People with M.E need to learn assertiveness to handle being bullied and to prevent it having a negative effect on their immunity and chances of recovery. Research shows that the brain in ME/CFS is much more sensitive to light, noise and over--stimulation, so being subjected to psychological or physical abuse in ME (which, sadly, some have experienced) severely depletes immunity and reverses recovery. On top of this, a patient's sense of direction, purpose and self-worth is badly impaired. Patients need to regain a sense of their value, their dignity and not to feel, as one ME friend described it: "like household rubbish to be put out with the black binliners". People with ME need affirmation, appreciation, full acceptance and love. Sadly. what most get, except from truly exceptional people, fellow sufferers, some spouses and carers is rejection, negation and sometimes even aggression. They need to regain their sense of their equal dignity and worth. As the UN Declaration of Human Rights puts it "they are equal because they are human beings". As the Church puts it, they are all "made in the image of God".

Assertiveness is expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a direct, honest and appropriate way. It means that we have respect both for ourself and for others. We are consciously working toward a "win-win" solution to problems. A win-win solution means that we are trying to make sure that both parties end up with their needs met to the highest degree possible. An assertive person effectively influences, listens, and negotiates so that others choose to cooperate willingly. They value themselves and others.

Assertiveness is very different from aggression. Aggression involves expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that is inappropriate and violates the rights and/or dignity of others. It can be either active or passive, but no matter which, it communicates an impression of disrespect. By being aggressive, we put our wants, needs, and rights above those of others. We attempt to get our way by not allowing others a viewpoint or choice. Where assertiveness tried to find a win-win solution, aggressiveness strives for a win-lose solution: I'll be the winner; you'll be the loser.

Assertiveness is also different from non-assertiveness. Non-assertive behavior is passive and indirect. It permits others to violate our rights and shows a lack of respect for our own needs. It communicates a message of inferiority. It creates a lose-win situation because the nonassertive person has decided that his or her own needs are secondary and opts to be a victim.

The following questions will help you to assess your assertiveness;
  1. When you differ with someone you respect, are you able to speak up and share your own viewpoint?
  2. Are you able to refuse unreasonable requests made by friends or co-workers?
  3. Do you readily accept positive criticism and suggestion?
  4. Do you ask for assistance when you need it?
  5. Do you usually have confidence in your own judgement?
  6. If someone else has a better solution, do you accept it easily?
  7. Do you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a direct and honest way?
  8. Do you try to work for a solution that, to the degree possible, benefits all parties?

A "yes" response indicates an assertive approach.

Here are some communication techniques that can help you convey a positive assertive attitude:
  • Use suitable facial expressions, always maintaining good eye contact.
  • Keep your voice firm but pleasant.
  • Pay careful attention to your posture and gestures.
  • Listen...and let people know you have heard what they said: give them the right to an opinion while maintaining your equal right to another opinion.
  • Ask questions for clarification.
  • Look for a win-win approach to problem solving.

Forgiveness and the Restoration of Relationships

Clearly when you are very vulnerable with ME, it is unwise to use the "short, sharp, shock" technique that assertiveness courses recommend to stun a bully and make him/her stop baiting you early on. This may not be a very Christian approach, either, which includes love and prayer for our "enemies". The truth is that others are often moved to wrongdoing by unseen forces that they do not comprehend themselves. The best option is to look unmoved by abusive comments about ME, calmly state your right to see things differently, then try to avoid real abusers and situations in which you can be bullied or "mobbed" (bullied by a group) as far as possible, without cutting off completely from the perpetrator(s). If you overreact, bullies achieve their objective which is to gain the upper hand.

If you are unfortunate enough to have a bully in your home, office, wider family or social circle spend strictly limited time with them (decide in advance how long you stay with them e.g. 20 minutes). Above all, avoid violent arguments or confrontations, for the sake of your health. Avoid any legal cases in ME (you are likely to lose ME cases and, if you lose, you pay the legal costs of the other side, which could amount to £100,000). If a bully wants to abuse ME in your presence, you can choose how to react. You can choose to regard this as a sign of a) immaturity or b) lack of knowledge or c) the deficiencies/gaps in science. You can also choose to say something assertive like:

"I appreciate that your comment represents your own personal point of view of ME (always acknowledge that the other person has the right to a view ! ) but others who have studied ME think differently, including leading immunologists, physicians and some of the world's top medical researchers. I prefer to leave it to the professionals to take an informed medical view of my case".

Tips: with bullies avoid the "weak" phrases like; "I think I would like", "I am feeling that", "I would like it if" "I hope you won't mind me saying...". Bullies misinterpret these phrases as weakness when, in fact, they are courtesy, and they attract a direct attack. Stop bullies in their tracks with straight statements, whenever possible, which they cannot respond to with aggression: e.g. starting with statements of fact : "I think A", "I feel B", "I want C" and the most useful phrase "I appreciate that ...." e,g, "I appreciate that you feel A. I feel B". No bully can turn any phrase starting with "I appreciate" into an attack as it cleverely diffuses aggression and cools anger. Also remember that bulllies often mix a tiny grain of truth with a large proportion of lies. In the face of injustice (even if it has a grain of truth in it), just think calmly "That is a lie". You can later consider the tiny grain of truth, in slower time.

If you are really quick-witted, which is unlikely in ME, you can try "The Jesus Technique". You can deflect direct bullying and "mobbing" (the bullying of a group) by refusing to respond to an attack at all! Ignore the attack and its "content" (which is likely to be a half-lie or complete untruth) and instead direct a "big" question back, most effective when it engenders a reply which forces a bully to think about their own behaviours/responsibilities. All this must be done without anger or any sign of hurt, or the bully will gain the upper hand by destroying your self-control. If it all ends in pain and tears, recall that Jesus strongly, deliberately and justly called some the Pharisees "whitewashed tombs". If you end up saying things you regret, in self-defence in ME, don't despair. Just ask for God's forgiveness (we are not perfect, like Jesus, in our judgments). God understands your intense suffering in being bulllied when powerless and feeling so ill. He commands that you leave His justice to deal with the sins of others. Stay cool, calm and collected - next time. Your health comes first.

We all have difficulties forgiving people who are doing us ongoing, wilful harm. But the Bible says that we must try to be willing to forgive people and to forgive them completely, if they apologise to us, make some sign of amends and and personally repent. It teaches that we should to pray for our persecutors with the hope for full reconcilation. In our experience, people are unlikely to apologise directly to you about hurtful things they have said about us or about ME (which feel patronising and treacherous) though they may confess (to others) that they feel guilty about what they have thought or said about ME. What ME recoverers know is that the most hurtful memories fade, over the years. The chances are that people who have been very insensitive or even downright antagonistic to ME patients, develop a disability themselves (large numbers of people do). We can pray for them and know that suffering is often used as a "tool" to soften hardened hearts (though it sometimes further hardens some). Possibly, the outcome of our prayer will be their repentance for harsh behaviours and eventual restoration of full, trusting relationships. Our ongoing good will, openness and willingness for reconciliation and full restoration leaves that "door" open.

"Spiritual" and Cult bullying/abuse of the disabled

People genuinely seeking God can be seriously bullied in what seem to be churches, but are probably "defective churches" or even "cults". The test of real Christian teaching (as opposed to "false teaching") is:

  • Is this teaching leaving out parts of the Bible e.g. failing to teach pure biblical doctrine about the inclusion of the vulnerable, sick and the suffering and denying aspects of the weakness and humility of Jesus?
  • Is it over-emphasising strength or male "headship", the submission of women or the laity, "healing" or "miracles" ?
  • Is it asking one to sign over one's property - does it permit manipulative techniques?
  • Do its leaders live holy, transparent, moral lives, demonstrating compassion?
  • Is it denying the authority of the Bible in doctrine, changing Christ's teaching, minimising the seriousness of "sin" or making out that perfect health is the mark of a true believer.
  • Is it subtly commending liberal, secular, non-biblical ideas, suggesting that "nobody believes the Bible is true"? (see * below)
  • Has this teaching "bowed once to the God of Creation" and secondly bowed to the God of Salvation? Many churches have only bowed once and yet claim that they are fully Christian. Pure Christianity is about personally turning to Christ, for personal salvation - which is our spiritual but not necessarily our physical healing (now).
  • Is it burdening people with endless conspicuous rituals, making out that rituals or doing "good" deeds/social work are central to true Christianity and that what Jesus teaches (e.g. about sin) is out of date, peripheral and unimportant?
  • is it making out that Jesus is a "symbol" rather than a person and that the Bible is a "myth"?

What is a cult? Dr. Walter Martin described a cult as "A group of people gathered around a specific person's misinterpretation of the Bible". Subtle variations of the Bible message "warp" the New Testament message into something else: false teaching. Those who do so are "false teachers" (even those claiming that they believe in God and Jesus). They are severely condemned in Scripture. Jesus was crucified by those religious leaders promulgating the "teachings of men" - essentially a defective form of religion, hi-jacked by corrupt powerseekers. Clearly, one can tell what is not from God by its "evil fruit". But this fruit is not always apparent, at first. Some justify wrong methods and teaching by claiming that it "attracts more people". Even true believers may make compromises or they may not be able to stand against a clique of false teachers who have taken over their church. One must think for oneself, led by Scripture alone. The use of the words "In the name of Jesus Christ" or of some Christian rituals or basics to deceive, may disguise the operation of a Christian cult or private, nomimal organisation, subtly subverting the true teaching of Christ for human gain (financial gain, property, lifestyle and power).

Cults: These can raise up lay leaders, immature people or local bullies who are answerable to nobody (e.g. the law or any church discipline). They see a church as a path to respectability (even financial gain) and towards fulfilling an internal craving for power. They may be actively blocking true Christian teaching, which would uncover their true motives. Jesus teaches that "tares" (weeds, false believers, hypocrites) and "wheat" (true believers) are mixed in churches. Nothing can be done to separate them, in this life. However, the vulnerable should seek "good fruit" (love, compassion, honesty, faith and a transparent life) and take particular care to avoid "bad fruit" (manipulation, marginalisation of doctrines, non-biblical teaching, exploitation) when they are very ill with ME/CFS. The sick need love and care, not manipulation and exploitation in a place where they expect support and kindness. Avoid cults in ME/CFS.

Some Pentecostal (charismatic) churches have an unorthodox theology of sickness. There is a "health and wealth" teaching in some. This is the idea that becoming a Christian automatically makes you both well and rich. It does not, necessarily. Some of the greatest Christians have been chronically ill (like St Paul) and their illness was part of their greatness. Earthly riches wrongly viewed are a snare in the New Testament. Chronic illness threatens faulty doctrines of "miracles" or claims of healings. Consequently, these groups (or even self-deceived leaders in such churches) put pressure on people with ME to be "healed" or "exorcised" or they condemn sufferers for lacking sufficient faith. The worst cases concern people with ME being pressured or "persuaded" that they are "healed", then overdoing things and relapsing into a far worse state than ever. We have known such cases in ME. This could be termed spiritual abuse/bullying. People with ME may feel outcasts in such churches and may need to protect themselves from the pressure of other's naive expections in order to recover. ME/CFS sufferers should consider whether they are more likely to get well in another church which correctly interprets Scripture.

By the way, "fundamentalism" is a pejorative word used by unbelievers (who do not believe or have not read the Gospels as accurate records of real historic events). It is a politically-correct word, intolerantly used by "liberalism" to undermine normal, practising Christians who stand within the historic, orthodox Christian faith and it does not discriminate between true believers and hijackers or manipulators of religion for political ends. Its sole object is to minimise the authority of the Bible. However, academics agree that the Gospels are "the best attested facts in antiquity". The deceptions of "The Da Vinci Code" cannot debunk the New Testament, which has never been disproved and which, in history, has many evidences: e.g. the conversion of the Roman Empire by previously terrified disciples, whose courage came from believing that Jesus Christ died and rose again, plus a new ethic of love which changed men and women.

  • If you have been subject to spiritual abuse in ME, or have questions about false teaching in ME, please write to me.