This post is something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, but I didn’t want to sit down and type it out until I was really in the appropriate headspace to do it justice. Today is that day.
One common thread you see throughout religion, and it doesn’t matter if we’re looking at East, West, or left, right, and sideways, is that if bad things befall you it’s your own fault. It’s Karma from a previous life. God is punishing you for having sinned. It’s God’s will that this has happened and if you complain, you’re basically saying you know better than God and that’s really bad. In spiritual circles this has been rebranded not as a punishment but as a pre-agreed upon set of circumstances that you chose before you were born.
I’m not trying to call anyone out with this post or say anyone is “wrong” for believing in predeterminism. I’m just looking to offer the other point of view, which seems to be under-represented in spiritual circles. As someone who has been through a lot in life and has diagnosed PTSD, my feelings about predeterminism is going to be different from someone who grew up in a family that was merely dysfunctional in the way “normal families” often are.
Saying that I chose my family before I was born and before I can remember making that choice or what my rationale was feels oddly convenient. In a way, it’s also saying that the choice to be abused was mine, and not something that the abuser chose to do. I can’t help but notice that this is something that fits in perfectly with abuser narratives, whether that was the original intention or not.
I believe that the reason why we see victim-blaming narratives like this is because spiritual teachers are burdened with the task of trying to explain why a loving God would allow so much suffering. If God cannot be the bad one, then it must mean that YOU were the bad one.
A lot of people simply don’t know how to make space for a suffering person, and this is why professional therapists are so valuable. The act of sitting with another person’s suffering is so painful that the instinct is to try to “fix it” by quickly explaining it away with a simple platitude like “There’s nothing anyone else can do. Your soul chose this life, so you must simply endure it.” This is known as Spiritual Bypassing.
Hearing other people’s stories often lead to the listener realizing uncomfortable truths about the things they themselves experienced as a child. Even as extreme as the abuse I experienced was, I found it very difficult to accept that what I experienced could even be labeled as “abuse”, let alone “extreme abuse”. It’s very painful to have these realizations and people who have not woken up to their own abuse may not be able to handle reminders of their pain being delivered via someone else telling their story.
Just to be clear, when I talk about “waking up to my abuse” I’m not talking about repressed memories. For me, those memories were always there. It’s hard to explain, but even though I remember these events perfectly and always have, they were mentally filed away under “normal childhood experiences”. I automatically excused my family’s behavior and blamed myself instead. Later on I realized this was not okay and was in fact abusive. That’s when I “woke up to the abuse” and started my healing journey.
The more I healed, the more I was in a place to tackle these memories and label and process them appropriately. You would think I would have woken-up to the more extremely abusive memories first, but it was actually the opposite. I dealt with the more mildly abusive stuff first and it was only after that was healed that I was able to tackle and recognize successively deeper layers. I still had those other memories all along. My mind would simply not allow me to face them yet.
During my High School years I really dove deep into spirituality. I spent a lot of time studying Buddhism and reading books by Thich Nhat Hahn. I really led my life through my teens, 20s, and half of my 30s according to those common spiritual ideals of forgiveness, compassion, and “letting go”. I think that the problem here is that you’re not really letting go, you’re just repressing.
You really can’t give yourself empathy without feeling justified anger for the wrongs committed to you. Compassion for my abusers and an encouragement to “see my part in the issue”, caused me to take responsibility for their wrongs. After all, they’re “sick” and “can’t help it”, therefore I should have been extra good and extra compliant to have avoided triggering them.
This type of thinking in my young adult years led to me taking responsibility for and excusing away the behavior of toxic friends, relationships, and workplaces.
If you are raised to be the target of abuse, other abusive people are going to pick up on that and want to hire you or be your friend or whatever. Meanwhile there’s going to naturally be a feeling of unease around healthy people, making it harder for you to connect with that lifepath. A lifepath that you simply wont be able to connect with until you do the work to truly get healthy yourself. It’s not something that you can simply snap your fingers and choose to do without inconveniencing anybody.
Living a life like this, pretty soon it’s going to feel like you are simply fated to live a lifetime of abuse. Instead of challenging and correcting this distorted thinking, you will find a long line of spiritual people willing to confirm that yes indeed this is a path your soul chose.
I learned recently about a medical study done on Buddhist monks. Although they live lives with plenty of fresh air, exercise, meditation, and yoga, they have a higher than average tendency to suffer from chronic health issues. The same chronic health issues theorized to be caused by stress. How is this possible? The theory is that ignoring and denying feelings doesn’t really make them go away; they’ll just transform into such a way physically that you cannot ignore them anymore. That was certainly my experience. It took a hospital stay and the diagnosis of multiple autoimmune diseases for me to finally wake up and allow myself to feel what I was feeling.
So what about this theory that it’s all just karmic retribution for you having been the abuser in your previous life? A lot of people truly believe this one and will even elaborate that the current abuser was in fact the victim of your abuse in the previous lifetime and that now the roles have switched so that the two of you can become even-Stevens. I did make a video where I address this belief as well as other misconceptions about karma.
Because this is one I hear so often, I really want to break it down for you. So the theory goes that we’re all here to learn and to evolve spiritually, right? This is something I truly believe as well. Why then, would someone choose to be an abuser in their next life if they had already learned how painful it is to be abused? Wouldn’t it make more sense that in their next life, abusers choose to be those special people that help you along even though they really don’t have to? That way the debt is still cleared, but we’re also breaking the cycle of abuse.
In my life there has been the occasional stranger that has truly helped me out. It’s been inexplicable why they chose me, but I’m so grateful they did. Perhaps this was someone who owed me a karmic debt from a previous lifetime? To me that makes far more sense than choosing to go on a string of violence seeking payback.
And that’s really the Elephant-in-the-room, now isn’t it? The fact that people choose to be abusive. This was the hardest thing for me to accept on my healing journey. Abusers abuse because they choose to. They choose who they target their abuse towards. They choose when they will unleash their abuse and if they will do it in public or in private. There is no “losing control”. They choose the severity of their abuse.
Even if you chose your parents before you were born, the choice to be abusive was all there’s. Growing up, there were multiple moments in time where my parents could have steered things in a different direction. But they chose not to. That was their choice, not mine.
But maybe I pushed them too far? But maybe they didn’t mean to? But maybe they just needed more love and compassion from me and the abuse would have stoped?
It hurts less to blame yourself than to blame your family. You can’t wake up to this one until you give-up seeking their love and approval. Once you stop, you realize that actually they’re the ones that have always been seeking you. After all, if you’re so horrible and worthy of abuse, why wont they just leave you alone? They are the ones seeking you out.
It hurts less to think that maybe you can heal or fix the relationship if you become enlightened enough or try hard enough. There’s a ton of judgment out there if you have a fractured relationship with your mom or dad. There is a lot of pressure to “fix” the relationship. I tried this for years and years. If I only had the right set of boundaries. If I only could be accommodating enough to their needs. Eventually you have to face facts that the other person doesn’t want to change. This isn’t something that YOU can fix. You’re not the one that broke it.
It hurts less to think that maybe they don’t intend to be abusive or maybe they don’t realize how abusive they are being. If they don’t realize they are being abusive, how do they know what to lie about? How do they know what to “forget”? Eventually I caught my abusers in so many deliberate lies that I had to face facts that this is absolutely something that they were doing on purpose.
No you did not choose this life. Someone else chose it for you. Other people imposed their will over yours and they were successful because you were a child at the time or were unable to fight back. It’s hard to accept, but there was no special soul contract. It was simply abuse for the sake of abuse. And the sooner you get out of there, the sooner you can start healing. You don’t owe your abuser anything.
I moved across the country to get away from my abusive family, and after doing so, I just don’t see how healing can take place in the same environment as abuse. Years ago I would occasionally meet people that had moved far away to either get away from their family or an ex-relationship. At the time I felt like that was pretty extreme and thought that having good enough boundaries could have also solved the problem. Obviously now I get it!
There was no amount of action from me that was going to fix my family situation. There was no amount of forgiveness or compassion or empathy that was going to heal them. Years of “sucking it up” just lead to a serious decline in physical health. There was no “spiritually approved” feel-good option available to me. I simply had to remove myself from that situation.
And just to be clear I do feel bad and I do feel a lot of empathy for people that are so damaged that they would commit abuse because its what makes them feel good. I still read books by Thich Nhat Hahn and see value in those teachings. But I’m also doing what I need to do to stay healthy.
So what does this all mean spiritually? Well, I have my own thoughts and I have shared them in a video I did on the connection between trauma and spirituality.
Ultimately, I believe that what separates religion from spirituality is that spirituality is an individual journey. It’s about forming your own truth from your own experiences with the divine. But if you’re curious to hear what my thoughts on the matter are, I’m happy to share them and you can see what personally resonates for you and what doesn’t.
What I’ve learned from interacting with my spirit guides and other divinities is that we have free-will. We are here to make choices. Those choices effect other people. Other people effect us. Spiritual forces do play a role, but it’s not as active a role as many people think or would like to believe. If people commit evil against us, it’s not because evil spirits forced them to or because God is punishing us for something. It’s because that person has free-will and is making that choice to be harmful.
We are able to make choices too. Regardless of whether those are good choices or bad choices we are always gaining some amount of wisdom along the way. The amount of wisdom we gain is directly proportional to how active we are willing to be in the learning process. I have found that the more learning that takes place, the easier and more enjoyable my life has become. Something does not have to be “pre-ordained”, “pre-contracted”, or “meant to happen” in order to be a learning experience. Choice is sacred.
I believe that another person can have just as genuine an experience of the divine as I have had and still reach a different “truth”.
Robert Ingersoll was an American free-thinker who made the argument that divine truth is not something that is stagnant. Someone can receive genuine divine wisdom from God but it will always be experienced and thus interpreted through the reference point of that person’s own life. Because of this, spirituality is something that should be allowed to evolve, because cultures and society and thus “reference points” will also grow and change over time. It doesn’t mean that the spiritual beliefs of the past were wrong, just that they were at a different stage of growth back then.
What I’ve experienced from the divine is going to be limited by my own lack of experiences on some levels and over-experiences on other levels. You can’t read spirit unless you’ve learned to read yourself. You can’t understand spirit unless you understand yourself. It’s my opinion that repression of appropriate emotions is non-conducive to that goal.
Back when I was so focused on developing empathy for those that did harm to me, it was really to the detriment of my own self-empathy. I’ve talked about this before, but love, empathy, and true forgiveness really begins and ends with being able to have those feelings for yourself.
If you want to be a lightworker and heal the world, you have to start with yourself. You also can’t heal yourself through healing others. That was something I used to believe and all that did was delay what I should have been addressing decades ago.
Abuse and mistreatment is never part of God’s plan. God is love, pure and simple.