church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

Vulnerability

Bypass of the Raw

Perhaps what makes us most vulnerable are the parts of us that we cannot change, but affects the way people see us, treat us… talk to us.. talk about us.

A lengthy conversation started over the comments Matt Damon said about how there is a scale of severity when it comes to sexual assault.  “Why is everyone jumping on Damon?” My male friend asked.  “I mean, it’s true isn’t it, there is a difference between a slap on the ass and rape.”

While not wrong, this guy was still missing the point.  Let’s have a master class about why Damon is missing all the marks.

First, Damon is a man, commenting on the scale of severity in regards to sexual abuse and assault on women.  This has been the state of being for centuries.  Men making decisions on whether a rape occured, whether the assault was serious enough, whether it was “asked for” by the victim in some way.  The rates of conviction (with jail time) for men assaulters are somewhere close to 6/1000.  This demonstrates the patriarchal structure we live in as women.  That is to say, most of the time, men are making the choice about how assaulters will be punished.  Yet another man in power (and even worse so, with a microphone that millions will hear his words from) spoke to trivialize the severity of sexual abuse and assault.

Minnie Driver is quoted saying “I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”

Second, Damon is speaking to the #metoo movement, where all women who have been assaulted/raped/harrassed are included.  By stating guidelines of severity, he is also saying that some sexual assaults are “lesser.”  A victim of a “lesser assault” may not feel like her experience and story “counts.”  This goes against the very cause we are looking to bring awareness to.  The #metoo movement is for all women who have experienced sexual violence.  This club, however we don’t want to belong to it, includes all.  It is a safe place for women to speak their truth boldly.  By having a male break down categories, he was divisive.

Damon also is quoted as saying “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is… the preponderance of men I’ve worked with who don’t do this kind of thing.”

*Blink*  Well, let’s stand up and cheer for all the men who are NOT (and haven’t ever) sexually harrassed, abused or assaulted women.  In fact, all of you who haven’t done that, please stand up.  Nobody?  Right.  That’s the point.  Even the most upstanding male friends have at one point made an unwanted sexually charged comment (action) towards a woman.  This is the culture we are in.  In addition, women are supposed to recognize all the men who haven’t committed sexual violence against them?  Really?? Come on, now.

Third, Minnie Driver states Damon’s lack of ability to speak to this issue eloquently by saying men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” and should not, therefore, attempt to differentiate or explain sexual misconduct against women.   Driver continues with this truth bomb: “Gosh it’s so interesting (profoundly unsurprising) how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem.” This is yet another case of “mansplaining” to women.  As if we don’t know about the various ways we experience sexual violence.

She added: “There is no hierarchy of abuse – that if a woman is raped [it] is much worse than if a woman has a penis exposed to her that she didn’t want or ask for … you cannot tell those women that one is supposed to feel worse than the other.

“And it certainly can’t be prescribed by a man. The idea of tone-deafness is the idea there [is] no equivalency. How about it’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”

Fourth, at this point,  the only productive thing men can do is to be quiet OR unequivocally support the #metoo movement.  The guy I was talking to stated that this was divisive and limiting of potential allies who wanted to be able to ask questions about the movement.  The issue, though, is black and white.  You are either against all sexual violence, or you aren’t.  In addition, we really aren’t concerned about bringing men on board at this point.  The effort is to get women’s voices out there, survivor’s voices.  We are rallying behind a common story, the abuse of men against women. When we live in a world where men are doing most of the talking, most of the legislating, most of the powerful positions, it is TIME for us to speak and men to listen.

Driver says “In the same stereotypical way that we see women being supportive of men in their endeavors,” she said, “I feel that’s what women need of men in this moment. They need men to lean on and not question.

Fifth, Damon spoke to the idea that because Louis C.K. (who admitted copablity to sexual abuse due to a differential of power).  “I don’t know Louis C.K.. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he…” And he trails off.  What price has he paid?  Public humilation for what he did?  The inability to work in the public eye (which is yet to be seen)?  Why is C.K.’s repercussion somehow the concern?  With the majority of sexual abusers not getting any charges brought up against them, and a large majority of those who are charged not getting any consequences, the public’s view of C.K. (Cosby, Weinstein, Franken, et all.)

Driver goes on to say “Men can rally and they can support, but I don’t think its appropriate, per se, for men to have an opinion about how women should be metabolizing abuse. Ever.”

Sixth, Damon is not the reliable voice on this issue.  In 2004, a reporter started to look into Weinstein’s sexual exploits, Damon allegedly called the reporter to vouch for Weinstein and try to kill the story. He also knew about Weinstein’s sexual harrasment of Gweneth Paltrow and continued to work with him.  Thus, his reliablity is increbily suspect.

Now, it must be said, this guy I was speaking to IS supportive of the #metoo movement and stands on firm moral ground regarding sexual abuse.  He was surprised to hear about the differential of power always leaning towards men.  Women are taught to have their phones out when walking around at night, with their keys in their other hand.  We are taught how to dress, even dress codes in most organizations are written BY men.  Rape culture is everywhere.

Alyssa Milano says this: “I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny… We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture. We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gaslighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.”

I get cat-called frequently, with men looking me up and down when I walk by.  We notice these things, but at a certain point, we even gloss over them because they are so common.  This is our daily framework we operate in. I am in the skin of a woman’s body.  This culture is a given for us.

It’s time for men to get woke and hear what we experience every day.

 

Authenticity

Relational Authenticity

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Over the past few years, I’ve freed myself from the requirement to be friends with everyone. I’ve spent time with my main connection platform (Facebook) and gone through and released myself from the need to be friends with every single person I’ve known over the years. I am no longer a friend collector.  I examined each friendship and decided if I wanted to continue to put in the effort to cultivate this relationship, or whether I needed to free myself (and them) from the need to put in more energy.

This intentional editing continued until I reached a comfortable amount of people on social media, and less so in person-to-person relationships. I start to get itchy if my Facebook list gets to 100, as I know that I cannot give what I want to give (quality wise) to that many people.  In person, I have a very small group of intimate friendships.

About 8 years ago, I started this journey with the freeing of my father from my life.  My parents divorced during my late middle school years, and since then he has made sure that I’m secondary to any other relationships he has in his life. This relationship was the first that I officially divorced myself from.

It bothered me the first time someone said: “you’re comfortable just not having someone in your life anymore.” As if someone should always have access to my life because they once did. This isn’t true.

Being invited into someone’s life as a friend or continuing a relationship with a family member is based on mutual respect and care. If that isn’t there’s, neither is the relationship. That’s freeing for me and them.

A year ago, I found that I had a serious desire to develop a group of women that I wanted to be more like. a group that I could spend time with and know that we could be authentic, real, and honest with. I hand-picked a small group of lovely ladies whom I knew would feed my soul, and each other.  And so, the tribe was born.

The tribe is a group of ladies that get together once a month and simply “be” with each other.  Sometimes our conversation is very deep, sometimes not as much.  But it is always surrounded by love, understanding, compassion, and laughter.

Each time I spend time with these ladies, I leave feeling fed and loved.  What I also love about this group is that they have become friends with each other as well.  Many didn’t know each other until we came together as a group, and now to see deepening friendships among them is fulfilling as well.

This week I sat with a dear friend (and tribe member) over coffee. Every topic we talked about was meaningful and lovely, like how you feel eating warm soup on a cold day.  That’s not to say that every topic was deep or profound, but real and authentic.

Edit your life.

 

church, Spiritual Abuse

Responsibility of the Religious

How do we hold the powerful accountable?

In the current climate of sexual assault revelations, one particular story caught my eye.  Danny Ray Johnson, a pastor and a legislator from Kentucky died by suicide when allegations of sexual assault became public from 2012.

Following up with the post I wrote (I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye), a recent FB post came across my feed that also got me thinking. The question was:

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, and listening to the women who spoke up about feeling obligated to comply because of the status of the male figure, I can’t help but feel like perhaps mary felt the same way.
What higher status of “man” is there than the god we literally believe in?
Do we worship a god of rape?

The final sentence blew my mind.  My answer is yes, and here’s why.

The power differential between a young girl and an all-powerful god is extreme.  No matter what, I’d imagine that Mary couldn’t say no if she wanted to.

Picture this, the object of your worship comes down in some form and says “Mary, I need to have a baby.  Would you be the mother of that baby?”  I’m imagining this as a human now.  If I found out that, as a young girl, there was an omnipotent being who could take my life in an instant with his smiting wand, and he came down to me in a booming voice and asked me to conceive his child, damn right I’d say yes.

Let’s bring this to practical terms.  In many churches, the pastor IS the voice of god.  (Especially to young people.)  I recall the churches I was a part of, and I recall this perceived spiritual distance and prestige that the leadership had.  They could do no wrong, and whatever they told us to do, we would.  Our parents would also back them up.

So, here comes this 17-year-old girl, in 2012, and her pastor.  The pastor, during a sleepover at the church, molested this girl.  The victim states that she thought of her pastor as a “second dad,” giving him emotional access to her.  She brought a case against the pastor, which was later closed (under shady circumstances). Recently the abuse came out in the media, and the pastor subsequently shot himself after an incredibly odd sing-along presser.

This “pastor” called himself Pope, and also had odd statements that conflicted with reality (he created a morgue, as a private citizen at the twin towers on 9-11, for which he got some compensation from PTSD developed from this incident.)

What does this boil down to, and why are Male Pastors so dangerous?

 

They are generally male, and placed in a “father” role.

Female senior pastors are still rare (though becoming more common every day, listed at 9% of positions in the clergy) and thus males continue to hold senior responsibilities and roles in the church body.  Consider the population of church-goers as well.  The pastor is the “head of the church” and men are “head of the family.”  It’s not a big jump to say that pastors are then placed as a father figure to many, especially for the vulnerable and the young.

Take Johnson, again.  This man gained access to this girl by befriending her, and subsequently took advantage at a church sleepover.  Some may ask, “Well, where are the parents?”  To which I’d answer “What sounds safer than a sleepover at a church?”

They often have illusions of grandeur.

Pastors are “set apart” from their congregants in many ways.  They stand in front of their parishioners weekly and interpret the bible for people to listen to.  Often this is the ONLY exposure people will have to the bible, and many take a clergy member’s view as fact.  Imagine if you were perceived to be the sole person in charge of a group’s spiritual well-being.  This gives you a lot of power and control.  As seen in the case of Johnson, he actually took the title of “Pope” (otherwise referred to as “His Holiness.”)

They are not held accountable for their actions, even if they are wrong.  

Putting aside the current rape-apologist culture we live in, Pastors are rarely called to task for mistakes (regardless of severity.) In this example, the Johnson continued to “serve” as the church head for more than 5 years after the assault occurred.  At the presser Johnson held, he literally was sung to by faithful congregants.  The Governor of Kentucky said Johnson was “an embarrassment” but would not call for his resignation from Congress.

Their power is often unchecked, and has no bounds.  In some cases, they are “overseen” by a board of some form, but again, these boards are mostly male as well.  As a result, sexual crimes are not taken seriously.

Cover-ups from the church come from a feeling of shame and guilt.  The embarrassment of having a pastor who isn’t following the law, or the moral obligations he speaks to weekly is too much to bear. Thus, any “indiscretions” are swept under the rug with the hopes they are not found out. In some extreme cases, pastors resign amidst controversy if the rug gets too bumpy from all the dust bunnies the pastors put there.  Rarely are formal charges filed for crimes.

 

Bringing this back to Johnson:

The “pope” dies. If you look on the FB pages that are linked to the press releases, there is a LOT of victim blaming going on.

First, the 17-year-old is listed as a woman.  (Now, she is CURRENTLY of age, but at the time of the assault, was a girl.)  This diminishes the power of the crime he was accused of.  Rape is awful, no matter what (I say this as a survivor myself), but underage abuse and assault is another layer of awful.

Second, there is a LOT of support for the pastor in this situation, and not as much for the sexual assault victim.  The suicide is linked directly to the recent publication of the sexual assault, placing the onus of his death squarely on her shoulders.  100% of sexual assaults are caused by the assaulters.  Subsequent actions as a result of guilt must also be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abuser, not on the person who spoke up.  His death is 100% NOT.HER.FAULT.  However, the outcry of support for him is dauntingly loud.

Bringing this back to Mary:

So, why are these points relevant? Imagine you are Mary, an unread, simple girl who knows of god as an omnipotent being who can create and destroy at will and on a whim.  God, in whatever form, speaks to her and lets her know he’s picked HER to be the mother of his baby.  The bible expresses that she consents, and TADA a fetus is developed.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

Luke 1-26-38. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Breaking that down:

  1. Mary is shocked by the appearance of something clearly more powerful than her. (Don’t be afraid of me, Mary, God thinks you are cool.)
  2. Mary has been deemed worthy by an all-powerful being, (Woah, the creator of the universe has his eye on me, and thinks I’m awesome.)
  3. She is TOLD that she will be the incubator of god’s baby. She will name him Jesus.  (So, she is TOLD what will happen by god. See, no consent here thus far.)
  4. She replies that she is a servant of god, and acquiesces to god’s statement. (Imagine this in the context of a slave owner to a slave.  The owner has ultimate control of her fate, and thus is she ever even able to say no if she wanted to?  I would submit that any consent is suspect at a minimum, and likely not even an option.)

But could she ever actually SAY NO? It’d be like sitting with a nuclear weapon pointed at you and having someone say “hey, would you be my baby mama?” Is it really even a question, from the woman/girl’s perspective? I would humbly submit that the power differential is so extreme that we don’t even have context for it in modern concrete terms.

In concrete terms, the pastor has an incredible amount of power, being the voice and interpreter of god.  In many churches I attended, the leadership complained about the amount of responsibility they held and the inability to fail in any area of their lives.

Surely, pastors should be allowed to be human, they will make mistakes.  But, when they took the job of spiritual leader of the many, they ARE held to a higher standard of morality than the layman.  Abuse of their access and power MUST require that they be held accountable, not just within the church structure (with a public repentance, temporary leave of absence, or resignation) but with a public outcry of accountability within the community (and when appropriate, through the legal system with the full support of the congregation.)

Where does that leave us?

People in power need to use their power effectively and for good, with subsequent and appropriate oversight.

 

 

church, I kissed dating goodbye

I survived “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

I’ve been sitting on this post for several weeks.  As the number of women who are speaking out against sexual abuse, assault and rape continue to build, so are the offensive comments and apologists.

In my formative years of early dating life, I was introduced by my pastor to the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (and it’s follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl.) Among many things, this book was an instruction manual for the devoted on how to properly date (or not date as it may be) and relate to the opposite sex.

Why is this appearing here, now?  Josh Harris, the author of IKDG, and BMG is currently doing the rounds of social media as he details how he might have been wrong about how the book was written.  Over time, he heard stories of how his stringent dating principles were taken like the bible across the world and how they have damaged young people’s sense of identity, sex lives, views of the opposite sex and marriage.  Since hearing these stories, he has recanted many of the rules and guidelines for appropriate relationships that he put forth in his book. (You can watch the entire 17:27 TedX talk here.)

Harris’ book placed males ahead of females, and perpetuated the patriarchal views of relationships in the most skewed sense. He wrote this manual to “appropriate dating and courtship” when he was 21, after only one actual relationship. I actually purchased this book again (much to my chagrin) in order to deconstruct some of the harmful tenants that Harris’ book (and thus the church) imposed on girls as they developed into women.

(Sidenote: Another eerie part of this book is that it had a previous owner that highlighted various passages.  This brought sadness to my heart, knowing there was another person led into this harmful way of thinking at one point.  I recall saying to my therapist that it was as though the book had a soul that my past could relate to.  I wanted to know who this was, and to let them know that this book was harmful, and not to put so much trust in one person’s view, as the book was written in the voice of “God wants you to do this.”

Let me break down some of the issues he brought to light when he wrote this book.

Serial dating/recreational romance

Harris refers to dating like recreational romance, in the sense that it is reckless and without merit.  Essentially, any dating before entering a formal “let’s see if we could get married” is cheating on your future spouse and has no use what-so-ever.

Let’s break this down.  First off, it’s difficult to know what you do and don’t want in a person without getting to know them better.  Harris would say you can do this outside of a dating relationship.  He refers to this as a brother/sister relationship.  First off, starting a relationship looking at someone as a brother squidges me out.  How I would treat and think of a sibling, and how I would think/treat a person I was interested in are totally different.  Making the switch from a pure “I couldn’t think of them that way (or shouldn’t)” to a “maybe I could pursue this person as a mate” is a violent one, and leads to a lot of boundary confusion.

Biblically, women are to be submissive to their husbands- “Here’s a man I could follow.”

(I won’t get too far into my personal beliefs about this, but suffice it to say, women are equal to men.)  Within the church, women are considered less than men.  Often women cannot speak in church (from the pulpit), and cannot teach boys past a certain age.  This is based on a scripture pull from 1 Corinthians 14:34; “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

I have long believed this quote is culturally based, as it was written in the time where many women could not read and thus did not know the scriptures as written in the time.  It would make sense to not have someone teaching the bible if they could not read the bible.  However, in this time, it is still used in the context that men are the only ones qualified to teach and interpret what god says in the bible for the masses (or for older boys and men.)  I clearly take a lot of issues with the idea that women could not offer lessons of value on living out faith.

This lesser-than attitude carries down to the youngest of girls who are not allowed to ask questions, or speak up in church.  They then develop a subserviant view of their role in their sex as they develop.  This view pepetuates rape culture from the beginning, placing men in the only power roles available, and women in the place to meet the needs of the men to enable them to perform their leadership duties (both in church and in marriage.)

Furthermore, this view is brought into the bedroom.  Often the topic of sex was brought up, and I currently see many christian women talk about how they have sex when their husbands want it, regardless of whether they are “in the mood” (or even further, when they actively don’t want it.)  This IS MARITAL RAPE in the case of the latter, but the church instructs women to have sex when their partner wants it, lest the male be led to meet their sexual needs elsewhere.  This places the sole responsibility and blame on women if their men cheat.  Often the question “well, what needs were you not meeting in your marriage” is first, rather than the onus being directly on the male for the choice to cheat.  (Side note: I believe unmet needs lead to cheating. HOWEVER, the sole responsibility for extra-marital affairs cannot be placed solely on the woman not having sex with their husband “enough” as I often heard in church.

With regards to “Here’s a man I could follow” I say this:  I do not follow my husband.  I walk next to him, both figuratively and metaphorically.  When there is a power differential among partners from the get-go, I believe there is a definite probability of misuse of that power.  As I grew through my late teen years and into my twenties, I watched “biblical relationships/courtships” and even marriages where the woman was placed in a lesser-than role and always asked permission of her husband to do even the smallest of things.

Courtship: “Its a time for the couple to get to know each other without outside pressure or overly high expectations” (Page 29, IKDG)

Oh boy, where do I start?  When IKDG came out, this book became the bible of relationships.  The church picked it up and ran with it.  When we found out a couple was “entering a courtship” it was a given that they were likely to marry, and it was a BIG deal.  The announcement was basically a “pre-engagement.”  Everyone started to examine them from the outside, and watch to see what they did.  Courtship was the HIGHEST form of outside pressure and high expectations.  Period.

“Men don’t know what it means to be a man, so we lazily do whatever is easiest. Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” (page 104, IKDG)

Where do I start here?  First off, the author considers men to be lazy because they don’t know how to be men?  What does that even mean? Immediately following this quote is this: “Relating to the opposite sex can be confusing if you don’t know what you are opposite of.”

*Blink.*

So, breaking that down, Harris is saying that men are the opposite of women?  This is completely false.  We are different, and in some cases our skills are complementary, but I certainly don’t consider myself opposite of my husband.  Later on, he talks about men as leaders.  So, to take his view, women are followers?  When extrapolating this out into common marriage life, we cannot afford to be followers.  We have needs.  We have skills.  We are simply BETTER in some areas.  (And sure, that works to the opposite, men are better in some areas too.)  In a functional relationship, men and women are leaders in multiple areas both practically and emotionally.

Speaking to the latter part of Harris’ above-bolded quote, Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” Again, this is vague.  If women take the lead on something, they are acting like men?  Why can women not lead and be powerful women?  In former church life, this was a threat to power in the leadership, and thus why the women were shunned for speaking out about their needs, ideas, and stereotypical gender roles.

This played out as many women getting married and not going to college, or being forced into early motherhood.  Not only did this play out in this way, but this life was idealized.  One should aspire to marriage and children, regardless of how their goals might differ.  Young marriage in this format also led to financially dependent women, who could not leave a partnership even if they wanted to, burdened with a lack of education, skills, and several children.  The church was HAPPY to help, however, as long as the marriage stayed intact.

“If you want men to respect and cherish you as a woman, refuse to buy into our culture’s obsession with being physically beautiful and sexually alluring. This is an attitude that springs from the motives of your heart and extends to the way you dress and act around men.” (Page 117, IKDG) “Once when I told her (his courtship lady) that a particular pair of shorts were a little too short and were causing me to struggle, she quickly replaced them.” (Page 118, IKDG)

At one church I attended, there was a giant shirt we had to wear over deemed inappropriate clothes.  It said, “I did not wear the proper clothing to church today.” (And various other permutations of this idea.)  And so, the slut-shaming began*.

Harris describes a time that he felt his “courtship partner” was wearing shorts that were too short, and caused him to struggle.  (And subsequently told her to not wear them.)  This puts the early onus on women to prevent men from thinking (and eventually acting) on sexual thoughts. This is rape culture at its finest.  Men are SOLELY responsible for their actions when it comes to sexual behavior.  By having an early expectation that 1. sexual thoughts are wrong and 2. the woman is responsible for changing her behavior to keep the man from acting on that thought causes men to switch their view from “I am responsible for my actions, and need to manage my thoughts appropriately” to “that woman caused me to think/act this way.”  We can see this culture clearly with the various permutations of “she was drunk”, “she dressed slutty” “she was asking for it.”

As a survivor of sexual assault, I also would like to state that this battle continues for me.  I was raped IN a church, and am consistently deconstructing the warped perception that I was the cause of my own rape.  But outside of that, women are consistently questioned as someone who “asked for it” when unwelcome sexual actions occur.

 

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The shirt her daughter wore to school.

 

In a conversation thread on Facebook on a friend’s wall, the topic of dress codes came up.  Her daughter wore a shirt that pointed out the major flaws in dress codes, and how it perpetuates rape culture.  One commenter said: “I feel like it’s some sort of popular trend to try to be a victim in any way possible! I don’t get it….. I just don’t. It’s a dress code, a rule that kids need to follow while at school…. I wouldn’t necessarily love my daughters to see this shirt because they don’t feel like victims. I think it promotes victimhood.” 

We subsequently had a back and forth where she couldn’t see how dress-codes that are extensively directed at girls was contributing to rape culture, and placing the onus early on girls, to “protect boys” from provocative clothing.  She attempted to deflect to a future “dress code” for a job (and referring to the school as the child’s job.) To which I would respond that 1. a job (and subsequent dress code for the job) was an agreement they entered into willingly (while school is compulsory) and 2. even dress codes within employment are often written by upper management (read: males) and continue to be written to “not lead men astray” in the workplace.

The major sticking point for this commentor was based on her not being a “victim,” with regards to women being thrust early on into a male-dominated/slut shaming/rape culture because she had not encountered it. Interestingly enough, until we examine that culture, and how we are players in it, the forces can be subtle, and sometimes imperceivable.

*I’d also like to state that I never saw a boy at church be forced to wear the slut-shaming shirt. Ever.

We should never expect the other person to be the strong one and force them to bear the weight of temptation.  (Page 150, IKDG)

This quote refers back to many of the past points.  First, we SHOULD expect the other person to be the strong one, when it comes to rape culture.  (Read: the men.)  When we look at rape statistics, most sexual assaults are committed by men, on women.  This, however, cannot be tied (and morally SHOULD NOT BE TIED) to the responsibility of women.  Men are more powerful in many cases, physically, than women.  However, my spaghetti strap shirt (or walking down the street at night, or simply being a woman) is not an invitation for a man to rape, assault, or cat-call me.  The responsibility to control one’s mind is solely in the hands of that person.  I do not “lead” men to behave inappropriately, they are 100% in charge of their actions.  100% of sexual assaults are the cause of assaulters.  Full Stop.

“God not only wants to maximize a couple’s enjoyment of sex in marriage, He also wants them to learn to trust Him together. When a Christian man and woman systematically deny their own physical desires as an expression of mutual faith and submission to Jesus Christ, they are laying a solid spiritual foundation for their marriage.  They are learning to fight sin as a team.” (Page 151, IKDG) “only selfishness and sin make two people sexually incompatible.” (Page 167, IKDG)

This sets up sex to be SO MUCH.  First off, there is a whole section about forgiving a potential courter of previous sexual/relational behavior.  I recall a very clear couple of sermons (and I think ANY long time youth group person will remember a similar less.)  This lesson starts with a piece of paper.  The pastor holds it, whole, and starts to tell a story about how Jessica (insert name here, but every time I heard this, it was a female, which will become important later) was in a relationship and kissed this boy.  They later break up. (The Pastor then rips the paper in half and says “she gave part of her heart away.)  He then goes through several other dating relationships (which usually involved her having sex with a boy, kissing them or doing other sexual things) and each time he would tear the increasingly smaller piece of paper in half.  Then, FINALLY finds “the one” and she is full of shame because she only has “this much” of her heart to give to this boy.  She has to painfully explain away all her previous exploits to this boy, with shameful tones.  (I’ve also heard this lesson as a rose that was passed around to all the youth group, starting as a perfect rose, then getting damaged by so many people touching it.)

Sex. is. not. inherantly. bad.  But, throughout life, sex is a taboo topic and (especially for girls) considered their worth.  Are you pure when you are married?  No?  You didn’t “save yourself” for your husband?

Should sexual relationships be saved for two consenting people who are at the age of reason of the consequences?  Yes.  Should exploring natural feelings be a cause for shame and a feeling of being tainted?  NO.

I recall the residue of my church upbringing as I eventually disclosed to my eventual husband the number of sexual partners I had before him.  (I did not count the rapes I experienced within my tally.)  Though I had been with more sexual partners, (and had more long-term relationships,  I could look back on those relationships as ones I learned a lot from.  Every person had something to offer that developed who I was, both positively, and in a way that showed me what I didn’t want in a life-partner.  Furthermore, I did not feel that my worth had been diminished because of those experiences. If anything, I had more to offer my husband.  I knew more about myself, and what I needed.

However, that residue of shame continued from my church days of “will he judge me or think less of me because I had more relationships that included sex than him?”  When women are brought down to a basic worth of purity and abstinence, we are forced into the framework of rape culture.  We are then an object to be spoiled, rather than a living, breathing, evolving woman.

Josh Harris and his motivations:

This post started with the recent developments and revelations of Josh Harris.  His book perpetuated rape culture, female shame, and male power differentials.

I watched his TedX talk about his evolving belief systems on these two books that he authored about courtship and relational behavior, and was rather un-impressed with his self-reflection.

First, he did not spend a significant amount of time speaking about the people who were hurt by his book.  I phrase it this way for the following reasons:

1.  The book was used as a tool by leaders in the church, pastors/males especially, to alter and influence the behavior of youth (who at the time were highly influenceable by spiritually given advice and guidance.)

2.  This book became the basis and rulebook for what a healthy (read: “godly”) relationship should look like.  The impact of this is still being felt across the world (literally), as many marriages were formed under the guidelines this book lays out. All one needs to do is google “I kissed dating goodbye” and you can read the copious amounts of stories out there written by young victims who are living in (or escaping from) horrible marriages that were not thought-out in a logical way.

3. It only took him 2 decades to start talking about how his framework MIIIIIIGHT be damaging.  This is yet another example of male-dominated rape culture in play.

4.  Josh Harris is doing this talk, SURPRISE, before a big release of a documentary.  Attention fingers are pointing at you now, right Josh? He pats himself on the back throughout the talk for talking with dissenters and placing their “testimonies” out there publically for all to see.  All the while, his book(s) continues to sell on the shelf.  If he truly felt that these books were damaging, he would pull them from circulation completely.  (And should.) Harris continues to profit from a book that damages young people.

Conclusion:

We do live in a culture where men are the perpetrators (mainly) and are not called to the carpet for 100% of their thoughts and actions.  We DO live in a culture where women’s sexual exploits, clothing, actions, and words are considered the key to whether they will be assaulted/raped.

This book is just one part of this structure, in the microsystem of a young person’s life, but for an entire church-going generation, it was a huge influence in perpetuating a dangerous precedent.  This is rape culture, and until we look at it, in all its grossness, and expose these faulty beliefs (and judicial systematic procedures), we will continue to live in a world where men cannot do wrong unless the women were leading them to do so

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.

Process, Vulnerability

Be Still

As we enter into the holiday season, my heart starts to settle a bit.  My assault anniversary is now behind me, and I find that my heart starts to still.  What comes with outward stillness, is inward movement.  My brain is famous for stirring up all sorts of memories and thoughts and I find that I start to spin a bit.

This year was a bit different.  I am and was dealing with a health crisis around the time of the assault anniversary, leading to my need to backburner my feelings.  As the emergent issues of that health issue passed, I found that the refuse of the anniversary remained, strong as ever.

So what happens when life around is still, but your mind is moving so quickly? What happens when there isn’t a big T trauma happening?  Where does your mind go?

For me, I start to spin on trust. My physical issues have led me to need to step back from my roles as wife/mother more and rely heavily on my partner to take care of a lot of the day to day things I’d typically do.  This dependence has created a feeling of vulnerability in myself.

What IF our value was simply based on what we contribute?  And if that is the case, when our ability to perform those roles diminishes, what do we become?  Are we less worthy?  Are we less of a partner? Are we less of a value?

When looking at the 5 love languages, I fall STRONGLY into the quality time and acts of service camp when giving love to others.  I deeply desire to connect authenticly with those that mean most to me, and when possible, meet needs.  Over the past months, my ability to do either one has gone down severely causing me to question my value in my friendships.

Being still, and vulnerable is a very big struggle for me.  What am I if I am not at my best?  Then, to unpack that further, what is “best”?  Once boiled down, “best” equates to optimum efficiency and output, as if I am a wifebot, mombot, or friendbot and my value is based on what I can do, how much and how well I can do it.  And isn’t that the kicker?

What if they don’t find me valuable anymore?

We all just want to be seen, heard, connected and valued.