Sometimes I wonder how I sound to the rest of the evangelical world, to those who weren’t subjected to fringe patriarchal teachings from grace-forgetting complementarians, those who never fought the fear that comes with legalism from your pulpit, those who don’t have to shake the guilt hangover from their childhood churches or Christian communities. Those from idyllic, happy homes, where brothers and sisters didn’t have to be guilt-tripped into showing compassion, where you were always accepted and loved, no matter what.

I try not to sound angry when I write. I try not to sound bitter. Sometimes I am a firecracker when talking about these things in person, but those emotions shouldn’t really bleed through here, where I seek to analyze, to process, to examine the larger trends which ended up creating or influencing my experience in homeschooling communities, in churches, in my family and others. I don’t tell my story to point fingers or to throw a pity party on the internet. I write because I have found that I’m not alone in my experiences, and we’re all processing very similar things, and it’s easier if we can do that together. If we can talk about it and name the things that hurt us, it becomes smaller and we don’t walk around holding our pain close to our chests, burning us up in silence. I write because I believe wholeness is possible. Because I know that grace is real. Because those in authority over us weren’t malicious and didn’t understand the fallout from their teachings.

But it must look strange and be somewhat perplexing to those who haven’t grown old early as the oldest child in a big family, who didn’t have to question God’s goodness because of a church twisting the scriptures, who love freely because it’s easy and safe. And it must be confusing for you to know how to love us, when we say things like “I need to take a break from reading the Bible” (What! Are you abandoning God?), “I need to take some time off from church to detox” (Is your church bad? Don’t neglect the fellowship of the believers! Christianity can’t be lived out alone!), “I just want to have a good relationship with my parents, but it’s so hard when we disagree on these issues” (Wait, can’t you just agree to disagree? or They’ve hurt you a lot! Just step back from them–it’s a toxic relationship.), etc. And it must be very perplexing when you say any number of these or similar things . . . and we react by clamming up, or tell you long and upsetting stories, or get defensive and angry. It’s exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

So, how can you love someone who is recovering from spiritual abuse? How can you show us Jesus and love and understanding, without making us feel afraid or pressured into an emotional wholeness we don’t yet possess?

Be patient with us. Chances are, this is going to be a long process. It’s likely we could be “recovering” or “deconstructing” or “processing” (whatever word we happen to use for this healing process) for years. We may not ever be whole again. Church will be hard. Family events may also be hard. Don’t get impatient if it takes a long time.

Allow us the freedom to set boundaries. Don’t pressure us into things we aren’t able to do–you never know when you might accidentally “trigger” a flashback or that voice inside our heads that wants to keep us trapped in fear, guilt, or self-loathing. Most of us never knew to say no to things we weren’t comfortable with or weren’t sure we liked. Often we’re trying to build healthy relational boundaries from the ground up, and it’s a huge deal for us to be affirmed in choices that fly in the face of our past fears or guilt-trips. Examples: saying no to over-committing to serving at church or community volunteer stuff; saying no to things we were taught to be guilty about for no good reason (those burned by modesty and courtship teachings, especially); trying out new things that were socially frowned upon (short hair! piercings! tattoos! dancing! normal alcohol consumption! TV shows!); doing drastic relational overhauls to cut out negative or triggering relationships. It may be weird or hard to understand, but it’s a fundamental part of recovery. Read up on codependent relationships to understand some of what we’re reacting against and why boundary setting is so vital.

Listen. Therapy is great and we probably all need it, but we need our friends, too. We need what I like to call “a normal radar”–someone who will listen to us rehash where we’ve been and tell us “no, that’s not normal/healthy” or “yes, most people feel that way! You’re not alone. It’s not wrong.” Sometimes we’ll talk and talk and it won’t make a ton of sense, but just having someone willing to listen and be kind to us is a really healing thing. It tells us we’re not crazy and we’re worth caring about. We need that.

Don’t judge us/correct us/freak out if we’re angry. This goes along with boundary setting. Basically, most of us were in situations where unhealthy boundaries were practiced and we let a lot of people manipulate us. We didn’t know better then, but we’re starting to realize how wrong it was, and it’s normal for us to have a lot of retroactive anger, at ourselves, at the pain we have to work through now as a result, at those who taught us the things that damaged us.

Let us experience healthy familiesIf we’re estranged from our families because of disagreements over the past/our church experiences (a lot of parents feel personally rejected or attacked if their adult kids start making life decisions based on different interpretations of scripture or personal values) and you have a particularly healthy, happy family, include us! But don’t make us a “project,” because we can see through that and it makes us feel patronized. On the other hand, happy families may be too hard for us to interact with, because of the personal contrast. If we want to stay away and create some space, it’s probably because we’re not ready to go there yet.

Buy us books. Recommended books for those coming out of spiritual abuse are:

I’ll take reader recommendations for other books like these in the comments section!

Don’t lecture. Kind questions to make us think things through more deeply will be helpful, but please don’t try to talk us into conforming. Not yet. If we’re in this recovery process, it’s likely we’ve been worn out with well-meant lectures from parents and pastors, and we need some space to figure out what we believe, independent of authorities telling us how to think. As part of the boundary-setting process, we’ll probably end up rethinking what we believe about issues like homosexuality/gay marriage, abortion/pro-life movement, inerrancy of scripture, etc. We have to learn to believe things for ourselves. Give us the grace to ask hard questions, to doubt God and faith, to investigate the terms of our moral compass, to change our minds.

Go with us to visit other churches. We may want to visit different types of churches, but we’ll probably be too self-conscious to go alone. Offer to be a church-shopping buddy, and be the best friend who gives us a call to rescue us from a date gone bad–be confident and help us leave if the service is upsetting.

Watch your lingo. Christians often have some form of dialect, riddled with clichés and catch-phrases from our church culture. We say “blessed” and “hedge of protection” and “joy” and “thankful” and other similar things, and it’s pretty normal inside of Christian groups, but it sounds weird to the rest of the world. When we’re recovering from spiritual abuse, these phrases can carry emotional connections to bad experiences, guilt trips, or just a suffocating environment. Say that you’re happy, not joyful. Wish them good luck instead of blessings. Tell them you’re glad, not thankful. All those things may be true, but you’re not really compromising anything by making your language slightly more neutral. And you’re probably going to become aware (in a healthy way) of ways you’ve become lazy in your speech and relied on clichés rather than descriptive phrases.

Distract us. Sometimes we’ll get so wrapped up in sorting through memories and experiences that we’ll forget how to relax and have fun. Help us loosen up and find balance, not allowing the past to dominate our emotions today.

Encourage us to write. For some of us, journaling and writing can help us get things out and think things through. It can be very cathartic.

Readers! What else has helped you? What do you wish your “normal” friends understood about this process and how to relate to you?


  • I enjoy reading your thoughts given so freely. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share. Believe it or not, I have been there, angry, resentful, what’s the point, never want to step foot in a church again… I remember thinking I couldn’t “share” these thoughts, or I had to pray in a certain way for my prayers to be heard. Then I realized, God already knew what I thought, lol so I might as well let it “rip”… Very freeing. 🙂 Keep writing, keep sharing, there are more people out there than you realize who actually do understand. God help us when we give the impression that those who do are the only ones in the “church” who do get disappointed, hurt, and angry. Love, Mrs. T

    • Laurie A.

      You ROCK!!!!!!!! and you’re telling the UNMItIGATED truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you, Mrs. T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • “Let us experience healthy families”
    I cannot emphasize how important that point is.. That was what saved my life and gave me hope.

    • Laurie A.

      I’m trying so hard, and have been for the past 2+ years to do just that. To provide a healthy family environment for my children and my husband. Coming from a horribly dysfunctional past… of 40+ years, I am only NOW beginning to comprehend what that even means…

  • Mattie I would love to repost this at No Longer Quivering! It’s an excellent article and I think would be helpful for so many! Let me know.

    • Hi Calulu! Yes, I’d be honored–feel free.

    • Laurie A.

      Do it!!!! i’m so there!!!!!

  • Kirkion

    Normal friends?

    You have normal friends?

    Is highly suspicious…

    • I wasn’t thinking of you, naturally. No worries.

  • Michael

    Excellent words. Oh, the cliches . . . . so so so tiring. Doesn’t it make you just want to puke sometimes. LOL And just before the words hit the atmosphere you can feel them coming up out of you, you want to just “chirp” them back. Sorry I’m getting upset. Thanks again.

  • “A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. …

    “Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

    “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

    –e.e. cummings (http://www.mrbauld.com/ee.html)

    Some may argue I’m taking this out of context.

    This application of cummings’ idea is due to Anna Jennings.

  • Nichole Nelson

    Wait? What, some people don’t feel guilt or shame and understand love and feel safe? Is that possible? I thought everyone was somehow hurt somewhere along the line. Maybe I’m just an ego-centric person. But, seriously, that concept is foreign to me. You just made me reconsider a way I have been thinking.

    • Laurie A.

      All I’ve ever known of people in authority is that they don’t feel guilt, shame or comprehend genuine love. It isn’t “us” – it’s them.

  • Laurie A.

    I am NOT alone and neither are you. Praise God (sorry for the christianese but I mean it as one who is in recovery) that I discovered your site quite randomly (not really but, again, that might be too christianese)… Good Luck (bless you) and your journey. I am totally going to download the ebook for Quivering Daughters…