Then What?
July 4th, 2007 by Sonja

Emerging Grace did some writing a few weeks ago about an issue that has grabbed me by the teeth. Or hair. Or something. In any case, I can’t let go of it, or it me. We’ve been wrestling with each other, this issue and I. Neither of us bloody yet, or unbowed. But, after weeks of grappling, pondering and meditating, this issue and I are still taking the measure of one another. She wrote about the issue of leaving a church under a cloud (to put it mildly). The two posts that have me thinking the most are: Always Be Nice and Church Politics. Go read them now, and the comments if you want. I’ll wait here for you.

Yep, they really are that good, aren’t they? I thought so too. That’s why I wanted you to read them.

In any case, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about as a result of reading her posts. One is that her most recent post, Church Politics, finally gave me a name for some of the things that have happened to me in church. I’ve been bullied in church. Who’d a thunk it? That there would be bullies in church … it’s the one place where we are supposed to be safe from such behavior. But it’s also the one place where bullies are kept safe. They learn early on how to operate, manipulate, and scheme within the system because no one can believe that such ugly things are happening in, of all places, a church!

With a nod to Grace for putting me on the trail, I found this website on bullying that is from the UK. It is quite dense and informative. It’s focus is on bullying in the workplace, but I think the crossover can be made to church quite easily. There are other sites for bullying and it’s sibling, mobbing, out there, but the UK site by Tim Fields is the most comprehensive site I found.

I spent hours on that site. Torn between flabbergasted and relief. Relief that I hadn’t imagined it; I wasn’t off my gourd or going crazy. Flabbergasted that this is so prevalent amongst adults that websites have been dedicated to it. Flabbergasted to find that my experience is far from unique. I wish it were unique. I wish that other people had not gotten hurt as I’ve been. But there it is … I’ve left a church as the result of bullying. The bully did things like:

  • bullies poison the atmosphere and actively poison people’s minds against the target
  • when close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves – another example of manipulating people through their emotion of guilt, eg sympathy, feeling sorry
  • most bystanders are hoodwinked by the bully’s ruses for abdicating responsibility and evading accountability, eg “that’s all in the past, let’s focus on the future”, “what’s in the past is no longer relevant”, “you need to make a fresh start”, and “forgive and forget, you’ve got to move on”, etc.
  • the bully is often able to bewitch one especially emotionally needy bystander into being their easily controlled spokesperson / advocate / supporter / denier
  • the bully often forms an alliance with a colleague who has the same behaviour profile, thus increasing the levels of threat, fear and dysfunction
  • the bully is able to charm and manipulate a number of bystanders to act as supporters, assistants, reinforcers, appeasers, deniers, apologists and minimisers …

There were other pieces of the puzzle that fit too, but those were the glaringly obvious bits. Then I found that Mr. Fields has identified four different bully types and was astonished to discover this description in there. It is my sense that many bullies which are “called” into ministry fit in this description, so I’m posting it here for those of you who will find it useful (remember … not all of these need to be present in a person, simply a preponderance of them make a bully):

The Attention-Seeker

Motivation: to be the centre of attention
Mindset: control freak, manipulation, narcissism
Malice: medium to high; when held accountable, very high

  • emotionally immature
  • selectively friendly – is sickly sweet to some people, rude and offhand to others, and ignores the rest
  • is cold and aggressive towards anyone who sees them for what they really are or exposes their strategies for gaining attention
  • overfriendly with their new target, especially in the initial stages of a new working relationship
  • overhelpful, ditto
  • overgenerous, ditto
  • manipulative of people’s perceptions, but in an amateur and childish manner
  • manipulative with guilt, ditto
  • sycophantic, fawning, toadying
  • uses flattery to keep a person in authority on side
  • everything is a drama, usually a poor-me drama
  • prefers not to solve problems in own life so that they can be used and re-used for gaining sympathy and attention
  • capitalises on issues and uses them as a soapbox for gaining attention
  • exploits others’ suffering and grief as a vehicle for gaining attention
  • misappropriates others’ statements, eg anything which can be misconstrued as politically incorrect, for control and attention-seeking
  • excusitis, makes excuses for everything
  • shows a lot of indignation, especially when challenged
  • lots of self-pity
  • often as miserable as sin, apart from carefully constructed moments of charm when in the act of deceiving
  • demanding of others
  • easily provoked
  • feigns victimhood when held accountable, usually by bursting into tears or claiming they’re the one being bullied and harassed
  • presents as a false victim when outwitted
  • may feign exclusion, isolation or persecution
  • malicious
  • constantly tries and will do almost anything to be in the spotlight
  • includes Munchausen Syndrome
  • the focus of their life is to be the centre of attention
  • (italics mine for emphasis).

    What I learned, both in my actual interactions with the bully and in my later research, is that there is nothing that can be done. There is no path one can take to save face or save the relationship, or relationships that have been destroyed. Any activity is like wriggling your fingers in a Chinese finger trap … the harder you try to escape, the tighter you are enveloped in it’s clutches. There is only one method of release and that is turning around and walking away. Relax, admit defeat and walk away. Admit you are powerless, admit you have lost everything … and leave before anyone else gets hurt. So that is what I did.

    I’m alone now with my husband and one or two friends. I wonder often now, how it is that God could have left me so high and dry, so vulnerable in His house, His Body. Who is this God who abandons His child in the midst of His temple? Perhaps, then, it wasn’t His temple after all … it’s really the only conclusion I’m left with.

    15 Responses  
    • Erin writes:
      July 4th, 20074:22 pmat

      Wow that’s some deep stuff. Let me process and I’ll get back to you.

    • lyn writes:
      July 4th, 20075:37 pmat

      Yep, that is deep Sonja, I need to process a bit more as well … wow. Your last sentence has really got me thinking.

    • grace writes:
      July 5th, 200711:33 amat

      Great post. The Tim Fields website is exactly the one I was referring to. I remember that sense of relief and amazement the first time I read that site. It was honestly the first thing that accurately described what we experienced. In fact, it was more descriptive of our situation than the things I read concerning spiritual abuse.

      There is something that I am still trying to put my finger on and describe. It has something to do with how these behaviors of bullying, politicking, and power abuse become twisted in church systems and completely covered up with spiritual practices and language. Very insidious and difficult to detect, let alone diagnose.

      Sonja, you may have been removed (rescued) from a particular gathering, but you are still a very valuable and integral part of the body. I pray that you feel Him drawing close during this time of transition.

    • Mrs. M writes:
      July 5th, 20073:57 pmat

      Wow. Thank you so much for these links. I’m pretty sure I have a Guru.

    • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
      July 5th, 20076:17 pmat

      Erin … yes, it is a lot to process. And even more to live :/ I continue to process and process and process. I would love to hear any insight you may have.

      Lyn … Yes. It is a lot to think about.

      Grace … thank you. Coming from you, that means a lot.

      Mrs. M. … I am glad this is helpful. And, I’m sorry at the same time. It is so sad to know that this is part of church life. What a grief this is.

    • Patrick writes:
      July 6th, 200712:02 amat

      Sad indeed. However, thank God that we’re living in an era in which we can talk about this stuff openly. These are things that have gone on for generations and generations, breaking people and leaving them broken on the side of the road. Now, though, we can experience these things and write about, talk about it, come to terms with what was going on, and maybe, just maybe, we can find ways to address it all.

      I know my church experiences broke me down in regards to church but at the same time pushed me deeper and deeper, because if God is real than those experiences aren’t reflective of God, they are reflective of the great battle that rages.

      Thanks for posting this and thanks for continuing to sort through it all so that we can share in your thoughts.

    • Erin writes:
      July 6th, 20072:02 amat

      OK, some of that definitely rings true. I don’t think I experienced bullying by leadership according to these descriptors – what I saw is better described as legalism which thinks it is grace.

      However, I did definitely see this in my church environment. Especially in a “healing church”…it’s rampant. These people are likely the most hurting among us. I was very close to a person like this, and when let in to the heart of their issues, I couldn’t help but feel pity for what they had been through and how it had affected them.

      I’m sorry, Sonja, that you have had to go through this. I, too exited with only two friends, and it wasn’t easy. But things like this bring people like us (you and I) together. I’m VERY glad to know you and look forward to growing and learning with you.

    • Joy writes:
      July 7th, 20078:40 amat


      I left a bad situation a little over a year ago. I am still processing. I was there for almost 6 years. I had a lot of friends there. They were really my family. Now I have one friend IRL and she lives almost 2 hours away. If it weren’t for her and my online community, I would have buried myself in shame.

      Just wanted to send a cyber hug!

    • (onbehalfof)Matt writes:
      July 10th, 20075:46 pmat

      Excellent checklist. You might also add, “Has this person recounted an
      occurrence multiple times to a number of people (audience)”.
      It’s unfortunate, but a common characteristic of victims is that they
      are so hurt, ashamed or believe that they are in some way responsible
      for the abuse, that they often don’t tell anyone.
      -Matt M

    • Paul writes:
      July 11th, 200712:01 pmat

      i hate the thought of bullying – having been bullied and then turning into a bit of a bully myself [ok a huge big angry one]. And i am sorry for your experience sonja but glad you’ve found some reference to help piece together what happened.

      I wonder what helps move us from the status of victims, the oprressed, the bullied into something more whole, healed where we can also see and desire the humanity of our oppressors – without turning us into bullies ourselves [our own value of humanity damaged]? or helpless victims?

      I ask in part because i’ve just finished reading a very good biography of desmond tutu and this is one of the questions he had to grapple with about apartheid and the effects it had? As he argued for a contextual african theology that did not talk about why would a God allow suffering but why did God allow us as blacks to suffer. It is a powerful account of his coming to understand that God was on the side of the powerless, the oppressed and the persecuted but the answer was not just striking out blindly but becoming that advocate for justice and working for a means to bring restorative justice where the humanity of both the victim and the victimiser can be redeemed rather than a justice of revenge.

    • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
      July 12th, 20079:05 amat

      Joy … thanks very much! And a hug back to you, as well. The processing is so hard and confusing sometimes.

      (on behalf of)Matt … speaking of confusing … I’m a little confused by your list addition. The list was about the bully and this addition seems to be about the victim, so I’m not entirely certain what to do with this? If I’m reading you correctly, you seem to be saying that victims may only be believed if they’ve recounted their story a specified number of times. In any case, this whole piece seems out of context and perhaps needs to be dealt with in another venue.

      Paul … thanks for raising this important point. If I may, I’m going to devote a post to my answer … because it is so important and I’ve spent much time meditating and percolating on the whole notion of how do I not become what I experienced. Indeed it is what I fear at the moment.

    • Matt writes:
      July 12th, 20075:00 pmat

      Let me clarify. You keep runnin’ over the same story again and again (actions of a bully) crying victim. There’s processing and then there’s a relentless vendetta. I check your blog from time to time to see how your fam is doing and I get told I’m delusional (wearing spectacles) and that you are enlightened beyond me. You’ve taken my honest intent of wanting to maintain some connection with you and turned it into a forum for your grievances against another group of people I also care about. You could have started another blog to “process”, but you didn’t. I think that’s evidence enough that your intent is to get attention and create a divide between the people reading it. And I think it is a fair venue to say such things because you found it fair enough to “process” it here when you know it’s a place for those people to stay connected to you. And when you say, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it” – well, that’s forcing me to make a choice. Do I attempt to see how you’re doing, knowing that I and those I care about will be insulted or do I cease to read your blog? If I cease to read your blog, then who severed the connection? Me, because I didn’t want to endure you insulting me? Or you, because you could have insulted me somewhere else? What’s tough is, I really love your family. I could be upset enough not to check in with you, but then I wouldn’t get to know how the Lightchildren are doing. You guys have reached out to me, cared for my family and taught me a few things about how to reach out to others. You were a major part of my wedding for goodness sake! But I don’t like what you are doing here. And you are a very intelligent person Sonja. You are well aware of what you are doing. And I think your blatant disregard for the people reading it speaks volumes about who is the bully and who is the victim.

    • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
      July 14th, 20078:25 amat

      Whoosh … that’s a heavy load you’ve been carrying, Matt. I hope you feel lighter now that you’ve set it down at my feet.

      I’ve spent a great deal of time mulling over my response to this. So what I’m about to say is not done lightly.

      First, I’m the same person you’ve always known. The person who participated in your wedding, etc. So … if I’m saying these things, you might want to give them some consideration … let me be clear: I am NOT saying them to get attention or be a victim. I am NOT trying to drive a wedge in between people I no longer have a relationship with.

      This is my space here on the internet. The fact that you come here to read about my family does not give you editorial privileges. Nor does it infer that you have a relationship with us. That’s like reading an editorial in the newspaper every week and claiming you’re friends with the author. If you desire to maintain a relationship with us, then by all means, please give us a call or send an e-mail. LightHusband and I would be delighted. We’d also love to tell you our side of the story if you want to hear it.

      I am not going to be manipulated by your choice of words about whether or not I regard my audience when I write. It is the nature of a blog that it is personal on-line journal that others may read if they choose. The choice lies with the reader, not the writer. I want to be clear about something. Back in March, LightHusband and I severed our connection with our former church. It has been a source of enormous grief for us, but necessary for the life of our family. I am not going to hold you responsible for that. That is ours. This blog is not a place for you (or anyone else from my former faith community) to stalk me and my family. It is my place for me to write and maintain contact with a larger community.

      In short, you are welcome to maintain a relationship with us using e-mail or phone if what you read here makes you uncomfortable. And … what you read here is likely to make you uncomfortable over time because I’m not going to be quiet about the very ugly things that happened to me any longer. I’m not going to carry secrets any more.

    • Matt M writes:
      July 15th, 20078:15 pmat

      I thought I was friends with the author. I have other friends I haven’t seen since my wedding in September and the way I communicate with them is their blogs. I get to see how their families are doing and hear their thoughts on stuff. I’ve left the occasional comment (even when I disagree with them) and they comment back. I speak my mind on their blogs and they’re cool with it. I hope they don’t think I’m stalking them. I hope they haven’t severed our relationship unbeknown to me. They haven’t had any posts that name my other friends as bullies. If they had I would have told them the same thing I told you in an attempt to keep them from destroying relationships (and because it would upset me to see that). I didn’t know you had severed all of your relationships. That truly must have been difficult. Probably more than I can imagine. But I am confused about what you consider a relationship to be. You have referred to your online community as your “peeps”. I thought I was one of those “peeps”, but now I feel reduced to a subscriber of the Sunday newspaper. It’s just weird because I can’t imagine you have been to many of your online peeps/subscribers weddings or had family dinners with them, so I don’t know if they are any more or less of a friend than I am to you, or what you consider our relationship to be, or if we have one or not.

      I think the way you describe a blog is a personal description. I know some of my friends have problems with their parents and they won’t put that on their blog because they know their parents read it. So they do consider the audience. Since I thought we were friends and have commented before, I assumed you knew I was part of your audience. I did not know your reader/writer perspective until a recent post. Still, I think it’s a perspective and not the nature of all blogs. The fact that you have provided a comment board allows anyone with internet access editorial privileges. If some guy from Timbuktu disagrees with your perspective on something instead of saying “Sonja, great post”, you are the one that gave him the right to ‘Say It!’ It just seems you want a very controlled environment here. That’s difficult to do when you allow for comments on the world wide web. None of my other friends with blogs have told me I’m stalking them, but if you truly do think I’m stalking you or that our relationship has been severed, let me know and I won’t read your blog.

    • Jenn writes:
      July 16th, 200711:18 amat

      Matt–I have to say I think you’re being unfair and rather bullying yourself. After all, Sonja pays for this space, so she owns it. IMHO, that gives her the right to lay the ground rules. For me, staying in touch with friends involves more than looking over their shoulder at their blog. It involves contact outside the blogosphere, whether by phone or email or snail-mail or face to face. For me, staying in touch requires putting forth some effort and giving something of myself. But that is only MY opinion. If you and your friends choose to communicate with one another through your blogs, that is your right. You all get to lay the ground rules in your spaces. Blogs can be a wonderful way to keep up with family and friends who are far away. However, I think it is arrogant and self-centered of you to presume to tell someone else what the purpose of her blog is and how she is supposed to write and think and feel in her own space. It’s also presumptuous of you to think you get to decide who is part of Sonja’s community-online or IRL-and who is not.
      Disagreeing is different than attacking, and I believe you’ve attacked her. I can’t tell you not to get angry at what you read here or not to read it or not to disagree. But I can tell you that it is inappropriate to attack the author. After all, it isn’t your blog. Which means you don’t, in fact, have editorial privileges. Nor do I. Sonja, as the owner and author of this blog, is the only one who has editorial privileges. Allowing comments is just that-allowing comments-no more and no less. No amount of ownership or editorial privilege is implied by the ability to comment.
      The SheepFamily is walking with the LightFamily through this valley, and we have seen what it has done and continues to do to them. Loving the LightFamily means letting them grieve this loss and walking with them as they process it. That doesn’t mean you or I have to agree with everything said here. But we both have to remember that this is Sonja’s personal space. Standing in judgment over her feelings and thoughts is not loving. Calling, e-mailing, and visiting are loving them. Praying for them and with them and listening to their side of the story is loving them. Walking alongside them and speaking the truth in love is maintaining a relationship with them. The SheepFamily has an ongoing relationship with the LightFamily, both online and IRL. They are supporting and loving us as we walk through a long dark valley of our own. We have chosen to live in community with one another. My two cents, FWIW……….Jenn

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