Episode 133

Change: 12 Practical Tips to Support Spiritual Abuse Survivors with Lori Adams-Brown

Join Lori Adams-Brown on the World of Difference Podcast as she shares 12 tips to support survivors of spiritual abuse. As someone who has personally experienced this, Lori emphasizes the importance of listening without judgment and validating survivors' feelings. She provides practical ways to support your friend or family member, including self-care and connecting with resources. Lori also urges listeners to educate themselves and hold abusers accountable. This episode covers how to support survivors of workplace harassment as well, with tips on reporting incidents and providing energy-boosting activities. Don't miss this informative and empowering episode on helping survivors heal from spiritual abuse.

Long Summary

Lori Adams-Brown is back at it again with another compelling episode of A World of Difference! In this week's episode, she delves into the often-misunderstood topic of spiritual abuse and offers 12 tips on how to support those who have experienced it. Drawing on her experience as a survivor of this heinous act, Lori emphasizes the importance of listening, validating feelings, and providing resources such as therapy and support groups. She advises against placing undue pressure on survivors to forgive too quickly, instead encouraging practical and tangible support such as paying for therapy or organizing meetings with church leadership. 

The episode also provides advice on supporting those who have endured hostile work environments, harassment, and discrimination. Offering a myriad of practical solutions such as offering to help document experiences and going for walks together, Lori reiterates the importance of being patient and understanding in the healing process. The episode closes with a call to action for listeners to educate themselves on spiritual abuse, hold church leadership accountable, and offer ongoing support. 

Listeners are in for an informative and heart-warming episode, where Lori shares her experience and expertise with grace and humility. Her tips and advice are a must-listen for anyone looking to support survivors of spiritual abuse and other forms of trauma. So, put on your headphones, tune in, and prepare to be inspired!


[00:00:02] Tips for Supporting Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

[00:03:30] Supporting Spiritual Abuse Survivors

[00:06:56] Supporting Spiritual Abuse Survivors

[00:10:19] Supporting Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

[00:13:42] Practical Ways to Support Survivors of Abuse

[00:16:30] Supporting survivors of workplace abuse

[00:20:00] Encouraging Support for Spiritual Abuse Survivors

Episode Links to Books Lori mentioned (scroll to bottom of Linktree)


Other EPS mentioned in this EPS:

Our Story Part 1: The Calm Before the Storm

(There are 6 EPS in the Our Story series, where Lori and Jason share their spiritual abuse story in long form. EPS 100-105)

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Lori Adams-Brown:

Welcome to the World of Difference Podcast.

I'm Lori Adams Brown, and this is a podcast for those who are different and wanna make a difference.

We're gonna talk about 12 tips for any of you who are a friend of or a family member of someone who's walked through spiritual abuse.

I know that spiritual abuse is something that's understood by some.

Not understood by some and experienced by unfortunately way too many.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And if you are a person who knows someone who's walking through spiritual abuse, I really encourage you to listen in deeply today to what we're gonna talk about.

And I really hope if you know someone who could benefit from this podcast that you would share it with a friend.

There's so much we can learn about how to come around and be supportive village for people who are walking through spiritual abuse and religious trauma.

And today, I'm just gonna share with you some of the best tips that I have found to help people walk through this.

So stay tuned for what we have today.

Lori Adams-Brown:

This episode could really help your friend.

We are here today to talk about how we can support spiritual abuse survivors.

And this is a heavy topic.

I know many of you are turning in because you don't even know what spiritual abuse is, and some of you have walked through it personally, and some of you have friends that have used that phrase or you're wondering if that's what is going on.

And as we have just celebrated a holy week and we walked through what it was like for those who follow Jesus and are part of the Christian tradition and its various forms around the world and the global church.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Many of us are familiar with that story of what it meant for Jesus to be abused by his own religious faith community that raised him both physically and spiritually and many other ways where he experienced, be labeling, you know, intimidation, name calling in some ways, just, you know, many abusive experiences that Jesus himself walked through.

And yet, we find ourselves today in the United States here where I live and stories of spiritual abuse just keep coming.

And for me, as a spiritual abuse survivor along with my husband, We have shared our story here on the World of Difference podcast and has spoken on some other podcasts about our experience.

But if you haven't listened to the r story series, that my husband and I did last fall, I would encourage you to check that out as well.

But today's a bit of a follow-up menu.

Lori Adams-Brown:

You ask how my husband, Jason and I are doing 2 years on from being fired for the moment my husband called out abuse.

And and retaliation, we were fired just for my husband saying that in that exact moment given NDAs tied to severance and medical insurance for our family, but we didn't sign that NDA and just walked through that process and you can check out that story of what we walked through.

But I wanted to focus today on the question I get from some of you is how can I support people that I know that have walked through spiritual abuse and are currently walking through that?

I myself have 2 friends and this past week who are pastors on staff at 2 different churches who were fired and had walked through prior to being fired and even in the moment of being fired a lot of those kinds of things that are spiritually abusive that I mentioned earlier that Jesus himself walked through, but, you know, maybe in a less intensity, of course.

But just the belittling, the intimidation, the coercion, the bullying, all those things are are present in these stories, unfortunately.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And My husband and I had time last week to sit with our friend.

Her story is 1 of a lot of shock.

She didn't see it coming and and I didn't see mine coming either.

And a lot of us don't.

And so sharing a meal with people is is so important.

Lori Adams-Brown:

But we're gonna walk through a list of about 12 things today that you can do, practical things you can do with your friends who are walking through this.

And the first and foremost is really just to listen.

So if you hear nothing else today, do this, sit and listen with your friend.

He's walking through spiritual abuse.

Because the most important thing you can do for a spiritual abuse survivor is to listen to them, deeply listen to them, and let them know that you hear them, you believe them, you empathize with them and you stand with them.

Lori Adams-Brown:

In support, allow them to share their story and their experiences without judgment, as many times as it takes and that's the hard part because trauma does something very unique to the brain and it is hard to process the unfathomable.

And walking through trauma, especially complex trauma, my husband and I were both diagnosed with complex PTSD, otherwise known as c PTSD because it wasn't just 1 instance, but it was multiple instances.

And then even in the aftermath, we kept experiencing some things.

And so the nature of any trauma, whether it's complex trauma or a 1 time event is that both the brain is processing it in a very unique way and the body itself keeps the score.


Lori Adams-Brown:

Diane Lambert, who I highly recommend, if you don't know her work, has written a book called Redeeming Power, but she also is pretty active on Twitter and just giving little tidbits of what's helpful.

She has a quote that says, bearing the intensity of emotions is impossible.

And so the feelings must be tried on again and again.

And so we need to be patient and then be patient some more.

Telling and retelling helps to reduce the memory in its size.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And so here's the good news.

As a friend of somebody who's walking through this, you can be a healer for your friend just by letting them tell their story again and again as many times as it takes.

And the next thing is to validate their feelings.

So it's not just listening, but to just, you know, repeat back and say that's you know, that makes sense that you would feel that way.

A spiritual abuse survivor can feel confused, angry, full of shame.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Many see this through the filter of shame and often if a narcissist has been the 1 to abuse them.

That's the intended response is that they would feel shame.

And survivors often feel self doubt and fear they question why they did or didn't see the red flags or pay attention to them.

So it's important just to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that what they went through was not their fault.

You can be an incredibly intelligent person.

Lori Adams-Brown:

In fact, some of the studies indicate that often people who are targeted have a high level of intelligence.

When you look at David Karash and his cult in Waco, Texas, he had somebody from Harvard and there I mean, the part of the brain that gets manipulated psychologically oftentimes in these abuse scenarios has nothing to do with your academic intelligence or your ability to be smart in other areas.

So it's important to just tell your friend, it's not their fault.

And as our therapist has told us over and over again, and many of the other survivors have used from Echo Church that our therapist has worked with over many years and reminds us often.

It was designed for you not to see it.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And that's really the truth.

So anybody could fall for this kind of thing and just remind your friend what they feel is normal, and it's okay to feel whatever they feel.

And then the next thing is to encourage and support self care.

This is really hard for spiritual survivors, spiritual abuse survivors, and they may struggle with their self worth and have difficulty practicing self care because the brain is so focused on trying to process this shock and encourage them to care for themselves, whether it's through exercise or meditation, prayer, therapy, other healthy activities like eating healthy food, and just be sensitive to anything that might be triggering to them.

And you might be surprised at what is and that's okay because they're still processing.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And the sixth thing is just to connect them with resources they're gonna have trouble processing anything in their life right now except this because it's the it's a huge thing.

Their life has just been blown up.

So provide them with resources such as support groups, maybe of others who have survived abuse at your church, others who have survived spiritual abuse, religious trauma, or cult in other areas online, maybe a therapist.

They're gonna need a good therapist, maybe more than 1, and books on spiritual views to help them heal.

I have many books in my Linktree that were helpful to me, and I've had many of those authors that I've interviewed here on the podcast.

Lori Adams-Brown:

1 is a church called Tote by Scott McKnight and Lara Behringer.

And so their initial episode aired in February 20 21.

And then I had doctor Chuck De Grodong.

He wrote a book called when narcissism comes to church, and he did his PhD dissertation around this topic researching it.

We also had doctor Wade Mullen on the show who also did his PhD research around this topic, and he wrote a book called something's not right, and then his I mentioned Dr.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Diane Lambert, who is a researcher on abuse and trauma and has worked for many years as a therapist around the area of abuse and its many forms, but in particular, is spiritual abuse.

So check out my Linktree, Lori Adams Brown, Linktree for that information if you wanna see what those books are and also listen to the podcast episodes where we sort of talk about those books here and and help you see it in a high level view.

But as you're connecting people with resources, I also would recommend canayo cohorts.

My husband and I just finished a 6 month canayo cohort where we walk through weekly articles, some of them written by Dr.

Chek to Grot and others around what was like to walk in a you know, church setting around these kinds of injuries with a group of people who've experienced something similar.

Lori Adams-Brown:

So for 6 months, weekly, we interacted with articles and got together on Zoom and discussed them and then met at the end of the 6 months at the retreat center that Cannaeo has in Puerto Rico and the rainforest where we had several days together, and that was the culmination of this cohort.

But I highly recommend Cannaeo and Dan White Jr.

And Tanya White, who have created this beautiful space for people to heal together in community.

But also I recommend Joe Saxon's leadership cohort and that's been really helpful for me over the last couple of years.

And I also recommend CAGR's voice as a research as a resource that's based in Canada and they are advocates for spiritual abuse survivors and survivors of all kinds of abuse that happen in the church.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And then I would say as a friend of somebody who's walking through spiritual abuse, please do them the favor and yourself the favor by educating yourself.

Don't expect them to be the 1 to educate you they're dealing with enough right now.

And so just spend some time learning about spiritual abuse and the impact it can have on survivors.

This will really help you better understand your friends' experiences and provide better support for them.

And I would just encourage you to do something simple, like follow the hashtags virtual abuse on Twitter and just listen.

Lori Adams-Brown:

You know, don't comment or maybe accept for, like, with a broken heart emoji.

You know, for a while and learn to just center survivor's voices in a world where perpetrators and those who views often get centered instead with microphones stages, book deals, the benefit of the doubt that they're given by their other pastor and leader friends oftentimes or their board.

And often the empathy, which if you're not familiar with that term, just really means we often extend empathy to the man who abused as if he is the victim or martyr and don't center the survivor who's walking through hell and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, with very little support and, you know, in often cases, like, a couple of my friends that were fired over the past week.

That they don't even have a job.

And so they're trying to figure out financially for their family how they're gonna move forward.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And so this really compounds the abuse and re traumatizes the survivors when the abuser and the perpetrator gets centered and a lot of sympathy sympathy for the abuser.

Instead of what they need, which is a lot of support and empathy to heal.

So and also respect their boundaries.

This is really key because of virtual abuse survivors may need time and space to heal, and they also need you to respect their boundaries and allow them to take things at their own pace.

And follow their lead.

Lori Adams-Brown:

They have been pushed and bullied and coerced and silenced and they need to find their agency again and that takes time.

So, you know, just really respect their their space and their process.

And then number 12 is be patient and understanding.

You know, recovery from spiritual abuse can be a long and challenging process much longer than most realize or their community allows.

Usually, and so be patient and understanding and let them know that you are there for them for the long haul of their journey of recovery.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And Another thing to remember here is to avoid the forgiveness as a weapon trap.

Many spiritual abuse survivors, myself included, had people in the faith community use forgiveness as a weapon, as if there was this microscope on them asking them, have you forgiven?

Are you bitter?

Have you in instead of focusing on the 1 who did the abuse and, you know, calling them to repentance, calling them to have true, deep, remorse, and apology, and turn from their sin and, you know, change their hearts and lives.

Oftentimes, that feels like too hard for people in the faith community to imagine that would happen from the perpetrator or the 1 who abused.

Lori Adams-Brown:

So they end up focusing on the very wounded weak and vulnerable at this point, survivor.

And sort of using this, have you forgiven as a weapon to make everybody feel okay that harmony has been restored.

And I would just say it's very inappropriate to ask a survivor if they have forgiven yet.

That's just it's sort of really none of your business.

It's their personal journey with the Lord.

Lori Adams-Brown:

You can pray for them to have that kind of healing in their heart, but that as my coach and friend, Joe Saxon, told me early on forgiveness, sometimes should be slow when what was done to you was this big of a deal.

And that's not something we often say to each other.

The process of forgiveness can take time and that's okay.

But that's really there between them and God and forgiveness on their part is not necessary for a community itself to heal.

And so, please don't go to your friend who's been walking through hell on earth.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And ask them if they've forgiven.

Just let's just table that or maybe not mention it again.

But pray for them.

They definitely need that.

And then bring meals to them.

Lori Adams-Brown:

They need to eat, send DoorDash money, you know, offer to do practical household chores because sometimes eating can be really hard.

I know my husband and I had a lot of trouble eating and we were forgetting to eat in the first few days of what happened with us.

And so having people bring over meals and our friends Meghan and Victoria in particular always shout out to them because for 10 months straight, they brought meals on a Wednesday night and fed our family with enough for leftovers and chat with us and talk with us and let us share our story again and again and processed it with us in a very peaceful and healing way.

But, yeah, some of those practical things get dropped off because the brain is so focused on healing from trauma, and it can be hard to to do just normal life.

Offered a baby set.

Lori Adams-Brown:

If they have a baby or children, offered to take their daughter to go get pedicures.

Megan in Victoria did that for us, offered you know, show her early 2 thousands movies, which is what they did from my daughter too.

Spending the night.

She spent the night with them and, yeah, just offered to minister to their family and very practical go away.

This is hugely helpful as a friend, and and you can do this and, you know, maybe sit with them and and make a list of all the things that need to be done.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And be like, here I could help find people to help you out.

Also, I would say replace being a silent bystander with being an advocate on their behalf.

So hold the church leadership accountable that did this, ask the church to release their finances publicly with transparency, ask how the board governance works and set up meetings with the board and the leadership of the church to ask questions if that is safe to do so.

Sometimes it's not, sometimes that will put you in a position to be also abuse, especially in these 1 off meetings they try to have.

But if it's safe to do so, hold the church accountable.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Also pay for their therapy or ask that the church where they were abused, pay for it.

This is a part of repair.

And, you know, when we see things like Zakius went back and paid back what he owed people and more, this is part of what it means to be truly sorry.

To make those repairs that are required.

So ask the church to pay for the therapy.

Lori Adams-Brown:

It's the very least they could do.

And then connect them with a good lawyer if you know 1.

Help them know about the EEOC where they can report any hostile work environment, harassment, various forms, or discrimination, if there is belittling, bullying, mobbing, coercing, name calling, teasing, all these types of things are often things that can be reported to the EEOC and many churches don't do that, but it's actually a way to help protect future survivors if that has been reported.

And the statute of limitations does pass.

So that might be overwhelming because they're just trying to feed their family, get a new job, process this, pick up the pieces of their lives, but that's a role that you could play and maybe helping them find the words because sometimes the words don't come.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And so giving them, you know, the link or being, like, I if you talk, I can type, you know, that can dictate to you.

Whatever support they need to find a way to be helpful to document what happened so that others don't have to walk through this too again and again.

And many short staff aren't familiar with, you know, even these concepts of discrimination, hostile work environment, and various types of harassment.

But if you are a person who is and knows a little bit more about that, you can be really helpful to these survivors in that way or maybe research it yourself.

Also offer to go on hikes with them or walks or to the beach or to do something fun to get fresh air, sunshine and boost their weary bodies and brains.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Because it's just it can be really hard to find the energy sometimes.

But processing the trauma through walking or moving your body, especially like bilateral movement, left and right foot, taking steps, and a walk around a neighborhood or on a hike.

Or swimming can often kind of dislodge the part of the brain that's holding the trauma.

So eMDR therapy is based on this and the right brain, left, brain connection and the aftermath of the abuse of many stories from my pharma church, echo church.

Many people have done EMDR therapy for a particular flashbacks, nightmares that continue for, you know, even 5 years and beyond.

Lori Adams-Brown:

And so but some of those things can in a smaller way be worked out through just walking and talking sharing the story while doing these bilateral movements.

So, you know, go on hikes and walks and that kind of thing and provide that space for your friend.

And then last but not least, don't force them to smile.

This is often something I hear people say, especially after what is per a perceivable amount of acceptable time has passed, and that could be anything from 2 weeks to, you know, 2 years where some people think time to move on and you should be smiling again.

Don't force them to find the silver lining or always look on the bright side.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Really the way to hope for them is through lament to sitting in the pain with curiosity and introspection and really feeling the feelings of it all, feeling through it.


Sitting in that suffering with curiosity is how they find hope through the lament.

And so but, you know, what you can do is help them create memories together with you where they do experience happiness and things that bring a smile to their face in the midst of their recovery with various right brain activities that have been shown to help us work in trauma.

Like, moving our bodies with dance or swimming or feeling the sun on their face while you're outside and smelling the the flowers at springtime.

Lori Adams-Brown:

So the way through is hard.

It's very hard.

But with you walking with your friend and family member, they will flourish in deep friendship.

And I just want to say thank you for caring enough about your friend or your family member that's walking through spiritual abuse.

The beautiful part of this is that by sitting with them, listening, hearing their story, believing them, and saying, I believe you, and empathizing with them, you can actually help your friend heal and sticking with them for as long as it takes is really key.

Lori Adams-Brown:

So thank you for the work that you are and will do for spiritual survivors.

And I would love to hear how this is going for you.

So if you're in process with this, reach out to me on Twitter.

And if you have any other tips on how to walk alongside spiritual survivors.

I would love to hear those too.

Lori Adams-Brown:

We can all get better together in this area.

And I'm curious to know what's working in your part of the world wherever you are.

Take care, everyone, and thanks for listening.


About the Podcast

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A World of Difference
A podcast for those who are different and want to make a difference

About your host

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Lori Adams-Brown

Lori Adams-Brown is a combination of business executive, international speaker, and podcast host of a top 5% global podcast, whose over 20 years of leading global teams have made her a strong and inclusive leader of teams who exceed expectations. As a former international relief & development leader, she has led diverse global teams in multiple cultures where she learned to speak six languages. Lori improves systems, motivates teams with relationship building, and achieves global results. She is a culture connoisseur and a people-first global manager. Her happy place is sipping a flat white coffee while having a deep conversation and enjoying either a beach or mountain vacation with the love of her life, Jason, and their 3 teenagers.