Lies About Feelings and Faith: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With– Part Eight
“Your feelings lie to you.”
“Just get on with your life.”
“Just renew your mind.”
“You don’t have enough faith.”
“Rejoice in all things.”
“God is all you need.”
When we’re being covertly emotional and psychologically abused, our husband is creating an unpredictable environment for us, and inducing instability into our emotions and mind. That’s the end result of gaslighting, manipulation, word twisting, blameshifting, and all the other tactics he’s using.
If you’ve never seen the movie Gaslight, I highly recommend it. The wife ends up thinking she’s crazy and unstable after the husband systematically convinces her she is. But she’s not. And neither are you.
Through abuse we’re being convinced by our husband that we’re unstable. Our emotions are all over the place. We’re afraid of ourselves, full of self-doubt, afraid of the future, feeling guilty, berating ourselves for our “failures,” not trusting others, and feeling alone and misunderstood.
We’re hating ourselves for our unstable emotions. We’re on a roller coaster ride with the attitudes and constantly changing environment our husband creates and never knowing what to expect. And we’re hardly able to even describe what’s being done to us.
But none of this is sin. None of this is a character failing on our part. We’re the product of the abusive environment we are living in. These tormenting feelings don’t originate in our sin. They originate in our husband’s sin against us.
When we get free of the abuse and begin to heal, we’re much more stable emotionally. The fear recedes and clarity begins to grow. We can come back to who we really are.
Yes, we have a long healing process to become our fully stable self again. But our problem isn’t a long list of sin that we need to repent of. We need healing for our heart, soul, mind, brain and PTSD.
The last thing we need is to be accused of being in sin simply because we are feeling normal emotions, or being told we need to shut down our healing process and have more faith.
Yet that’s the response we often get from Christians who have no clue what we’ve been through, don’t understand what it means to be in absolute crisis, and don’t understand how trauma affects people. So much of Christianity thinks “rising above” feelings is spiritual. It’s not.
If you’ve been told you’re in sin, or you don’t have enough faith, when you’re having the normal feelings that come with being abused, that’s just another form of spiritual abuse.
God isn’t watching your every thought and every word waiting for you to mess up and not be a “perfect Chrisitian.” He has grace and mercy for you. He has compassion on you. He understands your struggles. He wants you to heal so you can be the kind, loving woman you are. And He is patient, knowing that healing takes time.
This is part eight of the series: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With
Part One: Our Broken Church
Part Two: Lies About God
Part Three: Lies About What Godliness Is
Part Four: Lies about Forgiveness
Part Five: Lies About Wives
Part Six: Lies About Husbands
Part Seven: Lies About Marriage
Part Eight: Lies About Feelings and Faith
So let’s look at some lies we’re told about our feelings and faith.
Lies About Feelings
Your feelings lie to you
Yes and no. If, when I’m perfectly safe sitting in my living room, I’m terrified my house will burn down, that fear is lying to me. If a friend doesn’t see me in the grocery store, and my feelings tell me she hates me, that’s my insecurity lying to me.
Our emotions are there to tell us something (for example, “You need to deal with your insecurity.”) But they often speak truth to us as well.
God gave us our intuition, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it.
If we know in our gut that our husband is lying about whether he’s watching pornography, it’s safe to trust ourselves.
If we’re being entirely covertly abused, because there’s no outward “proof” of the abuse such as hitting and yelling, how we feel is the best indicator that something is wrong. In my “Guide to Uncovering Covert Abuse,” one entire section is dedicated to noticing our internal experience to help women know if they’re being abused.
Don’t use feelings to make decisions
We need to trust our feelings- God gave them to us for a reason, just as He gave us physical pain to indicate when we need to take care of our bodies.
If we feel invalidated, slighted, hurt, unheard, and unloved in our marriage, these are crucial feelings to help us know what’s going on. If we’ve asked our husband to change the ways he hurts us, and these feelings continue, they are the best indicator of his intentions toward us and the decisions we need to make.
Emotional maturity is the ability to know what our emotions are telling us, and to follow them when it’s the healthy thing to do.
Negative feelings are bad and unchristian
If you’ve been told this, spend some time in the Psalms and notice all the emotions. Look through the Prophets to see how God feels. Read all the pain and lamentation that is expressed.
God created us to have feelings because we are created in His image. In the Psalms, David voiced the range of human emotion and wasn’t rebuked by God for his feelings. In fact, he found comfort from God in them.
Because of the way that God created us, our healing process requires that we feel the feelings of grief, anger, betrayal, fear, anguish, and so many more.
If we stuff these feelings, they will come out in other ways such as depression, physical symptoms, illness, exhaustion, short-temperedness, feeling overwhelmed and numbing ourselves in unhealthy ways.
When we process our emotions with God, it increases our intimacy with Him. When we feel our feelings and honor them, we become closer to ourselves and become our own friend.
And then we can heal over time.
Just renew your mind
Research over the last 20 years has shown that our emotions are much more complex than we thought. Our brains and body have a huge effect on how we feel.
Most Christian teaching doesn’t distinguish between the brain and mind, or understand how the physical brain impacts our thoughts.
We’re taught that renewing our mind is all that’s needed to change our thoughts and feelings.
But it’s much more complex than that if we’ve experienced trauma.
Trauma, such as covert emotional and psychological abuse, changes our brain, and this impacts our thoughts and feelings. If we’ve undergone trauma, we have a “broken” brain in some significant ways. We can’t heal our brain with our thoughts.
If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t try to heal it with only prayer and changed thoughts, and if you have a traumatized brain, you need to heal it. For more information, read Bessel van der Kolk’s amazing book “The Body Keeps the Score.”
Here are two short videos that will explain just bit about how the trauma of being abused affects us. The more you understand trauma, the more you will see that it’s not your fault that you react the way you do:
It’s just your wrong thoughts creating your bad feelings
This belief originated in cognitive behavioral psychological theory and has become part of Christian teachings because of the scripture about renewing your mind.
Although there’s some truth to the power of renewing our minds, it’s an incomplete understanding of emotions– many of our emotions originate in our brain and body, not in our thoughts.
For many abused women, we’ve tried our best to change our thoughts and beliefs with everything in us. Yet the fear, torment, self-hatred, and anguish continues. Our lack of trust in ourselves, others, and God continues. The trauma bonding to and cognitive dissonance about our abuser, continues.
The traumatic effects of spousal and spiritual abuse have reached into the deepest parts of our heart, mind, body, and soul.Here
For many of us, we have Complex PTSD. We need to learn how to heal our emotions on a physiological level.
Being told that we are just thinking wrong thoughts heaps condemnation and guilt on us when we need the deeper healing of our brain.
As important as it is to walk in truth about who we are as children of God, and who God is, believing this truth will not bring complete healing to the trauma we’ve experienced. We can be very grateful to Him that so many trauma healing modalities are now available because of the trauma research that’s being done.
Just get on with your life
Perhaps you’ve heard the incorrect teaching in Christianity that many of your human emotions, such as anger, are sin and must be put to death. Women who are suffering during and after abuse are judged as being “weak” and “emotional.”
To get on with our lives in healthy ways, we need to heal from abuse.
Many women need several years, and skilled trauma based therapy, to heal. Being told to “just get on with it” comes from a compete ignorance of the affect abuse has had on us, invalidates our need for healing, and is totally condescending.
You don’t have enough faith
God is the author of our faith and faith is from God, not something we muster up from our own strength.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2)
For God is the One working in you both to will and to work according to His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)
When we are accused of not having enough faith, we are being told that we aren’t believing God will do the thing that our accuser wants to see happen- for instance, our marriage being saved.
Faith isn’t magic, and our faith can’t force our husband, who’s choosing with his free will to abuse us, to change.
Abused women are put in a no-win situation.
We’ve been betrayed by Christian friends, spiritually abused by the church.
We haven’t been believed, and we’ve been falsely accused of lying.
We’ve been told lies about God, and been told He wants us to suffer.
We’ve been told we aren’t a good enough wife or a godly enough Christian.
We’ve had scripture used against us.
We’re confused, beaten down, exhausted, and hopeless because we see no good way out of abuse without being attacked and losing so much that’s dear to us.
And then we’re accused of not having enough faith.
If we leave, we’re accused of not having faith that God will heal our marriage.
If we’re afraid to divorce, we’re accused of not having enough faith that God will take care of us.
I don’t know how many more double messages a woman can handle.
But what is faith? If you’ve been told your marriage isn’t healed because you don’t have enough faith, that’s a shallow, unbiblical faith they are accusing you of not having. Faith isn’t a magic formula to get what we want in life.
Faith is faith in Jesus being Who He says He is, and that He is loving and good, and that He will not leave us. We may be shaken to our core about His goodness when we lose all we care about, but if we keep believing Jesus is who He says He is, we have faith.
If you’re suffering because of abuse and wondering if God is good, that’s totally understandable. That’s a normal, human reaction to what you’ve been through.
If you WANT to believe God is good and trustworthy, even if you can’t believe it right now, you haven’t lost your faith, it’s just been shaken.
You’re in pain and don’t need to be told to “get more faith.” That’s like telling you to just get more water when you’re in a desert. You need love, understanding, and healing. You need others to have faith you can lean on in your crisis.
You need other to remind you that He will make a way, and will be with you when you can barely believe it.
I know you are trying to hang on to Him with everything you’ve got, and you don’t have much strength. It’s okay. You aren’t displeasing to Him- He understands. In time your faith will come forth again and you’ll see how God carried you through with His faith.
Just don’t be afraid
If I was trying to rescue my child from a burning building, you’d bet I’d be afraid. Does that mean that I don’t have enough faith? Hardly. There are real things to be afraid of, and abuse is one of them.
When we leave abuse, we have genuine fears- financial insecurity, being betrayed by our church and friends, being slandered by our ex, finding a job if we’ve been a stay-at-home mom, the potential of losing our children or having them side with our abuser.
We aren’t failing if we’re afraid of these things.
We aren’t failing if we haven’t yet learned how to let go of what people think about us.
Our safety and security has been destroyed.
Our inner confidence and personhood has been eroded by the abuser for years.
We have a lot of healing to do to regain our confidence.
We have healing to do to be able to trust God again. This is normal.
Will God be faithful. YES! But it might be a long, and sometimes very hard road, until we see the restoration He has for us. Everyone who has walked this road has faced faith challenges.
The more we can trust God to bring us through, the easier this hard road will be for us, but if we aren’t able to trust him with our trepidation and doubt, that’s not a failing on our part, it’s a reflection of how much our faith has been shaken by the covert and spiritual abuse we’ve gone through.
He understands. He will never leave us or forsake us– even when our faith is shaken.
Trouble should not overwhelm you
Often were told that trouble shouldn't overwhelm us. Talk about invalidating our experience and pain!
We’re told God is still in control as a way of dismissing our pain.
He is in control, but does that mean we aren’t overwhelmed when our life is spinning out of control and we have C-PTSD? Not at all.
PTSD isn’t a faith issue, it’s a physiological issue.
Rejoice in all things
Really? Are we to rejoice in being abused? Are to rejoice if our child’s being sexually abused?
A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Prov 18:14)
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: ….a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Eccl 3:1,4)
Rejoicing comes when we are free from abuse and are healing, knowing that God’s leading us into a beautiful new life, not while we are being abused.
If you’re a good Christian, you’ll see the good in everything
There are some things that have no good in them, and wickedness is one of them. The systematic destruction of a wife is not good, and to say there is good in it, is to call evil good.
We can see the good in our loving God who wants to deliver from evil.
We can see the good in friends who believe us and love us in our pain.
We can see the good in sweet moments with our children when the abuser isn’t around.
But rarely is that the “good” that these accusers are wanting us to see.
Instead they want us to live in denial and fantasy land that all is well because they’re unwilling to face the wickedness in our husbands.
God is all you need
This is a cruel thing to say to someone who has been betrayed by her friends and is going though divorce alone.
God created us to need human friendship. He created us to need to be seen and known.
In my wilderness time, when all I really had was God, He was very close to me and I survived. I had incredibly sweet times with Him, and came to know Him deeply. But was that incredible loneliness what God wanted for me?
Did He want my closest friends to turn against me and side with my ex? No.
Did he want me to spend months alone, terrified, betrayed, and crying by myself? No.
Did he want me to be afraid to trust again? No.
Would that time have been less painful if I had loving friends? Absolutely.
He was there for me because of His unending goodness, and He used that pain to draw me close, but He knew that it would have been even more healing for me to have humans who were good friends to me, who were with me in my pain, who were willing to listen to my feelings and love me. In fact, trauma research has shown this to be true.
In time, God brought me good, safe, trustworthy, loving friends, because He knows that’s what we all need.
That is what the true Church is for. But sadly, we have so few true churches we can turn to.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)
So when someone tells us that God is all you need, what are they really saying?
I don’t want to sit with you in your pain and feel uncomfortable.
I don’t want to face the difficulties in my marriage and how alone I feel.
I don’t want to feel my feelings.
I don’t want to see a faith crisis because it scares me.
I don’t want to face that my life could come crashing down around me like yours has, so I have to believe that you did something to bring this on and distance myself from you.
There’s nothing wrong with you
If there’s one thing I want every abused woman to understand, it’s that having overwhelming feelings and PTSD is not a character issue. It’s an abuse issue, and a physical issue in the “broken,” dysregulated brain.
My heart breaks when women are accused of “being a bad Christian” because they’re in deep emotional pain during and after abuse. The last thing any of us need is to be accused of being a failure at loving God.
I know your heart. I know the agony you’re in because your pain has caused you to not be able to trust God. That’s not you- it’s the result of the spiritual abuse and betrayal.
God wants you to be healed. He’ll make a way and bring you the resources you need for that healing. He wants you whole and peaceful again, able to rest in Him.
When our brain is healed and the emotions from the trauma are processed, peace returns.
We become emotionally stable.
We become who we really are.
We’re then able to rely again on our faith in God and His goodness and promises.
If you’ve experienced covert psychological abuse and spiritual abuse, come join our private Facebook group for women of faith who are covert emotional and psychological abuse survivors.