Guest Post: Spiritual Abuse Compounds Sexual Abuse #MormonMeToo
I am a survivor of abuse. I have had to work really hard to understand abuse, what causes it, and how to deal with the consequences. When I needed help the most, I turned to the church for help, only to have my abuse misunderstood and misdiagnosed as a spiritual problem. My strong determination, love, and faith in my Father in Heaven was the only thing that saved me, as well as the ability to separate God’s love from the weakness of the arm of flesh, even in the Lord’s Church.
My husband psychologically abused me for 10 years. It was a slow undermining process that I didn’t recognize for what it was until 6 years after I left him. The tipping point that forced my hand to leave came when I not only tried to kill myself, but also my children. This mental state required change, and when he didn’t like what needed to be changed it led to him having an affair, blaming me, and eventually raping me for talking to the other woman. During the space of time from my breakdown and me leaving, I tried to ask for help from the bishop. He told me it was my problem and my fault. Because I didn’t understand what was happening I internalized this, compounding the problem.
After I left and completed my divorce the devastation to my entire being can’t even be described. The lack of being able to function normally was impossible. My ex continued to gaslight, belittle and discount me. I can’t even go into all he did during and continues to do after our marriage. I know now what was happening, but at the time it was so confusing and painful. This lack of self-worth and devastation along with lack of work experience left me displaced, desperate, and dysfunctional. It was hard to get and keep a job. I went looking for relationships because I was desperate to feel loved and be validated as a human, AND because I couldn’t financially survive on my own. Because of the psychological-sexual abuse I didn’t realize I had experienced, I found myself dating men who took advantage of me and not knowing how to stop it. Bishops told me that I had a sex addiction, that I didn’t have enough faith, or understand the atonement. Because I myself didn’t understand what was going on, I took everything they said to heart. I worked really hard and constantly did everything they told me to do. At one point I had regained my temple recommend and started attending the temple once a week for almost a year before I was disfellowshiped again. I had thought that if I went every week it would make me stronger, but it didn’t solve the root of the problem because I didn’t know what it was. My frustration grew, as the men I had sinned with got little to no reprimand while I was disfellowshiped. I was even raped by a member of an Elder’s Quorum presidency in a singles ward and 3 months later they made him the president. He told me he talked to his bishop, and I had told my Stake President, but I must not have been worth the investigation. Two of the men who I had problems with were good men who I married because my bishops told me if I didn’t they would have to excommunicate me. This was not the answer and only made things worse and the relationships didn’t last longer than a few months because of things I hadn’t healed from. When I moved to new wards and had to explain my situation over and over, the fact I had been divorced became a stigma that overshadowed the core problem.
I started to believe that no matter how many books I read, how many conference talks I listened to, or how many times a day I prayed that I would never conquer this problem. But the more I read and learned, the closer my relationship with God became, and my personal revelation continued to grow. My love and passion for God grew so much, and I felt his love everyday, but before I continue my story I want to testify that sin does not drive the spirit away, not when you don’t want it to happen, you don’t know why it is, and you are doing everything you can to stop it but you don’t understand why. God pours his love and his words of comfort in these moments.
It has taken me 10 years to heal form the 10 years I was with him, and I still find insecurities to deal with. Five years after I left, I was feeling lost and my cries for help were falling on deaf ears, especially with every added incident. The Spirit led me to find a psychologist. She was the first person I had found who knew what had happened to me. I had been to lots of different counselors in the church and out of the church but none of them could tell me why. She had me do my own research so that I would understand better what was going on. I learned about gas lighting, undermining, discounting, belittling, humiliation, neglect, and isolation. I learned that when these things are repeated over long periods, they are considered abuse. I learned the consequences the victim experiences from this kind of abuse are displacement, bad choices, and unstable relationships, among a list of other things. I finally started to get answers, but I still hadn’t made connections to the sexual abuse my ex-husband inflicted on me because it was verbal and emotional. When I brought this information to my bishop, he dismissed it and didn’t see how it was relevant to my sin. When I had been doing well for a long period and asked if I could take the sacrament, he told me that I didn’t have the light of Christ in my countenance. This was one bishop of seven different bishops that I have worked with who treated me the same.
Four years ago I met my current husband. Because I still didn’t understand the scope of the problem we had sexual relations before marriage. My bishop told me after a year if everything went well I could have my blessings restored. During that year I had to face insecurities around sexual intimacy. My husband wasn’t demanding and waited for me to give him permission. I felt unwanted and unloved. As we worked out the problem, I started to make connections to how I was treated in my first marriage. I was expected to have sex, almost every night. I was told if I didn’t, I was denying him the ability to show me love because that was the only way to show me love. It didn’t matter if I was bleeding, just had a baby, or was sick. If I told him no, he punished me with passive aggressive behavior. He would ignore me, not allow me to touch him, tell me rude and cruel things, and even sleep in the closet. He programmed me for 10 years that no wasn’t an option, that no meant rejection, and the only way to have validation in love was through sex. Making this realization was so huge and it changed everything! There are no words to describe the empowerment of this knowledge. As I experimented with making this mental adjustment in my current relationship, I realized that this was in fact a real thing. When it had been a year and I was still married I was so excited. When I talked with the bishop about restoring my blessings, he told me that my track record with men was so bad that they didn’t feel like a year was long enough. When I asked if I could at least take the sacrament, he told me no. That was the final straw and I quit going to church. Not because I didn’t love God, but because this system created by men failed me. This bishop discounted my personal revelation and said people who sin can’t have that kind of spirit. When he called me to invite me to come back to church, I told him I didn’t think I could and that I was struggling with things about the church. He presumed I wasn’t reading my scriptures and asked me to read the Book of Mormon and to pray about its truthfulness. I told him that was why I wasn’t coming to church, because he assumed that I didn’t read my scriptures because all he could see was the sin.
I have always read, prayed and even started a meditation practice through this process. In fact, now that I don’t go to church my testimony of God is even stronger. My faith in his love is powerful and my conviction stronger.
The things I learned are bishops and stake presidents are not equipped to deal with situations like these, and when they make spiritual judgment calls without all the knowledge they are impacting the situation and making it worse. I understand that their training is limited, but somehow they need to be able to recognize the signs of abuse and direct people in the appropriate direction. They need to reserve judgment until the person struggling understands their own situation. I also learned that most bishops don’t bother to use the Spirit in directing them, because if they did they would have helped me and not just see me as a sex addict. Self worth plays a vital roll in all of this, and having bishops discount your experience and your revelation does not build self worth. Building self worth is probably the most instrumental key to overcoming these types of situations, next to actually understanding the problem.
In closing, I want to reiterate my love for God and His son Jesus Christ, and recognize also my Mother in Heaven. I have learned that the three of them are my family, my greatest strength, and I am full of peace, love and unity because of my relationship with them. They have led me to the state of happiness that I am in and the healing that I have experienced to get me through the atrocities I experienced. You can’t worship one without worshiping the others, and Christ is the gate through which to experience their love. While my experience brought me closer to them, had I been weaker in my faith, it would have driven me away. We can’t allow these kinds of stories to continue, and while we can’t fix it overnight, every step in the right direction counts.
Thank you for listening to my plea, my story, and my testimony.