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Sunday, January 31, 2021

When church leaders victimise abuse survivors rather than advocate in cases of injustice


I had a conversation relayed to me recently (third hand, so don’t worry, nobody would know who it is), where a church leader met with a victim of abuse, and, as they recounted how they truly felt, the church leader said, “You sound bitter.”

Now, there are a number of ways you can play that three-word sentence, but anyone who’s survived abuse and who is ‘bitter’ about what happened to them knows immediately they’re targets right there of victim-blaming.

Yet, it seems a great number of people who have never been harmed by abuse simply don’t get it, and they read survivors who sound ‘bitter’ as core to the problem — “Mmm, don’t worry about that person you’re angry about, we need to fix that attitude of YOURS first.”

When a survivor of abuse and trauma hears this kind of sentiment, they immediately know they’re not believed, and the perpetrator has been acquitted.  That’s NOT pastoring.  It’s actually another example of abuse.

Besides Rebecca Davis’ fine work on ‘grieving bitterness’, it might help our purpose here to discuss the issue of reactive attitudes and WHY they occur.

A LITTLE DISCUSSION ON ‘REACTIVE’ ATTITUDES

Sharon Lamb, quotes philosopher P. F. Strawson in her book, The Trouble with Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility, “if we do not react with resentment when our rights are violated then we do not take our rights very seriously.”

Stanford University say, “In particular, Strawson argues that our reactive attitudes towards others and ourselves are natural and irrevocable.  They are a central part of what it is to be human.  The truth of determinism cannot, then, force us to give up the participant standpoint, because the reactive attitudes are too deeply embedded in our humanity.”

What’s most profound about the philosophy is it describes what is predictable about the typical responses of humans who have been harmed — Christian or not.

This philosophy speaks to the actual experience of survivors of abuse, and it explains why resentment is the most predictable response to harms that have been done that are harms that haven’t been or cannot be reconciled.

UNMERITED ‘FORGIVENESS’ IS NOT FORGIVENESS

Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  What better way to love our enemy than give them feedback about how they harmed us?

Who would love their enemy enough that they would pursue them with a mercy-prepared justice so they could be acquitted BEFORE they meet their eternal Judge?

Just like it is for salvation — where it’s accepted that we MUST repent to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness — it’s a golden opportunity for all sinners to face consequences for their actions THIS side of the eternal divide; otherwise, it’s judgement on the other side — remembering God sees ALL.

This is a forgiveness that’s more than prepared to extend mercy when the enemy has confessed their wrongdoing.  This is a forgiveness that Jesus calls for; “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  If they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Why wouldn’t a perpetrator face the consequences of their harmful actions through confession when they know that true repentance activates mercy and forgiveness?

They don’t because they feel entitled to do what they do.
True abusers feel they’ve never done anything wrong!
And church leaders often side with people like this.

What is it about the present-day church leader who doesn’t cope well with a person rebuking someone who has abused them?

Church leaders are more likely to tell the person who’s doing the rebuking that they’re out of line — when in fact they’re doing exactly what Jesus has commanded them to do.

But it’s not just that.  Think of, “IF they repent, forgive them.”  What is this rubbish peace-keeping teaching, then, that says, “Forgive them regardless whether they repent or not”?  It is not biblical.  Jesus didn’t say that... he said, “IF they repent, forgive them.”

For me, it’s a false gospel that insists people be ‘forgiven’ when they clearly haven’t learned anything — there’s no justice in that because there’s no love in it.

Part of love is committing ourselves to the BEST for the other person.  When we let people off the hook, they learn nothing, and they cannot grow to become better, and they’re confined to eternal judgement.

We need to love people with the truth,
not pretend it never happened.

THE CHURCH HAS A ROLE TO FACILITATE JUSTICE

When we facilitate justice, we’re truly peacemakers.  But what future does the church have when it would prefer to victimise survivors than advocate in cases of injustice?

My prayer is that churches and leaders who do that do an about-face, pronto.

The church and church leaders clearly have a role to facilitate justice in peaceful ways.

They have a role to investigate claims, and just as much, they’re committed to loving all people.  Those who have a claim of abuse are loved through being listened to and by being believed.  A great amount of good can be done when a leader simply believes a survivor.

The person who is alleged to have done the abuse is loved by holding them to gentle account.  They must be given the opportunity to repent.

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Detaching from a narcissistic manipulator intimidator in your life – a series


There are those people in all our lives whom we feel safe with and there are those with whom we don’t.  It’s great to attach to safe people—we nurture and enjoy each other.  But it’s often necessary to detach from those people who regularly, consistently, constantly manipulate and intimidate.

This is merely ‘sounding the gong’ that I’m embarking on a series of exploring detachment.  I want not so much to be led by other resources on the topic, but I want to be led by you—your thoughts, your queries, your questions, your frustrations.  I’m hoping we can engage with each other through comments or DMs.  Not so much direct one-on-one counselling ministry (unless you need that) but more so, “Here’s my thought,” that I can engage with directly through an article.

One paragraph to get us thinking.

Attachment is something we do in relationships, and we’re meant to establish close bonds with people—not all people, but some people.  This is because we all need people.  But when we attach to a narcissist—and once a narcissist, always a narcissist (and you’ll get it when it happens to you)—it can be either: 1) very hard to instigate detachment, and oppositely 2) it can be very hard when you’ve been disposed of. Recognising that God loves everyone, how do you interact in kind ways when that kindness will constantly be thrown in your face through manipulation, intimidation, gaslighting, victim-blaming, etc.?  And, how do you reconcile life with this person and life without them?

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Friday, January 29, 2021

Gaslighting is manipulation of reality with the goal of crazy making


Gaslighting is the ultimate scapegoating experience.  I say ‘ultimate’ because when it is carried out and done so ingeniously, there is absolutely no sign of the wrongdoing having been done; so much so that the victim is levelled and dissolved from where they stood, their person and position completely disintegrated on a bed of lies.

Gaslighting takes place more often than many of us think.  It takes place whenever someone denies the truth that could’ve been observable by anyone had they been positioned to see, and yet they reduce the truth to a fact of nonexistence, confining the other party (the truthteller) to the reputation of myth-believer, even liar.  It is always devastating to be in that position where the record of history is changed in the blink of an eye, simply because the facts did not bode well for the gaslighter and they hence bore false witness.  

Gaslighters change their story because it is convenient to them to do so.  They therefore reveal that their lies:

§     are more preferable to them than justice is; 

§     are allowable to get them out of a fix (revealing entitlement);

§     are convenient ‘alternative facts’ (when truth is crafted by a narcissistic artist);

§     are more important than another person’s reputation;

§     that include crucial omissions and exaggerations are often pivotal distortions;

§     are what they testify to be the right record of history (when they act like God).

... before God who cannot be fooled.

Gaslighting is the perverting of the course of justice.  It is taking justice on a journey far away from truth.  It is criminal.  And it must be a person seared of conscience who does this, or so fearful of exposure that maintaining the fa├žade is worth it.  Such a worldly gain is a burning of the Kingdom of God within the gaslighter.

WHAT IS BEING GASLIT LIKE?

The experience of having been gaslit is overwhelming on a number of fronts.  The person it’s done to is incredulous that the facts are misrepresented, minimised, hidden or denied — with deliberate intent.  This alone would be enough to throw the person a curveball and confuse their thinking in such a challenging moment.

At the same time this is being done, the gaslighter attacks the other even as they secure their own reputation in one and the same movement and moment.  One person is thrown under a bus.  In the vicinity of bystanders who quickly judge the gaslighter as the truthteller, which so often leaves the one being gaslit with explanations to make.  All the while, the gaslighter looks innocently on, “Nothing to see here.”

The dynamic of the moment is pressure for judgement, because everyone is on a conquest for truth, and if we can’t answer the moment properly it only looks worse for us, whether we are the truthteller or not.  Of course, the gaslighter capitalises on having thrown the curveball, which in and of itself is just another deception.

The experience of having been thrown under a bus is quite a devastating betrayal — lies in the full light of day with no regard for what that means for the innocent.  And get that right, there is no ‘it takes two to tango’ when it comes to gaslighting.  It is out-and-out an abuse.

Gaslighting makes you feel insane for believing reality, because somehow reality is subverted, and an alternate reality is what appears to be real to everyone else.

~

Now, this article is by no means a conclusive precis on gaslighting; entire volumes of books could be written and still not exhaust the dimensions of it.

Finally, Christians, as followers of Jesus, who came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, are bound by the ninth commandment to not bear false witness.  This means, in effect, that even in situations where the truth would work against us, we are to speak the truth.  Of course, this should not need to be said, but we are all in situations where we attempted to pervert the course of justice.

Where we’re infracted by Christians, yes gaslighting Christians, we’re forgiven for being thrown by such situations.  It would do us well if we were to see how there will always be people who will buckle under the temptation to lie.  I can think immediately of three biblical examples that show us that even supposedly godly people fall for it:

§     Achan who took plunder from Jericho and hid it, was caught and killed (Joshua 7);

§     Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, who took plunder from Naaman, and when caught by Elisha was instantly afflicted with leprosy (2 Kings 5);

§     Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 lied to the apostles and died in judgement;

There is justice for liars caught in the act in the Bible, and perhaps we can be encouraged to know that gaslighters will be brought to justice one day.  God sees all.

Here is something novel.  This may not be something that a gaslighter would do, but it is something for all of us to consider.  When we are in a situation where we may be tempted to burn someone for our own gain, perhaps we could consider the risk of faith required in being on their side too.  Yes, to opt for the good in their proposal.

Can you imagine what it does to the dynamic to have an adversary come and join your side.  I say that it is novel, because it hardly ever happens, but we may find that the Kingdom is built on the foundations of this kind of selfless behaviour.

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The essence of narcissism – the value of image


I know, I know, it’s the most overused term these days: narcissism. But let’s consider ancient Sirach 11:2…

It says, “Do not praise individuals for their good looks, or loathe anyone because of their appearance alone.”

There is an inherent folly in the trust of appearance, because appearances are deceptive.  The essence of narcissism is appearance.  And the narcissist knows that they can fool the world through the maintenance of appearance alone.  What makes them who they are is their givenness to these traits of manipulation and deception.

They even deceive themselves.

That person who maintains trust through appearance, who manicures a beautifully presented reputation, who will do anything to maintain it, even to the extent of burning anyone who dares to question their validity, who puts tremendous stock in being admired, is a pattern narcissist.

Their image is everything.  Even to the point that they have mastered such softness of heart at the surface that often has some of the most discerning people fooled.

They may appear to have empathy.  They have full command of their emotions and regulate them according to the needs of the situation.  They manipulate the heartstrings of others.  It’s their job.  It’s as if they were made for the maintenance of appearance.  Little wonder, really, that they are grief-stricken at the merest accusation that they are anything but the paragon of Christian character.

We’re left with a problem.  How on earth are we to tell between the narcissist who seems perfect, and the mature Christian who we might think would look perfect.  This is where we’re easily duped.

The mature Christian doesn’t look perfect at all.

Indeed, they’re at pains to show all who are watching that their life is a mess without Christ.  They point to the One who is glorified in all perfection.

They who are mature have nothing left to prove and nothing left to gain.  They are entirely comfortable being entirely vulnerable.  That’s character for you: they’re so solid they don’t need to hide; keeping appearances doesn’t interest them at all.

Those who add nothing to their salvation know above knowing the value in the fruit of repentance.  Their engagement in repentance is the surest sign of their maturity.  Theirs is a truly relational faith, a direct reflection of what they’ve received from God.

But then we are left with the common problem: we are ever quickly deceived, and devastatingly so, in the entrapment we find ourselves bound to; in all manner the circumstances and varying situations we find ourselves, and especially within codependency.

The essence of narcissism is image projection
amid image fascination
amid image protection
amid image sanctification.
Pretension of everything God is.

Everything is about image.  And when everything is about image, nothing is about reality, and there is no integrity between the image and the fruit of one’s behaviour.  It’s a complete mismatch.  Because of this mismatch, there’s constant manipulation and dishonesty.

Whenever we find ourselves in a relationship with someone who has a preoccupation with their image, we’ll always be the loser, because they must serve the image, because it has become their idol, and idols always require sacrifices.

When we’re in relationship with a narcissist, if we don’t protect and nurture a positive image — no matter how false it is — we have limited value, no matter how much we’re told we are loved.  If we don’t protect them, we’re a threat to them.  Their image is more important than we are.

You’ll know how conditional their love is by how quickly you are thrown under a bus when you say or do anything that might impact on their image.

If you have found that your feedback or criticism of a certain someone has generated vindictiveness on their part, watch out, because if they’re narcissistic, you’re the one who’ll lose.  They exist for themselves and are never willingly beaten.  They see ‘win/lose’ when you’re wondering what all the fighting’s about.

They have no insight, and
have no desire to grow in insight.

They exist that you have insight of their brilliance, their specialness, their Jesus-likeness. But what unravels image from reality is reality itself.  They aspire to something completely beyond them, because they never recognise that spiritual brilliance, specialness, and Jesus-likeness occurs through weakness and vulnerability, where fear and shame pose no threat.  The narcissist has long rejected these qualities — they cannot and will not face their fear or their shame — but they know the value in weaponising the image that these qualities bear.  Their stealth is by intention.

They know the power of charisma of projecting a persona of weakness and vulnerability so others may be won over.

Appearances are deceptive and the world is full of such trickery.  If you want to know who the trustworthy are, observe it in them by their willingness to be seen as weak, as wrong, as learners, as growers, as listeners, as friends, and certainly as no threat to you and I.

Observe how many people trust them.  Observe the longevity of their relationships.  Observe what grounded, trustworthy others say about them who have known them for a long time.

Be suspicious, on the other hand, of those people that people are overly impressed with.  Charm is usually more about appearance than reality.

Above all, view everyone through the lens of image.  The person who puts their own image above the treatment of others is dangerous.  And anyone who silences people to protect a person’s image indicates how insidious the system of narcissism is.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Sunday, January 24, 2021

When there’s merit in couples counselling and when there isn’t


Thankfully, it seems, more therapists and pastors are becoming wary when it comes to couples counselling.  It definitely has merits for couples who have the same goals, and equivalent willingness and power in the relationship, but there can be red flag issues, and they’re not always obvious at their first presentation.

Often times there’s more initial merit in doing the deeper work at a personal level.  That’s actually one red flag — when partners are not prepared to do their own inner work with a counsellor.

A victim of abuse will generally be keen to do such work, for obvious reasons of personal support, but their abusive partner will be far less willing for a counsellor to get access to themselves or their partner.

Sometimes it’s imperative to meet with one partner early on to establish (without asking directly) whether there is either a safety issue or an issue of aggression.

For some, the inner work is about working on why they’re actively or passively aggressive, and for others the inner work is on boundaries and responses of assertiveness and safe resistance.

All persons who present with conflicted relationships can do with inner work in terms of trauma — because unmet, unacknowledged, unprocessed trauma can create dynamics of both aggression and submission, usually one in one, and the other in the other.

All this in terms of couples counselling blurs into oblivion when there’s abuse.

I can’t counsel someone to be more assertive when I know they’re entering a situation where their partner will use that ramp up their aggression.  It only makes relationship situations more dangerous.

It’s better for me to equip them with tools to see potential abuse situations — and, when you’re talking about the less obvious abuse dynamics, these are always subtle nuances.  If a person can see what their relationship is really like — and it’s THEIR eyes that are important — they’re in a better position to decide what’s next.

Equally, I won’t counsel someone to be less aggressive when I feel they’re only going to work me over and manipulate my perception.  That can often be the goal of aggressors — to have their way by justifying how ‘reasonable’ they are; to be seen as the ‘good guy’ (gender inclusive).

The thing to note is there’s always a high conditionality about their cooperation in the counselling process.  They cannot and do not give ALL of themselves to it.  They will show this by their wanting to steer and manage the process.  Counsellors can often feel this coming from a mile off.

There’s a big difference between someone who is making mistakes and wants to correct them and someone who feels entitled to do as they please.

It’s not hard to tell one from the other.

The test is in the genuineness of a person to STAY in their own work.  It’s demonstrated by constantly wanting to understand and work on their own stuff.  It’s a dream when both partners genuinely are doing this.

But apart from a partner waving the flag of desperation, I’ve seen some people be so intent on proving they’ve done great staying in their own work only to throw their partner under a bus.  It’s an obvious and a visible abuse done right there in the counselling room!

The key test is no self-justification, no coercion, no trying to manipulate things.

If a person feels unsafe in their relationship, they’d be better to see a counsellor on their own, in secret if necessary.  There’s no betrayal in doing this.

So often the one who’s being abused is not only protecting themselves but others too.  But for their own life’s sake, a person’s safety is more important than a relationship’s status.

Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Institutional responses of stonewalling evoke trauma responses


Power brokers don’t need to engage with their aggrieved.  Provided there’s silence enough not to evoke a response of indignation in others, the power broker sits protected in their position.  They continue to believe only their narrative and practice their denial of other’s narratives — not even going there.

What a common phenomenon it is that many people become complicit in excuse-making, because people don’t want to rock the boat and it doesn’t affect them.

If the aggrieved desire an apology, the power broker doesn’t need to apologise.  They stand behind the protection they have in their position.  They don’t need to engage.  Nobody will make them do it.  They rule their own destiny within their operational realm.

Besides, not having to engage means they easily justify that they have nothing to apologise about, which merely propounds their entitlement and culpability.

If only they had the integrity to revere truth and prove love for the hurt over the instinct to protect what is only vulnerable when there’s something to hide.

But there are two sides to unequal power dynamics within dimensions of conflict.

Those who sit in the power position, who DO engage, show amazing integrity — and love, no less, for their brother or sister.  They do justice, they show they love mercy, and they walk humbly with their God.

The same goes for organisations and institutions.  It seems that so few these days (or any day for that matter) do justice and love mercy by walking humbly in giving one lone voice the dignity of being heard, validated, commended, believed.

But it’s the default for organisations and institutions to image-manage situations.  Why?  To protect a patch, a brand, reputations.  What takes precedence is the image that is portrayed — the organisation or institution is a hero for what it stands for and for what it does.  “Why should we ‘go down’ for this ‘little’ wrong we’ve done, when we do so much good?”

Thankfully we live in a world that demands more of power brokers, and it’s great we live in a most transparent age.

When church and parachurch organisations and institutions replicate this repugnant image-management tactic — paying for expensive legal teams and resources, knowing their complainant is instantly intimidated and subjugated — they use their power for evil.  They hide behind ‘protecting the image of God’s name’ when God never needs such a defence — only those who do ruinous evil need such protecting.

It’s not just institutions, though.  There are powerful individuals, too, who subvert justice through secret evils that only require a few enablers in the inner circle to maintain.  It can seem that there are important status quos to uphold, but when truth is dispatched and there’s no accountability, important imperatives become excuses for doing the wrong thing.

Important imperatives are best upheld by doing the right thing.

Doing wrong things exposes everything.

I think of the need of a database or accreditation of good organisations and institutions that manage conflict and accusations of abuse well, who are transparent, who honour survivors of abuse and trauma, who do not re-traumatise these people and groups.

There are databases that reveal the identities of known perpetrators of abuse, for instance, baptistaccountability.org.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one for churches, organisations and institutions who visibly give room for transparency and openness?  That certain churches, organisations and institutions could be actively known for being survivor-friendly.

Organisations and institutions that stonewall those who have claims of abuse re-traumatise them, re-doubling the damage, and that harm ripples into the lives of many innocent ones, all the while reprobate organisations and institutions go on doing more wrong and harm to others.

When organisations and institutions operate without recourse to accountability for the power they hold and wield, there is wrongdoing, abuse and harm done.  All organisations and institutions need to cater for the impact of the power they hold and wield.  It is when they don’t that we end up with systemic and systematic abuse of people and groups.

Photo by Kellen Riggin on Unsplash

Friday, January 22, 2021

Remember that Jacob wrestled, it’s okay that you struggle too


Though I would love the capacity to give up, turn around and stop doing what I do, it appears I cannot.  When life is down, and I’ve received bad news after bad, and my soul sinks, I cannot stop hoping, even when I do temporarily give up hope — if that makes any sense at all.  The effect is I’m broken by what I cannot reconcile.  The fact I can’t let go of hope makes wanting to feel a confounding, confusing conundrum.

Do you struggle for hope from time to time?

Moments like this we can either flip off in a rage or we melt in a puddle of tears — or a mix of both.  Often, anxiety can send us into numbness as well, and there are combinations of all these, anger, tears, numbness, among others.

I made a choice a long time ago now to FEEL the pain.  I just am unable to deny my feelings these days; though, if it’s inconvenient, like I’m helping someone, I can choose the strategic withdrawal of what’s termed a functional denial — for a time — to focus on the other person.  With what I do, I need to be able to do that.  But I don’t escape.

Those feelings must be met, encountered, rummaged through, resolved.

It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we’re ‘meant’ to “give thanks always,” knowing we aren’t always thankful.  We must remember that even Jacob (otherwise known as, Israel) wrestled.  It’s okay that we struggle too.

It’s only from the state of genuine anxiety and of feeling depressed that we recognise it’s not always possible to FEEL thankful, or to be present for that matter.

It may make sense in our head, but for some reason our heart feels forlorn, or perhaps even our thoughts are scattered.  And there the wrestle begins again — to regain that thankful spirit.

It’s instructive then to have experienced this sense of helpless hopelessness.  To have experienced it means we’re invited to become capable empathisers of those who would give anything to feel thankful, but for a plethora of reasons can’t or aren’t.

We’re capable of such empathy because we know what it feels like to be confounded.

Faith is a wrestle.  Anyone who says it isn’t just doesn’t understand the full gamut of humanity — we are FEELING creatures, and whether you divert your sadness into anger or denial matters little — you’re still being emotional.  It would be better by far to tip that anger into authenticity and feel the sadness and fear as it presents or face the feelings with courage and not cheat ourselves of reality through denial.

Feeling out of control is the pits, yet that too is instructive, because it’s only when we get to the end of ourselves that we see the door is ajar to humility.

Accept what cannot be changed and we walk right through that door.

We can only walk through one door at a time.  And that’s all each moment requires of us.

But to make matters worse, when we’re struggling, when the wrestle is real, we find we’re wrestling most with ourselves, within ourselves, and we somehow know it, and we want that wrestle to conclude with a neat resolution.

The fact that we’re even wrestling is a victory.  It seems easier for most not to go there.  But those of faith have no choice.  There’s no option but to fight, and the struggle is real.

The fact we’re wrestling reveals the fighter in us, not needing to fight with others, but needing to fight off attacks that strike inwardly; those that create dissonance for reasons unknown.

If you’re a fighter, a wrestler, a struggler, be glad.

Make the most of times you’re on top.  When you’re battling your way back up off the canvas, know it’s your nature to fight, to resist capitulation, to wrestle with how you feel, and to resolve it through acceptance.

Most importantly, resolve not to be guilted into shame for feeling weak.

Though you feel weak, strength is your ally.  Strength for feeling real.  Strength that you cannot be a coward — that when the wrestle presents, you find you must fight, even if that’s out of being floored.  Strength that even when we give up, you find the tenacity to ascend eventually.

There’s no shame in finding ourselves at that low place.  It’s from there we rise.

Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash