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Healing From Abuse Within Spiritual Communities

September 6, 2018

The spiritual disillusionment and doubt that accompanies abuse or assault that occurs within a spiritual organization or at the hands of a spiritual mentor, leader, or teacher can devastate your connection to the very support you are most in need of.

I’m happy to be back blogging, and plan to do so regularly again. I appreciate your patience while I have been working on other projects (which I’ll announce soon.) There are so many things I’d like to write about this Fall that it’s hard to know where to start. My focus as always is relevant energetics information and support for women. In that context, I decided to focus this week on gentle chakra healing for those who experience sexual trauma within a religious or spiritual organization, or who have been disillusioned by learning of such abuse within their own spiritual communities.

Like many of you I’m sure, the latest revelations about sexual abuse and assault within Catholic parishes and schools in Pennsylvania has set my blood boiling. I wish I could say such crimes are restricted to Catholicism or even one religion, but of course they are not. Although because of the sheer size and influence of the Catholic Church these particular stories have made headlines, I cannot think of any major world religious tradition within which similar stories have not surfaced in the last decade. As someone who follows such things, I am personally aware of completed or pending sexual abuse, assault or harassment cases against Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, Zen, Vedanta, evangelical Christian, Mormon, Orthodox Jewish, Sufi, and multiple prominent yoga, organizations. I have worked with individuals who have been victimized within these organizations, or who have studied spiritually within them and been rocked by the scandals as they unfolded.

Of course, the surfacing of these events is against the backdrop of the larger #MeToo movement. We’ve watched such revelations roil Hollywood, government, college campuses, sports organizations, the tech industry, the media industry, and more. A long overdue reckoning is occurring – a messy and imperfect one, but that’s how change always unfolds. For me personally, I feel particularly devastated and angry about abuses within religious and spiritual organizations, because of the spiritual disillusionment and doubt triggered for survivors. In addition to the wounds shared with other sexual abuse and assault survivors, these individuals are often also cut off from what could be their greatest asset in healing – their own inner connection to spirit, energy, and faith. To me, to cause this disconnection in another human being is perhaps the biggest crime one can commit.

In the aftermath of these abuses, it becomes difficult for survivors to separate the trauma they have experienced from the spiritual teachings and practices they have received within these traditions. Consequently, teachings, practices, and rituals that may have been legitimately healing, empowering, and awakening to them in the past – sometimes for years – are now corrupted, a source of pain rather than growth and insight. They often feel as if they have lost a part of themselves, or as if the very meaning of life as they understood it has been ripped away. This feeling is not only restricted to the individuals directly victimized – anyone learning of such occurrences within a tradition they have held dear, or of credible accusations against a teacher or mentor they respected, will often experience the pain of this disillusionment and doubt as well. Everything is thrown into question.

The prevalence of these scandals raises a lot of Big Questions about the role of religious and spiritual traditions in today’s society. Are they dinosaurs? Can they adapt? To what extent do celibacy vows and religious views on sexuality contribute to the problem? To what extent has the premise of spiritual ‘conduitship’ – the passing of certain spiritual realizations or empowerments directly from teacher to student, or leader to parishioner, through ritual, and/or esoteric transmission (a cornerstone of the mystic arm of every tradition in some form) – contributed to abuse? How has the idea of lineage – largely based on the passing of spiritual teachings through spiritual conduitship from generation to generation – contributed? Can these forms be adapted? Can the value and power of the teachings be preserved if they are? Should they be?

As someone who works with energy, I highly value the idea of spiritual conduitship and transmission. All of us are impacted by each others’ energy and awareness all of the time – we are truly part of a matrix of energy and awareness. In the most powerful spiritual traditions, this is used for the good – one individual’s awakening or connection to enlightenment/spirit/God/Goddess becomes a doorway for others to walk through. Healing energy transmitted by one can enter and benefit another. But as has become abundantly clear, these tools can easily be corrupted to facilitate abuse.

I don’t have the answer to all of these questions. I am actively asking them myself, and as I encounter more individuals who are doing the same, I have come to consider that the asking of these questions is an important part of the healing and reformation process. The questioning is part of the healing because it facilitates spiritual engagement rather than disconnection, and provides a foundation for sorting through what is of value and what is corrupt. Any wisdom, insight, awakening, realization, or grace that you gain or experience through spiritual practice, study, or worship is yours to keep – it doesn’t belong to anyone else, and it’s untouched by others’ corruption. But you have to really discover for yourself what that is – what is yours to keep and what to throw away. As long as you are still questioning, you aren’t throwing everything out, and as disheartening as the process may sometimes be, it can ultimately be very empowering.

In addition to engagement through questioning, you may want to consider bringing extra attention to particular chakras to support your healing. While I have written before about the impact of sexual trauma in particular on the chakras, abuse at the hands of a spiritual or religious leader or mentor often has additional impacts. In particular, this is what I often see:

Root/First Chakra– As with all sexual trauma, your root chakra may feel compromised, because your sense of trust and safety has been shattered. In addition, your underlying value system may have been thrown into doubt – our psyches and energy body rest upon a foundation of values and beliefs, and if you experience a spiritual disillusionment that damages this foundation for you, you may feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under you. As you work through what has occurred, consider paying extra attention to root chakra strengthening – grounding physical activities, walking in nature, connecting to the earth, as well as root chakra meditations or exercises. As you reconstruct your foundation through your therapeutic and healing process, you will gradually rebuild this aspect of your foundation, and your root chakra will naturally strengthen along with it.

Back of Heart Chakra– While the front of our heart chakra is our relational center and connects us to our human support system, the back connects us to our spiritual support system. Spiritually supportive energies are experienced in many different forms, often depending upon our religious or spiritual framework – perhaps you feel guardians, angels, deities, or guides, or perhaps your feeling of spiritual support is more abstract, felt as a general connection to or integration with a larger force. Regardless, from an energetics perspective, this feeling of support connects with your body largely through the back of your heart chakra. When you experience spiritual disillusionment or doubt, you may feel spiritually unprotected, unsupported and disconnected. To gently support your healing and therapeutic process, you can imagine a warm, gold light between your shoulder blades in the back of your heart for a few minutes each day. If you like you can also imagine rays of warm golden light gently entering into this part of your body.

Crown Chakra– Our crown chakra is where our links to our religious or spiritual tradition or lineage are held. Of course we engage with a spiritual community on many levels of our being, and so we may have energetic connections throughout our body to people we have related to, and/or feel spiritual energies throughout our subtle body. But our crown chakra is where we receive and process teachings, realizations, transmissions, empowerments, initiations (including things like baptisms and confirmations) – anything that links us to a tradition in any way. A blocked crown is associated with intense spiritual doubt and disillusionment. Anyone working through abuse or assault from within their spiritual or religious tradition will be struggling with this to some extent.

As with the back of your heart chakra, you can augment your healing process by picturing a gentle golden light at the top back part of your head, or by engaging with a longer crown chakra meditation. Working with your crown energetically is not about generating answers to the questions you may be working through – it’s not an intellectual empowerment. What it does do is help you begin to connect directly with spirit and spiritual planes and energies, rather than doing so solely through the mediumship or conduitship of a teacher or tradition. This is what all spiritual teachings are meant to lead us too – this direct connection for ourselves – but of course that’s not always what happens. Too often dependency or hierarchies are created, and we internalize the notion that our spiritual growth must be facilitated by a particular person, group, or organization. This notion is often exactly what is manipulated and abused as part of the kind of sexual abuse we are talking about.

If you do decide to work with your crown chakra on your own, it’s very important to stay grounded. This is particularly important for sexual abuse and trauma survivors because of the tendency to disassociate from the body. For that reason, I rarely work directly with the crown chakra with sexual trauma survivors. The exception however, is cases such as those we are talking about in this post, where the abuse or assault has occurred within the context of their religion or spiritual tradition. If you do this on your own, spend short periods of time on your crown, and imagine bringing this energy down all the way to your root. Feel as if you are integrating this crown energy into your entire body. For most people, this kind of chakra work is often best utilized in combination with therapy or medical treatment, so make sure you are getting all the support you need (and be sure to check out The Breathe Network for holistic, trauma-sensitive providers.)

Like with all healing work, as you engage with it you are linked to a larger transformational process. The intensity of the focus on these issues right now, and the surfacing of the cultural and institutional shadows that have perpetuated them, are part of a painful but necessary purge. Change needs to occur within every type of institution, including religious and spiritual ones. Some institutions will not survive, and all will be changed forever. Sometimes it feels like it might be easier to throw it all out, but I actually fear that more, because we may lose our ability to connect with spirit, and spiritual growth, altogether. Sorting through the mess is worth it.

May you be blessed and supported as you do so. 

P.S. Please note I am speaking at the Women and Spirituality Conference in Rochester Minnesota September 22nd on Chakras and Sexual Trauma – I’d love to see you there! Also, I am beginning the next round of my 4-week Energy Work for Women Survivors of Sexual Trauma Teleseminar October 1st.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Brenda Phillips permalink
    September 6, 2018 9:24 pm

    Hi Lisa. I’ve missed your clear, pure distillations here. I have no sexual trauma to work through, just what I perceive to be a lifetime of emotional trauma from an abusive mother, whom I credit with taking the church away from me when I was 17. Direct connection to spirit was all I had after that. These times seem filled with “messy and imperfect reckonings” of all kinds on many different fronts. Thank you for sharing your expertise on this one.

  2. September 6, 2018 9:36 pm

    Thank you Brenda. It sounds like you experienced your own form of abuse in terms of losing your original religious tradition, but have come through it with a stronger understanding and direct connection to spirit. Ultimately these kinds of losses can often turn out that way, although it can be a painful process. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    September 7, 2018 12:51 pm

    I think it is time for organized religion to go. It is Just a method for controlling people and keeping them down. If you look at history in every culture it has done more harm than good. Especially for women. These institutions are not worth saving.
    But thank you for your healing offering.

  4. Susan permalink
    September 7, 2018 12:55 pm

    Mommy Mystic, I appreciate your work in this area. As a therapist who works with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I appreciate that many survivors need multiple modalities to heal, and that prayer, meditation and religious practice may be a part of that. Religious community can be very important too. I hope that individuals will seek professional help however. There are many resources available and it can do more harm than good to ‘go it alone’ with self-healing methods.
    Thank you.

  5. September 8, 2018 12:01 am

    Hi Anonymous, thanks for sharing your point of view. I can definitely understand it. But personally I have met profound spiritual seekers within every faith listed here and for whom their religion or spiritual practice brought forth their highest qualities as a human being. I do feel the ‘mystic’ or personal teachings (as opposed to the dogma) of pretty much every major tradition are based in love and compassion. But it’s true that that has often not been brought forth, or has even been perverted to support abuse or violence. I just worry what we would lose by discarding it all. And of course abuse and violence occur outside of religion too, and amongst those who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ So it’s not something we can entirely blame on religion. Although as I do talk about here, I think we need to ask questions about what teachings and practices might be contributing to the issue. It’s not easy to bring about change. Complicated for sure. Lisa

  6. September 8, 2018 12:12 am

    Hi Susan, I absolutely support therapy as a primary modality for most people, and recommend it to any client, particularly those who have experienced sexual abuse or assault, who have never engaged in it. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you know, for many it is not possible for them either because of financial constraints or inaccessibility (in rural areas etc.) More web-based options are becoming available so that will hopefully change. The right mix of modalities is key, and it seems to be very individual. For those for whom chakra work resonates, it can be a great complement to talk therapy because it incorporates somatic awareness. And I believe the energy shifts speed and support personal transformation as well. It’s not right for everyone, but can be very powerful.
    Thank you for your own work with survivors. – Lisa

  7. Claire permalink
    September 28, 2018 3:22 am

    So glad you are blogging again! First sentence was definitely the best thing I’ve heard on this heart wrenching day in politics/life (is there a difference anymore?). Also, first time I’ve focused on my back heart chakra. Would love to know more.

  8. October 1, 2018 7:26 pm

    Hi Claire, yes things are really charged right now – more so every day. The back of the heart chakra is really linked to receiving spiritual support, and the feeling of being supported in a larger spiritual context. Individuals who orient towards working with guides, angels, protectors, etc. will receive support through the back of the heart. We may receive ‘downloads’ through our crown, or visualizations through our third eye, but the back of the heart is more linked to the receiving of the support itself. Of course we may also feel this in the front of our heart chakra as well, but that is more linked to our human relationships. Some people also feel this support more as a sense of interdependence.

  9. December 17, 2019 3:27 am

    Mommy mystic,

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to read it. I have my own experience with this, and feel a want to share, since I am realizing how important it is to my spirit.

    A year and a half ago I fled an abusive partner. When I relocated, I joined al anon, a 12 step group that supports people who love alcoholics. I found healing, safety, growth and connection in that community. I felt a part of me awaken that had been asleep. It was nowhere near perfect, but it was a space for me to heal and I desperately needed that.

    Unfortunately, I met another abusive boyfriend in the program. He used the spiritual language to gaslight and confuse me, and began to treat me in ways that caused incredible harm to my spiritual and sexual being. As this unfolded, I found that a person I looked to for support, an elder of sorts who guides many young women, was also untrustworthy. I believe she aims to cultivate a group of vulnerable women that look to her, in efforts to increase her position and have a form of control.

    I saw that these systems of abuse and control were allowed in this space, and even excused. I decided to walk from the community, since the language and space was used in ways that feel toxic to me, and I do not feel I can trust the group.

    With that in mind, I learned so much from this space and had good interactions with the vast majority of people. There are a small handful I do not trust, and unfortunately they are very central.

    I find myself deeply grieving and missing this healing and community. I want it to go back to how it was, thought I know it can’t. I also know that almost every community excuses the abuse of women, since our culture and world do not see this as a big deal, but rather par for the course.

    I am having a hard time finding a space I can trust to have my back, one that stands firmly against violence against women. I am also yearning for spiritual community and connection, one without intimate abuse (nowhere is free of conflict, but abuse is different) and a true dedication to individual connection to the spirit, without an agenda of control.

    And, ultimately, I want to integrate what I have learned and remember that god and spirit are not the abusers.

    Phew! That was long. I must really need to talk about and express this, Thank you for reading and sharing your wonderful words.

  10. December 18, 2019 12:40 am

    Katherinepidgeanderson, thank you so much for sharing your experience, though I am so sorry it happened, especially in a group widely known such as Al Anon. But I appreciate you sharing as each time someone does it raises awareness, and it may help someone else realize a damaging dynamic they are stuck in, or how one around them needs to change. I hope you find the support you need – I will wish for that for you this Solstice/New Year transit. In groups of all types we are needing to redefine the rules of engagement and the ways we interact and it is not easy work. I hope you will continue to be a part of it and not give up, and find the healing and support you need. Blessings – Lisa


  1. Breaking through the Gatekeepers | Mommy Mystic

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