Spiritual Abuse, Part 1: Identity Erasure

Disclaimer: I will recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances, I will change the names of private citizens. I will also change identifying characteristics and details such as their physical properties, occupations, and places of residence.

Trigger Warning: Please be advised. These entries will detail varying levels of abuse, systemic racism, and mysogeny. If any of these areas are psychological triggers for you, please do not read these entries.

Attempting to separate me from my heritage is a fruitless battle. I can remember back to lessons I learned from my mother, father, grandmother, and aunt. They taught me my cultural identity around the time I entered elementary school. As I grew a little older, they retold the horrors our ancestors endured to maintain what little cultural identity they were stripped of. After being ripped from their homes, they inevitably cobbled together what remained of their culture with an entirely new one. It is no wonder that when I encountered my first brush with racism in second grade, I was able to immediately identify what was happening and call it out. To make a long story short, a white classmate of mine told me I wouldn’t be able to attend her birthday party because her dad said Black people weren’t invited. (I’m sure he didn’t mean for her to regurgitate his words verbatim). I plainly responded to her by saying her dad was a racist.

As a young adult in the workplace, I noticed nuances of racism. They’re often referred to as microaggressions. While microaggressions in the workplace should not be tolerated, I handle them in a decisive and proactive manner. A source I did not expect to receive microaggressions from was my fellow church members. Let me clarify. I did not expect to experience it with other Black American church members, specifically older members who’d lived through and still bore the scars of segregation. But maybe that’s why the microaggressions originated from them. I’ll perhaps address this theory in another blog entry.

When I saw the posts from survivors of a youth ministry once known as 220 and its internship, 220i, I wrestled with whether or not to speak because I dare not detract from the mission at hand. However, I feel there were things done in the dark at the megachurch over periods of time, which cultivated the toxic environment. It didn’t just start in the church’s youth ministry. I believe it was there well before its inception. I personally witnessed it in the older people in the adult ministries.

I had a mentor at the church, who was an older Black woman. She fixated on my natural hair. (I’ll refer to her as Hannah for privacy reasons). During a casual one-on-one lunch, she changed the subject to appearance. She went so far as to subtly point out a white woman in the restaurant and ask what I thought of the woman’s hair. If you know me and my reactions, you probably know what facial expression Hannah received. Hannah went on to say we (meaning Black people) were the conquered; therefore, we were to conform to the standards of the conqueror. Her assertion was followed by the statement that I was very intelligent, but men love beauty.

No one should be judged for their hair/body or their self-expression. By perpetuating eurocentric standards of beauty, Hannah and other mentors at the church were basically enforcing slave codes in a modern day setting. 

The conversation I had with Hannah was one of the catalysts for my transition out of that church. Among other reasons, like its toxicity, I refused to continue to support a church where my identity, worth, and well-being as a Black woman were devalued. The church’s culture, as a whole, needs to change, and people held accountable.

If you’ve experienced trauma related to spiritual abuse, reach out to a psychologist or licensed professional counselor. MentalHelp.gov and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) are resources for people needing support and healing due to trauma from abuse as well.

In the near future, I’ll be releasing more entries further discussing instances of spiritual abuse, how to overcome them, and additional organizations and resources to assist in the healing process.

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