8 Signs You Are a Victim of Spiritual Abuse

I have no doubt that you have heard of physical and emotional abuse. But a form of abuse that many people are unfamiliar with is spiritual abuse (specifically in a religious setting). While more attention has been given to this in recent years through the writing of books and articles, it is still ignored.

Since you may be unfamiliar with what spiritual abuse is; here are 8 warning signs that you are being abused spiritually.

1- You have a warped view of pastoral authority.

This warped view is the result of what you have been taught. The pastor and other leaders are not to be questioned — to question them is to question God. They are God’s men!

The reality is that they are not biblical ‘pastors’; they are dictators. And this kind of ‘leadership’ is nowhere taught in Scripture.

2- You are guilted into doing ministry even though you are facing burnout.

In this environment manipulation is common. It can come in a number of forms:

     Fear– “If you don’t make this decision God will punish you.”

     False Praise– “You do such a great job at this; I know it is God’s will.”

     Guilt– “Don’t you remember all that I and this ministry have done for you?”

     Public Recognition as a Tool of Control

3- You are discouraged from asking questions.

Asking questions is viewed as questioning authority. It is often presented as rebellion. “Don’t ask questions, just trust, obey, and submit to what you are told.”

4- Ministry involvement is built on duty, not a love for Christ.

If you constantly hear about duty as the motivation for being involved in ministry, you may be suffering from spiritual abuse.

5- You constantly hear other ministries criticized.

Sole allegiance and loyalty is expected to your particular ministry. Other ministries are constantly criticized, regardless of whether or not they are biblical, in order to keep that sole allegiance alive and well.

6- You are discouraged from reading on your own. You are told that your pastor is the only one who can really be trusted.

Should caution be exercised when reading unknown authors? Yes! Is it possible for new Christians to be misguided by what they read? Sure!

But the motivation for this instruction in this environment is selfish. You might just find out that all those “standards” you are being guilted and manipulated into keeping are not really found in the Bible.

I’m afraid the mentality is that “An ignorant Christian is a submissive Christian.”

7- The Bible is constantly misused to support extra-biblical positions.

Since people are not taught to study for themselves and since they can’t ask questions, they rarely realize this is happening. The Bible is used as a tool to get people to act how the leadership wants them to act.

It is when people start thinking for themselves and studying the Bible on their own that they begin to realize the abuse of this approach.

8- Legalism is being used as a tool of control.

No, it’s not called legalism. It’s called standards or separation or convictions. In these circles outward performance becomes the basis of spirituality.

Closing Thoughts

I have counseled many people reeling from the effects of spiritual abuse. The dangers are real, its power is subtle, the effects are lasting, and results are devastating.

This is not how God designed the church to operate. It’s not how He wants you to live the Christian life.

There is hope. There can be freedom. Healing is possible. Your joy can be restored.

Spiritually abused Christian, I pray for you today!

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5 thoughts on “8 Signs You Are a Victim of Spiritual Abuse

  1. Jeremy,

    I am a graduate of TTU (1982), and have seen my share of spiritual abuse and legalistic ministries. Having watched the results of such ministries through the years I have become more and more concerned with where this leads. You may or may not be interested in a new book I have written, but it does speak to the issue of legalism, its results in lives, especially the lives of young people, and true motives for holiness. The book is coming out in ebook form this month and in print form sometime in February. The title is Robots or Rebels: The Dangers of Growing Up a Legalist and Biblical Motivations for True Holiness. If you have any interest you can contact me at the email address above. May the Lord be glorified through your life and ministry.

    Robert Pruitt

    • Hi Taylor,

      You painted with a very wide brush there with a few points, I guess, connected to spiritual abuse, and I’m interested. What is the reading comprehension level of KJV-only believers? And, how are these people deceived? I’m curious as to your answers to these questions. Thank you in advance!