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Spiritual Abuse


There are many different types of domestic abuse, one is spiritual (or religious) abuse. Most examples of spiritual abuse refer to a church elder or faith leader inflicting abuse on congregation members, often by creating a toxic culture within the church or group by shaming or controlling members using the power of their position. However, spiritual abuse can also occur within an intimate partner relationship.

Spiritual abuse is not limited to a certain religion or denomination. Any individual, of any belief is capable of perpetrating spiritual abuse, just as anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse.

​Signs a partner is spiritually abusive, may include:

• Using their partner’s religion or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them.
• Forces the children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed to.
• Preventing a partner from practicing their own religious/spiritual beliefs.
• Ridicules or insults a partners religious/spiritual beliefs.
• Uses religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalise abusive behaviors (physical, emotional, financial, sexual abuse/marital rape).

Spiritual abuse is not less harmful or difficult to endure than any other type of abuse, as a person’s spiritual life is deeply personal.

Spiritual abuse can be very difficult to identify, as many victims may not recognise that they are being abused, the abusive partner may claim that any challenge to the abuse is an assault on their own religious freedom. Regardless of either partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs, abuse of any type is never justified or acceptable.

​If you are experiencing spiritual abuse you may want to reach out to a trusted member of your family, friend or spiritual/religious community for their support and explore your options for practicing your faith/religion in a way that’s safe.

The Details

Signs of Spiritual Abuse 

What Is Spiritual Abuse?

Any attempt to exert power and control over someone using religion, faith, or beliefs can be spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse can happen within a religious organisation or a personal relationship.

Spiritual abuse is not limited to one religion, denomination, or group of people. It can happen in any religious group, as an element of child abuse, elder abuse, or domestic abuse. Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, can be a concern across relationships of all ages, genders, socioeconomic classes, ethnic groups, and locations. 

Abuse is a pattern in which one individual (whether an intimate partner or person with authority) uses fear, intimidation, violence, or other harm to control another. Abuse can cause serious trauma and have a significant impact on your mental health. It’s important to remember that abuse is never your fault.

Types of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse can take place in a variety of settings. A person doesn’t have to be a member of your family or a spiritual leader to spiritually abuse you.

Religious AbuseOne form of spiritual abuse, religious abuse, takes place within a religious organisation. An example of religious abuse is a religious leader using scripture or beliefs to coerce or control the behavior of members of the organization. You may be experiencing religious or spiritual abuse if a religious leader has:

  • Used scripture or beliefs to humiliate or embarrass you
  • Coerced you into giving money or other resources that you didn’t want to give
  • Forced you to be intimate or have sex that you didn’t want
  • Made you feel pressured or obligated to do things against your will

These abusive tactics are found both in large, well-recognized faith organisations and in cults. Often, leaders of pseudo-religious groups will use spirituality as a way to exert control over followers. This can have serious consequences for adults and children.

Spiritual Abuse at Home

Spiritual abuse doesn’t have to be perpetrated by a religious leader; it can also be a facet of domestic violence. Domestic violence is much more than physical violence — hitting, kicking, and slapping. It also has many psychological and emotional elements that cause a great deal of harm and distress. 

An abusive partner who is using spiritual abuse might:

  • Shame, make fun of, or ridicule your religious beliefs or practices
  • Prevent you from practicing your religion in the way you would like
  • Use your beliefs to manipulate or bully you
  • Demand that your children be raised with/without a certain religion
  • Use religious texts or beliefs to justify other kinds of abuse (physical, sexual, financial, etc.)

People who experience abuse often feel ashamed or isolated, and may wonder if they deserve to be treated badly. Abuse is never the fault of the victim. Whether at home or within a religious organisation, abuse is always the fault of the perpetrator.

Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Religion and spirituality should be a source of comfort, peace, community, and inspiration in your life. If that is not the case, you could be experiencing spiritual abuse.

You may be experiencing spiritual abuse if your religious leadership or intimate partner is using scriptures or religious beliefs to control your:

  • Clothing
  • Behavior
  • Sexuality
  • Decision making
  • Choice to have children or not
  • Finances

Dealing With Spiritual Abuse

If you feel that you are experiencing spiritual abuse — whether from a religious organisation or as an element of intimate partner violence — help is available. You do not need to endure this kind of trauma alone. You deserve to feel safe.


Books and articles related to Spiritual Abuse

Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, The: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church

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Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience

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Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Freedom for Survivors

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Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage: A Christian Woman's Guide to Hidden Emotional and Spiritual Abuse

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In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches

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Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness

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Recovery from Cults: Help For Victims Of Psychological And Spiritual Abuse

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Spiritual Terrorism : Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb

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The Spiritual Abuser: The Five Lies They Tell

Every spiritual abuser has these five lies in common, and the effect is devastating on the faith of their victims.

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What is Spiritual Narcissism and Why is it So Dangerous?

The spiritual narcissist is so dangerous because they play on your hopes, fears and desires, turning them against you. They will manipulate you into giving away your free will under the guise of spirituality. But the reality is that the requests they make of you is just a form of spiritual abuse and gaslighting disguised as benevolence.

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What is spiritual abuse? Are Narcissists posing as Christians and using unsuspecting church members as further ways to control and manipulate their victims?

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10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse in the Church

Can you recognize spiritual abuse in the church? Often, you don’t realize you’re in a situation until your health is damaged, your soul is torn or your outside relationships suffer.
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3 Not-So-Obvious Reasons Church Visitors DON’T Return to Your Church

Sometimes the music is really bad or the preaching is really boring or the children’s ministry is really awful, but there are other, less obvious, reasons people don’t return.
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6 Warning Signs of a Bad Pastor and Spiritual Abuse

More and more, it’s critically important to be able to identify dangerous, destructive pastors BEFORE everything falls apart. Few things cause Christians to become disillusioned more than being ripped to pieces by a really bad pastor. Few things do more to sully the name of Jesus more than abusive spiritual leaders. Here are six bright red warning signs.

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