Physical Abuse- Real and most certainly visible on the victim even though many people try to hide their wounds from others around them.
Mental and Emotional Abuse- Real even though a lot of the wounds cannot be seen on the outside. We can see the proof from patterns of action that abuse can be visible even if not physically visible on the body.
Spiritual Abuse- Real??
I have had this question posed to me a few times and I always have an affirmed “yes.” I do believe that spiritual abuse is real especially if you are using scripture and the fear of God, heaven or hell to manipulate someone. When I mention spiritual abuse, I am not saying that there are no rights or wrongs within the Christian Faith, there is. The ten commandments are a great example of the rules set forth by God and should be followed to the best of our ability. However, we are blessed by the grace of God and wrongdoings cannot be constantly thrown in someone's face.
Here, I talk about spiritual abuse within the church as well as between people outside of church, between Christians. Although a new field, the study of psychology in relation to spirituality has grown significantly over the past decade. As a counselor/ therapist, it is vital that there is proper education in the realm of spirituality, so that when problems arise, assistance can be given.
Spiritual abuse can be defined as such, “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment” (Ward, 2011, p. 901). This can also include not taking the time to know who you are talking to, an example of this is in my other article about being mindful of other’s spiritual beliefs, titled, "Walking the Spiritual Line".
Telling someone that they should not take antidepressants because it is against God’s will is a form of abuse. We all have to repent, and God has fashioned us to learn and grow, which means including modern medicine. Just because someone is on antidepressants does not mean they are not relying on God on a daily basis. A daughter who has come to the difficult decision to put her mother in a nursing home is honoring her mother by giving her the best care possible. You cannot and should not put someone down, smacking them with the word of God to do so.
You have to walk a fine line between sharing the gospel and lording scripture over someone. We have to remember that we all are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. Even pastors have to be mindful of how they care for their parishioners. Ward (2011) stated, regarding spiritual abuse, “a misuse of power in a spiritual context whereby spiritual authority is distorted to the detriment of those under its leadership” (p. 901).
Using scripture to demean someone is not okay. When a pastor stands before his parishioners, he is using his education to teach other Christians on how they should behave and be more like Jesus. Most times folks know that they are sinning. Yes, they should be held accountable and yes, they should be educated further on the error of their ways. However, when someone is trying their very best in life, praying and attending church, be mindful. Don’t tell a wife that she has to give over her body to her husband whenever he wants because the Bible says so, it’s not okay.
What’s the big deal about all of this anyway? I suppose the truth would be that if you do not consider yourself the slightest bit a Christian or from some religious affiliation, nothing likely. However, if you are a new Christian or new to a faith, this form of abuse can cause maladaptive thinking and a skewed sense of self. If you begin to weigh yourself against the words of those who put you down and you think that you are not good enough in God’s eyes, then whose eyes will you ever find peace and love in?
Those who find themselves in cults can end up twisted in horrific crimes because they have been manipulated in believing that their worth is based off how well they listen to a religious leader. Women become enslaved and men can be manipulated to commit rape and murder. Words matter and the word of the Lord matters substantially more.
Arm yourself with the word of the Lord, but make sure you have the right adversary if you need to use it. Do not use the beautiful and powerful word of God against someone else, but instead use grace and kindness. It sounds cliché, but actually consider, “what would Jesus do” and weigh your thoughts, actions and words off of this standard.
Ward, D.J. (2011). The lived experience of spiritual abuse. Mental Health, Religion & Culture.
14(9), 899-915. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2010.536206