I was reading an article about what happens when the church does not recognize abuse. While the article talks about churches in general and not one particular religion, I’ll share an experience from my own religion that confirms what the article says.
I’m a Catholic and just a few weeks before I would be served with the divorce papers, I finally built up the courage to go to my parish and talk to the priest. I went through confession and shared everything with him. The only acknowledgement I got from the priest was that my husband was selfish and, for penance, he urged me to seek marriage counseling.
To some degree, I do not hold it against the priest since perhaps he’s not trained in detecting the type of abuse that comes with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD.) But either way, my heart broke there once again. I thought to myself that if that was what God wanted me to do, then I would do it, heartbroken and everything. Once again, I would go on a quest to find yet another counselor and try couples therapy once again.
However, I had just told the priest that we had already tried that. Sitting there and listening to the priest say “I urge you to consider it again and like I said, for your penance, seek marriage counseling once again,” I felt like I have just been slapped in the face.
I had already tried counseling on my own for a few years and then with my husband. During the sessions with him, I always felt cornered since he presented himself as the perfect husband, an individual who had it altogether, and I was the crazy, broken, insecure one who needed fixing.
Needless to say that my faith got shuttered, right there. I had not set a foot in a church for years, mainly because my husband is not a Catholic and he doesn’t really profess any religion or faith at all. But also because I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Like the article says, I kept on praying and praying and praying, mostly for me to be changed since I had been so much gaslighted and brainwashed that I was convinced everything wrong in my marriage was my fault. And now that I had finally built up the courage to once again seek help, there I was, being told to pray and seek more counseling.
I wish more people in the religious community would understand what the article says. Definitely, they need to be educated, just like the justice system that does not recognize emotional abuse as abuse and you go through the court system feeling being abused all over again because who is going to believe you when you have no injuries or police reports to show because you received blows to the soul, not your body?
So you have been emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically abused and you seek spiritual support, only to be (unintentionally) abused in that realm, as well. They may have the better of intentions, but they are completely off and not helping at all.
The article mentions something that I have seen time and time again: Pray for the abuser to be changed. That’s what pastors and religious leaders usually tell the victims. Pray. But, is an abuser who is completely convinced that he or she have done no harm going to be open to change? I don’t think so. Maybe I should have prayed for a miracle? (I think I got one when I got served divorced papers because I had no idea how to get away from the situation I was until that happened.)
I can’t speak for other religions, but it seems that in the Catholic Church, a marriage has to survive at all cost, even if one of its member’s life, sanity, or both, is at risk. In sickness and in health. Does this mean that because one of the spouses is sick with an incurable pathology, such as NPD, we have to stay with him or her until death do as part? Give the abuse to the Lord? Is that what God really wants for us, to suffer, to be beaten up, to be abused, to become the shell of the person we once were? I don’t think a loving God wants that for us. Or does He?
God gives us choices. That’s for sure. Or at least, I would like to think so. Same way as a loving responsible parent gives a child choices when they are throwing a tantrum. For example, your kid is upset because you gave him or her a sandwich with white bread when his or her favourite bread could be wheat. But you ran out of wheat bread. So you give your child a choice: Eat what you can give him or her or go hungry. The kid may decide not to eat for a while, just to prove his or her point and magically make you come up with some wheat bread. Eventually, he or she will understand that his or her other option is to go hungry since his or her preferred bread is not appearing anywhere and decides is not worth it. As a result, he or she ends up eating the sandwich, white bread and all. I’m sure you see my point. In this scenario, you gave the child an option and you allowed them to make a decision and live by its consequences. You love your child and you don’t want him or her to go hungry. But you also want him or her to learn that our decisions have consequences and that we have to live with those consequences. I like to think that God is the same way with His children. He presents us with some choices and it’s up to us to pick one. I’m sure none of us would choose abuse because we enjoy it or we knew it was coming. It just happened for whatever reasons. But now we should try to make a decision as of whether we are going to let the abuse continue, or do something about it. I think that’s what God wants us to do. But it’s up to us, not Him to make those decisions. Right?
Going back to the main topic of my post, so you go to a church seeking advise because you want to think that God is good and that there’s a plan of His in all of this. You share your experience and you’re told to pray for your abuser and that God do wonders on him or her and changes him or her. By the time I went to see the priest I had already been praying long enough and nothing had changed. Actually, it did, but for the worse. And after talking to the priest, I was given even the responsibility to pray for my husband, for our marriage, to do what it could take to improve it and make it change, and leave it up to God. Meanwhile, my husband keeps on doing what he’s doing and God and me are made responsible for bringing change… when it concerns a person who does not even believe in God… a person who thinks he doesn’t need to change… because nothing he’s doing is wrong and I’m at fault for everything, including my making him suffer.
Once again, the burden and responsibility has been taken away from the abuser and placed into the hands of someone else. Great! It’s like the quote I have on my blog’s home page:
Narcissism: One of the few conditions where the patient is left alone and everyone is treated.
I would like to think that some members of the clergy may not be like the priest who received me; that they may understand what abuse looks like and how victims feel. But after my experience, you can’t blame me for not kipping my hopes up high. Take a look at many of the parishes out there and you will find that they have ministries for adults, young adults, people seeking to convert, religious formation, maybe widows in some cases, some for children, and activities such as the choir, picnics and outings. But you don’t see a lot for singles, divorced people, people struggling with homosexuality, abortion, losing a child, abuse.
If they do have something for singles is more along the lines of “here’s an event we put together for you; now attend and pray to God that you will find your spouse in this event, after which we may know what to do with you.” I have a feeling that it is the same when it comes to abuse, but don’t show up until a miracle saved your marriage and then we will know what to do with you because we can use your story to show the love of God for His children by saving your marriage.
I know I may sound bitter in this post. Maybe I am. But one thing I know for sure is that the Church is comprised by people and, by default, imperfect. People are not perfect. God is. People make the Church; therefore, the Church is broken because its members are broken and imperfect creatures.
I guess I could try looking for another church and yes, I’ll probably do that. However, the problem now is that I will be more reserved and resistant to open up because I have already been wounded by one priest and his lack of understanding and compassion.
Yes, I’ll continue to pray, no matter how shaken my faith might be now. But I won’t pray because the priest told me to or out of a sense of duty because otherwise, God will punish me. No. I’ll pray because I want to. And I won’t be praying for my husband. Maybe one day I will pray for his soul, but I can’t honestly do that at this moment in my life. I will pray for protection of my child, of my heart, and of those I hold dear. I will pray that they never have to know what NPD is. I will pray that I can find the strength to do what it takes to work on my own recovery, on my understanding of this pathology, for me to find the tools I need for my own healing, and, most importantly, that I can become the role model my child needs so she doesn’t make the same mistakes I made and doesn’t fall prey to someone like her father. If one day she decides to get married, I pray that I have given her the tools to stand up for herself, to not let herself be abused, that she can spot abuse before it starts happening, or better, that she never even sees abuse at all, and that she grows up to be a good, loving, compassionate, respectful human being who grows up to be everything that God intends her to be. Everything, but not a victim. That’s what I want. And I hope that God hears and acknowledges my prayers.