“Did someone give you permission to move?” my mother asked, frustration filling her voice.

I sat frozen and silent at the kitchen table. I had just leaned my head forward. My mother, losing patience with my chronic immobility, mocked me for that simple choice.

Looking back, I feel the hurt of that taunt. Then, I felt only that she was right. I had sinned. I had moved. The demons would control me now. I would never get saved.

When my father and older sister picked me up from college, I was taken home to live through one of the worst summers of my life. My parents blamed me for my mental illness, viewing it as sinful, selfish behavior that I was deliberately choosing.

Despite my older sister’s pleas that I be given medical care, my parents insisted on keeping me at home in utter torment. They felt that I was oppressed by demons (this concept is akin to demon possession, but is a form of spiritual bondage which people who are already Christians are believed to experience).

When my father picked me up at my college, he took me to see a “spiritual warfare expert.” This man and his wife turned out to be somewhat more reasonable than my father, but the very fact that I was being taken to people to talk about my supposed subjection to demonic powers petrified me.

As my older sister drove us home, my father reclined in the passenger seat, leaning back to be closer to me as he talked. “You know we still have children at home,” he said. “You need to change your behavior, or we won’t be able to keep you at home.”

The pain of his threat still resonates inside of me. This kind of speech was typical for my parents during my illness. They at once kept me from receiving adequate medical care and terrified me with the threat of turning me over to the unknown mental healthcare system. I was thus doubly shut off from the help I needed, both by my learned fear of everything that could have done me good and by my parents’ choice not to get that help for me.

My own overspiritualization of my mental illness is perfectly understandable given these and the other circumstances I have described. How was I to know that I simply had a chemical inbalance in my brain which could easily be righted with proper medications when all around me, family and friends pointed to my “spiritual battle?”

I remember one of my professors, whom I respected very highly, sharing about his recovery from depression. He told us about the spiritual insight which had set him free and concluded, “And it wasn’t because I was sitting in a closet somewhere popping pills.” The effects of his casual statement on my life were devastating. I was only further entrenched in the notions that my condition was spiritual in nature and that I should not get on medication. I did not want to be the kind of person this professor scorned.

People spent hours praying for me rather than pleading with my parents to take me to a good mental healthcare facility. My father told me that my brain would become silly putty in the hands of a doctor if I were placed on medication. “That’s all they want, Sarah,” he told me. “They just want to control your brain so that you’ll do what they want.”

Odd, how people project.

What do you think of the experiences I shared in this post? Do any of you share similar experiences of having been encouraged to see issues that were not spiritual in nature as essentially spiritual problems? How do you think this tendency could be countered?

If you don’t share this experience, what’s your perspective on this topic? Join in the conversation.


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5 responses to “Overspiritualization”

  1. Natalie Trust says :

    Sarah, I feel so, so sad and sorry that you were treated this way. The assertion that your spiritual life is compromised because of mental illness is so devastating. You’re strength shines through in this reflection and in the asking of questions; don’t stop.

  2. thepathwaymaker says :

    Thank you Natalie, I really appreciate your understanding, care, and encouragement.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says :

    I have had occasional encounters with “Spiritual Warfare Experts”. All I can say is when I played Dungeons & Dragons, I KNEW I was playing D&D. Not Call of Cthulhu or a Frank Peretti novel for real. Some of these guys are so far gone if a light bulb burned out on them, instead of changing the bulb they’d dig out the King Jimmy and start Rebuking the Demon of Burned Out Light Bulbs. (Not making that one up; my regular writing partner related it to me.)

    Sarah, I suspect some of these Spiritual Warfare types have the same type of OCD you had, just they turned it into prestige and profit. You got mauled in a one-two-three punch by your own OCD, your parents, and their Spiritual Warriors, all looking for demons under every bed and expecting Satan to slip a woopee cushion under them every time they sat down. You were probably the least mentally-ill of all three; usually the one with the “identified problem” turns out to be the most mentally healthy of the bunch.

    P.S. The “Middle Eastern voices” your father heard when he dialed you last posting? A “crosstalk”; sometimes one phone conversation can “bleed through” into another one. Doesn’t happen often (and much rarer these days with digital phones), but it does happen. Just this crosstalk was distorted enough for your dad’s demon-phobia to kick in or was from a call that WAS in a Semitic language.

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