I define spiritual abuse as someone using theology or spirituality to justify their abusive behavior. Like other forms of abuse, the person perpetrating is often someone in a position of authority whom we trust and works to make their victim feel like she is a participant in the abuse. There are however a couple of qualities about abuse in a church context that creates complexity for a victim. This abuser isn’t just an authority figure in that person’s life, they are seen as having “spiritual authority”. This is uniquely damaging because this is a person who is meant to be a moral compass pointing us to God.

By the time someone who has suffered this kind of abuse goes to counseling, they have often been ex-communicated or risk being being cut off from their religious community if they expose their abuser. At a time when they need community the most to heal, they suffer further wounding through rejection and isoltion. Not only do they face further isolation, but victims of abuse in a church context will often be told that seeking justice outside of the church is “sin”. For someone who is trying to honor their faith, this can feel very conflicting!

For these reasons, it is my personal opinion that this type of abuse is especially difficult to work through and it can feel very risky to trust another helping professional. Therefore, it is my mission to remind clients that therapy is collaborative, they are the expert, and no one should be required to be more vulnerable until they feel safe enough. Your trust should be earned!

If you or someone you know has suffered from spiritual abuse, please feel free to share the following article by Diana Garland:

“When Wolves Wear Shepherds’ Clothing: Helping Women Survive Clergy Sexual Abuse.”

I’ve attached a downloadable PDF below: