Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bonding and Bondage in Abusive Relationships

In case you're wondering why you can't "just get over it" from a painfully abusive or damaging or destructive relationship: Trauma bonding makes any relationship harder to end, harder to heal, harder to find freedom from through forgiveness, than the loss of a true love. The neural pathways burned into a brain in trauma bonding are laid down in powerful fear/anxiety hormonal rushes leaving even comparatively good memories with the person colored with the stains of those traumatic events. The loss of anyone we have loved -- whether they have treated us very well indeed or in a deplorable manner -- is something that will heal best in long, loving talks with wise friends and counselors... and Jesus. HE went through a bit of trauma bonding and betrayal, too, right?  ~~ GeorgiaAna Larson

My dear friend GeorgiaAna posted this as her Facebook status, and then kindly given me permission to share.  I think this is especially pertinent in light of my on-going series on various kinds of abuse in churches, organizations, and families.  

If you know someone who is currently in an abusive relationship, or who is recovering from one, please take the time to understand what they are experiencing.  The simplistic "let's tweak this problem and move on" approach will not work here.  The dynamics of abusive relationships are extremely complicated.  The damage and the danger do not end when the abuser is physically absent. The victim so often carries serious emotional bondage along into the future, blocking her ability to see herself clearly, to trust others prudently, to rebuild her life, and to form healthy attachments.  This is true in all kinds of abusive settings, but especially in romantic relationships.  Unfortunately, an abused woman returns to her abusive partner an average of seven times -- if she even leaves him in the first place. There are many reasons for this:
  • She might feel sorry for him. 
  • She might feel emotionally or financially dependent on him.  
  • She may have children with him. 
  • She may not want to leave the familiarity of her home. 
  • She may have been made to feel that she deserved the cruel treatment.  
  • She might fear what the future will bring, and the known evil is less scary than unknown freedom.
  • He might promise to do better, and actually treat her kindly for a period of time.  
  • He may have threatened that he will harm her or her loved ones if she doesn't come back.
  • He may have purposely isolated her from resources and people she needs.  
  • She may feel shamed by her friends, family, or religious community if she leaves, because that appears to be a mark of her own failure. 
  • She may feel bound by a commitment she made to him -- a commitment that has already been completely shattered by her partner's choices. 
  • She may have no emotional and logistical support from people who truly understand.

It takes a lot of time and effort to be set free from an abusive relationship, not just in getting to a safe location, but in finding emotional liberty and healing. What should have been the healthy bonding of love and cooperation has instead become the destructive bondage of control, manipulation, and abuse.  In this case, healing involves a rather intricate disconnection from the co-dependency.  (The image comes to mind of separating conjoined twins.)

Patient, loyal, honest, and wise friends are such treasures in times like this.  Sometimes you have to take a risk and tell it like it is, without being condescending or judgmental.   You might start with: "I am very concerned for you.  I sense that you aren't in a safe place in life right now, and that maybe you don't fully realize the potential danger.  What can I do for you?" It may take more than once.  Be there.  Stay there. Don't be offended if your friend does not respond the way you would hope. Even very intelligent people can get mentally sucked into the muck and live in denial.  If you think she is at risk, don't give up.  Stick with her.  Encourage her to seek domestic violence counseling from a qualified professional, perhaps getting a referral from your local DV center. 

Articles to educate yourself and/or help a friend: 
I also invite you to read my article on domestic violence, which has numerous links of its own: 
And finally, a prayer...

“For Those Who Suffer”

You are love,
and you see all the suffering,
injustice, and misery,
which reign in this world.

Have pity, we implore you,
on the work of your hands.
Look mercifully on the poor,
the oppressed, 
and all who are heavy laden
with error, labour and sorrow.

Fill our hearts with deep compassion 
for those who suffer,
and hasten the coming of 
your kingdom of justice and truth.

Eugène Bersier (1831-1889)

God bless you,
Virginia Knowles

\\ light & free //

Monday, April 21, 2014

On Patriarchy, Scandal, Abuse... and Grace

My 10 children and two not-picture-happy grandsons
(and two more grandsons yet to be born)
in an impromptu family photo on Easter 2014
Dear friends,

My heart is very weary these days reading stories about scandal in churches, religious organizations, and families. So much going on, and nothing really surprises me anymore. For years, I have been researching abuse of spiritual authority. On the one hand, I am glad that darkness is being brought to light and families are being released from bondage of many sorts. Still, I am saddened to hear of all who have been so wounded by errant religious leaders who preached what they did not practice. 

So many of my loved ones have been hurt, especially by the patriarchy movement that has been popular among large home schooling families like mine. This hits way too close to home. I also get lot of e-mails from people who read my blogs, and I can tell you, the damage is deep and wide. I grieve.

My angst is not just about the allegations of sexual misconduct. It is about legalistic and hypocritical teaching that has destroyed families.  It's not just Doug Phillips, but men like Bill Gothard, Doug Wilson, C.J. Mahaney, and Mark Driscoll. I greatly respected them, even put them on pedestals. I regret that now. I sincerely apologize to any of you who started following their teaching because of anything I wrote. At the bottom of this post, there is a whole slew of links for you on some of the problems caused by patriarchal leaders and organizations. This is just a fraction of what is out there.

I love Jesus. I love people. This is not about gossiping or being bitter or judgmental. It is about setting people free and helping them move toward wholeness. I hate authoritarian abuse. I hate religious legalism. I hate the hypocrisy of those who vehemently preach one thing and flagrantly practice the opposite. Yet I was part of this, to a certain extent, even if mainly by association. I am a mother of 10 who became an eager participant in the full quiver / home education movement over 25 years ago after reading Mary Pride's books. This was my life. I read about it, tried to live it, promoted it. I love my 10 kids. I love home schooling. That is not the problem. It's how I did it because of who I allowed to influence me.  I am so sorry for the damage that my own children suffered because of this. I am so grateful, by the grace of God, that we are all still very close, and that everyone is somehow pulling through in their own ways. I've heard some of them say, "We're not doing everything quite the way you did," and I, with relief, say, "That's a very good thing!"

We still have a long way to go. I woke on Easter morning with so much on my mind, so many struggles and failures and unmet expectations. On top of my troubled thoughts, I hadn't slept well and I still had so much to do before family came over in the afternoon. I usually fix a decent Easter breakfast with eggs and such, but yesterday, I was so overwhelmed that I just didn't.  I was all "pickles and prickles" as we got ready for church. In the van, I realized that none of my five younger children had even taken the time to grab a bowl of cereal. (Oh, bad Mommy! Wait. Not! That one's on them, and they didn't even care about it! It's a good thing our church sets out granola bars...) Such a small thing among the bigger ones.  

In the midst of my Easter fluster, I appreciated my pastor reminding us that we still live in a fallen "Good Friday" world, and that we need the resurrection story every day. I know I do! I was also glad to hear him affirm how much Jesus did to overthrow patriarchal attitudes toward women by welcoming them into his ministry and opposing those who tried to oppress them. When he rose from the dead, he called Mary Magdalene by name and sent her out as the first witness of his resurrection in a culture which did not even allow the testimony of a woman in court. Jesus valued women. He values me. He values you, whether you are male or female, old or young, rich or poor, weak or strong... 

Please, dear sisters and brothers, if you are reading this, wherever you are, whatever has happened or is happening in your life, please find your grace and liberty and healing. There may be some things that you need to let go and other things you need to embrace. It is sometimes crazy scary, but it will be worth it.

If you like what you see in this post, considering subscribing to this blog using subscribe options in the sidebar.

Finally, here are some general links from my blogs, and then some about Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard on other sites.

On my blogs:

Other blogs and news sites...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving on from Broken - My Church and Life Transition Story

This article is an update of one I did two years ago.  It has been cross-posted on the No Longer Quivering web site this evening as part of their series on recovering from spiritual abuse. Please note that many people who post and comment there have chosen to leave the Christian faith because of abuse. I ask you to be sensitive to that as you read and interact.

Four years ago, our family left a church organization which was and is facing major issues with legalism and abuse. It wasn’t easy to be there at the end. It wasn’t easy to leave. It still isn’t easy to navigate what I believe and how I relate to people. Despite my deep disappointment and disillusionment, I have continued to rebuild my own spiritual life. I have also looked back on several things that helped me transition out of more than one less-than-ideal-for-me situations. I’d like to share these with you.

Before we left, I started reading widely and deeply about the subject of abuse of authority in churches, organizations, the full quiver / home schooling movement, and families. I continue with that research nearly every day. Since then, I have been grieved by how many iconic celebrity religious leaders have bit the dust in a big way, and more importantly, how much damage they have done to others in the name of God. It makes me really wonder why I trusted what they were telling me about how to “do the Christian life right” when they were leading double lives with desperately dark sides. I am no longer shocked when I hear such news. It just seems inevitable because the legalism they espouse does not transform lives. 

As I started contemplating potential changes in my life, I took a lot of time to think through what was bothering me, evaluate it according to what I already knew, read as much as I could from a variety of trusted sources, and seek advice from wise friends and counselors. One Christian counselor, extremely knowledgeable about spiritual abuse from both personal and professional experience, helped me to think through leaving our church, as well as deal with some other very troubling situations. My current Christian counselor (who found funding to pay for our sessions) has helped me deal with even more issues, such as grieving the death of my mother and re-entering the work force. One counselor was a total fail in our only appointment. I can laugh a little now, but at the time his insensitivity was seriously triggering to me. I understand that many others have had similar experiences with those who identify themselves as “Biblical” or nouthetic counselors.

I spent a few months researching what I wanted in a new church. I asked around, surfed the web, listened to sermons on-line, made a short list of possible churches, and talked to my family about the options. When I found a potential church that looked especially good, I called a friend who had attended there for a few years and grilled her for about an hour. The pastors, elders and other members there have been extremely supportive in light of our prior church experience. It has been a safe place where I can breathe and recover.

I have attempted to stay on good terms with our friends and pastors from our former church, which was challenging because of what I have written about the church’s parent organization. (Note: Fortunately, the congregation chose to leave that group in late 2014, after this article was written.) I am pleased to say that those who were truly my friends are still my friends. I know some folks have been shunned by members of their former churches, but that really hasn't been an issue for us. I have taken the opportunity to communicate clearly with some of the pastors what my issues were with the church. They took the time to interact with me, they have expressed authentic sorrow, and I believe they have taken my words into consideration as they plan for the future.

I have given myself permission to handle this transition at my own pace without expecting too much. It certainly wasn't over the minute we left our old church, and frankly, they didn’t cause all of my issues in the first place. From what I've read on web sites about spiritual abuse, these kinds of situations can trigger PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), with the associated depression, anxiety, anger, apathy, disillusionment, distrust, relational conflict, and spiritual doubt. I have experienced every single one of them.  It can be a complicated tangle that takes time to sort out. There are some phrases, songs, subconscious impressions, and even Bible passages that give me a spiritually allergic sensation and make me recoil. I ask myself, "Why am I reacting like this?" and try not to let negative associations ruin otherwise good things. It is especially comforting to know that God is big enough and loving enough to handle my angst. I find that I am much less "put together" than I thought I was before, but I've also learned to be OK with that.

I now have the freedom to live outside the box of other people's expectations of what it looks like to be a “godly woman” particularly in the area of marriage and motherhood. After years and years in strongly complementarian settings and mindset, I have steadily edged toward evangelical egalitarianism. I have also rethought my views on parenting and education. I am a mother of 10, ages 8 to 26, and I taught them at home for over 20 years. I was a die-hard full quiver home school mom, publishing three books and 16 years of e-magazines and blogs about it. I had nightmares about the thought of sending my children to public school. Yet some of my own children have thrived there in the past few years. I have been criticized and questioned by a few who are bewildered by our choice, but the fact that most of my kids are in public school is not the most pressing issue in my life at the moment. I no longer feel the need to justify my educational decisions. I just do what needs to be done each year.

Journaling and blogging are also important to me. Writing it out clarifies some of the issues, and helps me to go back later and reconsider what I had been thinking before. Sometimes I see a little bit of progress from then until now, and other times I have to go back and reclaim some of that progress that seems to have slipped. For me, journaling is a private matter. No one has permission to read them.  It has to be a safe place to let it all out without the fear of having to explain it to someone who might misinterpret what I'm saying. I write out personal thoughts, Bible notes, life management and inspirational book notes, prayers, and plans for the future.  Blogging is obviously more public than my journaling, but it is a huge help, too. I have always said, "I write to stay sane" and that is more true than ever. I blog about spiritual abuse and recovery at, observations about daily life at www.VirginiaKnowles.blogspot.comand motherhood at   

Another way that I use writing in recovery is creating poetry. Three that touch on these issues are:

One more restorative gift is appreciating the beauty of nature that reminds me that God is a Magnificent Creator. Clouds, flowers, tree trunks, sunrises -- all powerful for building trust in the goodness and power of God!  In 2013, I started a new “Strength in Hymn” series that couples vintage hymn texts with nature photography and encouragement for the disillusioned Christian. I love finding beauty through my camera lens!

What about you? What has helped you recover? What didn't?

Peace to you and yours,
Virginia Knowles

I Know that My Redeemer Lives (Strength in Hymn)

I Know that My Redeemer Lives

By: Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living head!

He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives exalted, throned above;
He lives to rule his Church in love.

He lives to grant me rich supply;
He lives to guide me with his eye;
He lives to comfort me when faint;
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives to bless me with his love;
He lives to plead for me above;
He lives my hungry soul to feed;
He lives to help in time of need.

He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly friend;
He lives and loves me to the end;
He lives, and while he lives, I’ll sing;
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King!

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my savior, still the same;
What joy this blest assurance gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!

Today is Palm Sunday,
the start of Holy Week!

May this remembrance
and this obscure old Lutheran Easter hymn
be a blessing to you and your family.

You might like to visit my Holy Week and Easter Link page.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"God the Artist" by Dag Hammarskjӧld

"God the Artist"

You take the pen
and the lines dance.
You take the flute,
and the notes shimmer.
You take the brush,
and the colours sing.
So all things have meaning and beauty
in that space beyond time where you are.
How, then, can I hold back anything from you?

Dag Hammarskjӧld (1905-1961)
Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953-1961)
Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld, 1959.

Related posts:
Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles