Note: This post has nothing to do with any specific church, building, or set of doctrines. There may be other posts in the future that pertain to those, but not this one.
Church can be a big struggle for people with SRA and/or D.I.D. For me and mine in particular, there are just too many inside people who can take too many things the wrong way. I would suspect that the average person with fairly average life experiences couldn’t even begin to understand how many triggers there are for me or someone inside in just one simple, typical contemporary church service. I personally have a hard time in bigger churches merely because of the volume of people and my need to feel free to leave if and whenever I need to. Large congregations oftentimes ask people on the outsides to scoot in, to make seats available for latecomers. At the end of the service, huge crowds can effectively block the aisles and make me feel trapped. I have also attended a specific church once that had a layout that was extremely triggering for an inside person. As soon as we walked into the sanctuary, something about the physical design of the room made her freak out (as in, panic attack mode), cry, and beg me to leave. We have never gone back there for a church service since. As more healing takes place, perhaps one day we will, but not right now.
Even besides those things, there are triggers within every aspect of a church service. Take the usual service format, for example:
- Worship: dim lights, a group of people all saying or singing the same words at the same time, and varying degrees of loud drumbeats (which are usually well-blended with the other instruments, but they stand out to me, and always have). There are also cases where specific songs (oftentimes hymns) may have been used in a distorting way. I also become excessively disturbed when I’m in a group setting where no one is really paying attention to their surroundings because they’re engaged in the worship aspect (as they should be). This quite frankly ignites the guardian inside me, the one who feels the need to maintain hypervigilance about who is coming and going and what is happening in the room, since no one else appears to be monitoring anything. My motivations are two-fold in this portion of the service, both based on fears from past experiences: I must stay on guard to protect the people in the room that I love; and I must also stay on guard in case those people in the room that I love, decide to turn on me.
- The message itself: nevermind what the pastor is actually even trying to say. Words like “crucifixion” and “sacrifice” and “atonement” and “sin offering” and “paid the penalty” and “redemption” and “salvation” – all of these can effectively push our buttons in a religious context, no matter who’s saying them or what the person is really trying to say. The same thing applies to Bible verses. Regardless of how they’re being read, taught, explained, interpreted, etc, the fact remains that in some cases some verses were used by abusers who distorted their meaning to justify, rationalize, emphasize, or flat-out twist the abuse and drive home the message they were implanting by what they were doing. Just hearing the verses will be triggering. The only way those verses are ever not triggering is when they are said by someone we really love and trust, and in that situation, the person already knows the struggle, and explains exactly what is meant by what they’re saying. The trust in them bypasses the fear.
- Communion: without going into details, communion can be especially hard. What everyone else thinks of when the church is observing communion is not what we are thinking of. It is not what we have experienced.
- Offering: I have not had excessive trouble with offering, other than having a lot of guilt from pastors in previous congregations laying it on in attempt to get people to give more. In my opinion, people should give what they really want to give…not what they feel compelled to give because they think God will be mad or disappointed with them if they don’t. God doesn’t need our money. If there are “confessions” the church typically reads together, those can be difficult because they are linked to incantations.
- Invitation: I am not even sure if this is something typical churches do anymore, but it was a big part of being churched when I was growing up. A lot of times it was also loaded with guilt, as we were all encouraged to think of all the ways we had failed recently and needed to repent. Failure, guilt, shame, and performance were a perpetual cycle in the lives of all the Christians I knew.
- Benediction: the part where the pastor has everyone stand and then “blesses” them before they leave. Also distorted for us. No offense is meant to anyone by my saying this, but we don’t want to be blessed by someone we don’t know.
- Holidays: holidays can be a struggle. Easter, in particular, is a huge challenge. The focus on the crucifixion, the suffering, etc – which was never meant for any human (I mean, besides the people in those times who were punished in that way) – just brings up trigger after trigger after trigger.
- Special occasions or rituals: anything that fits the category of a ritual – like a baby dedication, a wedding, or a candlelight service has probably been distorted in some way. No one on the inside has any clue what they’re really supposed to be, or mean.
I’m sure there are more subtle things I’m leaving out. But suffice it to say that attending church is very, very challenging. No matter how brave a face I try to put on every week, I usually leave in a state of abject despair. There are a lot of aspects of SRA/D.I.D. that serve to isolate the individual, because this is usually the plan of those who carry out abuse of that caliber. I have not as of yet found a church that is not triggering in some way, and I doubt I ever will. This is because the problems do not lie within the church or anything external that’s going on, but within myself. Not intending this to be a depressing post, but an informative one. I don’t care to be pitied, because I believe God is at work and these things can be overcome. It just takes time. Cheers. ~J8