Recovery from Spiritual Abuse Part 3A-Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness

Summary of Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy

In a mini-series of three blog posts, Part 3 focuses on personal elements in spiritual abuse versus healthy leadership, such as what background issues make some people more susceptible to being misused by leaders and some to become abusive leaders, and what makes for respectable leaders.

  • Spiritual Abuse Part 3A overviews the conceptual framework for healthy discipleship and personal transformation in the book, Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness: Five Questions That Will Change Your Life, by Kathy Koch, Ph.D., of Celebrate Kids, Inc. It also lists tentative topics related to spiritual abuse susceptibility and/or recovery for each of the five elements in her framework – security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 3B uses films to illustrate different types of abusive personalities in leaders.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 3C explores how power addiction is like porn, in terms of treating people like objects for personal (mis)use.

I supposed if I could determine all things for myself, I would never, ever have chosen to undergo the difficult series of encounters I did with spiritually abusive leaders, unsustainable ministry structures, and toxic church systems. Who in their right mind would want to earn the equivalent of a Ph.D. in experiencing church toxicology?

Still, this area of unwanted expertise does have a redemptive side, as I have been finding out since some processing of the big-picture lessons learned. The past few months of blogging on subjects related to recovery from spiritual abuse have brought to mind a prayer from my late 20s. I was impressed from the Gospel accounts about how Jesus knew people – really understood their hearts, their longings, their frailties – and I wanted to have a better understanding of those kinds of things. Well … a series of moderate to extreme situations of toxic leadership over the last 35 years was just what was needed, though not exactly the form I’d have wanted. The adage of “Be careful what you pray for, as you might get it,” takes on new meaning. And yet, it became the learning field for discovering important realities of the human heart. It has be worth the pain to better understand the capacities of our heart, both in its corruptivity and its nobility, and for unveiling more of my own tendencies in each of those directions.

I am just as capable as anyone of creating interactions or relationships based on insecurity, doubts, fears, quenched dreams, or misusing my strengths to overpower others. I can be manipulative through being controlling, demanding, isolating, passive-aggressive, sullen, boorish, and even “nice.” How do I stop that, or prevent it? (Hopefully, as I mature, this occurs in ever-shorter mini-drama versions that impact fewer people, instead of the seemingly never-ending melodrama toxic church versions that impact throngs of traumatized victims!)

I am just as capable as anyone with an unhardened conscience of forging through the minefields of ministry to call out toxic leaders, challenge them with the impact of their actions, encourage them if they choose to change, and stand with their victims as an advocate. How do I find the courage to do that, and in the best providential timing rather than in the midst of my righteous anger?

Also, plunging into the wounds of the past has helped me refocus on finding practical ways to catalyze patterns of positive health and sustainability in ministry paradigms, strategies, and structures. I looked at some of what I learned on those topics in Part 1 on personal lessons about stewarding with church life, and in Part 2 on five criteria for choosing a healthy fellowship.

Similarly, my recent journey has sparked new thinking on the dynamics of personal recovery, and how to encourage survivors of abuse and former abusers to move from intervention, to interception, to prevention. This summer, I will move into a series of posts on these clusters of topics.

  • Spiritual Abuse Part 3 will focus on personal elements in spiritual abuse versus healthy leadership, such as what background issues make some people more susceptible to being misused by leaders and some to become abusive leaders, and what makes for respectable leaders.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 4 will focus on moving forward – coping and hoping – as we attempt to regain our bearings, overcome spiritual deflation from the barbs of abuse, and find a redemptive edge to experiences that no one should ever have to endure.

Finding an “Interpretive Framework”

I have been outlining material for Parts 3 and 4 for a few months. I decided almost from the start to refer to the framework of five core discipleship issues found in my friend Kathy Koch’s book, Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness: Five Questions That Will Change Your Life. It contains an excellent system for organizing material on personal transformation.

I’m big on “frameworks.” Too often, I think we communicate scattered bits and pieces of truth. Accurate and helpful as each bit may be because it is truth, it doesn’t equip us to interpret the larger situations we find ourselves in. For figuring out the big picture, we need “interpretive frameworks” – a set of related categories or principles or diagrams or systems that help us place ourselves into larger pictures of life. Otherwise, it’s like words without a grammar, a journey without a map, a story without a timeline.

To tackle the topics of personal recovery, I wanted a framework that would help explain the underlying susceptibility of both abusiveness and being abused, that would interpret the interwoven dynamics that bind victimizers together with victims (to paraphrase my college friend Linda, “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.”), that could connect together the potential repentance, healing, and reconciliation of the traumatizer and the toxicized. Know any system with enough “explanatory power” to potentially apply to all of that?

Thankfully, I do. In Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness, Kathy Koch provides a general framework for discipleship that I have found extremely insightful and practical. With it, I can talk about the complexity of layers in the convoluted dynamics of spiritual abusers, those they abuse, and those who perpetuate victimizers and/or victims in those states.

Overviewing Authentic Hope and Wholeness

Here are Kathy’s five “core needs” for transformation toward healthy discipleship, the key practical application question, and a brief description:

  • Security – Who can I trust? Security is the state of being or feeling secure. It involves freedom from fear, anxiety, danger, doubt.
  • Identity – Who am I? Identity is the characteristics and qualities of a person. Our identity can be stuck in the past (who WAS I?) or lost in the future (who do I WANT to be?), but is healthiest when it is rooted into who I now AM.
  • Belonging – Who wants me? We belong when we are related and connected. Also, we say something “belongs” when it has a proper or suitable place.
  • Purpose – Why am I alive? Purpose is something we intend toward doing, what we aim at. Without purpose, or when our purpose is dashed, we feel we have nothing to live for.
  • Competence – What do I do well? Competences are developed strengths. They are things we are well qualified and capable to do, but not perfect at doing. These strengths can be used either for good, or for evil.

With each of these five components, Kathy explores:

  • What happens when we meet that core need in healthy ways.
  • What happens when we meet it in unhealthy ways.
  • What happens when it goes unmet.
  • How that met or unmet need relates to our behavior.

(With just that scant outline, do ways this could apply to spiritual abuse come to mind?)

Even on its own, each component is an important tool for study, reflection, and constructive action. But the wonderful thing about her framework is how she describes them working in an “interactive hierarchy.” This means there is something significant to the order in which they occur. (And hey, just because I’m more non-linear in my thinking by seeing things connected, that doesn’t mean I believe that nothing ever occurs in a specific order!)

For instance, if we act as if our identity (#2 – who we are) is based on our competence (#5 – what we do well), then the first time we mess up and FAIL (activity) at what we’re normally good at, we think we ARE A FAILURE (identity)!

Or, take security (#1), which is the most core issue. If we don’t really “do the work” required for a healthy knowledge of whom we can trust, we’ll have problems with all four other issues. Did we become susceptible to being abused because we were too naïve, trusting someone who was not trustworthy? If so, how do we learn to meet that need for security with trustworthy people? Did we become susceptible to abusing and controlling others because we ourselves feel insecure? If so, how can we correct that now and become a trustworthy disciple?

Kathy’s holistic systems approach really amplifies its explanatory power. And this set of questions for dealing with everyday issues of discipleship isn’t a formula, and it isn’t about quick fixes. It is a biblically-saturated system that I find an excellent resource for interpreting our lives and moving toward all God intended His people to be and to do. I keep going back to these five elements and questions to examine my own life, and to help other people understand theirs. It offers a tremendous perspective on grace, where realization of our brokenness is accompanied by the resources to bring … well … authentic hope and wholeness!

Forthcoming Topics on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse

My tentative plan for the series of posts in Parts 3 and 4 includes exploring the topic clusters given below. Don’t expect there to be a single post on each topic, though. I’m still working on the outlines, and we’ll just have to see what emerges!

Security – Who can I trust?

  • Why “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).
  • Why “power is a magnet to the corruptible” (Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series).
  • Trust and trustworthiness.
  • Moving beyond naivety to discernment.
  • Dealing with lies and self doubts implanted by abusers.

Identity – Who am I?

  • Identity (who I am) versus position (what I do).
  • Differences between being qualified, unqualified, or disqualified for a leadership position.
  • Differences between “I have been given authority” versus “I AM the authority,” and a framework for interpreting addictions to unauthorized actions that are abusive.

Belonging – Who wants me?

  • Uniformity/conformity versus diversity/freedom in churches and “identity tribes.”
  • Interwoven relational dynamics of abusers, enablers, and victims. What does each party gain from toxic relationships?

Purpose – Why am I alive?

  • How personal and corporate purposes become twisted through toxicity.
  • How abuse quenches our imagination and dreams.
  • Possibilities for redemptive purposes in the aftermath of spiritual abuse – for survivors of abuse, and for repentant victimizers and enablers.
  • Biblical parameters for restoration.
  • Attacking apathy and restoring resiliency in the aftermath of abuse.

Competence – What do I do well?

  • Evil as strengths put to bad purposes, or actions that abuse positions of power.
  • Why competence is not the same as perfectionism, and why perfectionism is abusive.
  • The stresses of appearing to be competent, and the loss of personal flexibility from counterfeits of competence.

And who knows … I may throw in occasional add-on topics related to systems toxicity versus sustainability, using more of a paradigm analysis than this personal framework. Stay tuned …

To get out of the next series of posts of Recovery from Spiritual Abuse, I’d strongly recommend you study the Authentic Hope and Wholeness framework beforehand. I plan to begin posting again on this series sometime in June. It would probably be to your advantage to go through the related book, video, or teleseminar material once BEFORE diving into what I’ll be posting, as I will tie in Kathy’s principles regularly. Here are links to these resources from Celebrate Kids, Inc.

BOOK – Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness: Five Questions That Will Change Your Life

DVD – Authentic Answers

TELECOURSES – Courses and Teleseminars

Note: A Summer 2008 Telecourse on “Student Optimism Secrets: Student Improvement Model” will be held the nights of June 16, 19, 23, 26, and 30, with bonus sessions on July 10 and 14. The material is primarily the Authentic Hope and Wholeness framework, along with sections on using multiple intelligences, geared primarily for school teachers but certainly all of this is also applicable for personal use, parents, and ministers. I’ve been invited as a guest interviewee for one of the five main sessions – which one, as yet to be determined. The first bonus session will deal with issues of problem prevention (and I’ve been invited as a guest interviewee), and the second with using the framework in our Christian walk. The link for this specific course will be activated on Friday, May 23 at

Registration closes soon, June 15 but you’ll want to register as soon as possible so you receive all the materials before the class begins. Registration includes the Authentic Hope book, Authentic Answers DVD, other materials, the course sessions and free replays, and a one-to-one 45-minute phone consultation with Dr. Kathy Koch. This course is limited to 21 registrants.

Disclosures: If you are a regular reader of futuristguy, you know I rarely recommend or endorse products. This situation is different because I have known Kathy Koch for over 15 years, have beta-tested her principles myself, and have worked with her on numerous occasions. I first heard of her positive reputation as a teacher in the early 1990s, and then heard her speak on this framework in 1993 when I served as a resource and publication specialist dealing with recovery/transformation issues. I knew she had developed something really important. I attended other conferences where she taught, and invited her to teach at events I was organizing. Then, it worked out for me to serve as her book project manager for Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness. I joined her on this project in 1997, and she continued refining the material as a system until it was published by Moody Press in 2005. I was paid for my work as project manager, but receive no royalties from the book, and no compensation for endorsing Celebrate Kids or any of their products. I believe in Kathy and trust in both her and her work. It’s a delight and privilege to be able to recommend my friend to you!

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 Links for “Recovery from Spiritual Abuse” Series

UPDATE September 4, 2017. I am adding the full set of links to the series to make it easier to access the posts that are available and to explain what happened with those that are not. I plan to compile this material and more into book projects that will be available in the near future. Please note that these posts have not been updated for nearly 10 years. I have learned much more since then, so I expect the revised versions will be much more clear, divided into smaller chunks to make them more accessible, and with graphics added.

Part 1. Five Personal Lessons from My Surviving Toxic Leaders.

Part 2A. Five Criteria I Now Use to Choose a Relatively Healthy Fellowship.

Part 2B. Five Criteria Continued … Learning Discernment.

Part 2C. Five Criteria Concluded … Detailed Criteria.

Part 2D. Organizational Cultural Dynamics and Governance.

Part 2E. Mentoring and Moving Toward Hope.

Part 3A. Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness.

Part 3B presented a series of movies to illustrate the concepts in Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness. I took this post down, as it needed revising. It will be part of a forthcoming book.

Part 3C. Power Addiction is Like Porn.

Part 3D. Detailing the System – Abusers, Survivors, Enablers, Crusaders, Resistors, Spectators. This became an entire series in 2014, which I’ve compiled on this page: Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse. It identifies and describes not only the kinds of people involved as perpetrators of abuse and their victims, but also those who protect and perpetuate the system. There are also practical how-to’s for dealing with malignant leaders and toxic organizations

The following posts were originally planned to complete the series in 2008, but I did not complete them for the blog. However, I will be including them when I revise the entire series into an upcoming book.

  • Part 3E. Detailing Transformation – Security, Identity, Belonging, Purpose, Competence.
  • Part 3F. Picturing the System – Four Films.
  • Part 3G. Presentational Temperature Guide to Toxic Leader Types – Six Films.

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2 thoughts on “Recovery from Spiritual Abuse Part 3A-Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness

  1. Brad, this looks so wonderful. …

    This post really resonated with me, especially in light of my recent thoughts about truth and trust over at my blog, and the materials from Steven Covey’s new book — especially his Smart Trust Matrix — I e-mailed you on the 7th.

    I look forward to everything you do, bro.

  2. Hi Peggy, and thanks for the feedback. Should be a most interesting summer, processing these topics on recovery from spiritual abuse in light of Kathy’s very practical framework!

    In case people are interested in what Covey says about trust, the link you provided was:

    The Speed of Trust (an interview by Christian Sarkar with Stephen Covey).


    13 Behaviors of High Trust People (PDF download)

    Some great material on an absolutely critical issue – thanks to The Abbess for forwarding it!

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