When Church Hurts You

By Wendy J Olson, Healing Coach and Founder + ED for Grit Plus Gumption

All month long, we’re talking about adverse childhood experiences and how they later affect us in our adult lives. We call this campaign “Evolve” because as we learn together, we can grow, heal, and eventually thrive.Get involved by joining us on our Instagram page, @gritplusgumption and/or donating using the link at the bottom.

We come into this world with all the hope and belief in the world that people are inherently good and our parents have our best interests at heart.

But unfortunately, this is not always the case.

When school feels like a war zone and family doesn’t feel like home, we sometimes seek refuge int he one place that feels like the only other option and a guaranteed safe space:

The Church.

But as many of us know, there are harmful people everywhere and sometimes they speak from pulpits.

I was 15 years old and full of awe for the new church and youth group I was a part of. I LOVED my youth pastor. So as you can imagine I was certain that when I told him about God’s calling on my life to become a youth pastor, he would be as elated as I was.

He wasn’t. 

In fact, he told me then and there that I needed to go back and check what I thought I heard. Women aren’t allowed to lead in the church.


There would be many more years of church abuse and gaslighting I would receive from the religious institutions I gave my heart and soul to. And years of untangling myself from what was true and what was pure bullshit.

I’m still doing that work.

What We’re Doing About It:

While the church may teach that forgiveness is the first step in the road to healing, we don’t believe that. We believe in forgiveness. But forgiving yourself is truly one of the first steps on the long, arduous road of healing. Everything else flows from that.

Letting yourself off the hook. 

We look for themes and patterns, threads to pull at through all of our stories of harm. From one of the earliest memories of harm to family of origin trauma and continuing into the realm of s—al abuse, we find those threads and we pull. We look for patterns. We name harms. We left ourselves off the hook.

We’re not innocent. We have caused harm too. But first, we see how we ourselves have been harmed before addressing anything else.

No one escapes this life unscathed. Will you have the courage to name your harm and face the truth of your trauma?

Red Flags

How can we tell if we have been spiritually abused in our church?

  1. We have been made to feel that because we are a different gender, sexual orientation, race, etc., we can’t and won’t belong in a place we feel called to.
  2. There has been gaslighting.
  3. We are made to feel like an outsider, like we don’t belong.
  4. There has been any measure of s—pal abuse, subtle and covert or overt. The church should be a place of zero tolerance for either.
  5. We are made to keep secrets and not share anything with people outside the church.
  6. Love and acceptance is conditional.

Green Flags

How can we tell if church and the people in it are safe people and are providing a safe place?

  1. People are more than welcoming. They are inclusive. No one gets left behind.
  2. You are affirmed in your gender, race, and sexual orientation. Just the way God made you.
  3. There is a large amount of accountability between staff and congregants. 
  4. There is transparency inside the church, which is also encouraged outside the church.
  5. Love and acceptance is the life breath of the church.

If you found this information helpful to your own healing journey, please consider donating to Grit Plus Gumption and supporting another woman’s healing journey as well. You can make a tax-deductible donation using this link. We thank you for your support!

Wendy J Olson is the Founder and Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption Farmstead, a 501c3 nonprofit. She also works as a healing coach, facilitating the Allender Center modality of Story Work, (Narrative Focused Trauma Care. ) She walks with women through their stories of past hurts and traumas, guiding them to freedom and healing.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: