Survivor Sister Story Series: Domestic Violence by Proxy

Survivor Sister Story Series: Domestic Violence by Proxy
(The Survivor Sister Story Series provides a place for survivors to share their stories anonymously. While it may not be safe for women to share their names, this space allows their voices to be heard and helps others who have similar experiences feel seen and validated.)
If you are experiencing domestic violence by proxy, you know a heartache like no other.
Often, kids will lash out at mama (while seeking the approval of dad) if they know her love is unconditional.
They are experiencing trauma and have no idea how to handle it. 
I just read this analogy in a survivor group, and I am sharing with permission. 
“An advocate I spoke with compared it to a dragon. If a dragon is present in your child's life, the safest option for your child is to align with the dragon. The safest person to "reject" is you. That doesn't mean you're a bad mom, it means that you're respecting your child's autonomy.”
Kids feel that the safest place to be is by the belly of the dragon.
One mama wrote:
“I lived this HELL for nearly three years and am so relieved to tell you that healing has started.
It’s not easy, it hurts like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
I recently said to one of my boys, “I’m so scared I’ll lose you again.”
He looked at me, confused. 
“Mom, you never lost me.”
That’s when I realized how different his perspective was from mine. 
I lost him, but he didn’t lose me.
He always knew where to find mama. 
He knew I was waiting for him.”
A prayer to pray over your kids: 
“Father, open their eyes.
Unstop their ears.
Soften their hearts.
Turn them back to the Father 
And to their mama.”

Ladies, you are welcome to join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse where we are learning, growing, and healing together.

I share many resources about DV by proxy, as well as a host of other abuse recovery topics. 
You are also welcome to join my monthly membership group where we discussing ways to rebuild after abuse, the Held & Healed Haven.

Is Your VBS/Kids Camp Safe?

Is Your VBS/Kids Camp Safe?
Is Your VBS/Kids Camp Safe?
 VBS/Kids Camp season is upon us. 
“Mama B” (now known as “Mama Bear”) is here, with my “if I knew then what I know now” list for you.
How much do you think you know about the adults you leave your kids with?
Disclosure of clergy/institutional abuse are pouring out EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
We can no longer hide our heads in the sand and pretend this reality away.
Criminal background checks only show CONVICTIONS. 
Many child predators are never convicted.
Some organizations don’t even run CBC’s.
Some things to consider: 
* Ask if adults have been cleared by CBC’s and if they have personal and professional references. 
* Ask about the organizations safety and emergency procedure polices. 
* What kind of insurance does the organization have? 
* Are convicted sex offenders allowed on the premises? 
* Are adults in charge mandatory reporters? (If a child discloses abuse, it is vital that the proper authorities are notified.) 
* Are children ever alone with an adult? 
* Are teens or young adults supervising children without a mature adult present? 
* How is discipline handled? 
* How is bullying handled? 
* Are custody orders honored? 
* Are there interior/exterior security cameras? 
* Are bathrooms closely monitored? 
* Is there a professional security person on site? 
* How are medical needs and food allergies handled? 
* Is the organization currently under investigation for abuse charges of any kind? 
* Will your child be asked to do or say anything they are not comfortable doing (coerced “alter calls,” “testimonies,” or “offerings.”) 
Pro tips: 
* If you have doubts or cannot get clear answers to your questions, DO NOT SEND YOUR KIDS.
* Volunteer and keep your eyes and ears open.
* Talk to your kids (ongoing) about safety and agency. Let them know that if anyone EVER does ANYTHING to them that causes them to feel unsafe, that you will listen, believe them, and protect them. Assure your gem that they do not have to return to a setting that they do not feel safe in. 
* Avoid overnight opportunities, the amount of abuse that happens in sleeping, bathing, dressing greatly increases.
* Ask for multiple references for an organization before you drop your kids off. 
* If you know of an unsafe institution, make other parents aware.
* Look over any curriculum that is sent home and talk through the lessons with your kids. If there is anything that you are uncomfortable with, you can reassess their involvement.
* If an organization is resistant to your questions or unable/unwilling to provide safety measures, please do not leave your children in their care.

Need more support as you navigate these waters? 

Ladies, you are welcome to join us on Facebook at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.

You are also welcome to join my monthly membership group, Held & Healed Haven, where I offer group coaching we focus on boundaries, truths to replace lies, healthy habits, nervous system regulation, etc.), community building, guest interviews, and so much more. 

Are You Experiencing Spiritual Institutional Abuse?

Are You Experiencing Spiritual Institutional Abuse?
Are you experiencing spiritual institutional abuse? 
(PLEASE NOTE: I write this to expose the realities of spiritual abuse. I lived these realities for nearly four decades and I have met thousands of others who have been abused. I write for them. Phrases like “No church is perfect” or “But there are good churches” or “Keep your eyes on God, not people,” have been staple responses used to gaslight survivors and to minimize horrific suffering. Please don’t say these things to survivors. This post is intended to COMFORT survivors. This list is going to continue growing, I am sharing some of the most common examples that I have experienced or heard about.)

What is spiritual abuse? 

From “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen: 

“Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment. The result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment. Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person. It often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another without regard to what will result in the other person’s state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being.  Spiritual abuse can occur when spirituality is used to make others live up to a spiritual standard and, when not met, the individual is left baring a weight of guilt, judgement, or condemnation and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian. It is at this point that we say spirituality has become abusive.”

I invite you to ask yourself some hard questions. 
If you find yourself checking off several or many of these, you are most likely experiencing spiritual abuse. 
* Is there a strong emphasis on authoritarianism, patriarchy, male headship, or silencing of women? 
* Do you feel that you are never good enough? 
* Do you feel that you need leadership’s permission or blessing to minister, or to make everyday life decisions? 
* Does the leader/leadership call all the shots?
* Are you expected to be at church several times each week and to volunteer your time or do you feel guilty if you cannot be? 
* Is there sin-leveling, spiritual bypassing or toxic positivity? 
* Is the term “But for the grace of God go I” used to downplay gross and criminal offenses? 
* Do others quote Bible verses to diminish or dismiss your pain? 
* Have you been told that your sickness or suffering is due to sin in your life? 
* Do leaders teach that suffering is the world is a result of “sin in their lives” but suffering “in house” is “persecution?” 
* Does the institution emphasize what you are doing—or should be doing—for God rather than what He’s already done for you? 
* Is there a mini sermon before the offering, which causes you to feel guilty if you do not give?
* Are your basic needs (shelter, food, medical, clothing, transportation, etc.) going unmet while you are being pressured to “tithe?”
* Is there a lack of disclosure/accountability of the institution’s finances? 
* Have you expressed physical or financial needs and been ignored? 
* Does the leader/leadership abuse those under their care (verbally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, mentally, sexually, spiritually, financially, etc.)? 
* Does the leader/leadership tolerate abuse under their care (verbal, emotional, physical, psychological, mental, sexual, spiritual, financial, etc.)?
* Has the leader had sexual relations with someone under their care (whom they are not married to)? ** This is not simply “an affair,” it is spiritual and sexual abuse.
* Is sexual abuse swept under the rug, dealt with “in house,” and are you forbidden to go to law enforcement? 
* Are sex offenders allowed inside the institution with a contract/chaperone, leaders are aware, but the general population is not? 
* Have you been told that covering up abuse is protecting the reputation of the church/God? 
* Do those who leave the institution get pegged as the problem, while leaders/leadership never admit to wrongdoing? 
* Are you forbidden to discuss why members leave the institution? 
* Is there a long list of former members/attendees who report being abused by the institution/leadership? 
* Is marriage idolized over the well-being of individuals?
* Is divorce prohibited? 
* Is marital rape tolerated? 
* Is marriage counseling required where abuse is present?
* Is “in house” counseling allowed, while “outside” or “secular” counseling is forbidden? 
* Are the things you shared in “counseling” used against you, betrayed, and gossiped about? 
* Are the things you share in “counseling” used against you, to deem you “unworthy” of ministry? 
* Are you expected to disclose personal, private, traumatic events to those who are not trained in abuse or trauma? 
* Is mental illness referred to as demon possession? 
* Does the institution teach that they are “God’s favorite,” and that all other institutions are lesser than?
* Is there a hierarchy/chain of command/inner sanctum? 
* Do you have “spiritual FOMO,” worrying that if you miss a gathering, you will be “less than?”
* Are leaders viewed as “celebrities?” 
* Is there a dress code, written or assumed? 
* Is there a lack of tolerance for questioning/ wrestling with scriptures?
* It is assumed that the leader is always right and to question him/her is to question God? 
* Is there an over emphasis on forgiveness on the part of victims, while accountability for offenders is lacking? 
* Do you feel physically ill, anxious, or triggered when you go to the institution? 
* Is God’s word used as weapon to beat you up? 
* Are words like bitterness, forgiveness, submission, picking up offenses, giving up rights, and suffering used to shame/blame you? 
* Are you allowed to be authentic or are you expected to present yourself as poised and put together? 
If you checked off several or many of these, you are experiencing spiritual abuse. 
The good news? 
You are an adult.
You have choices. 
You can walk away from an institution that is unsafe. 
You can take your children and leave. 
You do not have to stay one more day.
God sees all, hears all, and knows all.

You do not have to prove the abuse or corruption to Him.
He will go with you, He will protect you, He will provide for you. 
Ladies, you are welcome to join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse where we are learning, growing, and healing together.
You are also welcome to join my monthly membership group where we discussing ways to rebuild after abuse, the Held & Healed Haven.

How To Choose a Safe Counselor or Coach

How To Choose a Safe Counselor or Coach
"How do I choose a safe counselor or coach?"

If there is a question that I get asked almost every day, it's this one.

I have hesitated to write about this because it is a HUGE QUESTION.

Many of us have experienced secondary abuse from "Biblical counselors," so I will say, "BEWARE!"

Not all Biblical counselors are bad, not all licensed counselors are good. 

I do not suggest asking a church leader for recommendations for counselors. 

Many churches will push "in house" "counseling" and will warn against "secular" counseling. 

Too often, the connection between the brain and body is overlooked and spiritually bypassed.

Here are a few things to remember:

Look for humility and a willingness to learn. Counselors are human. They are not God. They are fallible, and they are not all knowing. Watch for their response when you suggest resources or share what you are learning in groups like Held & Healed. Ask if they are pursuing their own therapy, I would be very leery or any counselor who doesn't have a counselor. 

You are the client/consumer. You get to choose who you work with. Ask questions and interview your potential counselor before you decide. You can walk away at any time if you feel unsafe, unheard, or dissatisfied. If your counselor is licensed and they do anything that causes you to feel unsafe, you can report them. Ask for the contact information for that reporting up front. 

Do not attend counseling with an abuser. Period. There are thirteen patterns/systems of abuse, read more here. If you are experiencing any/all of these, DO NOT AGREE TO COUNSELING WITH AN ABUSER. It is is unwise, unsafe, and unethical. If your counselor understands abuse and trauma, they will not even suggest this. 

Do they offer more than just talk therapy? When working through trauma, you will need practical tools in your toolbox. What do they offer? EMDR, somatic therapy, tapping, nervous system regulation, etc.? What works for one person may not work for another, Each person's experience will be unique and each therapy plan needs to be created with that person in mind. 

Are they abuse/trauma-specialized? What certifications/trainings do they have?

There are so many more things to consider when choosing a safe counselor or coach. 

Here are some other resources that share other considerations:

From Held & Healed Podcast: How to Choose a Safe Counselor or Coach 

From Sarah McDugal: Seven Questions to Ask Your Counselor Before You Waste Your Money

From Gretchen Baskerville: Marriage Counseling In Abusive Situations is Unethical

From To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: Ten Questions to Ask a Biblical Counselor to Make Sure They're Safe 

From Mending the Soul: How to Find a Counselor 

Ladies, you are welcome to join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse, where we discuss topics like this every single day.

I also invite you to join the Held & Healed Haven, a monthly membership group that offers a more intimate setting to discuss trauma, abuse, mental health, nervous system regulation and so much more. For more info, click here. 

For a sample of a guest interview, watch this intro video with Indie Sozo, where we begin the conversation of choosing a safe counselor/coach. 

Not Enough...And Too Much

Not Enough...And Too Much
For most of my life, I was told I was “not enough” or “too much” to be used by God. 

At one point, I was told I was too young to speak. 

Fast forward twenty years and I told I was too old to speak. 

In many settings, I was too female to lead. 

I was too emotional.

My family was too messy. 

For over forty years, I allowed men, women, and institutions to silence me. 

I was asked to volunteer 5-15 hours/week for thirty years in various ministries, but was never “good enough” to be considered for a paid position. 

I was given loads of responsibility but not any authority. 

I was asked to do the difficult and uncomfortable tasks that others didn’t want to mess with.

All along, my heart’s desire was to honor God and honor people.

Beautiful people. 

Overlooked people.

Cast out people. 

Oppressed people. 

I was criticized for how I prayed, how I led music, how I reached out to the ones who sat on the fringes, how deeply I cared about the ones the church failed. 

“Don’t pick up others’ offenses.”

“You’re bitter.”

“You’re unforgiving.”

Each time I was “disciplined,” another flame of my fire was snuffed out. 

Add to that the horrific abuse I was enduring elsewhere. 

Little by little, day by day, year after year, the fire was dying. 

I was dying. 

Thank God Almighty, I got out before the last ember was snuffed out. 

I finally realized that I answer to God alone.

Since I stopped looking for the approval of others, God has released me to do what He created me to do. 

My worth is in Him and not what a man, woman, or institution thinks of me.

I am free to be myself, free to grow, free to heal, and free to help others do the same.

I am intentional about being real with the ladies I meet. 

I have good days and bad days. 

Healing is a lifelong journey. 

When I meet Jesus, face to face, I will be healed and whole. 

Until then, I will keep going back into the fire of abuse to help pull out those who are still consumed by the flames. 

Dear One, you do not have to remain in a place where you feel unsafe, unwanted, worthless, and unseen. 

You are worthy of love, honor, safety, respect, and fidelity. 

In your home. 

In your workplace. 

In your faith community. 


Ladies, please join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse

The Held & Healed podcast is a resource filled with resources to help you on your healing journey. 

Helpers, I have created the Safer Spaces Summit with statistics, survivor stories, and solutions for addressing abuse within faith committees. 

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