It’s tough on the outsider who has a loved one in an unhealthy church and has never been exposed to anything similar. They are not going to relate to much, if anything. Some of what they see or hear may seem absurd to them, that anyone could believe or do such things.
For the one on the outside, it’s important to not minimize anything you hear. You should educate yourself as to the beliefs and practices of the group. For instance, if your brother shared with you that he was concerned about his salvation because he disobeyed the pastor, should you burst out laughing, ridicule or make light of it….chances are he will think more than once before opening up to you again. There will be times where, being on the outside and not having a better understanding, that you need to take extra care in how you respond to a situation. Two articles which should give you some insight are We Are Spiritual Abuse Survivors and Help! My Family Member or Close Friend is Trapped in a High-Controlling Church or Cult.
It is also tough on the former or current member who is struggling with teachings. Besides the fact that many unhealthy churches do not encourage vocalizing questions pertaining to their teachings, there’s not a lot of Christians who can relate or understand what they may be encountering or going through. Try explaining to a woman attending a Methodist church, that you are concerned that as a woman, you may no longer be saved because you cut your hair. See how little she can relate. Sharing additional things, like your family may have lost protection because of it, will be mind boggling to her.
There are so many different issues, besides the teachings, that one exposed to an unhealthy church may have to grapple with, that many simply do not understand. Just where do you go when no one around you has any concept of what you’re going through? How can your other friends be of much help when they haven’t a clue about what you’re trying to discuss?
Despite all of that, there are certain people who can relate, besides former members of the same group. Though it may sound unbelievable at first, if you will take the time to learn why it is true, it can help immensely. A former member of an unhealthy church would find they have many things in common with former Moonies, Krishnas, guru followers, UFO groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses and more. While the teachings of each group are quite different, there are particular practices found in abusive and unhealthy groups that allow former members to relate to and understand each other. Yes, even though the groups they came out of are as different as night and day on the surface.
Had I not seen this first hand in the 1990s, several years after leaving the United Pentecostal Church, I probably wouldn’t have believed it for some time. It was a real eye opener for me. Take the time to educate yourself about spiritual abuse and what is involved. It will be helpful in your healing. We feel so strongly about it that for years we have given away used and new copies of books on the subject.