What is spiritual abuse?
The term “spiritual abuse” means a lot of different things to different people, but here at Sanctuary, we use “spiritual abuse” to refer to abuse that has a spiritual component or dimension to it. That can look a lot of different ways:
- a pastor, priest, or other spiritual authority abused you
- a toxic romantic partner used religious/spiritual beliefs to control you
- you were part of a cultic religious organization that used spiritual teachings to exercise inappropriate influence over you
What all instances of spiritual abuse have in common is this: they feed you lies about God. You cease to relate to God as gracious and loving, and see Him as forcing you to behave in soul-destroying ways that benefit your abuser. It is this that sets spiritual abuse apart from the many other forms that abuse can take.
I want to be really clear here: I am not offering you a magic bullet. All healing is intertwined, but that doesn’t mean that healing in one area will automagically solve everything. You may need a physical therapist, a marriage counselor, a social worker, a good friend. God often uses multiple people from multiple arenas to bring healing. But if you’ve suffered from spiritual abuse, specific spiritual counsel may also be an important part of your healing process.
How can I recover from spiritual abuse?
When an abuser has caused you to believe lies about God, you don’t just need to hear someone tell you that your belief system is unhealthy. You need to re-encounter God as He really is. That’s not something most professionals are equipped to help with.
That’s why you come to me.
Over my years of pastoral experience, I’ve been privileged to help many survivors of spiritual abuse from a variety of different situations ranging from toxic romances to cult membership. I’m not here to fix you or solve all your problems. I wish I had that power; I don’t. But I have good news: no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, and as impossible as it may seem today, you can heal. In this process, we will focus on five key areas.
Re-engaging God. I’m here to help you engage God. He’s the one who heals. I’m here to help you come to know Him as He really is — caring, loving, ferociously protective (even when it’s hard to see), kind, wise, and yes, even funny. As you learn to allow Him to minister to you and guide you, you will come to terms with the ways in which your abusers lied about God and exploited those lies for their personal benefit.
Redeeming Physicality. God made us gloriously physical, and He built us to live in a physically healthy way. Spiritual abuse often leaves survivors with an unhealthy view of the body that leads to neglect and inability to enjoy God’s physical gifts. You’ll learn to notice what’s happening in your body, practice healthy rhythms of rest and recovery, and appreciate the beauty and grace of your body as God’s good gift to you.
Spiritually Healthy Emotions. God made emotions to be a critical part of human life. Spiritual abuse warps our emotions and produces a flood of guilt, shame, anger, sadness, and despair. Processing the emotions (and the numbness) brought on by the abuse and returning to the emotional depth, color, and dimension that God designed us for is an important part of your recovery.
Healing and Growing your Family Spirituality. Spiritual abuse often warps family relationships, destroying trust and making healthy communication difficult (and this is particularly true when the abuse occurred during childhood). I will help you reclaim a family spirituality, an ability to relate to your parents, siblings, and children at a spiritual level without returning to old, abusive patterns.
Re-engaging Church and Community. Spiritual abuse leaves scars that make it hard (or impossible) to engage with the church–but the truth is that none of us was created to walk with God by ourselves. Learning how to follow Jesus’ example and develop friendships — some close, some more distant — can be a struggle. But it’s well worth it; life is tricky business, and it takes a team. In this module, we’ll explore healthy ways to re-engage with community, both inside and outside the church — which is often even harder than re-engaging God.
As I said before, there is no magic bullet. This is not an easy formula for making it all better. I wish. You need to grasp key concepts in each of these five areas, but this is not a matter of academic study. The crucial element is hard spiritual work: wrestling with God, taking risks with people–risks that don’t always pan out–and then learning to work with the results. I’m not promising it will be easy. I am promising that it will be worth it, and that you don’t have to do it alone.