Spiritual Abuse - Lesson 4

Shepherding Insights: 10 Things to Not Do

When you are encouraging someone as a friend who has experienced spiritual abuse, there are 6 elements of your relationship that will be helpful to avoid. 

Gerry Breshears
Spiritual Abuse
Lesson 4
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Shepherding Insights: 10 Things to Not Do

Shepherding Inights: 10 Things to Not Do

1. Don't fall prey to the temptation to give them answers.

2. Don't judge their feelings and experiences.

3. Don't make it your job to make them feel better.

4. Don't let them take blame for the abuse.

5. Don't let them play the victim.

6. Don't do for them what they can do for themselves.

7. Don't process your own feelings with the person you are helping.

8. Don't promise more than you can give.

9. Don't let them control you.

10. Don't become a therapist.

  • Spiritual abuse exists when a person or group of people with religious authority use their position of spiritual power to control or dominate another person in the name of God, church faith, etc., taking advantage of the person’s vulnerability to gratify their own needs in areas like power, intimacy, prosperity, sexual gratification, etc.

  • It can be difficult to recognize spiritual abuse because you often don’t realize that it's happening. One sign of possible spiritual abuse is a change of personality in a negative direction. Many abusive situations will undermine and devalue family relationships of the members to exploit them and increase control over them in the group. They will emphasize church loyalty to the exclusion of family loyalty. 

  • When you are encouraging someone as a friend who has experience spiritual abuse, there are specific elements of your relationship that can be helpful.

  • When you are encouraging someone as a friend who has experienced spiritual abuse, there are 6 elements of your relationship that will be helpful to avoid. 

  • Untwist Scripture passages and model a healthy relationship.

  • Dr. Breshears responds to questions that are commonly asked about the subject of spiritual abuse.

How to recognize spiritual abuse, important steps to take to recover and what you can do to walk with someone as they recover.

Spiritual Abuse

Dr. Gerry Breshears


Shepherding Insights: 10 Things to Not Do

Lesson Transcript


What are some things that when you're working with somebody as an unhealthy or abusive environment that you shouldn't do, these are crash landings. And I can tell you right off the bat, I've done all of these things. So I some things to think about not doing. The first thing is don't fall prey to the temptation to give him or her answers. They're telling you these horrific kinds of things and they're begging you, What should I do? Don't give them answers. You say, But I've got such good answers. Yeah, but you don't know enough of the situation. And here's the bigger reason. If you give them answers, in many cases, you become their abuser, at least potentially because they're still looking for that spot to become dominated by somebody else. And you really, really have to take that experience and don't give them answers for the situation. Don't give explanations. Don't answer the why question. Why did he do that to me? I don't give the answer because he's an evil man or something like that. It's just not a good idea. I've done it. Oh, it's. It just isn't the way to go. Don't fall prey to the temptation to give answers. It just doesn't work like that. A second. Don't. Don't judge their feelings and experiences. I when when you're hearing the story. Some will be so far out of the realm of ordinary that you're really come to the spot and say, you know, that just doesn't happen. Don't do that. Or in other cases, somebody will come and they say, Now, you believe me, don't you? Be very careful not to say, yes, I know the what you're telling me is factually true because you don't know that it is. I in? I found in a number of cases working with people out of these kind of abuse situations.


It is extremely important that you believe them and you can't do that. What you do is say, I know things like what you're talking about happen. But you don't know whether it actually happened or not, because in the in the stuff that happens in these cults and abuse situations there, the distortions become so strong that their perception feels very real to them. And you just can't you can validate their feelings. You can't say what you did is factually true. You just can't. And how do you do the difference in those two? It's really hard to do. But be careful when she says or he says, You believe me, don't you? You have to say, I, I, I hear what you're saying. It's so painful. I boy, it just hurts like crazy. Don't say yes. I know that. He did X because you don't know that he did. So be careful. Don't to judge feelings experiences either positively or negatively. I've done a lot of work in over the years with Satanic ritual abuse. And when I hear some of the stories that happen in this most extreme form of spiritual abuse, I it's very easy to say, you know, that just doesn't happen. It's just doesn't happen. Be careful because it really does happen. But that doesn't mean it happened to the person you're talking to. So you just have to be careful to spot a third thing. And this is particularly true for men, I suppose. Don't make it your job to make them feel better. They come in, they're filled with pain. They're filled with difficulty. And we who are strong helpers and gifted in that area, want to make them feel better. It's not your job, and he can't do it. Oh, they may well be at that spot where it's just.


It's just so hard to leave them in their pain. But you have to at that spot, I. In. The stronger your helping gift, the harder it is not to take that responsibility to do something. So they're in the midst of telling something. And gosh, this is so horrible. Let's tell a joke and lighten the load. Don't do that. Don't do that or they're telling your story and it's so super tense. And you say, well, and you tell your own story of something like that. Don't do that. Don't do that. It's not your job to make them feel better in what you do. It's not your job to give them things like it's all going to be okay. See. I just want to encourage them. God's got a purpose in this. Don't do that. Don't do that. It. Why not? You don't know if that's true or not. It's all going to be okay. No. They may get killed tomorrow. I mean, if we use that phrase carefully, it's going to be okay. Means with God's help, we're going to make it through. But even that, you don't know for sure. I've had only a couple of occasions, but I know how difficult it is when the person didn't make it through and took their own life. There's no guarantees. You just can't say that I. My job is not to make them feel better. My job is to walk with them in the midst of the horrors that they're looking at. A fourth point. Don't let them take blame for the abuse. Don't let them do that, because what happens in abusive situations, the one in spiritual authority is doing that very thing. Anything goes wrong is because you're a failure. It's because you didn't do what you're told to do it because you are not submissive.


And they're just taught to take responsibility for what happened. You've got to help them get away from that. You just have to do that. They have the power to leave responsibility for the person who did it. And that's a growth point that you have to work through. So don't let them take a blame for the abuse. On the other hand. Fifth point, don't let them play the victim. And what happens in a lot of cases. Oh, somebody does the victim and tells me I'm thinking of a particular situation right now of an abusive pastor who was sexually exploiting one of his staff members. And I was talking with her. And she told me he manipulated me such that I ended up I couldn't help myself. I had to be sexually involved with him. So I can't let her go there. She is an adult woman. She knows good and well that having sexual relations with a pastor, a sin. I can't let her play the helpless victim at the same time. My fourth one is. I can't, I. I can't let her take responsibility for the abuse. Neither can I. Let her play the victim. I couldn't help myself. He had such control of me that I couldn't do anything else. That's a tension to get in between those two. But you have to get between the two. Don't let them take blame for the abuse, but also don't let them play the victim that they had no choice in the matter. So it's a very difficult tension. A sixth point. Don't do for them what they can do for themselves. Don't do for them what they can do for themselves. When I first started working with ritual abuse folk way back when. I was working for.


I was working with Tracy. And her psychologist, Donna Ho, took those of us who moved into Tracy's life and sat us down and gave us lessons. So if you can work with my client, here's some things you have to agree with to be a part of the team. And Donna wasn't a believer, but she is very wise woman, lot of experience. And so I was taking notes carefully and it wasn't her first one, but for me, it was right there, given who I am. I. I can't do for Tracy what Tracy can do for herself. And I look at that and I say, Gosh, would be so much easier if I just take care of this for her. It's so easy for me to do. I'll just give her $50 and she can pay that. But see, I can't do for her what she can do for herself. Because when I do that, I actually abuse her. Because her goal is to become an independent person. And when I do for her what she has to struggle with to do for herself, I actually sinned against her. And that's a hard lesson. Because I look at that and say it's going to take her months to do this. I could do it in the next 3 minutes. Think of the moth. Coming out of the cocoon. If you've ever seen a moth struggling to get out of a cocoon, it's really hard. The temptation to take some scissors and just clip the cocoon and let them become free. And you kill them when you do that. They've got to struggle that cocoon. Now you've got to help them. When this is attention, don't do for them what they can and should do for themselves. You actually sinned against them at that spot.


Don't you say that for yourself. Be a part of a team. Of course. A seven foot. I don't process your own feelings with her or him. Don't process your own feelings with the abuser. Now, remember, if I back in the do side, I said be authentic. And if you're having trouble something, say something. Yeah, that sort of thing. But when you are feeling the anger or the pain or the sadness, that feeling needs to be processed somewhere, but not with the survivor at that point. You need to be involved with the story. Yes. And it will trigger those deep feelings. Yes. Tell them I'm feeling angry right now because they'll sense that they know your nonverbals, but don't reverse roles and make them your helper. You re abuse them when you do that to again, it's a tension to be followed through, but it's really important. Don't process your own feelings with the person that you're being touched by an eighth point. Don't promise more than you can give. Don't promise more than you can give. I mean, the simplest level, the best support is just consistent caring. They have been abused. You have to be a trustworthy person. And what I mean, the famous mistake is say, oh, just call me any time. Well, what happens? They call you and you're in a committee meeting and you can't get out of it. You're in a marriage counseling situation and and your phone rings and it's. It's him. And he didn't talk right now. And you said, oh, call any time you lied to that person. You lied to the survivor when you said call any time. But I didn't lie. They need to understand. That means I have no. Say it. And here's what I suggest instead of call any time or we can talk as long as you need to or something like that.


Say we'll get together next Tuesday at 3:00 and we'll talk for a couple. We'll talk for 2 hours. Don't don't, don't promise what you can't deliver because you have to help them. See, there are trustworthy people in the world, and but they need more than that. You've got to be resourced based in what you're doing, not need based, because somebody who's been abused terribly. Their needs are far greater than what you can provide. You have to be resource based. What can I do? Then you make a hard commitment and you keep it. Don't promise out of good intentions more than you can deliver. It's it's just. It's a disastrous kind of thing. Be consistent, be predictable. And if you say the time is going to stop at 5:00, then stop at 5:00 and then start again next week at 3:00. Be consistent and dependable. Don't promise more than you can deliver a ninth. Don't. And this is a little bit hard. Don't let them control you. If people have been out of cult groups, what happens is they have become absolute experts, experts at controlling the situation. In many cases, their very survival depended on the ability to control the situation. They intuitively and unconsciously, many times, will manipulate the situation to control you. It's not that they're being mean and malicious. It's a survival skill. Kind of a famous thing is when you're working with somebody and you've got an hour or two hour session 5 minutes before the end of the time, they will throw in the, oh my gosh, I'm going to kill myself. Not being somewhat light hearted will cure. So for your own time, we'll talk to you tomorrow. Goodbye. No, don't do that. I'm not serious at that spot.


But the you just have to understand that that kind of thing will happen. You can't let them control the situation. How do you deal with that? Well, that one's hard to do. But don't don't, don't don't let them control you. It's just it's an instinct with people born out of a cult environment and a 10th point. Don't become a therapist. You're not the therapist to go in and heal damaged emotions. You're not the one who's going to come in and help them learn how to process those deep pains that really only somebody as highly skilled can do. You just can't do that. What In this, you have to define your own relationship. Your job is to be a friend and a listener. Those are hugely important. I work with Priceless ministry up in Alaska and they've got a put 80 crazy church ladies. Their term, not mine. They go out and work with sex trafficking victims. And those church mentors are told and it's the hardest thing to do is you must be the friend. You go shopping with them, You help them cook. You do those kinds of things. You don't go in and try to heal the damaged emotion. That requires a lot more skill. And you have the therapist needs to do that. Where exactly is that line? Talk with the therapist. Talk to the persons involved in the team you're dealing with in cult and rich and abuse survivors. You need to have somebody who can be a consultant to you to tell you what you can do and can't do. But don't become the therapist. Don't be the one who's coming in and trying to heal those broken inner personality kinds of things because you just can't do it. You do more damage than good.


What you do is figure out what you can do. You do Bible study together. You build a house, you redecorate a room together. You go out and go to your son's basketball game and cheer him on or something like that. You do friend type things, you don't do therapist type things. So those are ten don'ts. Famous crash landings. Philip You work with somebody who is out of an abuse situation. It applies much more broadly in that, but those are good. And again, I've done every one of those. I know for a fact it's easy to do and it's disastrous when you do so. Don't.