Why are some people prone to spiritual abuse?

Have you ever wondered how a person could stay in an abusive relationship? “Why don’t they just leave the first time they get hit?”, you wonder. I suppose many have the same question when they hear about those who are being abused by spiritual leaders. Can’t they just up and leave and find a new church? Well, there are a few reasons why someone might be prone to become spiritually abused.


  • Need. Tangible help received from a person or organization (with a sense that without that help there would be serious problems) increases the risk a person will tolerate inappropriate behavior
  • Culture. A black/white culture that treats outsiders as heretics. A community that puts pressure on compliance will be a community that is tempted to use spiritual abuse to get that compliance
  • Gender views. religious authoritarian systems that promote male dominance in all areas of life will be more prone to use spiritual controls over women when women are perceived to exert too much power.


  • Identity. When your identity becomes too wrapped up in a system. The more you need a system (or think you do), the greater the importance you feel being connected to an institution or leader the greater the likelihood that you will not jump ship at the first sign of manipulation or abuse
  • Self-doubt. A deep belief that others know better than you. Such a person will likely turn off their warning signs when others coerce them using spiritual language. The more a person denigrates themself, the more likely he or she will allow others to exert control and accept an abusers judgment that he/she is a sinner in need of discipline
  • History. Ironically, those who have suffered abuse are more prone to be re-victimized again.

Spiritual abuse, a form of psychological abuse, almost always creeps up on a person. It rarely shows its true form until the victimized person is fully entangled. And even then, the victim is commonly confused and unsure of self. Clarity rarely comes until after the person has extricated themself from the environment. Why? Those in power use well-known verses and doctrines to shape conversations and press others into submission. For example, who would be against forgiveness? Against reconciliation? These concepts form the heart of the Gospel. And yet these wonderful portions of the Gospel are used to force victims of sexual abuse to quickly forgive their perpetrators and to reconcile with them–as if the offense never happened. Those who desire justice may be forced to keep silent under the guise of reconciliation.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Why are some people prone to spiritual abuse?

  1. I think the fear of man, summarizes the issue of why people stay in any bad church, relationship, job, etc.. It is the problem of assumptions that love tanks can only be filled by environment and others, even manipulation of God. Instead true faith in God does not look for love tanks at all because its a selfish expectation to get and not give back to God and others. He who believes he is forgiven little loves little…

  2. I didn’t stay in an abusive 36 year”marriage” because of the “fear of man.” Our culture needs to become educated (which I doubt will ever happen). The book which saved my life: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans….verbal abuse is rampant in our culture….1 in 3 women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime and it all begins with verbal assault. Abuse is literally brainwashing. Women stay for many reasons; no income, kept isolated, threatened with death or death of her family.They do what they need to in order to protect others. I didn’t stay in the church: http://www.churchabusepoetrythreapy.com….and I made a lot of “noise’ before I left. My name was put up on a big screen, followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God.” 3 times on my birthday 10 years ago, 9/29. It is a wound that can never heal.

  3. Pingback: Standing Up to Spiritual Abusers | Missio Alliance

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