people appreciate this, but I didn’t want to be reckless or sloppy with my word choice. It’s easy to misinterpret the intention of words on a page. I had to change my approach with this book, softening my words and explaining my intent with greater care.

    When talking about spiritual abuse, you are speaking about something that has torn people apart on the inside.

  2. Tone matters. The concerns of spiritual abuse survivors are typically marginalized and dismissed. They are used to people trying to get them back “in line” with trite quotes from the Bible or cliché spiritual answers. This shuts them down because they don’t feel heard. I went out of my way to see things from the perspective of the survivor and speak to them, and for them, with empathy. I wanted them to know that I was on their side and not out to “fix” them.
  3. PTSD is common among spiritual abuse survivors. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is something we often think of in terms of war veterans. That was my first exposure to it. But it was clear to me that spiritual abuse survivors suffer from this too. I’ll write another post on this soon to say more about this important topic. I think this is one of the biggest reasons survivors of spiritual abuse have difficulty returning to church or relating to pastors. There are just too many triggers that take them back to a dark place.
  4. Spiritual abuse is broader than the church. At the end of my editing, I had a former Jehovah’s Witness tell me that she loved the book, but it was hard to read it at times because of how often I referred to the “church” or to “pastors.” She said that those are two words that JW’s rarely use and it was a bit of a stumbling block. She requested that I use words that encompass a greater number of people who might suffer from spiritual abuse than just those in a Christian church. I would have never thought of that on my own. I went through the entire book and did as she asked. It now is much more inclusive of all people who have suffered spiritual abuse.
  5. Spiritual abuse is more common than we realize. People often lament that fewer and fewer people attend church. They assume that people are increasingly choosing to not believe in God. I disagree. I think church attendance has dropped, not because people have quit believing in God but because church leaders are often condescending, close-minded, and heavy-handed in their approach. There was a day when people would put up with that. No more.

The Generosity of Spiritual Abuse Survivors

I’m surprised by the number of people who wanted to help me with my book. They were grateful that someone wanted to help people in their situation heal. Many people were willing to freely give me their input and advice. It was a true team effort. It gives me great confidence, in releasing this book, that people will find it helpful because it’s filled with wisdom from a variety of spiritual abuse survivors.

Broken Trust is available for pre-sale now and will release on September 18th in paperback and on Kindle. If you read the book, I’d appreciate your reviewing it on the Amazon page. If you are a blogger, I hope you will review Broken Trust. If you have a podcast or radio show, I’d love to speak with you and your audience. Thanks for considering these options. Spiritual abuse is not a pretty topic, but it needs discussing. You can help with that!

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