Spiritual abuse is coercion and control of one individual by another in a spiritual context. A victim experiences spiritual abuse as a deeply emotional personal attack related to their spiritual and religious beliefs, in addition to their views of how God / their Higher Power loves, accepts, and views them. This abuse can be exceptionally devastating, degrading, and effective in destroying a victim’s belief in their self-worth. This abuse may include:
·manipulation and exploitation,
·censorship of decision making,
·requirements for secrecy and silence,
·pressure to conform,
·misuse of scripture or the pulpit to control behavior,
·requirement of obedience to the abuser,
·the suggestion that the abuser has a ‘divine’ position,
·isolation from others, especially those external to the abusive context.
It is important to understand that spiritual abuse is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that takes place within a faith context, which for many people permeates their entire lives. Sufferers may experience being controlled, coerced and pressurized within a church or places of worship. Spiritual abusers may be a family member who is a person of power and influence within the place of worship. Those well-respected positions often garner respect from congregations, the members of which know nothing of the abusive behaviors behind the scenes.
Abusers who use spiritual abuse tactics don’t have to be preachers or leaders of worship. This form of psychological abuse can take place in any context by an intimate partner – the use of biblical passages, scripture and an abuser’s interpretation of “the word of God” has been documented justification for many types of abuse and violence against intimate partners for hundreds of years. Tactics of spiritual abuse have the same goals as all the other forms of abuse – to have power and control over one’s intimate partner in the relationship.