"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Breaking Silence

Photo credit: Carolyn Tiry/Flickr | Remix by Dell Cameron
From Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions:

"Being unable to tell your story is a living death and sometimes a literal one. If no one listens when you say your ex-husband is trying to kill you, if no one believes you when you say you have a pain in your body, if no one hears you when you say help, if you don’t dare say help, if you have been trained not to bother people by saying help. If you are considered to be out of line when you speak up in a meeting, are not admitted into an institution of power, are subject to irrelevant criticism whose subtext is that women should not be here, or heard. 
Liberation is always in part a storytelling process, breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story.
Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate. A husband hits his wife to silence her; a date rapist or acquaintance rapist refuses to let the “no” of his victim mean what it should, that she alone has jurisdiction over her body; rape culture asserts that women’s testimony is worthless, untrustworthy; anti-abortion activists also seek to silence the self-determination of women; a murderer silences forever. These are assertions that the victim has no rights, no value, is not an equal. They have their equivalent in smaller ways in language: the people harassed and badgered into silence online, talked over and cut out in conversation, belittled, humiliated, dismissed. Having a voice is crucial. 
It’s not all there is to human rights, but it’s central to them, and so you can consider the history of women’s rights and lack of rights as a history of silence and breaking silence.
We are not where we were in 1991. And where we were in 1961, when I was born--I think it's hard for people who aren't historically-minded and weren't there to comprehend how deeply misogyny, exclusion, and the suppression of women's rights, powers, and voices were not an imposition on the rules but the unquestioned rule.
There is no inevitability that we will continue to win; it requires as it always did passionate participation and some vision that it can be different. It is already different from 1991, 1961, because we are winning --and they are furious about it. As Michelle Alexander pointed out this weekend, we are not the resistance; they are; we are part of the revolutionary river of change they are trying to resist.
We have a long way to go to a world where women live without fear and in equality, but we have come so far already. Don't stop now."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Religious Trauma: Steps to Recovery

The following is excerpted from the website Journey Free, founded Marlene Winell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. She has been working in religious recovery for over 25 years and originated the term "religious trauma syndrome." Journey Free offers a Youtube series, no-cost phone consulting and low-cost retreats (the next one is in San Francisco, September 21-24, 2018).

Several extoots have recommended Marlene Winell over the years. Perhaps she'd be willing to lead a retreat in your area if contacted. Doesn't hurt to try!

1.   Get Real
  • This is when you start to get it that your religion is not really working for you.  It’s not making sense intellectually, it’s not paying off emotionally, or you see moral problems with it.
  • This early stage is hard because dogmatic systems do not let go easily and there is a cycle of abuse as you get blamed for the problems.
  • Your doubts and questions feel dangerous because you haven’t been allowed to think for yourself.  Yet you have to start getting honest.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense.
  • Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track.
  • If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.
2.   Get a Grip
  • Eventually, the problems get to be too much and you want to stop forcing everything to fit.  Don’t panic. It’s important to understand that the fear is just part of the phobia indoctrination.
  • Phobia indoctrination is a self-serving part of the religion that tells you that terrible things will happen to you if you leave.
  • If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this. So read some deconversion stories and calm down. You will be fine.
  • When you look at the world as it really is, facing reality will help you get your life on track.
3.   Get Informed
  • Do everything you can to educate yourself. You are free to read, watch videos, and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, science, psychology, biology, and more.
  • Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. In particular, learn about the origins of your religion and scripture, such as how the Bible was put together and early church history.
  • Having a look from an unbiased viewpoint can be pretty eye-opening. Enjoy letting your brain breathe.
4.   Get Support
  • Healing from toxic religion is not just intellectual. It goes deep into your emotional and psychological make-up, especially if you were taught as a child.
  • So don’t be surprised if you have a gap between what you know in your head and what you feel in your gut.
  • You can reject a belief in hell, for example, and still have nightmares. Get support in any way you can – from online forums, local groups, a therapist who understands, or go to a recovery retreat.
  • Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse. And be careful about what you may have been told about the evils of psychology or getting secular help.
5.   Get Well
  • It’s important to give yourself time to process your feelings and learn how to trust yourself.  You will probably need to deal with many emotions, such as anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, and grief.
  • You will also need to regain trust in your thinking abilities, practice expressing your own views, and develop critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making.
  • If you do the work to get healthy and mature, eventually your wounds will heal. You will feel stronger and able to love and take care of yourself.
6.   Get a Life
  • Letting go of a religious worldview means you have to rethink who you are and what life is about. You also have to rebuild most of your life structure such as social networks, work, and family relationships.
  • In general, you will have to take responsibility for your own choices instead of depending on the religion or God’s will for guiding your life.  This is exciting of course, because you are now in the world with many options, but it may be a little daunting as well.
  • But it is up to you to reclaim your life, construct your identity, and make commitments to new values. Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself.
  • Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself.
  • Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.
7.  Get Clear
  • At some stage, you will need to let other people know about your change in views.  For many this feels like coming out of the closet and has serious implications. Family and friends who are still believers may react in negative ways, especially at first.
  • You may go through some challenging adjustments in your relationships. But for most people, this honesty is eventually necessary in order to have personal integrity.
  • It can be hard to let other people go through their own feelings and to deal with all the issues, but in the end, it’s worth it.
8.   Get With The Program
  • Welcome to the human race. Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family. If you aren’t part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you.
  • You may want to participate in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice.
  • Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems and join others to make the world a better place here and now. You can see that we are all interconnected and you can enjoy relationships with other people.
9.   Get Your Groove On
  • As you relax about being part of this earth, you reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure. You realize you don’t have to earn the right to exist. You are just like other animals.
  • Your sensory experiences are delightful, your body is great, and sex is good. You find all the ways to appreciate nature.
  • It’s ok to simply enjoy being alive. Learn to be present here and now. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.”
  • Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Laestadian Divisions (Guest Post)

Following is a guest post from a reader with the pen name IlmarH. If you would like to contribute a post, please email me using the form on the home page. If you would like to discuss Laestadianism in North America (with insiders and outsiders), join this new  Facebook group. —Free


I am writing from Finland, and am curious to know how recent events in Europe have affected the OALC and perhaps other Laestadian factions. Perhaps readers of this blog could report on the current spiritual weather in North American Laestadian groups. The tumultuous times in America in the period 1880-1900 had an influence in the breaking of the movement here, and more recently the American OALC culture has been a factor in the breach in the European Firstborn flock (separation from the Lutheran Church communion, etc).

I suspect that sooner or later this division will send some waves to the OALC as well.
I find the theological attitudes and arguments on both sides alien at best
There are websites in Finland where the two factions of the Firstborn breach are discussing and arguing, e.g., http://esikoisten.foorumi.eu. I find the theological attitudes and arguments on both sides alien at best, and frequently appalling. My interests and viewpoint are more in the general phenomena of religion-culture-society, interaction of world religions, etc. I am challenging fundamentalism and the fatal neglect and mockery of broad-minded Bible scholars.
The main Laestadian faction, Vanhoillislestadiolaiset / SRK (LLC in the North America) has interesting ripples as well. An active blog (https://hulluinhuonelainen.wordpress.com) has reported some of the waves. The blog was initiated by two bright young theologians, Joona Korteniemi and Roosa Tahkola. Korteniemi was a priest in the Finnish Lutheran Church and also an SRK preacher. Some months ago he posted a message that he is giving up his position as a preacher due to differences between his convictions and Laestadian closed-congregation “only us” doctrine. I can imagine that this man has been quite alone, on a raft on open sea. I feel respect and sympathy for him. His blog contains writings of many thankful supporters but is also filled with texts from hot-head believers and narrow-span fundamentalists, and even hostile outbursts. (Unfortunately indicative of the intolerance justified by religious writings—a common plague all over.) 

The next phase of this story is surprising and unusual. Some weeks ago Korteniemi posted a message revealing that he has decided to join the Catholic Church. Some ex-Firstborn friends have sympathized or joined other denominations, for instance the “orthodox” Lähetyshiippakunta (Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese). See http://www.lhpk.fi/en/.
Christianity worldwide is in disarray and the main reason is . . . sex
Christianity worldwide is in disarray and the main reason is—how original!—sex / gender / reproduction, particularly the question of female priests, birth control, and attitude towards homosexuals. The crucial ideological rift is between two paradigms regarding Bible interpretation. Fundamentalist groups take every line, phrase, and saying in Bible as divine, untouchable truth that should not be analyzed with human reason, intellectual analysis, or socio-historical research. The other faction respects the Bible as the foundation of our civilization providing moral values and humanitarian guidelines of life, but recognizes the historical processes and cultural evolution that have taken place in the past 3,000 years.

I would like to see some signs of global reforms in Christianity spanning Catholicism, Protestantism, and all Christian denominations. The third millennium of Christianity is unfolding—but how, and in which direction?

Monday, June 11, 2018

When a Sin is a Crime — Laestadians & Sex Abuse

If you are a survivor of sex abuse, you may want to skip this post, as it is likely to open old wounds. Everyone else, please read on.

I posted here about Tysfjord in 2016 when the story broke and have been following the updates since then, much of it in Norwegian, using Google Translate to make sense of them. Many of the victims and abusers in Tysfjord are/were Firstborn Laestadian, the corollary to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church here in America; both follow the same leaders in Gällivare, Sweden.

I've been following the situation with both horror and hope: horror that so many were hurt, and hope that healing is possible -- not only for the Tysfjord victims but for every family, workplace, church, and community yet to be cleansed by the #metoo tsunami.

When I emailed a relative inside the OALC about my hope that the situation in Tysfjord would compel the Gällivare elders to reform church practices, he responded "they would not try to affect natural affairs, as that would violate the doctrine of St. Paul, as he only allows one subject, to preach Jesus and Himself crucified."

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding? Perhaps not. The OALC may well view its silencing of sex abuse victims as virtuous rather than complicitous.

In April, I received a phone call from a friend who grew up in the OALC, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an uncle who escaped all consequences in spite of his confession to preachers. Like so many other victims, she was first disbelieved, and then instructed to forgive and forget (if she did not forgive him, the sin would be on her soul). At 27 years old, she had struggled with crippling depression since childhood, and she was calling to tell me of other victims in the church, similarly abused and silenced, some related to her, some not. Her anguish was evident.

What can we do, she asked? Together we talked about possible actions, e.g., bringing a lawsuit for obstruction of justice. Lobbying for a change in the mandatory reporting law to specify lay clergy. Creating a shelter and legal fund to help women in the church to divorce abusive husbands (instead of staying, afraid to lose custody in a church-funded court battle). Filming a documentary on the church. Ultimately we decided to start with a smaller, more achievable project: Youtube interviews of OALC abuse victims. Before I hung up the phone, I told her about Tysfjord, how an entire "Firstborn" community was finding its voice, and why it gave me hope for reforms in the OALC. I mentioned that I was collecting notes for a blog post.

Send me your notes, she said. I emailed them on May 3rd. Three weeks later, she took her own life.

All who loved Kara are heartbroken, and searching for ways we could have helped prevent her death. If you are one of us, may we use that heartbreak to do the work she didn't have the strength to continue.

For the child she was, and the children she loved, I want to believe the tipping point is here.

That point comes, in the words of Tysfjord's Sámi community center director Lars Magne Andreasson, when "the shame of staying quiet about abuse becomes greater than the shame of speaking up."
When the shame of staying quiet becomes greater than the shame of speaking up
The shame of complicity with abusers -- of not protecting the vulnerable -- must prick the awakened consciences in the church. "Faith in the elders" must not be used as an excuse for an individual to avoid personal ethical and legal action. The lay clergy in the OALC are given power most of them did not ask for, and for which few are equipped or educated.

No doubt some preachers are doing the right thing, ethically and legally, if the increasing number of OALC men being prosecuted for sex crimes are an indication (my readers send me news items). But  considerably more "known offenders" remain at large, and the OALC grapevine, and whatever red/yellow/green alert systems any family may adopt, are not preventing their access to victims.

The church leadership in Gällivare must address the systemic problem.

Until OALC elders state clearly that sex abuse is a crime, to be reported to law enforcement and investigated by the state not the church, the cycle of abuse will continue. 

To understand Tysfjord, context is important. For the majority of residents, who are Sámi and Laestadian, the historical trauma of colonization is ample justification for distrusting the state and preferring private, interpersonal resolutions over legal ones. Colonization deprived the Sámi of self-determination, language, land, and culture, and disrupted the social bonds that protected children. Forced assimilation, called "Norwegianisation, was institutionalized from the mid-1800s and within living memory of some Tysfjord residents. How can the state that forcibly separated families be trusted?

“One of the most important reasons why people with Sami background don’t report violence is that they lack trust in the state apparatus. . . (and) the tabooing of sex and body, the silence concerning everything private, and the idea that issues are solved within the family. We find such ideas everywhere in Norway, but there are indications that these taboos are stronger within Laestadian and Sami communities." (Researcher Solveig Bergman, whose 2017 survey indicated Sámi victims of violence are less likely to seek help than Norwegians.)

Laestadianism's exclusivism and gender roles further impede transparency and accountability, making it all the more remarkable for #metoo to succeed in Tysfjord.

A recap:

In 2016, in a community of only 2,000 residents, decades of widespread sex abuse were revealed, sending shock waves throughout Norway and beyond. This came after years of persistence by parents trying to get the attention of authorities, and ultimately, one abuse survivor whose post on Facebook was read by a journalist. That journalist's research culminated in a national newspaper article, which was read by Tysfjord's chief of police, who demanded her deputies conduct an immediate investigation, which revealed 151 sexual assaults over six decades, by mostly male, but also a couple of female abusers. Forty were rapes of young children.

Most of the cases were too old to prosecute.

Nine years earlier, in 2007, desperate parents held a meeting in Tysfjord where local authorities were informed of the scope of the problem. The reaction was disbelief. Nothing more. Victims reporting to church leaders were likewise met with disbelief, or told to forgive and forget. Some of the families in Tysfjord developed their own system of protecting kids: families were assigned red, yellow, or green depending on how safe it was for children to sleep there, or even to visit. Red meant danger of rape or molestation.

It was not until a national newspaper published the article in 2016, and the police chief found it compelling, that interviews began. One thousand of them. Two cases have ended with convictions so far and more are in the pipeline. (The full police report, in Norwegian, can be found here.)

One of the victims said that when she was a teenager in the village, young people told each other about sexual abuse, but adults would not listen. 
"We were called whores and liars." (Nina Iverson, BBC news story)
When Tysfjord's Firstborn leaders were asked to comment, they initially said that preachers conduct their own investigations into sex abuse allegations, and report only when deemed necessary. This was met with outrage.
"The preachers have no prerequisite for making such assessments. It is the police's task." (Former Tysfjord sheriff Kenneth Nilsen)
"I strongly respond to the statements from the church in Tysfjord . . . everybody has a duty to report suspicion of child and youth abuse." (Norwegian Child and Equality Minister Solveig Horne)
The following month, the church issued another statement (here, in Norwegian) disavowing their former release. In a church where "nothing changes," something had changed.

The elders in Gällivare surely know the unintended consequences of certain practices, that the "forgive and forget" tradition effectively colludes with rapists and pedophiles, allowing them to maintain access to the victim. A child is even less likely to report abuse to an adult if she knows she may be required to meet with her abuser and "talk to the preachers," often alone, without her parents.  This is truly inexcusable.

Now imagine a child being required to embrace his or her abuser and say the ritual words granting forgiveness and asking repentance. What did the victim do, to be required to repent? She tempted him. She sat on his lap. She didn't resist enough.

How many victims were compelled to forgive OALC pedophiles before a parent -- often a "worldly" or one whose standing in the church was already compromised -- ignored the advice and filed charges?

State law in America is sadly less protective of victims than Norwegian law, but telling a victim of crime not to report to authorities is illegal everywhere. It's called obstruction of justice.

Will it take a lawsuit against the OALC to change this practice?

Kara thought so.

The average pedophile molests 260 victims during their lifetime. Over 90% of convicted pedophiles are arrested again for the same offense after their release from prison.

"like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change. The goal of treatment, therefore, is to prevent someone from acting on pedophile urges — either by decreasing sexual arousal around children or increasing the ability to manage that arousal. But neither is as effective for reducing harm as preventing access to children, or providing close supervision." (Harvard Medical School)

How many pedophiles remain in the OALC community's good graces, attending church and gatherings, while their victims drifted into isolation, mental illness, drug use, suicide?
Kara's abuser attended her funeral. He sat in the church that protected him, and rejected her, that allowed him access to other victims even after he confessed.
Let that sink in. Do you see anything remotely Christian about that?

According to the Norwegian news service NRK, "tens of victims and their supporters" received threats of violence and reprisals after speaking up. Here in America, we should expect no better. But change is coming.

The municipality of Tysfjord has apologized for its neglect. The Norwegian government pledged monetary support (over $1 million) to increase cultural competence among service providers, to build trust. Big name musicians gathered in Tysfjord and performed, gratis, at a concert affirming Sámi mihá (pride). There were unexpectedly large numbers who attended an interfaith (Lutheran and Laestadian, that is) service in the Tysfjord church. Sámi journalist Kenneth Haetta and three others were awarded the Fritt Ords Prize for their reporting. (Listen to this English-language BBC report on the process of healing.)

Lars Magne Andreasson is optimistic:
"We've come to the point where we dare to have the conversation."
It's past time for American Firstborn, and those who have left the church, to have that conversation. In our homes and if necessary, in the courts.

If you would like to be interviewed for Kara's Youtube series, please send me a note.

It's time to speak truth to power.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

You Carry the Cure In Your Own Heart: Healing from Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse of children can lead, in adulthood, to addiction, rage, a severely damaged sense of self and an inability to truly bond with others. But—if it happened to you—there is a way out.
Following is an excerpted essay by attorney and author Andrew Vachss, an expert on the subject of child abuse and author of "Down in the Zero."

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child's self–concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: "You're fat. You're stupid. You're ugly."

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling: "You'll never be the success your brother was."

Deliberate humiliation: "You're so stupid. I'm ashamed you're my son."

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent's love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a "failure to thrive" condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

Even the natural solace of siblings is denied to those victims of emotional abuse who have been designated as the family's "target child." The other children are quick to imitate their parents. Instead of learning the qualities every child will need as an adult—empathy, nurturing and protectiveness—they learn the viciousness of a pecking order. And so the cycle continues.

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to "explain" the conduct of his abusers—and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self–blame.

Emotional abuse is both the most pervasive and the least understood form of child maltreatment. Its victims are often dismissed simply because their wounds are not visible. In an era in which fresh disclosures of unspeakable child abuse are everyday fare, the pain and torment of those who experience "only" emotional abuse is often trivialized. We understand and accept that victims of physical or sexual abuse need both time and specialized treatment to heal. But when it comes to emotional abuse, we are more likely to believe the victims will "just get over it" when they become adults.

That assumption is dangerously wrong. Emotional abuse scars the heart and damages the soul. Like cancer, it does its most deadly work internally. And, like cancer, it can metastasize if untreated.

When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser's choice of weapons. I remember a woman, a grandmother whose abusers had long since died, telling me that time had not conquered her pain. "It wasn't just the incest," she said quietly. "It was that he didn't love me. If he loved me, he couldn't have done that to me."

their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty. Emotional abuse is repetitive and eventually cumulative behavior—very easy to imitate—and some victims later perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Although most victims courageously reject that response, their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others.

We must renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I've met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life.

Emotionally abused children grow up with significantly altered perceptions so that they "see" behaviors—their own and others'—through a filter of distortion. Many emotionally abused children engage in a lifelong drive for the approval (which they translate as "love") of others. So eager are they for love—and so convinced that they don't deserve it—that they are prime candidates for abuse within intimate relationships.

The emotionally abused child can be heard inside every battered woman who insists: "It was my fault, really. I just seem to provoke him somehow."

And the almost–inevitable failure of adult relationships reinforces that sense of unworthiness, compounding the felony, reverberating throughout the victim's life.

Emotional abuse conditions the child to expect abuse in later life. Emotional abuse is a time bomb, but its effects are rarely visible, because the emotionally abused tend to implode, turning the anger against themselves. And when someone is outwardly successful in most areas of life, who looks within to see the hidden wounds?

The primary weapons of emotional abusers is the deliberate infliction of guilt. They use guilt the same way a loan shark uses money: They don't want the "debt" paid off, because they live quite happily on the "interest."

when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers

When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers. It's time to stop playing that role.

Because emotional abuse comes in so many forms (and so many disguises), recognition is the key to effective response. For example, when allegations of child sexual abuse surface, it is a particularly hideous form of emotional abuse to pressure the victim to recant, saying he or she is "hurting the family" by telling the truth. And precisely the same holds true when a child is pressured to sustain a lie by a "loving" parent.

Another rarely understood form of emotional abuse makes victims responsible for their own abuse by demanding that they "understand" the perpetrator. Telling a 12–year–old girl that she was an —enabler— of her own incest is emotional abuse at its most repulsive.

A particularly pernicious myth is that "healing requires forgiveness" of the abuser. For the victim of emotional abuse, the most viable form of help is self–help—and a victim handicapped by the need to "forgive" the abuser is a handicapped helper indeed. The most damaging mistake an emotional–abuse victim can make is to invest in the "rehabilitation" of the abuser. Too often this becomes still another wish that didn't come true—and emotionally abused children will conclude that they deserve no better result.
although the damage was done with words, true forgiveness can only be earned with deeds
The costs of emotional abuse cannot be measured by visible scars, but each victim loses some percentage of capacity. And that capacity remains lost so long as the victim is stuck in the cycle of "understanding" and "forgiveness." The abuser has no "right" to forgiveness—such blessings can only be earned. And although the damage was done with words, true forgiveness can only be earned with deeds.

For those with an idealized notion of "family," the task of refusing to accept the blame for their own victimization is even more difficult. For such searchers, the key to freedom is always truth—the real truth, not the distorted, self–serving version served by the abuser.

But for some emotional abusers, rehabilitation is not possible. For such people, manipulation is a way of life. They coldly and deliberately set up a "family" system in which the child can never manage to "earn" the parent's love. In such situations, any emphasis on "healing the whole family" is doomed to failure.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self–help until you learn to self–reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what "goodness" really is. Adopting the abuser's calculated labels—"You're crazy. You're ungrateful. It didn't happen the way you say"—only continues the cycle.
survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim 
Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim. When your self–concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self–respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.

And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The Good Kid (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by a reader I’ll call The Good Kid. If you are struggling with similar issues and would like to talk, let me know on the contact form and I’ll put you in touch with him (privacy assured). —Free


Imagine this. You're a good kid. You want to please your parents. You want to do well in school. You want to do well in everything you do, including being a good Christian kid. You try your best to be this good kid because it's the one thing you can control in your life. Your home life isn't amazing. It's actually pretty abusive. But that's beside the point. You go to church pretty much every Sunday. You make sure that you know the answers to the questions that are being asked at the gatherings. You go to young peoples’ gatherings. You travel across the country with the Elders when they're here. You go to confirmation and get yourself a girlfriend, which of course doesn't work because you are too young. You're sad that it doesn't work out, so you date another girl, but that doesn't work either. You still have plans to get married one day, and have kids. You still want to be a good person and give back to others in some way. 

But you're different, and you know that you're different. You grew up with no TV and no movies,  and in a time where you didn't hear a lot about the "different" that you were. Every few Sundays they preach about the different that you are. They tell you that you're going to hell. You're pretty confused, because you know that you didn't choose to be different. You don't understand why you're going to hell, when you seriously try so hard to be so good for so many different people. 

Then, one day, you finally realize that you're tired of being told that you're going to hell. You're tired of trying to be good for everyone else. You're tired of sitting in a building where the preachers are talking about how you're going to hell. You're tired of it all. So you finally decide to walk out the doors of the church. And it is hard! You lose a lot of family members. You lose a lot of your support system. You lose many friends. You lose your faith. You turn to drugs and alcohol because you can at least control how high or how drunk you get. You put "being good" on the back burner for a while. But, eventually, you smarten up and realize that you're not that person. You still want to be a good human being. You want to be you. You've always been you. You were born this way. You are, and always have been, gay . . . AND THAT'S OKAY! 

The BS you were taught was not real. It wasn't true. You can find another church, one that won't condemn you to hell. You can get your faith back if you'd like. You can find friends who will love you as you are. You can still have kids if you'd like. You can still get married if you'd like. You can still give back to society if you'd like. You can get to a point in your life where you finally realize that being gay is the same as being born with black hair, or being lefthanded. It simply is what it is. The men who told you that it was wrong, well, they're simply uneducated. Maybe some of them are gay, too. Who knows?

But let me tell you one thing, you are not alone. Things can get better for you. Don't think that you have to marry someone of the opposite sex and "pretend" to be okay with doing that. You won’t be okay. You won’t be happy.  Your life is too precious for a closet.

I'm here to tell you that there are others just like you.

And you know what? I'm doing just fine.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Læstadianism and Sami Identity: A Talk by Lis-Mari Hjortfors

Recorded at Umeå University on March 9, 2016. Organizers: Umeå University and SLU. This is a talk by Lis-Mari Hjortfors, an ethnologist and researcher at Umeå University who studies the role of Laestadianism in the preservation of Sami identity, language, and tradition. 


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Guest Post: When Family Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

Leaving one's family, community, and faith can provoke all kinds of ambivalent feelings, but there are moments of pure clarity also -- especially when well-meaning people make uninformed assumptions, and you have to school them or blow a gasket.

Even if the schooling takes place as an interior dialogue.

When I saw this Facebook post, I asked if I could share it here. The writer agreed and said shared that she is in a better place now. The frustration you'll read about below "has been diminishing every time I speak up."




by Anonymous

Many people say to me, “it must be hard for your family because they can’t see/talk to you.” They say “Oh, it must be hard not to have relationships with your family.”

This is one of the hardest things I deal with now. Some people, when they say this, they are empathizing. Some are vilifying me. I am a monster because I left, I’ve been gone for a good half decade. Who in their right mind could do that sort of thing? Or I must be a ruined pile of a person because I don’t have relationships with my family. Guess what. I’m not a monster. I’m not a ruined pile. 

Ending relationships with family doesn’t happen from a place of function. It comes from a very dysfunctional place. If you have a loving, caring family, you may not understand or even comprehend the logistics of unhealthy relationships. But at the same time, repeating over and over that family is the most important piece of one’s life is damaging, especially if family means dysfunction. So tweak your rule a little bit. Family is the most important part of your life, if your family is healthy.
In not being able to recognize this, you are at the same time denying my experience, my pain. You are triggering me yet again to feel shame and betrayal that I felt when I left. Calling it shame and betrayal is undermining what actually happened. I experienced repeated psychological abuse. My dad spoke a sermon about me. Well, it wasn’t actually me. It was his perception of me. With a warning that the devil was going to get my pinkie, my arm, my whole body because I had a taste of sin. Which was alcohol and a man and breaking into my grandma's house to hang out with said man and liquor. Oh, and french bread and heirloom tomatoes. Devil’s got my pinkie, oh delicious, juicy tomatoes. And I actually didn’t drink the alcohol. I’d never had any before and I didn’t start then. Oh, no. It was later on, and it was Mike’s hard lemonade. I was so terrified that I probably drank half of it in the span of two hours.

My question is? How much would you put up with? With a stranger it’s easy to say no. Family, though. That’s a different field, isn’t it. Family can do anything to you. It’s okay. They’re family.
Would you put up with a sermon from your dad about how the devil is getting in your soul? Would you put up with calling your grandma to ask for money only having her ask you to call back when grandpa is home, so you can talk to him. You do that and when you talk to him on the phone, grandma is in the background telling him what to say. That no, you can’t have money to pay your balance at the university. Why, you ask? Your grandma tells your grandpa to say it’s because you’re living in sin. You’re living with a man, who you’re not married to.

Can you guess why we didn’t get married right away? Because my family was treating me like shit and I was hoping it would get better but it never did. 

Would you put up with a Thanksgiving where your sister-in-law and your mom snarkily talk about how an engagement ring isn’t a ring if it doesn’t have a giant rock? And you’re standing right there, listening to them, and your engagement ring is giant rock-free?
Would you put up with people stopping saying “God’s Peace” to you, which is code for “we are in the same church and everyone else is going to hell.” Like bro code. You could stand in a line with forty other people and a person walks down the line, shaking everyone’s hand and saying God’s Peace. When the person gets to you, they skip you like you didn’t exist and move on. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. Oh you’re going to hell. Next person.

Would you put up with letters written to you about how sinful you are? Would you put up with your sister-in-law writing messages to your fiance on Facebook about she hates his posts and why does he even say anything?

Would you put up with a friend who once said you were like a sister, walk hurriedly by you within five feet, angrily, and at the same time pretending she didn’t see you? Would you call her later as a lifeline because you’re so alone, and she says let's meet up, but not in my home. Because I might, like, bring drugs or something because I’m going to hell. Anything sinful is up for grabs.

Would you put up with your sister telling you that you need to save your siblings from the church? That by maintaining abusive relationships you can help pull them out too?

What would you do? What would you do when your whole community, your family, your world is torn down from the inside? When all the loving, trusting relationships you ever knew instantly turned to pain?

Would you run or stay?

Many of you might say that you would run. But let me tell you something. Out of all the people that I know left my church, many of them still have these relationships with their family. And they are dysfunctional. My cousin’s dad punched her sister in the back and said that she and her sister were making their mom cry all the time because they didn’t attend church. When we were kids he broke a neighbor kid’s arm. He broke a child’s arm. Never went to jail. My cousin that left the church still maintains her relationship with her dad.

There are stories and stories of sexual abuse too. Molestation. Rampant in families, rampant in the church. If you don’t believe me just ask. If emotional and psychological abuse aren’t enough for you.
This is the tip of the iceberg of my story. But I ask you. Respect me. And don’t say shit like “Oh it must be hard to not have relationships with your family.” You know what’s way, way, way, way harder? Spending 20 or so years being abused.

And letting it happen even longer. Because family.

Saying “it must be hard….” silences me. I cannot find myself when yet again, I am seen in a weird light. I had a fucking hard time, yes. Try to think of these painful moments and realize that they happened to me every day. Every day. A hiss of “I’ll pray for you” in your ear by your great aunt and you’re supposed to act like your day is perfectly fine. Your attempt to empathize isn’t going to fix years of abuse.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

How to Be An Adult

Happy new year, readers. I've been fully-occupied in recent months by creative projects, and hope for more of the same in 2018. I haven't forgotten this site (if anything, movements such as #metoo give renewed hope for reforms) but these pages will continue to be quiet as I work on other interests.

If you are in need of support or inspiration, please join the Extoots Facebook groupOne of the current topics is how to relate to Laestadian friends and relatives after leaving the faith.

This "declaration" by therapist David Richo (How to Be an Adult in RelationshipsThe Five Things We Cannot Change, et al) may help.

He advises preparing for potentially difficult conversations by first having a conversation with yourself, confirming the following:
  • I accept full responsibility for the shape my life has taken.
  • I need never fear my own truth, thoughts, or sexuality.
  • I let people go away or stay and I am still okay.
  • I accept that I may never feel I am receiving – or have received – all the attention I seek.
  • I acknowledge that reality is not obligated to me; it remains unaffected by my wishes or rights.
  • One by one, I drop every expectation of people and things.
  • I reconcile myself to the limits on others’ giving to me and on my giving to them.
  • Until I see another’s behavior with compassion, I have not understood it.
  • I let go of blame, regret, vengeance, and the infantile desire to punish those who hurt or reject me.
  • I am still safe when I cease following the rules my parents (or others) set for me.
  • I cherish my own integrity and do not use it as a yardstick for anyone else’s behavior.
  • I am free to have and entertain any thought. I do not have the right to do whatever I want. I respect the limits of freedom and still act freely.
  • No one can or needs to bail me out. I am not entitled to be taken care of by anyone or anything.
  • I give without demanding appreciation though I may always ask for it.
  • I reject whining and complaining as useless distractions from direct action on or withdrawal from unacceptable situations.
  • I let go of control without losing control.
  • If people knew me as I really am, they would love me for being human like them.
  • I drop poses and let my every word and deed reveal what I am really like.
  • I live by personal standards and at the same time – in self-forgiveness – I make allowances for my occasional lapses.
  • I grant myself a margin of error in my relationships. I release myself from the pain of having to be right or competent all the time.
  • I accept that it is normal to feel that I do not always measure up.
  • I am ultimately adequate to any challenge that comes to me.
  • My self-acceptance is not complacency since in itself it represents an enormous change.
  • I am happy to do what I love and love what is.
  • Wholehearted engagement with my circumstances releases my irrepressible liveliness.
  • I love unconditionally and set sane conditions on my self-giving.