I’ve had the privilege of being a personal assistant to a gifted psychologist who is also a dedicated and genuine Christian. During that time I was privy to hundreds of patient files containing their narratives, their issues, their hopes, their dreams and mostly, their pain. Due to confidentiality requirements, I’m not going to share any of their stories here.
I can, however, share the insights I gained, not only from access to personal information but also from my own conversations with clients I formed relationships with as they sat in my small office, which doubled as a waiting room. Hardly able to contain their emotions while waiting to be called into my boss’s office, many opened up and spilled aspects of their stories while I did my best to make them feel welcome and safe. I’ll ever be grateful for their trust and for what they’ve taught me about life, love and learning.
In itself, faith in God is not to blame. Narcissists however, use their religious beliefs to manipulate, control and dominate you through fear. To them, religion is a golden tower behind which they hide their dark, shadowy side; standing firmly behind that golden tower while they whip you with out of context scriptures and archane, patriarchal (usually but not always) tactics designed to keep you downtrodden. They tend to have impossible standards of spiritual and moral perfection you have no hope of attaining, leaving you feeling insecure and inadequate. As soon as they perceive that vulnerability, which they’ve carefully cultivated in you, they’ll hone in on it and use it against you at every turn.
Let’s look at that much-quoted and misrepresented biblical admonition for wives to ‘submit’ to their husbands. This is, of course, a misogynistic favourite. It’s all too easy to wield it over the heads of women who desire, with all their hearts, to live according to God’s word. ‘Submit!’ shouts the priest from the pulpit, shaking his fist at a sea of bowed feminine heads. ‘Submit!’ bellows the controlling husband, waving the holy book in front of his wife’s tearful face. ‘Submit!’ order the religious texts written by those ignorant of the nuances of language and translation.
Submit. This one six-letter word has been used to strike fear into the hearts of millions of women for thousands of years…but what does it really mean?
Its original meaning is simple and beautiful. To ‘submit’ means to ‘lift up’. We are to lift up our menfolk to encourage them, and to give them comfort and support. We are, of course, to lift them up in prayer. But there’s another aspect to consider, one that is rarely spoken about. It’s this. We are to lift up our husbands by helping them to stay on that narrow path God calls us to follow; and that means we are to correct them, albeit respectfully, when they stray from that path, and help guide them back to the light, if you will. That means saying ‘no’ sometimes; disagreeing; insisting on respectful and loving treatment and objecting when they become too steeped in worldly things. Ah yes, that’s something narcissists don’t want to hear.
And let’s not forget it works both ways. That is, we are to submit one to another. Yes, husbands must uplift their wives also. It’s worth noting too, that the instruction to submit is specifically meant for husbands and wives. It does not imply that all women are meant to submit to all men; or vice versa.
Sadly, I have witnessed many pious women, their shoulders hunched and eyes cast down, enter through the therapist’s door. After years of ‘submitting’ (in the wrong sense of the word) to controlling husbands, waiting for God to intervene and mend their marriages and their hearts, they come to a Christian counsellor for instruction. Those who walked through my employer’s door were lucky indeed. They’d found a psychologist with an educated understanding of scripture and a rich, deep faith. Without a doubt, she is also one of the strongest, most assertive women I’ve ever met. Those downtrodden women invariably left her office with their heads held a little higher. It was a pleasure to watch them blossom as she taught them how to become the women God intended them to be. Sometimes, that meant the end of their marriages, a possibility they believed God would never condone.
But trust me, God does not condone abuse.
But the bible says God hates divorce, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it does…sort of.
In fact, the word divorce turns up in the scriptures a number of times, in both the old and new testaments and in different contexts. These contexts are important, as are the nuances of language and the difficulties of translation. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Yeshua spoke) cannot easily be directly translated into English. Translating first into Greek, as most of the scriptures were, adds another layer of complexity. There can be several degrees of separation between the original meanings and contexts of words and phrases, and their current meanings and contexts.
The word divorce is a perfect example. In Matthew 19, for instance, it is made clear that a man is not to ‘put away’ one wife and marry another. In modern texts, this ‘putting away’ is translated as ‘divorce’. Seems clear enough at first reading, doesn’t it? But let’s look further.
What does to ‘put away’ really mean? Wisdom dictates that it means much more than to separate physically from a woman, or to instigate legal proceedings for divorce. A man can put a woman away from him by a thousand emotional and psychological cuts. (Please note that in the author’s opinion, a woman can do exactly the same thing but they are not as easily excused in religious circles.) Words have the power of life and death over the human spirit; they can be wielded like a sword. In a spiritual sense, words can be used to murder. If a man and a woman become one – a unity in spirit – and yet one of them severs that unity with a spiritual weapon, is this not putting that person away from them in the most brutal manner?
This then, is what God truly hates. In His eyes, divorce has already taken place at the severing of the spiritual and emotional bond between a man and a woman; a bond that is meant to be both tender and strong; a bond that is meant to fulfill a higher purpose.
Abuse (not only physical and sexual abuse but psychological/emotional abuse, too) severs that bond. From a spiritual perspective, there is no difference. Yet the Church frequently teaches us the contrary. And so domestic violence in all its forms is aided and abetted by religion, despite God Himself prohibiting it in no uncertain terms.
Read more at Narcissistic Religious Abuse Tactics.
I’ve not attempted to delve into institutional abuse in this post. That hotly debated topic could take years to unravel and is, I believe, not within my area of expertise. If you have been abused at the hands of anyone within a religious setting, the damage will go deep. You need love, acceptance and understanding. I urge you to seek outside help…and to keep searching until you find a caring, supportive therapist you feel comfortable with. It will undoubtedly be extremely difficult for you to trust someone in authority, and with good reason. Don’t give up. You were meant to fulfil a unique purpose in your life, not to suffer endlessly because of the heinous actions of other human beings.
One of the most disturbing phenomena occurring within church circles, and which receives no press, is the tendency to alienate women who’ve made the decision to leave abusive husbands, after years of cruelty. Far too often, I’ve witnessed these women being ousted from their spiritual families. Cut off! Deprived of spiritual and emotional support. Quite literally, they’ve been told they’re no longer welcome in the church ‘family’. Their spouses, however…men…remain safely cloistered within patriarchal circles. Their spiritual lives don’t miss a beat. Their friends and mentors don’t drop away. For women…hurting, abused and used women…the story is so different. They find themselves alone and friendless, carrying all the guilt and shame the church ‘fathers’ have foisted upon them.
It’s time to shine light upon the darkness.
I have no doubt that abuse is actively or passively promoted by certain factions within virtually every religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Scientology or Callithumpian! I’ve spoken exclusively from my own experience within the Christian community from both sides of the therapist’s door.
Love and light.