What is Spiritual Abuse?
Abuse, in general, means a wrong use of someone or something. There are many forms of abuse like physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and spiritual abuse. The proper definition of spiritual abuse is when a high cadre spiritual authority misuses his position to take control of his group. Jeff VanVonderen's definition of spiritual abuse is given in his book 'The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse' as:
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority–the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people more free–misuses that authority by placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.
Spiritual abuse can be difficult and damaging to deal with just like every other abuse. Spiritual abuse may be even more harmful as it might ruin a person's faith in God. People might start questioning their relationship with God, and it might ruin their belief. So, it is vital that one must identify and know if they are in a spiritual abuse before jumping to conclusions. Spiritual abuse is even identified in marriages. There are two forms of spiritual abuse. The first being done by the church authorities who manipulate their group to keep them under control. The second form of abuse is when a religious person is belittled for his beliefs or faith in his religion. Focusing more on the first type of Spiritual abuse as it might create more damage and the recovery process might not be easier. Here are ten warning signs that you must watch out for to know if you are spiritually abused.
1. It Is No Longer A Safe Space
When dealing with problems a church is always considered to be a safe space. You must be able to communicate your problems or raise your opinions without being judged or feeling hurt. But if you feel that you can never voice your opinion then this is one of the warning signs that you are spiritually abused. Even when you feel that you need to voice out your opinion, but there might always be a fear of being seen as a negative person, this kind of fear must never be felt when in a church. If your relationship with your church pastor or leader is in this way, then it is not a healthy relationship. Also, if the church pastor or the leader has the need to be right at all times and never has the maturity to accept the views of his group members, then you are in a spiritually abusive relationship. The leader of the church must make sure that all the problems of the group or the individual must be addressed, if not he must make genuine efforts to educate the group or individual to solve the problems rather than to demean the group or an individual.
Finding rest in the midst of holiday chaos can be tough. If you MAKE time to rest, you will have more of what you need to serve those around you. Don’t let the pressures of the season (and the opinions of those around you) cause you to overwhelm yourself into crash mode. God will guide you if you only stop to listen to His still, small voice. #Holidays #Rest #Serve #Host #SelfCare 📷: @stacycarosaphotography
2. If Leaders Claim Divinity Then it is Spiritual Abuse
If your church pastor or leader claims to be godlike, it is spiritual abuse. They might call themselves to have powers like God, and they practice acts that are godly. The pastor or the leader might declare that he speaks for God or that God works through his words and actions. A true leader will never claim divinity and will remain humble before God's eyes. If your pastor calls himself to be holy, then it is spiritual abuse. This is one of the major signs of spiritual abuse and if you notice this it is better to take some action before it gets too late for the recovery. The church pastor or the leader calls himself divinely so he could get complete control of the group. He tries to spiritually abuse you by making you please him so that you could please God through him. If this is one of the signs, then you are stuck in spiritual abuse. True leaders never put themselves in place of God just to get things done. This kind of behavior from your pastor or church leader is the true definition of spiritual abuse.
3. High Commitment And Endless Demands
You might be in a spiritually abusive group if you find that your commitment towards your church duties is boundless and that they are never appreciated. It is good to have a high level of commitment towards church activities, but they cannot always be demanding without a proper cutoff. You might also find that your church pastor or the abusive leader can never be satisfied, as their demands and needs might always be beyond reach. You will never be able to attain their needs or demands as their bar will always be raised. You should feel revived after a church session and not drained out. If you feel that your life gets exhausted and that the demands of your church are endless, then it is one of the signs of spiritual abuse. You might find that you no personal time or space with all the never-ending demands from your church. True leaders will always respect your time and accept the fact that you need to rest. If this is not so with your church pastor, then you need to rethink your options before it is too late for recovery.
Today was a day of grief mixed with joy. I had the privilege of being present to see God’s glory shine in the life celebration of Benjamin [son of my right hand] “Toby” Tobiah [Jehovah is good] 11/20/17-11/27/17. His parents grieve with such grace and hope knowing that Toby fulfilled the purpose God called him to on this earth. They are such an example, and I can only pray that I grieve as gracefully as they do. The passage God gave them surrounding Toby’s life is Psalm 20. God is in your grief. He sees and He knows and He has a purpose. If you don’t know how to be there for someone who is hurting, listen to what is said in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Sometimes words are simply not needed. Just be present. #Grief #Loss #Hope
4. Need For Forced Sacrificial Giving is Spiritual Abuse
With an abusive pastor or leader, he might force you to make sacrifices for the betterment of your life which is a true definition of being spiritually abusive. The sacrifice might be regarding talent, dreams, deep desires or treasures. You might feel that you are forced to give away your wishes as per the command of your pastor. This is not a right thing to do when trying to have a healthy relationship with God. Making you forcibly give away your desires or dreams just because you are guilty of something doesn't make it worth it or makes it reasonable. The new testament only calls for generous and cheerful giving from the heart. One can never force you to sacrifice anything that was not meant to be given in first place. Making sacrifices is purely between your inner self and the Almighty, there is no need to have a third party involved to direct you. No other person can demand you to make a sacrifice. Many pastors force you to do sacrificial giving on a regular basis. This is unhealthy and that it might cause mental pressure and stress. If you are in this kind of relationship with your church pastor or leader, then you need to consider your recovery options at the earliest.
5. Trying to Exchange Blessing for Your Money is Spiritual Abuse
Abusive pastor or a spiritual leader will make you believe that the more money you give to the church the more blessed you are. This kind of belief is considered to be unhealthy, and that is not true in the eyes of God. You can never earn the blessings of the Almighty by making a business deal with Him. So, never again trust the words of your abusive pastor if he mentions the more the money, the more, the merrier it gets. This is one of the true definitions of being in spiritual abuse, once identified make sure you make the necessary recovery actions. You might also be under the impression that more of financial commitments that you have with the church ministers might make you closer to God. It is not supposed to be a transactional relationship that you are supposed to have with God, but it must be something beyond that. You must be simply thankful and with 100% faith when it comes to making commitments with the Almighty. Never let a wrong, unhealthy pastor or leader guide you in the wrong way. Make sure that you truly know what you are doing. It is good to help your church pastors and ministers but make sure your faith is never being misused for their selfish reasons.
6. Spiritual Abuse in Whitewashed Marriage
Spiritual abuse doesn't seem to stop with our church life but it gets into your marriage as well. Many marriages these days complain about having spiritual abuse in their relationship. There is a huge expectation set on the couple to save their marriage against all odds and that when done they will be saved by God. Any such ideas that are against these odds are not welcoming. It is to be noted that the words and deeds are misinterpreted and misread by the leaders and might have a different view on relationships just to have power and control. In many marriages where there is spiritual abuse, it is mostly because of the spiritual enslavement that happens in the name of spiritual enlightenment. In marriages, due to spiritual enslavement, the person's true identity is set to be lost. There is the use of spiritual knowledge for unspiritual ways like manipulation, greed or injustice. This is not how relationships are supposed to work but if this is the way it does, then you are truly experiencing spiritual abuse.
7. Shaming You is Spiritual Abuse
In a spiritually abusive environment, the confidential information that you have shared with the church pastors or the leaders might not be secret anymore. There might be a constant fear of being exposed when the rules are not met or when something has gone wrong on your side. It is not a healthy relationship. You must be able to share confidential information with your pastor and ask his advice to guide you on the right path. If you are publicly shamed by your ministers or church pastor, then it is the true definition of spiritual abuse. In an abusive environment, you might feel that you are humiliated in public and that your church pastor or leader can demean you and shame you at any point in time. This will lead to mental stress and might lower your self-esteem which is not a healthy relationship that you share with a pastor. A true pastor must treat his follower in a way that he could trust his pastor with his deep darkest secrets without the fear of being bad-mouthed on the behind. If you don't share this kind of relationship with your pastor or leader, then it is better you take some recovery action before it is too late.
8. Using Your Imperfections Against You
When in a spiritually abusive environment, the church pastor or the leaders might try to use your sins to control you. They might manipulate you into believing that you have wronged yourself by committing sins by not going by the rules of the church. This tricks you into believing that you were an unworthy person who has been taken into the proper hands. You might learn to appreciate your pastor's teachings more. By doing this, you will end up believing that you were saved by your church pastors or spiritual leaders. This is a true form of spiritual abuse. You must never be judged from your sins or must be held under the church rule by your sins. Your pastor or spiritual leader should help you to realize your mistake and guide you on the right path. Only this will help you grow as a person. But if your pastor tries to bind you to his teachings based on your sin by making you feel worthless then you are definitely in the wrong hands. It is better that you consider your recovery actions before you get into depression.
Forgiveness is something that we went over this week in my Bible study. It’s something I struggle with. It’s something I sometimes push away. It’s something that is necessary. I’m going to be diving into forgiveness this week on the blog. What it is, what it’s not, and are we really expected to forgive the unforgivable? Find out my take on forgiveness tomorrow. 📷: @stacycarosaphotography #Forgiveness #Unforgiveable
9. Belittling Other Leaders
Some church pastors who are spiritually abusive might criticize other Christian leaders. They might claim that they have more wisdom and have more knowledge and truth about the Almighty. They might never appreciate the efforts of other leaders. Their actions might not be straightforward, but you will be able to understand it. They might never really understand the true concept of the Almighty's work all over the place but will only be focused on who is the best. If this is the kind of pastor or leader you encounter within your everyday life, then chances are you are in spiritual abuse environment. On the other hand, true pastors or spiritual leaders might be able to appreciate that there are some other Christian leaders to preach the Lord's work all over the world. They might even praise the other leaders for their significant work and might rejoice that they are bestowed with so much knowledge and wisdom. This kind of true pastors tends to enlighten your spirit and might help to double your faith in spirituality. If this is not the relationship that you have with your pastor or spiritual leader, then it is high time that you reconsider your options.
10. Punishing in the Name Of Discipline
If you find that your pastor tends to punish his followers in the name of church discipline, then it is spiritual abuse. These kinds of abusive pastors use church discipline passages as an excuse to punish their followers. Even if it is a small sin committed by you and it is magnified and if punishment is the only solution for all sins then it is abusive. A true pastor is supposed to make you realize your mistakes and take corrective actions to fix your sins. There is no need to punish unless it is a very big sin that is not acceptable. Small sins that are committed must be overlooked and forgiven as everybody needs time to mature and to learn from our mistakes. When all sins are punished in the name of disciplining the followers, then it creates stress and forgiveness lose its value. So, it is in the hands of the pastor to either punish or forgive the sins. This doesn't mean that all sins have to be forgiven, few major sins can be punished to reinforce discipline. If you have an awkward relationship with your pastor who punishes for all your minor sins, then you are in a spiritual abuse where your pastor is trying to take overall control of you in the name of punishment using discipline as an excuse.
Moving into Thanksgiving week can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety, depression, sadness, and pain. If you find yourself feeling this way before, during, and after spending time with certain family members, something is not right. Most of the time, there is some form of abuse or toxicity in the relationship(s). Arm yourself with boundaries instead of defensiveness. Go in prayed up, but don’t lay down like a doormat. It may not be the time for conflict, but it also could be the perfect time to discuss whether you will have any future interactions with them. Don’t lose your cool. Let God guide you, and trust Him that He will work it out in a way that will better you. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 📷: @stacycarosaphotography #ToxicFamily #Relationships #Thanksgiving #Pray #SeekTruth
Overcoming Spiritual Abuse
Now that you know that you were in spiritual abuse you might want to get over it. Getting to know that you are in a spiritual abuse can be difficult as the signs can be subtle but it can make a great impact on you if let unnoticed. You might end up losing faith in the Almighty. So, never let these signs to go unnoticed. These are only a few signs of spiritual abuse, but there are much more to be penned down. To get over a spiritual abuse is by either of the two means: fight or flight. As a victim of spiritual abuse, you can fight against the spiritual abuser and get complete freedom for the other fellow followers as well. This might be a difficult task, to begin with. You can take flight and leave your current church and engage yourself in another church. Initially, it might be difficult for you to develop trust in another church pastor but as time goes by you will heal. Take the time to heal, and let your faith guide you through the healing process. All the Best!