Updated: Aug 31
In our fast-paced, fit-it-all-in, sleep-when-we-die American culture, there never seems to be enough time to do anything thoroughly. We race through our days, from one task to the next, without even considering taking time to reflect, learn, and make changes to our processes. In many arenas, maybe this is just what it is, for better or worse-ahem, the latter-and reform isn’t worth the fight. But when the arena is our healing from religious abuse, throwing this paradigm in the trash is our only hope for genuinely moving forward.
Your healing process is not a race.
The time necessary to heal from the deep wounds of an abusive environment, whether a religious cult or otherwise, is almost always much longer than the time taken to create the wound in the first place. An authoritative leader can cut you in under a minute, leaving a bloodied gash for years, unable to form a scar without proper tending to.
These years are not too many. They’re not too much. Your healing process is not unreasonable, it’s what you need, and those needs will shift over time.
You may think you’ve waved goodbye to certain struggles, only for them to resurface in a new situation decades down the road. The truth is, you did wave goodbye, and you can maintain your appreciation for your commitment to the hard work you’ve done. In reality, in this new situation, a new deeper layer of healing has come to your attention, with a new opportunity to grow and be strengthened. Had you not been present with the previous layer, you would never have reached the ache of today. Today’s ache is evidence for yesterday’s healing. So, as silly as this may sound, this ache is something to be celebrated. You did it. You’ve come so far.
Your healing process is not a competition, either.
An unspoken dynamic can exist between trauma survivors that, in a covert way, positions them in opposition to one another rather than beside one another. This can take two forms:
Competing for “Most Harmed”: You feel like you must assert that your experience was valid, that it was indeed abusive, and that your resulting need for support is warranted. You’re afraid that if you don’t tell certain details of your story, even if the listener or the environment isn’t the safest, that you won’t be heard. That you won’t get the support you genuinely need. That people will forget about you, and assume that you’re fine now, when you’re not; you’re just having a better day. This can present as a pressured feeling to share–maybe even over-share–an anxiety, accompanied with a sense of urgency and fear; like a low- to mid-grade panic.
Competing for “Most Healed”: You feel like you're less than the other individual if you’re not as “okay” as they appear to be or say they are. Perhaps you haven’t worked as hard at your healing as they have, or maybe you’re just more damaged, with less hope of becoming all you desire to be in the world. Just as your past abusive leader only recognized the most “spiritual” or the highest performing of the group, you’re afraid of being overlooked if you’re not the most [fill in the blank]. Something must be wrong with you if you’re not as “fine” as the person to your right or to your left. This can present as a feeling of fear, a juxtaposition of needing to feel seen in a positive light, while simultaneously feeling small and unworthy, with a sense of hopelessness.
Here’s what’s actually true, though:
You have been treated unjustly. You have suffered abuse. You will have easier days and harder days, brighter days and darker days, and on all of your days, your story is true and your needs are valid. When you need something, you need something, and when you don’t, you don’t. You can seek fulfillment on the days you do need something, sans worry that a good day will result in a loss of support for the hard day. If this is the case for you, then your support network would benefit from re-evaluation.
No one is done healing. No one has arrived in some magical permanent place of complete emotional and psychological wholeness in this life. This simply is not how healing works, and this can offer freedom to you: freedom to be right where you are in any given moment, knowing that now is temporary, that there is progress to be made, but that we’re never done. There is always more growth available to us, should we lean into the learning. And while yes, she might be further along in an aspect of her journey than he is, he is likely further along in a different aspect than she is. And the gift of this? If they set aside the race, the competitive urges that suffocate relationships, then they can serve one another. They can each share what they’ve learned and lift the other up onto their feet on mornings when it’s too hard to stand.
And the risk of not setting aside the competition? Your real needs will not get met, because you’re hiding them, and this consequence is heartbreaking because it perpetuates suffering.
So we must first take the risk of vulnerability by sharing what’s true, because then we actually win. If you trust someone to step forward out of the blur of the crowd to stand with you, and you trust yourself to step forward into the crowd to find who you need, and you know the innate value you hold as a human being, then you’ll know the permission you have to be uniquely you.
Authentic and free, looking up, no longer looking from side to side.
We pray for each and every one of us.