Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spiritual Abuse: Memories and Flashbacks

I want to touch on a controversial subject.  What comes to mind when I mention the words:  counselors or mental health?   Many at BGBC don't want to touch that subject.  Mental health professionals were talked down as if they were evil and would brainwash you.   Even Biblical Christian counseling was not respected.   The only kind of counseling that I remember which was acceptable was the kind in pastor's office.  We've talked about those "meetings".  I'm trying to remember positive results from those counseling meetings and can think of none.  In fact, in our experience, they only induced anguish and emotional turmoil - some that has lasted for years. 

As I have been writing blog posts, talking with old friends and now new friends who were former members of BGBC, I am hearing a lot of stories - stories that remind me of my experiences that were long forgotten.  Hearing these stories takes my mind back to my former days at BGBC.

Your might be thinking back through those experiences, too.  Last week, I mentioned that after hearing someone's story, that I had a low-grade headache for a few days.    This is normal.  Sometimes my brain just won't stop thinking about that former experience.  This is normal.  Sometimes I wake up in the morning with this stuff on my mind.  This is normal.  Sometimes I get a tight feeling in my gut.  This is normal.

What we experienced was emotionally traumatic.  Sometimes there are physical responses to these emotional issues.  Sometimes our heads can be bogged down with the craziness of it all.  Overall, I feel very positive and confident about my legal case, but sometimes thoughts about it still enter my mind - again, perfectly normal.

Medical doctors look at physical symptoms to diagnose ailments.  Meteorologists study patterns in the atmosphere and sky to determine weather forecasts.   Farmers rely on those forecasts, fishermen plan their trips around those forecasts, the whole East coast is glued to their reports during hurricane season.   Mental health professionals can identify patterns of behavior or symptoms of people who have gone through physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse.   The patterns exhibited in people who have gone through these experiences remain similar.  

After experiencing something like this, I think it's helpful to know what is a "normal" response.  I remember a number of things I went through after experiencing a huge earthquake in the Philippines which killed thousands of people.  I saw so much destruction, some personally and some from the local television news.  The news there was unlike the news we have here in the States.   In the Philippines, they zoomed in on the tragic scenes showing bodies, close-ups of their dead faces, etc.  That was very disturbing to see.  It was hard to sleep, I kept getting flashbacks of the experience, I found my jaw clenching unconsciously when I slept, there was a sense of nervousness, sense of fear about the next aftershock, sometimes I would actually "feel" earthquakes that weren't even there.  It didn't matter if I played praise music all day, devoured the Word, prayed, those feelings and physical symptoms did not go away.

There are so many ways to respond to a traumatic event:  fear, anxiety, loss of appetite, physical symptoms like headaches, GI issues, feeling sadness or depressed, loss of hope, etc.

I know from being at BGBC that mental health was not looked upon highly.  Keep in mind, your former pastor who balked at mental health got his degree in mental health.  Now tell me, if it was that bad, do you think he would have done that?   No science is perfect.  We all know that.  Medical doctors misdiagnose ailments, forecasts are frequently off.  In my 25 yrs of being a mother, medical experts have told me it is best to put my babies to sleep on their sides, back, and tummy.  They can't seem to make up their minds.  After the birth my last babies (after over 15 yrs of mothering), I figured I had enough with science and put them to sleep the way they slept best.  I figure mommy science and personal experience is worth something!   But there is a lot of truth and good information we can learn from experts.   Those patterns of behavior, patterns of common responses to trauma - those patterns remain relatively unchanged over time.  We can use them to help us identify problem areas.  That information is helpful just as the information from a weather forecast helps us to know that we need to bring a warm jacket for our trip.

I wanted to post this info from Mayo Clinic about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event.  Most of us are familiar with it used with regard to our troops in combat - they can have difficulty because the "war" can sometimes still be "alive in their heads" even after coming back home.  This same response can happen to victims of earthquakes, or any form of abuse.  Not only can adults deal with it, our children can, too.  

By Mayo Clinic staff Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyperarousal).
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
  • Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:
  • Irritability or anger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren't there
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. You may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences, for instance. Or you may see a report on the news about a rape and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.
Chuck seemed to be against any sort of outside counseling.  I know the stigma with mental health and counseling that all of us experienced.    If, however, you are not able to function well and are experiencing physical or emotional symptoms that you cannot seem to get rid of, it may be appropriate to rethink that message that was taught.  Is it appropriate to see a Christian counselor?  

Where there is no counsel, the people fall;
But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 11:14

For by wise counsel you will wage your own war,
And in a multitude of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 24:6 

What does the Bible say about counseling?  Were those man-made rules or actually Biblical guidelines?  We're having to rethink a lot of things now.  What about counseling in the church?   Go talk to your pastor.  Talk to a friend or loved one or trusted person from church.    I know for me, the key to my healing was talking.  I needed to share my story.  The more I shared my story, the faster I healed.  This passage below sure lays out the beautiful illustration of how we can serve and encourage others who are going through difficult times. 

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.  2 Cor 1:4-7


  1. I asked the pastor why he got his degree in psychology and he responded that it was the easiest to get with the credits he had already accumulated. It is interesting to note that he did not finish his degree in a seminary/pastoral discipline because of a disagreement with a professor about what was being taught at Multnomah Bible College. This should raise red flags! To me it shows a heart that refuses to submit to authority, lacks humility and insists on its own. The signs were there, and it saddens me to admit that I ignored them for too long, choosing instead to believe that this man had special revelation that the other Christian authorities were not privy to.

    1. Yes, that is the answer he gave me, too. But to get a degree in a subject that he despised? It just doesn't make sense.

      Wouldn't the lesser evil be to finish the degree at Multnomah? Surely there was some Bible college that he could have taken classes online to finish up those last remaining credits.

      He did not finish Multnomah because of his disagreement - I've heard that before. Was that Multnomah saying he couldn't finish or Chuck saying he wouldn't finish? I'm unclear on that.

      Regarding ignoring signs and red flags: that is one of the most troubling things about spiritual abuse. We saw signs, we ignored them, and we stayed. That is why I keep this blog - so that it won't happen again.

    2. I don't live in Oregon but I do know of one that does and has said they went there. You might be interested in looking into the study of Narcissism. It is amazing how many narcissistic pastors hide behind a pulpit.

  2. Just curious, does anyone know of any Bible passages that were used to establish the "evil" of getting counseling? Or was this another extra-Biblical add on?

    1. I don't necessarily remember a specific scripture. Someone else might though. I think it was based on the idea that we don't need to be looking to man for our answers - God clearly tells us that mans' ways are not His ways. However, I believe there are many good pastors, friends, and even licensed counselors out there who can point us to God's ways - people who have been through difficulties themselves and/or people who have had time to research the scriptures extensively to bring about coherent, productive study relevant to different topics that one might be struggling with, such as money issues, marriage struggles, struggles with healing from traumatic life incidents or resisting certain sins. Certainly a counselor who points us back to Freud or Jung as the ultimate authority ought not to be trusted - but there are a great many people out there giving counsel and pointing others back to Christ as their ultimate authority. To not seek them out in our time of need is foolishness!

    2. Anon 4:25: Boy, I sure agree with you on others having the ability to counsel and guide. When someone is suffering emotionally, they might need ongoing help, not a quick fix. We are so busy with our families and lives, it takes a special person to take on that task - to "walk a mile" with someone in need. I think one of the problems in our churches is that there are not enough people who will take this task on and be the friend who will stand in the gap while someone is working through their problems. We can do better!

      In BGBC's case, however, I don't know that having counseling aside from the pastor would have been a possibility.

      And, for the record, I am very grateful for my friends that I am able to call sometimes daily, who are walking the mile with me. Some things are very difficult to tackle alone and I think that is why God wants us to be in relationship with each other. You know who you are!

  3. I think one thing that is interesting, which has not yet been mentioned, is how - I don't know...umm... fitting it is that he got a degree in psychology? All the better to control you with my dear...

    1. You couldn't be quoting the Wolf, could you? Little Red Riding Hood?

    2. You got it!

  4. Someone I know recently used Hebrews 13:7...I broke out in a cold sweat. Amazing the power words have!

    1. Hope this person wasn't lording over you! But at least there is freedom in knowing the correct application of the verse!

  5. I didn't belong to this church but I grew up in all the little churches in Washington County. The last church I was involved in was at the time called Word Of Faith in Cornelius headed by Ed Forsythe, later renamed Christian Praise Center. The same mentality was prevalent. The guilt, the control, the mind games etc... I was there from 16 yrs old-18yrs and it really did a number on me. I refused to belong to another church because of how bad it got. So I understand what you are going through. It's terrible.

  6. I am not a religious person, but I have to say I enjoy your blog immensely. I saw the news report about the lawsuit and think this is a very sad situation to occur in above all places in PDX. As a mother I can say good on you for standing up for what you think and getting it out on the table. You may have saved many others from a great deal pain. Thank you for expressing yourself.


  7. Support from someone who has been there (different churches, decades ago) and might I say you are halfway there - you walked away from the bad church, but to truly live free of indoctrination you need to walk away from religion altogether...I've been an atheist for almost 20 years (I'm in my 40s) and never once regretted living religion behind.

    1. I can certainly understand why you would think that way. I keep reading more and more similar messages from people just like you. That is why it is so destructive. Thanks for posting!

    2. I feel exactly the same way. I walked away 10 yrs ago. I had to move to the country, several driving hours away from family, to get them to leave me alone about church. So much emotional and traumatic deceit. The guilt of fiction is the most oppressive thing.

  8. It breaks my heart to hear people reject an infinite being because of the actions of His finite creations. Abuse by people proclaiming His name never means He authorized the abuse.

  9. Thank you for your brave heart to pursue this blog. My family was involved in a cult for over 20 years - the old pastor, still alive today, did horrendous things to my entire family and my parents did nothing. They were so sure he was the "annointed" and put grave fear in all of us if we dare question. Thankfully I got completely away from it in 1991 but the memories never leave me. Don't give up - they all need to be exposed and I commend you for your endeavors!

  10. FYI, speaking of Grace Community Church, it is the only church in the U.S. to be sued by parents of a former member's parents for their counseling methods...

    Check it out: Nally v. Grace Community Church of the Valley... Google it...

    Irrespective of the outcome, Grace Community Church seems to be a place that fosters attitudes and Pastors much like Chuck O'neal... It's a travesty... Julie Anne, many of your concerns addressed at the beginning of this thread are mentioned in the lawsuit...

    Check out Cult Education Forum: Destructive Churches. There is a thread titled "Ex Members of John MacArthur's Church"

    It certainly begs the question how involved was Grace Community Church!

    People need to be aware of what's going on there... Its definitely not an isolated occurrence...

  11. Our pastor also said that taking anti-depressants was in effect not trusting God. He said most mental problems were really spiritual problems that only God could fix. I knew people who took anti-depressants & were afraid that the pastor would find out.


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