I recently talked to a woman who is right now in the middle of what I call “the game”. It was difficult for me to listen to her because I saw a lot of myself in her and I didn’t like to see that side of me so clearly. It hurts. It is very painful. It’s hard for me to bite my tongue and let her talk through things.
She is in denial. And she is going through a maze of thoughts and feelings. She cannot see what is going on.
I had people question me how I had still had feelings….or rather thought I had feelings, for someone when they were abusive. For me, it was as if someone was trying to tell me that grass was never green and the sky was never blue. It just took a long long time to be able to process that information.
During the time that I was going through my abusive relationship with my boss, the Reverend Father, I thought I knew what was going on…at first.
I did my research…on-line. Being a priest gets lonely. They perform a wedding and see a loving couple and extended family and a joyful occasion…..and they leave and go home alone to a quiet and empty place they call home. It is not uncommon for a priest to have a girlfriend, I read, especially as they near retirement and face spending the rest of their lives on their porch with a single rocking chair. They may flirt harmlessly. A clever little line here or there all in good fun with the housekeeper or the woman who sings in church on Sunday.
It was this logic that gave me feelings of sympathy and understanding of my boss as a man and not just a priest.
So when his behavior became slightly risque and he joked about me needing to do more than buy him fancy post it notes to butter him up, I laughed. And most importantly, when he was joking around, he was not yelling at me…..so I felt both safe with his behavior and secure in my job. And that felt good.
With grooming, behavior that can create discomfort is increased or mixed with other behaviors that cause pleasure. Mixed in with the insistence of walking behind me up the stairs, or of watching me walk down the hallway, was also a bit of what seemed like adolescent nervousness which I thought was cute in a way. I brushed off my warning bells by telling myself he was just inexperienced and I had to be kind to him so as not to hurt him.
And the more I accepted the behavior as it increased and laughed or joked with him despite pushing aside the things he did that made me uncomfortable, the more complicit I became in our little secret. He had picked me. I was his special friend that he trusted. And giving my loyalty to protect him meant even more because he was a priest. Not only because he was a human being….I thought…showing feelings….and who could blame him for that, right? But because betraying him in any way was betraying God.
Oh, come on…..you know that I’m right. We all know that priests are not God…..but they work for Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good…..and He’ll know if you betray one of His own.
Well, that’s about as far as most people get. Acknowledging that priests are people too. Cool Father Joe plays basketball with the kids and has a beer with the dads afterward. Well, you know he must have, you know, those feelings….but we don’t discuss things like sex or swear in front of him. He’s not THAT human, after all. Oh, is it his birthday, make sure you get him the birthday card with the nun on it….I’m sure he will love that…..
So most people…..including most people who are groomed, acknowledge somewhat that priests are human beings with human feelings…..they just don’t want to be around if any of those feelings go off. Or be responsible for setting those feelings off.
Oh…unless God says it’s okay. That’s a big loophole, you see. Sometimes God sends the priest messages that they should spend extra time with people or, you know….things done under the religious tent make it okay to, you know, hug or be alone with a person so they can save their soul and such.
And if the priest himself does not say that, the victim begins to rationalize that it must be okay with God. The woman I spoke to said her priest got a message from God to help her. I myself questioned why God had given me this person in my path and was sex somehow what God wanted? Was I supposed to be learning something about love with this man or helping him not feel alone or allowing myself to be more vulnerable?
But you see, before these questions arose, just when things were going well and life was good and I got a raise and more hours and could earn leave and was really enjoying my job and getting along with my boss…..the lights started to go dim.
Just like with this other woman who is being bombarded with questions about sin and who is to blame in her situation, my situation went from heavy flirtation and teasing about a party on his day off to screaming at me, and I was asked if I was unable to comprehend a simple office game, and he could never understand where I was getting my ideas or how could I even mouth the words that made him feel so uncomfortable? And I began to doubt everything. I mean everything. I would stop all contact except what was needed from him in order to do my job and find that when I tried to ignore him, he would be in my face, seeking attention and validation. If he did not get what he needed, he would begin to threaten me in subtle underhanded ways. He would begin to act unusual so that co-workers would notice and they would come to me and ask why he seemed to be changing when it came to his faith. I would get emails and bible references about sinful women in the bible tempting men to do bad things from his other priest friends.
If I said I felt threatened, he would tell me I was not allowed to ever talk about his behavior and that I must be obedient. So I’m thinking he’s quirky and what the heck we only work together. Total denial. If someone had told me he was dangerous, or to run as far and as fast as I could…..I wouldn’t have believed that a priest could be dangerous….the word was quirky folks…..I could handle this…..
I have to say here…..please people, priest or not…..if you feel you need to fix things for someone or you find yourself making excuses for their behavior….for whatever reason….or the big one…..you feel you need to talk things out so you can understand because not knowing is driving you crazy…..or if you say things are bad but it cannot be the other person…..I don’t care if you share an appendage at that point in time……this is not a good situation and the answer is not going to be something you want to hear…..that is, if you ever get an answer. Walk away. Don’t try to help or fix or rationalize.
When you’ve gone passed the grooming and the denial and you have reached the stage where they are flat out denying what they said and all you know that seems right and makes sense is doing whatever it takes to keep the person happy….which could change daily…..so that there is a semblence of peace in your existence…….know that you are now trying to read the rules by gaslight…..and that is impossible.
You are now getting into very dangerous territory…….and the most dangerous part about this territory is that you feel responsible for being there because your head is now in a smoke filled haze of words that surround you but can dissipate as soon as the next breeze comes through.
You are not weak. You are not stupid. You are probably a very decent person. But you have been brainwashed by a very effective technique called gaslighting.