• Gyanada Rasyara

Recognising and coping with "Spiritual Abuse".

Welcome to your blog post. we are so happy to announce that we have collaborated with Natalie Kember regarding the topic " spiritual abuse" she is a MI based online therapist who walks with survivors of spiritual abuse and helps in difficult seasons of life.

you can click on the link and check out Natalie's website :


Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. Domestic violence. Emotional abuse.

These are terms that a majority of people would easily recognize even if they don’t fully understand them. Spiritual abuse, sometimes also referred to as religious abuse, is not a term that is as commonly heard. Still, it is very much real and alive in many cultures today.

The reality is that spiritual abuse is present in a variety of environments. We can see it within family structures, a variety of faith communities and even in faith based school systems. While the abuse of people within faith structures is not new it is starting to come to light more and more as people start to share their stories.

All of this brings us to the question - What is spiritual abuse? How can I recognize when it is happening?

A simple way to begin to define spiritual abuse is that spiritual abuse occurs when the Bible, or any religious text is weaponized, it’s used as a tool to control or restrict people. When this happens the religious text becomes a way to control the way people behave, dress, and even believe. Oftentimes, in spiritually abusive communities of faith there is a threat that accompanies the expectation. For example, if a woman in an abusive church does not dress the way the group believes she should she could be judged, “talked to” by leadership in a condescending way, or even shunned from the group - depending on the severity of the situation.

It’s always important to remember that spiritual abuse exists on a spectrum. There are environments where the abuse seems “mild.” There can be tones or subtle hints of the abusive behavior within a faith community, family structure or a school. It can also be as severe as being a part of a cult. Frequently, those who are in a cult have fear of the outside world as well as the rejection of your family or friends if you leave. It’s important to note that even if a spiritually abusive system seems “mild” by someone’s standard that does not remove the harm it has caused. It can still leave a very real and lasting impact on the victim.

When you find yourself asking how you can recognize spiritual or religious abuse it might be helpful to review this list for some guidance. Remember - this is not a comprehensive list, but it gives some guidelines or examples to consider. Sometimes religious abuse looks different in different faith contexts.

Here are some characteristics to consider:

There is a misuse of Scripture or sacred texts - they’re often used to create dogmatic rules with no room for alternative thought

There is almost always leadership that uses fear - and the leadership will require followers to be obedient to the abusive system in order to stay in their “good graces.”

Requirements for secrecy and silence about things that occur within the system - discussion of your concerns would not be welcomed.

Fear based messaging which often results in skepticism toward those who are outside the system. Examples of this can include teaching members to avoid books, Bible studies, movies, materials from sources outside the group.

Pressure or requirement to conform in appearance and behaviors

The system has its own language or terms that those outside the system would not understand - which creates a culture of exclusivity

There is often authoritarian leadership and a leader who can be very preoccupied with an appearance of righteousness

The church, leadership or system does not welcome questioning or criticism of its practices – it suppresses alternative ideas

There is an overall lack of individual freedom

Harassment can be used to break down your resistance to rules/regulations/expectations - this is often used to get people “back in line.”

Always remember that abuse can be hard to recognize when you’re in the midst of it. If you find yourself questioning whether the environment you are in has abusive characteristics it can be helpful to seek out the counsel of a wise friend. Show them this blog entry and tell them your experiences. See if they think your situation sounds abusive. If you are unable to find a person you can trust then seeking the wisdom of a counselor who understands spiritual abuse can be helpful.

Here are a few tips for you to cope with spiritual abuse :

1) Process the experience : Allow yourself to understand the situation, develop insights and identifying ways it took shape. Understanding the behavior which caused spiritual abuse will help you be careful the next time it happens as well as you can save someone else from the same.

2) Be vocal : Once you understand the pattern, don't hesitate to speak about it to a trusted close friend or in some cases don't hesitate to reach out to a therapist/counsellor who understands spiritual abuse. Sharing the incident can be empowering and helpful.

3) Don't be afraid to say "NO" : Give yourself the permission to not be involved in church or places where you felt spiritually abused.

4) Find new meaning to spirituality : This simply means developing, understanding and learning YOUR own ways of spiritual practice, that is without obligation and with complete freedom, joy and creativity.

There is no right way to recover from spiritual abuse and it can be hard to find the strength to leave an abusive system. Counseling and sometimes support groups can be a great way to be validated and built up enough to find your voice. Finding your voice and standing on truth can help you leave a harmful situation and help making you feel all the more empowered.

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