I consider myself to be highly spiritual. Just like many other people throughout the world, I go to church, read the Bible, and try very hard to demonstrate love wherever I go. Over the years, my spirituality has allowed me to develop a great respect for church leaders and the work that they do. Yet, I quickly realized that church leaders are human and sometimes they make mistakes. So, what happens when the people who you respect so much let you down?
Not all church leaders are manipulative or bad. In fact, I believe that most are amazing men and women who have a strong desire to help others. However, every individual, regardless of role, has imperfections. Sometimes these can result in miscommunication, hurt feelings, anger, and even a flareup of mental health symptoms among the most emotionally vulnerable people.
What can you do to avoid being hurt by the very people who you believe are supposed to support and protect you? Here are a few suggestions:
- Get counseling from qualified professionals.
There are many church leaders who provide spiritual counseling or give advice to other people in the church. Although this may be ideal for some, it’s important for you to know your own specific needs. If you are struggling with a mental health disorder or you’ve recently experienced a traumatic experience, then it’s probably a good idea to get help from a trained professional such as a psychologist, licensed therapist, or psychiatrist. If you are a Christian and desire to work with a professional who also has a strong Christian background, then you may want to seek out a licensed Christian counselor.
- Practice forgiveness.
Forgiveness has a lot of mental and physical health benefits. These include lower blood pressure, a decrease in the circulation of stress hormones, and a boost to the immune system. When you forgive church leaders for their errors, not only are you showing them grace, you’re also helping yourself to experience better health.
- Make yourself accountable for your own decisions.
Of course pastors and other church leaders may help educate and guide you regarding decisions, but be sure that you are comfortable with any decision that you ultimately make. It’s harder to feel victimized when you recognize that you are the one who’s making the decisions.
- Remind yourself that it’s okay to say no.
It’s important to set boundaries and know your limitations. If you know that too much stress will send you into a full-fledged panic attack, then it’s okay to turn down requests that will cause you to overextend yourself. And if you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, regardless of whether it’s intentional, it’s okay to take a breather from serving in your church. The last thing that you want to do is trigger a bout of depression or exacerbate other mental health symptoms.
- Don’t feel guilty.
Guilt will keep you stagnant and try to convince you that you’re not worthy of true happiness. As a result, you might end up doing or tolerating things that you don’t really want to experience. So remember, it’s okay to say no. The first few times that you do it, it may be a bit difficult. After all, you’ve been taught to reverence church leaders. Of course you don’t want to be disrespectful, but showing respect and honor to others doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice yourself. You can and at times should respectfully say no. (And by the way, saying no doesn’t mean that God will be mad at you. God knows your heart and how much you can handle.)
It is important to remember that churches are made up of a group of imperfect individuals who will make mistakes. However, it is important to make sure you focus on your own self-care, especially if you have a history of emotional struggles or mental illness. Untrained people, although well-meaning, may not always understand the impact that some actions may have on people who are vulnerable to symptoms of mental illness. Also, trying to balance church responsibilities while simultaneously maintaining a healthy mental status can be difficult at times. However, you can use these five tips to help avoid some of that infamous church hurt.
Church photo available from Shutterstock