Here I write a review of Dr. Margaret W. Jones’s book about her experience of abuse within church communities.
My first impressions when I received this memoir to review were that it was a heavy long 400-page book with small writing so I thought it better be good! I was surprised that a Reverend had written the foreword, so realised Margaret must have found someone in the church who was not a bully. I thought the foreword was well written and it enticed me to want to read the book. I thought I could learn something – and I did.
In Chapter One titled Vulnerability I read that Margaret had been neglected, physically abused in the house by her father, sexually abused by a neighbour and an uncle, she experienced school bullying, and psychological abuse and ignorance by teachers. The author paints a visual picture of the environment and an emotional picture of the neglect and lack of ability by any adults to nurture and nourish. Her vivid story telling is a major strength of the book. It begins with a story of a child alone, naïve, uninformed with zero wise guidance from any adult. Reading this chapter made me feel very angry and hungry to read what happened next.
The title Not of My Making gave me a clue that Margaret was probably going to describe her experience of being embroiled in abuse of a one-sided nature amongst church members – and she did.
The theme of the book grapples with a belief in a just and safe world within churches and coming to terms with the fact that many church communities are not safe, nor are they just. This book is one person’s life across multiple settings where bystanders support abusers, where those who might ordinarily be considered benign authority figures turn out to condone bullies and never follow through on promises to bring justice for victims.
This book tells a story that could be experienced by any unsuspecting innocent person – male or female – in any community organisation, any workplace, any institution – any place where you think you should expect friendship, safety, kindness, honesty and trustworthiness.
I personally have a poor memory for recalling the storyline in books and movies, but Margaret’s story was so well written and stirred such emotions of outrage that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I was frustrated when she was continually up against a brick wall, and joyful when she started to realise that the abuse was not about her being flawed or not good enough, but . . . that the abuse was actually being perpetrated by so-called just people. Her process of discovering this reality was slow and frustrated me greatly because I wanted to see justice done NOW! But that is not reality for many many victims of psychological bullying.
I wondered who the right audience would be for this book. Victims of abuse would find it extremely validating. And this book is important for friends, family or professionals who want to understand what a victim thinks and feels and how they behave in response to abuse – such as endlessly asking the abuser to take responsibility for their actions; self-harm; constant help-seeking from people who want to help, who pretend they want to help but don’t, and who refuse to help. The problem is the victim trusts that ALL people will and do take responsibility for their actions. It took Margaret years to realise this is a myth.
The author’s purpose in writing the book is to have her voice heard in a step towards making religious communities safe places. I think the purpose is only partially met. The main weakness in this book is the lack of analysis throughout the story to explain to the reader why the victim responded to the abuser in the ways that she did and why the abusers (there were many within the church communities) refused to take responsibility for their actions.
Although the author did mention a small number of insightful turning points that helped her, I really wanted more tips for how to recognise, deal with, or stop such abuse. The saving grace here is that the author has provided a bibliography of books that people can read. This list also names books about other themes addressed in the book including: hidden culture of aggression amongst girls; lack of bystander intervention for victims; adoptive families when the experts make things wrong; subtle power of spiritual abuse; how to identify and deal with antagonists in the church; and a book about Sudanese young refugees. Overall I enjoyed every morsel I read and highly recommend the book.
About the author – Margaret W. Jones PhD. Margaret was awarded her doctorate in 1986 from Hofsta University, USA. Her professional background includes extensive work with both severely mentally ill and developmentally disabled clients. Dr. Jones draws from her own recovery from trauma to assist other survivors to thrive. Click this title Not My Making to check out the book at Amazon.