6 Ways to Heal & Recover from Spiritual Abuse
What is spiritual abuse and how can you heal and recover from spiritual abuse?
Spiritual abuse is when a person uses religious beliefs and their religious influence to manipulate people into performing behaviours and making decisions which meet the personal and selfish interests of the abuser.
Spiritual abuse is the use of spiritual authority or religious doctrine in order to demean, scare, manipulate, control or exploit people.
Within a religious environment there are many forms and signs of spiritual abuse from scripture twisting and false teaching, to financial exploitation, sexual misconduct and a culture of religious manipulation.
Therefore within any church or religious environment it is important to recognize spiritual abuse whenever it is happening.
Millions of well-meaning people around the world have become deceived and abused by people who pose as sheep or shepherds, but yet they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The experience of spiritual abuse can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences for the victims. Some remain in spiritual bondage and spiritual blindness; others end up in grief and depression; many abandon God and the Christian faith; others have committed suicide because they have failed to find healing and recovery from the abuse.
If you have suffered the terrible pain of spiritual abuse, below are 6 ways you can seek healing and recovery:
1. Never Suppress Your Hurt, Your Pain & Your Emotions
Recovering and healing from spiritual abuse requires that you be honest with your feelings and your pain. It is never advisable to suppress your experience or your hurt.
If you’ve been spiritually abused you may have found yourself trying to process so many emotions and feelings.
Sometimes you might feel sadness, confusion, grief, depression, guilt and even anger and hatred.
Other times you might feel lonely – as if nobody understands what you’re going through, even if you tried to explain it.
Other days you might fear being embarrassed or backlash if you tried to explain your abuse and expose your spiritual abusers.
The experience of spiritual abuse can also lead victims to doubt or ask many questions about themselves and about God.
So sometimes you might find yourself asking questions like: “Why could I not discern the deception and manipulation for so long? Why was I so weak? Why did I not have the strength to say ‘No!’? How could I be exploited, blinded and coerced to give so much money to my abuser? Why was I so open about my problems and why did I reveal so much about myself to my abuser? Why did he touch me? Why did my abusers pick on me?”
You might have found yourself even blaming God and asking God questions like these: “God, where were you when I was being abused? God, how can you allow people like this to lead a church or deceive others? God, why didn’t you help me see the deception and abuse on time? God, how can you let people get away with this kind of abuse? God, why would you allow so many people to be deceived and abused?”
The key thing is to never suppress how you feel inside. So it’s always important to be honest with yourself and how you are feeling so that you can process your hurt and your pain in an honest way.
As a victim of abuse, you are not accountable for the evil and wicked actions of your abuser. So do not fall into the trap of blaming yourself for being abused.
God knows us so well that He knows how many hairs we have on our head (Matthew 10:30).
So even though you may have many questions and many painful emotions – it is never the time to abandon your individual and personal relationship with God.
Instead give your raw pain and your raw emotions to God. In prayer, respectfully let God know exactly how you feel and about the healing you seek.
So even during our pain and hurt and questions – God still loves us and He is near to the brokenhearted. Psalm 34:18 says: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Our hope for all our answers and healing for our hurt and pain, should always remain in God. Psalm 43:5 NLT says: Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again— my Savior and my God!
2. Jesus Christ Identifies With Your Abuse & Pain
Jesus Christ also experienced spiritual abuse from many religious leaders during His time on Earth. Jesus was mocked, verbally abused, physically beaten and even betrayed by people who claimed to know and follow God.
Christ’s most aggressive abusers were the chief priests, the Pharisees or Jewish religious leaders who looked for various ways to destroy His character and relationship with the people.
So it was ironic that the religious leaders and teachers who were supposed to be supporting and helping Christ, were the very same people who were mocking, abusing and persecuting Jesus.
So the Pharisees would send people to follow Christ and pretentiously quiz Him and ask Him questions in order to trap Him so that they might accuse Him (Matthew 22:15).
The Pharisees even plotted how they might kill Jesus on several occasions (Matthew 12:14; John 11:45-54).
The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus and they believed Jesus was a threat to the religious influence and authority that they had on the people.
The chief priests and Pharisees said the following about Jesus: If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation (John 11:48)
When Jesus was delivered to Pilate by the chief priests, even Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but that the chief priests wanted Christ to be crucified because they were jealous of Him.
Matthew 27:18 says: For he (Pilate) knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered Him up.
The religious leaders and chief priests cried for Jesus to be crucified. John 19:6 says: When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”…
The Pharisees also manipulated the people into choosing the murderer Barabbas instead of Jesus Christ who was completely innocent of any accusation. Matthew 27:20 says: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.
Therefore in many different ways, Jesus Christ identifies with your spiritual abuse because Christ Himself experienced abuse from the very people who were supposed to be exemplary and reflect a godly character. Christ Himself suffered pain and mockery because of the manipulation tactics which were executed against Him by the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus experienced abuse to the extent of being crucified on the cross.
3. Abusive Religious People Do Not Represent the True Nature & Character of God
When you have experienced spiritual abuse from a church leader or from any religious system or group, it is important to remember the following:
Spiritual abusive people do not represent true born again Christians.
Spiritual abusive people do not represent the true nature and character of God.
An abusive church or cult does not represent the true Church or Bride of Christ.
The true Church are genuine born again believers who have genuinely repented of their wicked ways in order to follow Jesus Christ.
So your individual relationship with an abusive leader is separate from your individual and personal relationship with God.
Your individual relationship with an abusive religious group or system is separate from your individual and personal relationship with God.
Therefore being abused by a religious leader or by an abusive group does not mean that you have been abused by God Himself.
Furthermore, leaving an abusive group should not mean that should you also forsake God.
Many people within a cultic system unfortunately tend to equate their relationship with their group / leader as being identical to their relationship with God. So in many cultic systems there is no distinction or separation between one’s individual relationship with the group and one’s individual relationship with God.
It is because of this deception that many victims of spiritual abuse unfortunately abandoned God and the Christian faith after experiencing abuse from a church or leader. It’s because they falsely believe that their relationship with the abusive group and their relationship with God is one and the same thing.
However, even when you lack full understanding of your circumstances and even when you don’t have all the answers – it’s important to stay focused on your personal relationship with God and rely on Him to lead.
4. Study as Much as you can about Abuse and Manipulation
Another road to healing and recovery from spiritual abuse is to educate yourself about issues related to abusive behavior and the various techniques that are used by spiritual abusers.
Equipping yourself is necessary so that you discern and avoid falling into the same abusive patterns in the future.
The Bible teaches and empowers people to test the spirits; discern false teachings and to discern wolves in sheep’s clothing (1 John 4:1; Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
2 Corinthians 2:11 says that we should not be outwitted by satan or be ignorant of the devil’s tricks, because satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Furthermore, educating yourself will also help you to educate others who might be deceived or currently experiencing spiritual abuse.
Ephesians 5:11 says: Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Abuse occurs when the victim’s sincere trust for the other person has been violated. Whenever you have experienced spiritual abuse it is very important to learn to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23).
Do not be quick to trust anyone without first discerning and evaluating their real intentions. In this evil world we live in, do not be deceived by outward appearances (John 7:24). Instead let people earn your trust.
5. Do Not be Afraid to Leave an Abusive Environment
Any spiritually abusive environment is a dangerous place to be. It is unhealthy to have your life and friendships and acquaintances to revolve around one specific group. Genuine Christian friendships and fellowship can also be found anywhere outside an abusive group or system.
So the road to healing and recovery from spiritual abuse requires that you leave the very environment that is causing you so much hurt and pain.
Many abusive groups tend to threaten members that they will experience curses from God if they leave the group. Other abusive groups will equate leaving the group to leaving God or Christianity.
However, leaving a spiritual abusive group or environment does not mean you have left God. It does not mean that God will not be with you after you leave. Neither does it mean that God will curse you or forsake you.
It’s however important to cautiously and patiently find true and genuine fellowship with people or Christians who are humble, trustworthy and reflect the genuine character and nature of Jesus Christ in their daily walk and life. Christianity is not only about how people behave within their own religious system – but it’s also about how one lives his/her life outside the church setting and when nobody is watching.
So it’s important to have fellowship with people who do not reflect the cultic, hypocritical or abusive mentality that you have left behind. It’s important to have friendships and fellowship with people who do not live a double life.
This is a process that takes time and requires patience, caution, discernment and most importantly, prayer and God’s guidance.
Furthermore you can also seek wise counselling from people who have no affiliation with the abusive group so that you can receive objective and sound counselling advice.
1 Corinthians 15:33 says: Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Proverbs 13:20 says: Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
6. Forgive and Keep Moving Forward
Perhaps the hardest part of healing and recovery is to learn to forgive those who have abused you. Forgiveness may not be a one-time event – but it can be a slow and steady process depending on your level of pain, emotion and hurt.
Forgiveness does not mean that you should go back into an abusive relationship. It does not mean you should go back to an abusive system or environment. Forgiveness does not mean you condone the wicked actions of your abuser.
We can never erase the memories of abuse – but we can learn to forgive and move forward in a new direction away from the place and people who caused the pain.
So by giving all our cares, pain and hurt to God – we can learn to let go of the pain, the anger, the guilt and even the hatred so that the memory of the abuse is rendered useless as you move forward in your spiritual life and relationship with God. Ultimately an attitude of forgiveness will give you mental, emotional and spiritual freedom.
Jesus goes as far as to say that you should “… pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28).
It is most important to understand that Jesus identifies with your spiritual abuse because He experienced it Himself from the very people who claimed to be religious leaders. So Jesus understands the pain and the hurt and the grief and the betrayal of trust.
Therefore Jesus Christ is able to direct you and lead you through all the pain and hurt so that you recover and move forward in your life.
It is therefore important to never give up on our personal fellowship and relationship with God.
An abusive religious leader does not represent God and abusive religious groups do not represent the true Church or Bride of Christ.
Therefore in all things and in all circumstances, let us focus on Jesus Christ who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
RECOMMENDED ARTICLE: 12 Signs of Spiritual Abuse
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen