Part 2: The Abusive Atmosphere
In this segment, I want to talk about abusive atmospheres. An abusive atmosphere is an environment where spiritual, emotional and sometimes physical abuse is not only allowed, but it is reinforced as normal by the behaviors and beliefs of the people in a specific cultural system.
I'll begin with a story from whom I’ll refer to as The Newcomers.
"We (my wife and I) were invited to a special meeting just for the leaders, a closed door, invitation only meeting. We were waiting for the special guest speaker referred to as "the prophet". He was late and everyone was eagerly awaiting his arrival and this meeting to kickoff a weekend conference.
We were told he had an "anointing and a special message" for this specific time in history, it was very important, he deserved extreme honor. Of course we were new to this "movement'', as it was referred to, and we had no idea who this prophet was. We had never heard of him.
As the prophet came in, escorted by his “armor bearers”, he had a rather intense countenance and looked everyone directly in the eye with a solemn glare. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife.
After a brief introduction by the host, who was singing his praises, he began to speak.
"I've come here with a dream to share with you, a very important dream. In fact, if any of you in this room is not in complete and total agreement with everything I say and everything in the dream I am about to share with you in the next few hours, I suggest you pack up your stuff and get out of here. Just leave. Until you can't repent for the sin of unbelief, you don't belong here. We don't need your lack of faith and neither does God. What I say is directly from God and that is just how it is." As he continued to size up individuals in the room and look into the eyes of everyone as if to find something to cast out, he continued to share his "divine revelation."
Both of us were tempted to leave, but we both looked at each other as if to ask should we stay or should we go? Something about it all just didn't seem right. I leaned in to her and said, "let's just stay and hear this guy out and see where this all leads." and we agreed to stay.
This prophet/movement leader went on to share about a dream he had. His dream was full of well-known spiritual leaders from the past visiting him in his sleep and instructing him of things to come and how he needed to lead people to carry out the instructions he was given. He believed he was the direct voice representing God and we just needed to believe it no matter what. He believed that disasters were to come and the church had the ONLY remedies in the earth. The man believed the dreams and messages were given to him only and others were to only to confirm, rally people and gather resources.
The prophet's strategies were things like selling all your possessions, buying farms, raising animals, growing corn and other food, hoarding water and building filtration systems. His strategies included gathering and melting gold, buying guns and ammo, going off the grid and building underground shelters. That was pretty much what went down for the next few hours.
I was stunned to look around and find that everyone seemed to be in a bit of a fog, just nodding their heads yes and taking furious notes, just absorbing every little word and every little nuance of the prophet. When it came to question and answer time, everyone seemed to just want more of his revelation. One or two people asked questions like when the dream occurred and when these things shall take place. Even those questions seemed to cause the prophet to glare at them intensely as if to question their belief. It was as if the prophet was above questioning and scrutiny. Everyone seemed to know it. We remained quiet, listened and observed it all. We knew better than to say a word, something just told us that.
We left that meeting just before it was over and never returned to the conference that weekend. We just couldn't take any more of that atmosphere. It felt oppressive and cult-like. There was no talk of Christ, no healing presence, nor hope, nor collaboration of coming together for solutions, no prayer, no connection between friends, nothing but doom, gloom and eminent disaster.
We were invited to several more meetings like that. We attended a few and they were all similar. They were similar in content, similar in message and similar in atmosphere. We walked away completely after a while and no one bothered to check up on us after that.
The only connections we seemed to have from there were the people who we had met casually who would come to us for healing ministry, knowing that was something we offered. People in that particular movement struggled with all the same symptoms. Nightmares, depression, fear, anger, anxiety, demonic oppression, dissolving relationships, faith diminishing, emotional distress, mental distress, secret addictions and abuses. We did what we could for them but their healing was not made manifest or complete until they left the atmosphere for good." The Newcomers
Atmospheres are created by systems, which are created by people. We will get to those in part 3 and 4 of this series. First we will look at the symptoms and attributes of atmospheres.
Recognizing an Abusive Atmosphere
Abusive atmospheres can be difficult to identify in the beginning. They can be seductive and deceptive. It may seem as though everything is harmonious and everybody is on the same page, how wonderful, unity at last. However, these things are not unity at all. It may even seem as though you have found your tribe and your family, ordained by God. What no one has told you is there’s a price. There is a dark side to the situation. There are things happening behind the scenes you may not discover until it is already too late. Your eyes do not open until you are in the inner circle and your eyes are opened to what is really going on. Here are some symptoms you may begin to become aware of, even if you cannot define exactly what it is that is bothering you.
Group Think - Everyone has to believe in and agree on everything. Those are the standards set by leaders.
Peer Pressure - Written and unwritten rules of behavior and pressure to perform such as encouraging compliance and submission.
Dysfunctional Connections - Use of manipulation, domination and intimidation to control people and outcomes.
Untouchable Leadership - Questioning leaders on any level is called dishonoring or rebellious. They believe they are the sole voice of God other than the Bible.
Punishment for Non-Conformity – Physical removal, being "disciplined" or isolation through gossip or other forms of social torment are a punishment for non-conformity to cultural standards.
Unidentified Lack of Clarity - An inability to make decisions and discern reality or circumstances for one's self.
These are only six symptoms of an abusive atmosphere and these descriptions are not by any means complete. Some of you can feel these and yet have not been able to identify them in words. That is part of the fog that accompanies an abusive atmosphere. If you have spent any amount of time in an abusive atmosphere you become less and less coherent of the things going on around you, especially if you have been encouraged to look the other way. Your senses get numbed down and they are desensitized in an abusive atmosphere. All these become normal at some point when you place yourself in this atmosphere.
The good news is these atmospheres can be changed and their toxic-hold over you broken. It can start today.
Stop the Behavior
You may be wondering, NOW WHAT? You are identifying with this, even if your head is saying no, you heart is seeing yourself and hurting. I can't tell you how much I hurt with you. I am sorry and you are loved. Your story isn't over. You can stop the behavior. You may not stop how other people are behaving, but you can change your reaction to their behavior and begin the change how you are behaving. This part is probably the most difficult part. This may have consequences you may not be prepared for, such as losing friends or family.
Listen To Your Gut - When your conscience or Holy Spirit alerts you something isn't right, listen and follow your instinct.
Ask Questions - Question everything, truth holds up, trust your self to discern truth.
Change Your Habits - Try new things, if you want different results, do things differently.
Say No - Start saying no to things that are not sitting right with you. Speak up.
Resist Pressure - Recognize peer pressure or atmospheric pressures and think for yourself. Make your own decisions.
Walk Away - There is a time to walk away. Seek counsel from God himself and wise people outside of your normal zone
Yes, I know these will be difficult. It is just a start. There will be some consequences to these actions. The consequences will look like more and an intensified version of the atmospheric symptoms. It will look like pressure, isolation, condemning comments, reprimands, accusation of being a rebel or demonized in need of discipline.
The good news is that you are becoming awakened and empowered. You are on your way to no longer being a slave, but free.
Allowing Wounds to Heal
Can you do me a favor and ask God and yourself honestly how you got here? Often times our choices of who and where we hang out with are directly related to how we find our foundation. Our dysfunctional family-of-origin dynamics are directly related to our relational and life cycles.
Part of the healing process is dealing with things at the root. If you do not sever things at the root, the problem will reappear in a different form. It may reappear in another abusive relationship, an addiction or some other kind of oppression.
This is in no way a complete list of steps for healing. Everyone is different and needs God's hands to guide them through this time in their lives. This portion could use a whole book to cover and there are several out there that do address these kinds of issues. This is more like an outline of possible directions to begin healing. Here is a start.
Ask God to Reveal Places of Pain - You don't want to dig up things He isn't addressing. That can result in you going into a darker place.
Forgive - Choose to forgive others and yourself.
Find Help - Find others from an outside source willing to love you through it and help you become whole again. Inner healing, deliverance, and counseling, doctors and medicine can all be helpful through the healing process. Find what is right for you.
Friends - Whether you hunt down old friends or find new ones, there is nothing better for the body soul and spirit than laughter and love.
Family - Reconnect with family that is safe. Allow people to love you.
Healthy Atmospheres - Replace abusive atmospheres with new ones that are clean and healthy. They do exist.
The good news is that your wounds can and will heal. You can live a full life again, even if you have to begin again in some ways.
My prayer for you is that you find healing and peace. May God restore your ability to connect with others, love freely, and live prosperously. May you continue to shine like the sun.
Keep your eyes open for Healing from Abusive Atmospheres, Systems and People Part 3: The Abusive System
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