Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Should You Tell Your Pastor that You're Being Bullied?

This is a very hard decision that only you can answer, preferably after much prayer. Bullies are cowards. They strike only when it benefits them and when they're confident they can get away with it.

The real reason any member of a parish is abused is because of weakness, on the part of the pastor.

This might not be totally his fault. He could be new and still finding his way. He could be greatly outnumbered. Bullies are master manipulators, so he's probably operating without all of the facts. However, it's his job to ensure the wolves are kept away from the sheep, especially the most vulnerable ones.

So should you tell your pastor what's happening? Think long and hard before doing this. Your bully (or bullies) have, most likely, cultivated a strong connection with the pastor. So he may not believe these individuals are capable of such despicable acts. He may then doubt your credibility. It's possible the person trying to run you out of church has also made some preemptive moves, by trying to discredit you before you complain.

The difficulty with spiritual bullying is that there aren't a lot of options, as there are a limited number of churches in any given geographical region. Even so, you might want to think about finding another one, so you can focus on God and not on the drama.

If you still want to bring this to your pastor's attention, you'll be on more secure footing if you already have an escape plan. That way, if he's not supportive, you can move on.

Flickr photo by unkreatives

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why Does the Pastor Allow this to Happen?

Pastors are shepherds of souls. They are charged with keeping the wolves away from their flock. So why would they let someone be abused, by another parishioner or even by a group of parishioners?

One explanation is that they don't know what's happening. They may be blissfully unaware one of their sheep is being mistreated.

Or they may know, but believe they're unable to help. Pastors are only human and they're subject to the same weaknesses and temptations as the rest of us. Deep down, they may be afraid of the bully and his or her cohorts. Although I don't condone this type of hands-off approach, it's easy to see how someone chooses this route. Catholic clergy are under a great deal of pressure. They must run a small business, often with little help and a limited budget. They're also painfully aware that it's easy for anyone to level a charge of misconduct, even if there's no basis. So they take the path of least resistance, at least for the short term.

It's possible the pastor knows what's going on, but doesn't really believe that someone is being bullied. He (being human) may have heard unsavory stories about the target, from several different sources. He doesn't think multiple parties would fabricate the same tale. So he goes with what seems the most plausible. Abusers are very good at recruiting others to "help" their cause.

People with disordered personalities can appear holier than thou. It's possible the pastor thinks highly of them. Unless he's personally confronted someone with narcissism, he probably can't even fathom how one (or more) of his favorite parishioners could be so devious.

Sometimes, the pastor has a character flaw, and he abuses the sheep he's supposed to protect. If that's the case, pray for him.

Flickr photo by gwp57

Friday, October 25, 2013

Letting Your Guard Down Because You're in Church

Bullies have a distinct advantage when they enter a church. That's because his or her targets, as well as nearly everyone else, assume all fellow parishioners have good intentions. So it often takes a long time to catch on to the fact a disordered person is in your midst.

One sign there are one or more sowers of discord is that people who once worked well together no longer do. Sometimes there will be a scapegoat. The bully typically has a cadre of allies, or else he or she wouldn't have the power to disrupt. However, it's very difficult to figure out who's really behind all the commotion. That's because narcissists are extremely clever. They may have manipulated a proxy into doing their dirty work.

It's hard to even fathom that such a deceiver could operate in a religious setting, because, as Christians, we're supposed to assume the best, and view our neighbor in a positive light. But Our Lord warned us against these wolves. He also told us to be "wise as serpents and simple as doves." (Douay-Rheims version.)

Flickr photo by arranET

But What About Turning the Other Cheek?

Christians are taught to turn the other cheek. It's true that we have to forgive, and we need to pray for our enemies. We have to love them and to sincerely desire the best for them. But we don't have to put up with being abused.

We can be nice, we can be kind and we can be charitable. But we don't need to be doormats. The best way I've found to deal with difficult personalities we meet along the way is to rise above the ruckus and pay little attention to their antics. Don't put yourself in the position of needing anything from them. Develop a wider circle of friends outside of your church community so you don't feel so dependent upon one group for all of your socialization. Encourage your children to do the same. Bullies look for your weak spot. If you desperately want to fit in, they'll sense this.

Yes, we are called to forgive, no matter how many times someone hurts us. We also must forgive even without an apology. However, this doesn't mean we return to the same spot we left, as if nothing happened. We don't need to set ourselves up for a repeated cycle of abuse.

Flickr photo by ell brown

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Keeping the Faith, But Losing the Bully

Church bullies who inflict abuse bring about a spiritual battle. A church should be a refuge. When bad behavior happens inside a House of God, it creates a deep inner turmoil. You were seeking to escape the evils of the world, only to find more evil in a place where you were trying to walk closer with the Lord.

At first you try to stick it out in your spiritual home, hoping the storm will pass. Then, when things become unbearable, you have one of two choices. You can either tough it out or you can leave. This is an excruciating fork in the road for families with children. Should you uproot them? Where will  you go from here? Will they lose their faith in the process? Will your own faith weaken because of this disruption?

If the church is very family oriented, you worry about how to find a replacement. You might live in an isolated area with no other churches around. How far are you willing to drive each Sunday?

In nearly every instance, though, the best answer is to leave a bad environment and go somewhere else. Only then can you find the peace of God, which He intended for you.

Flickr photo by FortheglryofGod

Bullying from a Catholic Perspective

I am Catholic and my experience with church bullies is from a Catholic perspective. Spiritual abuse is something that cuts across all denominations though. Anyone who finds this blog is free to leave his or her opinion in the comments section. No Catholic-bashing will be allowed, but sincere queries about the Catholic faith are welcome and I'll do my best to answer them.

Despite my experience with bullying and mobbing in a church setting, I am still committed to my Catholic faith. God allows these trials to hit and we have to weather the storm. It's a test of our faith. What we need to do is to lose the bullies, but keep our faith.

Flickr photo by Dan44

Appearances Can Be Very Deceiving

Just because someone goes to church and appears to be holy doesn't mean that's the case. Actually, since my encounters with religious bullies, I've learned that piety can provide the perfect cover for the mentally disturbed.

Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder like to run the show. They crave positions of authority, and a church offers plenty of opportunity to use their "talents." Once embedded in the organization, they cling tenaciously to their unpaid position. Sometimes, though, narcissists are on the payroll. You'll also find them in the pulpit.

Narcissism and bullying are almost one and the same. A healthy individual with a full range of emotions, including empathy, doesn't employ devious tactics to discredit another. A narcissist, on the other hand, doesn't care who stands in his way. If he sees something he wants, he considers it his.

Church bullying is something that exists, and it appears to be pretty widespread. But it's one of those things no one likes to talk about. However, I'm going to discuss it here in hopes of offering consolation to others who've experienced malicious behavior in church.

Flickr photo by rappensuncle