How To Overcome Spiritual Abuse

If you are being spiritually abused, there are a variety of options available to help you.

Before You Continue...

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On its website, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has a toll-free number (1-800-799-SAFE) as well as a chat option.

For those who are afraid that they are being abused, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a number of tools available.

Domestic violence shelters with experienced advocates and resources are also available in many locations for those who are victims of any sort of abuse.


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How do you stop spiritual abuse?

Help is available if you believe you are being spiritually abused, whether by a religious institution or as part of intimate partner violence. You do not have to go through this ordeal alone. You are entitled to a sense of security.

How do you address spiritual abuse?

Serving as a leader is a fantastic honor that comes with a lot of responsibilities. Ministry leaders provide direction, assurance, encouragement, and hope to the people they serve. Ministry leaders wield a great deal of power, and they must use it wisely.

Crossing the line from leading with authority to acting in an authoritarian manner is one area where persons in significant ministry roles can cause harm. This is commonly referred to as “spiritual abuse” in ministry circles.

Here are three methods for recognizing and addressing this growing concern among ministry leaders.


First and foremost, it is critical to comprehend what spiritual abuse is not. The authoritative proclamation of Biblical truth, strategic management, and the enforcement of institutional ethical norms are examples of things that do not come under the rubric of spiritual abuse. Appropriate exhortation, rebuke, and punishment are also not considered “spiritual abuse.”

Having stated that, it is critical to have a working definition of the problem. Authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen write in their book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” that this type of abuse is “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support, or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment.”

When authoritarianism rises to the surface and leaders behave from a position of power rather than humble influence, spiritual abuse happens.

  • Without proper rationale and/or relationship, rules are accepted and implemented.
  • Unspiritual disagreement is labeled as such because it lacks a restorative spirit.
  • Substantive criticism and adequate reporting relationships are shielded from leaders.
  • The organization's and/or key leaders' public image is sanitized to an unhealthy degree.
  • When inquiries arise, side subjects are introduced to divert attention away from more pressing ones.
  • Select personnel have access to funds with no protections in place to ensure responsibility.


Leaders can be agents of change to counteract the detrimental consequences of spiritual abuse once an unhealthy dynamic has been detected. Managers who are wise create clear boundaries for personal accountability. Modeling prudent financial management and an open-door policy are other key traits to emulate.

Moreover, despite fears to the contrary, servant leadership demonstrated by individuals at the top of the org chart improves the work environment and can be suitably integrated into even high-output, strategic settings.

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If you're dealing with spiritual abuse in your workplace, start with a grace-filled reaction. Even though it seems contradictory, when your leadership is questioned or criticized, take a step back and evaluate the purpose behind what is being stated.

Rather than becoming bitter or spiteful while furious, try to de-escalate the situation. Make every effort to maintain open channels of contact with people at all levels of the organization, especially those with whom you disagree or with whom you lack chemistry.

Work hard to establish an environment where genuine communication may take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Consider verses like Romans 12:9-21 in the Bible. Consider the consequences for the glory of One in your life and ministry.


Our A.S. in Biblical Studies and B.S. in Ministry Leadership degree programs will give you the knowledge and skills to recognize spiritual abuse, lead with positive authority, and respond in grace and truth. To learn more about this intriguing program, contact an enrollment counselor.

What is spiritual trauma?

Spiritual trauma is the result of a person's reaction to a belief system that dismisses and degrades them on behalf of a deity or a set of deities. More information can be found here. Christians are frequently encouraged to recruit for their religion, and losing a Christian friend or family member can be devastating.

What does religious trauma look like?

Confusion in thinking (black vs. white, right vs. wrong), conflicts with people in your community or religious teachings, inability to make judgments, inability to trust yourself, and a constant search for clarification

Isolation, relationship issues, sexual difficulties, socially stunted and awkward conduct, being hyper-aware of others' emotional state and emotions, being hyper-aware and feeling responsible for others' internal state and emotions

Symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also be present. This can include flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, restlessness, a lack of enjoyment in activities you used to like, hypervigilance, avoidance, and other symptoms.

What causes religious trauma?

When a person struggles to leave a religion or a set of beliefs that has led to their indoctrination, it is known as religious trauma syndrome (RTS). Breaking free from a controlling environment, lifestyle, or religious figure is a common traumatic experience. Religious trauma can have symptoms that are similar to those of complex post-traumatic stress disorder in some situations (C-PTSD).

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How do you deal with a controlling religious parent?

It's fine to request that your parents respect your religious beliefs. In fact, it's more than OK €” it's critical, since otherwise, they'll keep attempting to persuade you to change your mind. Your parents have most likely felt responsible for morally shaping you since before you were born (I know mine have), thus the fact that you've rejected many of the ideals they worked so hard to teach in you may make them feel like they “failed” you.

When you make it plain to your parents that they aren't accountable for your opinions and aren't capable of changing them, you relieve a lot of strain on them and their connection with you.

I've asked my parents to respect my opinions, and it's made our discussions a lot less stressful. Of course, they still explain why they disagree with my viewpoints (as they should), but I no longer feel as if they're trying to persuade me to alter my mind, and this has allowed us to be much more open with one another.

How do I know if I have religious trauma?

Religious trauma can present itself in a variety of ways, and no two people will have the same experience. However, there are a number of common signs and symptoms in adults who were exposed to religious trauma as children, including the following:

  • Avoidance behaviors are a form of avoidance (i.e., avoiding any thing, person, or place that reminds you of the trauma)

What are the elements of abuse?

Domestic violence is the most common kind of abuse. Three factors are frequently present and contribute to the occurrence of an abuse incident: 1) the perpetrator; 2) the victim; and 3) a catastrophe.

What does emotional abuse involve?

  • Gaslighting is when someone manipulates the truth to make you doubt your own feelings and thoughts, and even your sanity. Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline for additional information on how gaslighting works.
  • Calling you names or telling you that you're stupid, publically embarrassing you, and blaming you for everything are all examples of put-downs. Public humiliation is a type of social abuse as well.
  • Isolation: restricting your freedom of movement and preventing you from communicating with others (such as friends or family). It may also prevent you from engaging in your usual activities, such as social activities, sports, school, or job. Isolation and social maltreatment are two different things.
  • Controlling or withholding your money, stopping you from working or studying, and stealing from you are all examples of financial abuse. Domestic violence can sometimes take the form of financial abuse.
  • Bullying and intimidation occur when someone says or does things with the intent of hurting you.