Spiritual Abuse: Do You Identify With The Signs?

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Spiritual abuse is a type of abuse that can have serious long-term effects on victims. Unfortunately, it often goes undetected because it can be challenging to identify, and many people are ashamed to admit this is part of their experience.

In this blog post, we will discuss the signs and effects of spiritual abuse and how to recognize spiritual manipulation. 

What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse is a form of control whereby someone uses their religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate and control others. Spiritual abusers often use their position of power within a community or organization to coerce others into submission. They may also use threats, guilt, and shame to control their victims.

Related: How Childhood Trauma Affects Our Relationships

Who can be spiritual abusers?

  • Pastors can be guilty of spiritual abuse towards one individual and the whole congregation.
  • Parents can spiritually abuse their children.
  • Domestic partners can spiritually manipulate their spouse or significant other.

What are the Signs of Spiritual Abuse?

Many signs can indicate someone is a victim of this type of abuse. Some common signs include:

  • Being told you are unworthy or sinful.
  • Being made to feel guilty for questioning authority.
  • Being subjected to mind control or brainwashing techniques.
  • Having your financial freedom limited, such as not allowing one to give an offering or insisting all their money be given to a specific religious organization.
  • Being verbally, emotionally, or physically abused and justifying their behavior because of religion.
  • Using religion or spirituality to justify abusive behavior.
  • Telling people they are evil if they do not follow certain religious teachings.
  • Controlling what people read, watch, or listen to.
  • Limiting one’s access to the Bible or Bible teaching.
  • Using scripture to induce fear, guilt, or shame.
  • Citing bible verses to control people.
  • Using the Bible to manipulate or coerce people into sexual activity.

Related: Encouragement for Parents Suffering From C-PTSD

What are the Effects of Spiritual Abuse?

There are several adverse effects on victims. These effects may include:

  • feeling isolated and alone
  • feeling like you are not good enough
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling guilty or ashamed
  • feeling fear, anxiety, or depression
  • experiencing flashbacks or nightmares
  • having difficulty trusting people
  • suffering from physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches

Spiritual abuse happens for a variety of reasons:

  • when a leader or authority figure uses their position to control or manipulate others
  • when a family member or friend uses religious beliefs to coerce or control you
  • when someone in a relationship uses spiritual abuse as a way to control or hurt their partner
  • when an organization or community uses spiritual abuse as a way to control its members

Related: What You Need to Know About Spiritual Strongholds

Resources and Help

If you are being spiritually abused, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. There are several resources available to help you.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline: spiritual abuse is still abuse. You can get free, confidential support here.

Spiritual Abuse Resources is a program of the International Cultic Studies Association. Many book reviews, articles, and videos can be very helpful.

Tears of Eden – a non-profit organization with tons of resources on spiritual manipulation

Family and Youth Institute – more information on spiritual abuse in families can be found here


The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church” by David R Johnson

Broken Trust: …a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse” by F. Remy Diederich 

Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs ” by Steven Hassan

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse” by Chuck DeGroat

Spiritual abuse is a serious issue that can have a lasting impact on victims. If you or someone you know is being spiritually abused, please seek help from a qualified professional. Remember, you are not alone.

Spiritual Abuse: Do You Identify With The Signs?