An abusive person perpetuates a cycle of abuse by exerting control over their victim using fear, intimidation, violence, etc. Abuse negatively affects a person’s mental health and traumatizes them for life. There are many different forms of abuse, but one of the most rarely discussed forms of abuse is spiritual abuse. This article discusses types of spiritual abuse, what it looks like, and what you can do about it.
What Is Spiritual Abuse?
Spiritual abuse refers to the use of religion, beliefs, or faith to gain power and control over someone. It can happen in a religious setting or an intimate relationship.
It ranges from child abuse and elder abuse to sexual and domestic violence. People of all ages, genders, socioeconomic classes, and ethnic groups may fall victim to domestic violence. Spiritual abuse has been reported in many different religions, denominations, and ethnicities.
Signs Of Spiritual Abuse
- Subtle forms of control tend to be the initial symptom of spiritual abuse. They may try to dictate who you hang out with, and make derogatory remarks about your appearance or clothing. This type of behavior can manifest into manipulation, sexual coercion, and even sexual assault.
- A spiritual abuser with authority may demand a sexual favor and threaten to ostracize you upon refusal.
- A religious preacher may force you to donate money to their religious organization.
Types Of Spiritual Abuse
While domestic life and religious organizations are where most people fall victim to spiritual abuse, it can occur in any setting.
Spiritual Abuse in a Religious Setting
Religious abuse is one type of spiritual abuse that occurs within a religious setting. A religious leader may use scripture or beliefs to coerce or control the behavior of group members. Here are some signs a religious leader may be abusing you spiritually or in a religious manner:
- They use the Bible or your religious convictions to make fun of you.
- They force you to give something you didn’t want to give, like money or other resources.
- A religious leader in authority forced you to have sex that you didn’t want to have or be intimate.
- They made you feel forced or compelled to act in a certain way against your will.
- Members of the LGBTQ+ community and racial minorities may feel threatened, rejected, or manipulated at the hands of religious authorities.
Both cults and significant, famous religious organizations use these abusive methods. Pseudoreligious group leaders use spirituality to exert control over their followers. Spiritual abuse can render adults and children with long-lasting consequences on mental and emotional health.
Spiritual Abuse at Home
Religious settings are not the only places where you face spiritual abuse, it can also take the form of domestic abuse. Domestic violence manifests in various ways, including physical violence like hitting, kicking, and slapping. It also contains a lot of psychological and emotional components that are very harmful and distressing.
When you face spiritual abuse at home, it may look like this:
- A spiritually abusive partner may shame, mock, or jeer at your religious convictions or practices.
- They may prevent you from engaging in religious activity in the manner you prefer.
- An abusive parent may use your beliefs to control or intimidate you.
- Spiritually abusive parents may demand that their children be taught to practice or avoid certain religious practices.
- They may utilize religious doctrine or texts to support other forms of abuse (physical, sexual, financial, etc.)
What Does Spiritual Abuse Affect You?
Abuse of any kind causes trauma. When abuse occurs in a religious context, the trauma is not limited to the harm done. Trauma may cause people to become estranged from their faith, making it impossible to use spirituality as a coping mechanism.
The overall impact of abuse can be devastating. People who faced abuse as children, for example, are more likely to develop substance abuse problems, severe physical illnesses, and negative mental health outcomes.
Victims of domestic violence face similar consequences, including compromised mental and physical health and decreased productivity, which leads to financial insecurity.
How to Seek Help
Victims of abuse are often overcome with feelings of shame, may isolate themselves, and even question whether they deserved the abuse. Remember, abuse is never the victim’s fault. Abuse, whether at home or within a religious organization, is always the perpetrator’s fault.
Here’s what you can do to heal from spiritual abuse:
Victims of abuse frequently feel distressed as a symptom of their resulting trauma. Get in touch with a qualified mental health provider. Many clinically trained therapists will help you speed up your healing process.
Contact these Hotlines
For Child Abuse Victims
Call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a trained crisis counselor if you or someone you know is a victim of child abuse.
For Victims of Domestic Violence
Call For confidential support from trained advocates, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 if you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence.
For Victims of Sexual Assault
If you have experienced sexual assault, you can get confidential support from a member of the trained staff at a nearby RAINN affiliate by calling the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
For LGBTQIA+ Community
To receive one-on-one peer support for issues such as coming out, relationships, bullying, self-harm, and other issues, call the LGBT National Hotline at 1-888-843-4564.
The Ending Note
Spiritual Abuse, whether faced at home or in a religious organization, traumatizes children and adults for life. Many victims are not aware that they are being abused, which makes it extremely challenging to identify.
Spiritual abuse is no less harmful to endure than any other kind of abuse. Additionally, the abusive partner, parent, or religious authority might argue that any efforts to stop the abuse are an attack on their right to practice their religion. You may feel like you have no one to turn to for help, but remember help is available.
Therapists and psychiatrists are ready to help you heal from the deeply-rooted trauma that spiritual abuse has inflicted upon you.