Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Book on Spiritual Abuse

Interview with Dr. Margaret Jones, author of Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct available through Amazon

Not of My Making is a new, self-published book on Jones’ effort to grapple with several abusive situations, including church abuse. Jones endured childhood abuse and neglect, along with spiritual abuse in two churches, but despite such devastating situations, she obtained her Ph D, became a therapist and runs a family business, Pluck Press.

Here is a recent interview with Dr. Jones:

1. On the Pluck Press site, there is a little motto that says, “From survivor to thriver.” Are you thriving now?

Yes. I have become more of the person I was always meant to be. I am the piece of iron thrust into the fire. I am now stronger, more confident and more accepting of who I am. I make no apologies for freely expressing my emotions. I like that I am a passionate, intelligent and well educated person with strong opinions.

2. What made you decide to write a book about your experiences? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to bury all the bad feelings and go on?

I tried to bury my pain and forget what happened. In my book you will notice that I stopped therapy a couple of times because talking appeared to increase my agony. The pain of silence, however, was greater. My anxiety and self-harming behaviors increased. If I allowed my adversaries to silence me, I would have paid for it with my life. Writing and marketing Not of My Making has aided my recovery and helped me move on.

3. Your journal seems to have played a big part in your life and in your recovery. Would you recommend journaling to others in an abusive situation?

I encourage my therapy and coaching clients to write about their experiences. Some refuse because they fear others in their household will read it and use it as a weapon against them. Others don’t like to write. For them writing is more like an English grammar assignment. But whenever I have a client who likes to write, I suggest they journal about their experiences.

4. It sounds like you started your journal at quite a young age. At what age are your earliest entries?

I started keeping a journal when I was sixteen years old after watching a movie about Anne Frank. I was lonely and the journal became my only friend. I usually wrote when something was upsetting me. So you will find very few of the good times in my life recorded in my journal. While raising my children my journal writing morphed into letters to my husband and the therapist I had at the time. I started keeping a journal again when I started therapy again. Unable to talk about what had happened at church; I would write in my journal and share it with my therapist each week. I used that material to write Not of My Making.

5. You have three subheaders for your book – bullying, scapegoating and misconduct. What is the difference between those behaviors? Why did you choose those three to describe what happened to you?

The subheads are designed to make it easier for people who are interested in abuse to find my book. In Not of My Making I recount how my classmates ridiculed me and excluded me from all events including my junior and senior proms. As an adult this pattern repeated itself at the churches I attended. During church conflicts I became a convenient scapegoat. By blaming me, people were able to divert attention from the issues I raised and push through their own agendas with little or no scrutiny. Clergy in their efforts to “help” and/or silence me broke some basic principles of professional ethics such as confidentiality.

6. How common do you think spiritual abuse is in churches today?

As common as bullying is in schools. It is part of human nature to seek power and dominance. Unless there are structures in place to prevent it, wherever people congregate you will get bullying including churches. The problem is made worst when church leaders attempt to hide conflict. People are then able to mistreat others without fear of being reprimanded.

7. Did your husband or family play any role in your recovery from spiritual abuse?

My husband was supportive during the conflict with the Unitarian Universalist churches. When the conflict occurred at the Lutheran church he just wanted me to stop going to church. “They are all corrupt,” he would tell me. He doesn’t understand why I attend church. It is easy to forget he has also been hurt by the spiritual abuse. As a result he won’t have anything to do with religion. My eldest sister and her daughter on the other hand understood why I wanted to remain churched. Their phone calls and letters were helped me get through it.

8. You have been a victim of many kinds of abuse. Is it possible to state which was the worst and why?

Abuse is abuse. Regardless of what form it takes, the injury from it is pretty much the same. Of the three dechurchings Immanuel was the worst. They not only attacked me but my entire life, my family, my home, everything I valued and was proud of. I was also in a more vulnerable place. I was still recovering from my previous dechurchings and I was grieving the loss of my foster son. My adversaries did not see my grief as legitimate.

9. Were there intimations of church abuse before you actually began to realize what was happening? What were the first clues something was not quite right in either of your church experiences?

At the Unitarian churches I was completely taken by surprise. I truly believed UUs were tolerant and would sit down to rationally discuss things. I didn’t realize I was being bullied until I saw Stossel’s show on school bullying. I began to get worried at Immanuel when they put me on a pedestal for taking in a Sudanese Lost Boy. My therapist thought I was over reacting. He was wrong. Now I pay more attention to my own perceptions. I worry less about being nice or rational. I trust my gut.

10. Do people even today try to turn the tables and blame you for your own abuse? If so, what is your response when that happens?

No one blames me for my childhood sexual abuse and neglect by my parents. However, there are some people who believe you can’t trust survivors around children. It is like you have the mark of Cain on you. As for my dechurchings, some people don’t understand why I didn’t leave the abusive situations sooner. These people usually don’t see the value in attending church or they have a need to believe it can’t happen to them because they think they are smarter and more capable than me. I believe it can happen to you no matter who you are.

11. Do you think your understanding of God was damaged because of what happened to you? Have you deliberately tried to keep numb so that you won’t be hurt again? Or have you managed to arrive at a healthy understanding of God and his place in your life?

My understanding of God was damaged by the sexual abuse, parental neglect and bullying in school. God, it appeared to me, wasn’t doing a good job of protecting me. I left the Catholic Church and became an atheist. I began making my way back to church once I overcame depression. I started attending the Unitarian Universalist Church because I thought they were more tolerant than other denominations. Although I would eventually learn how narrow and intolerant they really were, I do not regret the time I was a member. Unitarian Universalism allowed me to explore other faith traditions and nurtured my spiritual seeking. When I wasn’t politically liberal enough and began reading Marcus Borg’s books on Jesus they no longer had a place for me. UUs were going in the opposite direction. While they were embracing neopaganism I was rediscovering Christianity.
My experience at Immanuel Lutheran strengthened my faith rather than destroyed it. I finally realized that so much of what I was searching for – love, acceptance, and safety – were to be found in God. The concept of sin actually freed me from years of guilt I felt over having been raped. I finally understood it was my rapist’s sin, not mine.

12. What would you recommend for someone who begins to suspect their church could be abusive, but they aren’t sure?

Trust their perceptions and pay attention. Are there procedures in place for reporting problems? What happens when there is a conflict? Does someone get blamed for it and pushed out of the church? Are people gossiped about? Does the minister participate in that gossip? Does the minister or leadership share authority and invite everyone’s participation in church life or are some people excluded? Are the teachings consistent with classic Christianity? Are people trying to walk the talk or are they mainly interested in coffee hour?

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