Friday, March 27, 2009

Shame-Based Systems

If you have ever been involved in a controlling, abusive church, this post will make a lot of sense and hopefully bring some understanding to you. The information I am using can be found in the book, "Tired Of Trying To Measure Up," by Jeff Van Vonderen.

What is a "shame-based system?" A shame-based system can be a church or Christian group in which the authority figure demands a certain level of performance, whether spoken or implied. If you don't live up to the standard of the system, messages that are either subtle or overt will tell you that you are not good enough - you simply don't measure up. But that's not even the saddest part.

Worst of all, a sense of shame can keep you at a distance from God. It keeps you from praying because, "Why would God want to do something from me?" In abusive churches, the disconnected, controlling leaders, who are supposed to represent God, have given people a distorted view of who God is. People who have been in situations like this might think, "Why would God answer my prayers? I don't come close to living up to His standards. He probably doesn't even want to be around me."

People who are involved or have been involved in these types of situations encounter struggles over a period of time.

Here are a few:

*Difficulty trusting people
*Low self-esteem
*Highly performance-conscious
*Don't know yourself very well
*Feel Wounded
*Feel tired
*Can't tell what is normal until away from situation

The following is a list of characteristics that best describe the relationship systems, past and/or present, under which tired, wounded people labor:

1. Out-loud shaming

Comparing one person to another causes shame. Name-calling causes shame. Phrases like, "What an idiot you are!" and "What's wrong with you?" will shame a person. This type of shaming is hard to overcome.

2. Shame-based systems are performance-oriented

We all need an environment where we feel our needs are met because of who we are, not because of what we do. In this system, value and acceptance are earned on the basis of performance. We become ingrained with a need to measure up. We are taught that acceptability comes from religious performance, rather than being taught to rely on our identity as a child of God.

3. Unspoken rules govern shame-based systems

The rule that reigns supreme in this type of system is the "can't talk" rule. The truth of the matter in a church system is that some pastors are afraid of what the existence of a problem says about them as leaders. If there is a problem or question, then the person raising the question is the problem for raising a challenge.

Here is a list of other examples of unspoken rules that govern shame-based systems:

*"What's real doesn't matter; how things look is what really matters."
*"What other people think is more important."
*"Adults are more important than children."
*"People who feel sad are oversensitive."
*"Something is wrong with people who feel at all."
*"Feelings don't matter."
*"We don't have any problems."
*"Questioning is disrespectful."
*"Women are here to do what men want."
*"When women are upset, they're just being oversensitive."
*"It's not okay to have needs - needs are selfish."

Left in the dark, these rules have an incredible amount of power and anyone who brings them to light will be shamed.

4. People in shame-based systems "code" when they talk

In this system when someone asks you "to do them a favor," you know you don't have the option to say no. It wasn't really a favor, but it was a command. It swiftly becomes clear that needs, honest feelings, questions and opinions that differ are not okay. Saying things straight will get you labeled as the problem, so you have to learn how to speak in code to get what you need. You learn to carry an invisible code book in your head that helps you say things with the least amount of waves possible.

5. Shame-based systems have a hard time with kids

Needs, feelings, opinions, and certain behaviors all have the potential to bring on a sense of shame - especially to kids. Everything must be perfect. You must walk on egg shells and take everything seriously. Tow the line, mind your p's and q's, and act your age. Watch what you say and don't make too much noise. It's not okay for kids to be kids in shame-based churches. They must be miniature adults. It's not a healthy environment for children because they don't find out what's real.

6. Shame-based systems are preoccupied with fault and blame

These systems burn a lot of energy in self-defense, and in asking "Who's responsible?" This question is not asked for the purpose of helping the guilty party face the consequences, but it is raised so they can know whom should be shamed and made to feel bad.

7. Shame-based systems are strong on "head skills"

People in shame-based relationships live in a defensive mode. Shame hurts. It cuts to the heart. Therefore, people must become experts at "self-defense" techniques. These include: denying the existence of problems or rationalizing them away and blaming others. In this system, people are constantly interrogated. But the questions have no answers. "I just can't understand why you did that! Is your head on backwards?" "Why did you do that?" The only safe answer is "I don't know." Any other answer would be analyzed and made to look foolish.

8. Shame-based systems are weak on "heart skills"

Experiencing or expressing certain emotions such as sadness, hurt, loneliness, or humiliation is viewed as an indication of weakness or defectiveness. In these systems people believe that feelings should go away. Consequently, they get stuck carrying a lot of heavy emotions and are never able to resolve them.

9. People in a shame-based system only look as if their needs are met

People come away from these systems with a sense that they are:

*Not loved and accepted
*Only loved and accepted if, when, or because they perform
*Not capable, valuable, or worthwhile
*Alone, not really belonging anywhere, to anything, or with anyone

10. The shame-based church is a system that is upside-down

This relationship system isn't there to pour strength and fullness into its members. Instead, it draws from its members in order to perpetuate itself. Since love and acceptance are something to be earned, members have learned to be good performers. The result is people who are empty and disconnected on the inside with the appearance of fullness on the outside.

People in these shame-based systems spend their lives wondering when they are going to start living and being happy. But life is here to be had and enjoyed freely. Make the choice not to listen to these "killing" voices anymore and choose life!

I Wonder What Jesus Thinks

I read this verse the other day and it hit me in a way I had never seen it before.

"When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves." (Mark 15:11-17)

I want to briefly share some of the thoughts that came to me....

I wonder what Jesus thinks about the way certain churches handle money. Have some used the church as a way to make money off of honest, God-fearing people? I mean after all, why would a church charge $7 for a CD of the message when it only cost about .40 to make? I know of churches that make all of the messages available free of charge.

Has Jesus gotten upset because honest people have been taken advantage of? I remember a meeting that took place a couple of years back at a very nice venue in town. A special guest was in town and he was going to speak during a luncheon. The true cost of the ticket was less than $20, but the leaders of the church charged $40 for each ticket. The high cost of the ticket made it impossible for some members to attend, but that did not deter the leader's decision to make money off of the tickets.

Is it right to charge more for a church event than it really costs? I don't believe there's anything wrong with covering the cost of an event or even covering unforeseen charges, but it seems to me that the intention of making money off of the church members crosses the line. I think the church should be a place that will try to make a way to include everyone who desires to be a part. The attitude that came across to me was, "If you don't have the faith to believe for the money, then we don't want you to come."

I know God wants churches to prosper so they can get the Gospel out and reach the world, but it should be achieved by honest means. I think people should at least know where their money is going when they give it and I believe people should be treated honestly and fairly at all times.

People should not be conned or coerced into giving - hence the 20 minute prelude before every offering. Do people really have to be pounded week after week, year after year with a mini sermon on tithing? I think the leaders should consider a different approach because if people haven't gotten the message in the 10 to 20 years of hearing it, maybe they aren't going to. I love the approach they take at my new church - let people follow their own heart and give cheerfully when God leads them to.

The main emphasis of a church should never be on money, but it should be on what really matters - having a relationship with God and helping people. Why isn't this the main focus of some churches? I think the answer is clear....To some, money is more important than people. That's not the way it is with Jesus and that may be one reason why He got so upset that day in the temple.

Just curious.....Do you think there is anything to these thoughts and questions I have had or have I misread this?

The Narcissist Leader - Do You Know One?

The DSM-IV, a psychological diagnostic source, recently came out with a list of the criteria for NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). A person displaying a pattern of at least five of the following signs indicates that there is a strong possibility that he/she is a narcissist.

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

3. Believes that he/she is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.

4. Requires excessive admiration.

5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations that others will treat him/her with favor or will automatically comply with his/her expectations.

6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own ends.

7. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him/her.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitude.

10. Will often have temper tantrums, unreasonable expectations, shocking selfishness, and a complete inability to engage in teamwork.

Dealing With Manipulative People

If you think you may be dealing with a manipulative person, ask yourself these questions....

*Have your friends or family members remarked on how you don't seem like yourself since you entered this relationship? Are they looking at you sideways?

*Have your family relationships become filled with tension at the mention of the manipulator's name?

*Are the people who care about you the most getting worried about you?

*Have you severed ties to the familiar stability of the world you have known and placed the manipulator at the center of your universe?

*Are you losing your individuality and strength?

*Do you find yourself doing things you wouldn't ordinarily do?

*Have the goals and dreams that previously defined you all of a sudden been pushed to the back burner?

*Does the manipulator try to isolate you from your friends and family members?

*Are your attitudes changing to more closely mirror the manipulator's rather than who you really are?

*Do you willfully close your eyes to behavior that you know is wrong?

*Do you excuse the manipulator's behavior? Are you constantly defending him/her?

*Does it seem that it's always "all about him/her?"

*Does the manipulator know how to pull your strings? Do you find yourself doing things you really wish you hadn't?

*Does the manipulator try to take over your financial decisions?

*Do you find that you are being controlled or manipulated through half-truths or omissions? Are you slowly finding out that you have been lied to repeatedly?

*Does the manipulator in your life play the victim and blame others for his/her problems?

*Is there just enough weirdness to make you stop and think, but not quite enough to get you to re-evaluate the entire relationship?

*Are the manipulator's apologies shallow?

Here is some information that you should know if you are dealing with a manipulative person....

*Being in a relationship with a manipulative person is a destructive cycle.

*People in healthy relationships have nothing to hide or defend.

*Don't blow off the opinions of your friends and family. They have your best interests in mind. When you cut off your support system, it only helps the manipulator gain dominance over you.

*Compassion is not easily understood or accepted by manipulators. It will only hurt you more in the end.

*Manipulative people are often very insecure. The root of their selfish control is their own damaged self esteem.

*Don't try to point out the above warning signs to the manipulator. This type of person won't recognize it and you will only be wasting your time.

*This control doesn't happen overnight, but it happens subtly over a period of time. Manipulators will invest months or even years in "training" you to accept and carry out their will.

*Severely controlling and manipulative people often have clinical mental disorders. You cannot hope to change or rescue such a person. As much as you may care for them, the best help you can give them is to refuse to be their victim and direct them to professional help - although most of the time they won't admit they need help.

*Manipulators are legends in their own mind, but the truth eventually comes to light.

(If you found this post helpful, you may also want to read The Manipulators Behavior Defined and Are You Dealing With A Manipulator?)

Characteristics Of Pathological Liars

I came across this list the other day and thought it was very enlightening. I think we all deal with people like this at some point in our life, although I hope you don't have to very often. Many times controlling, manipulative people have these same characteristics, because they are good at lying.

Here is a list of common characteristics of pathological liars.....

*Contradict what they say.

*Lie about even the smallest things.

*Add exaggerations to every sentence.

*Change their story all the time.

*Act very defensively when you question their statements.

*Believe what they say is true, when everyone else knows it isn't.

*Lie when it is very easy to tell the truth.

*Lie to get sympathy, to look better, to save their hide, etc.

*Fool people at first but once they get to know them, no one believes anything they ever say.

*Are extremely manipulative.

*Have been caught in lies repeatedly.

*Will never fess up to the lies.

*Are a legend in their own mind.

*May have a personality disorder.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Link To A Special Letter

As I was reading Aida's blog, "Forgetting The Former Things," I came across a link to a letter written by a lady describing her experience of coming out of a controlling church. I am adding a link to this letter because I think it will help others who are recovering from spiritual abuse. Click here to read the letter and comments.