Dear Captain Awkward:
I appreciated your advice regarding being open to the possibility that two siblings can grow up in the same home but have completely different experiences and interpretations of the environment.
As I was reading I found myself identifying with the sister, whom the question-asker describes as still being stuck in the abusive situation but not seeing it as so. Last year our small and close-knit church community went through a very painful split, with a handful of people leaving with claims that the head pastor was spiritually abusing them. It’s a very (VERY) long and complicated ordeal, but I found myself wondering what sort of advice you might give to the “sister” who is still connected to the parents (or in my case, authority figure/pastor) whom other people have experienced as abusive. In my personal interactions with this pastor I’ve actually felt very well cared for and respected. He did our premarital counseling and has provided a great deal of encouragement, mentoring and advice to my husband and I in the first 4 years of our marriage.
Because my experience of him has been so different than theirs, I find myself really struggling to know how to connect with them in a healthy and productive way. The feeling I get from these friends who’ve left is that the only version of reality they accept is their own, and any other possible explanation is just a symptom of the abuse. In their eyes I am a naive automaton, enabling an abusive and evil man. It’s really quite insulting and saddening.
Any advice for the other side of this question?
The Other Sister
Dear Other Sister,
Intern Paul and I have been Googling spiritual abuse, and it’s taken us to a dark and scary part of the Internet. Can you help us define the concept and be a little more detailed about what your friends say happened?