11 Signs Of Spiritual Abuse (And How To Recover)

Spiritual abuse is painful.

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There are many kinds of abuse — physical, emotional, and mental. But there’s one you might not even know about: spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is one of the hardest types of abuse to overcome because it involves a person's faith and belief system.

Most commonly, spiritual abuse can be found in a religious organization in which a leader creates a culture of shame and control over members of the congregation, as explained by the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse, also known as religious abuse, is an attack on the mind and spirit. It happens when someone uses spiritual or religious beliefs to hurt, scare, or control you.

Spiritual abuse breaks a person down and strips them of their autonomy and self-respect.

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This type of abuse can happen to anyone at any time, and it is to be taken seriously.

It's important to note that spiritual abuse can go along with other types of abuse, but the rest falls under the main type of abuse, which is spiritual.

Any person who inflicts damage upon your spiritual or religious outlook is considered to be spiritually abusing you. This abuse does not discriminate based on a religious organization or spiritual movement.

Despite the general way of thinking, spiritual abuse is also a possibility in romantic relationships and families.

Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Regardless of relationship status or connection to a spiritual (or religious) world, this kind of abuse may present itself in your life at some point or another.


That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of spiritual abuse:

  • Ridiculing or insulting the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Preventing your partner from practicing their beliefs
  • Using your partner’s beliefs to manipulate or shame them
  • Using religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors such as physical, financial, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Forcing children to be raised in a faith that your partner has not agreed to
  • Spiritual leaders discarding you, rather than helping you overcome problems
  • Sprirtual leaders twisting the truth to put themselves in a better light
  • Being scared or fearful of upsetting a spiritual leader or congregation
  • Sprirtual leaders refusing to help you while confronting or humiliating you in front of others
  • Spiritual elders taking credit for your ideas
  • Experiencing a cult-like culture within the congregation

Spiritual Abuse In Relationships

In relationships, spiritual abuse can occur by forcing your partner to follow a particular religious script, restricting or mocking their beliefs, or using beliefs to limit and control them.

The coercion to conform to the religion or spiritual belief they have is a form of spiritual abuse. Your partner may make you so uncomfortable that it creates an inability to ask questions since you no longer see them as approachable.

Some other ways spiritual abuse reveals itself is through people who tell you how to feel in certain situations, or not allowing you to explore original thoughts.


Re-evaluate what it means when an intimate partner creates a war between you and your mind. Although you may be brought up differently than your partner, it’s important to create mutual respect for each other’s spiritual or religious beliefs.

Spiritual Abuse In Families

Parents can also spiritually abuse their children, maybe without even noticing.

Encouraging single-minded thinking and not allowing your child to explore other religious practices is abusive. You should not force your child to adhere to certain beliefs if they don’t want to themselves.

As a parent, you must foster a safe environment that permits self-discovery. Likewise, if your parents or family members are guilty of pushing their own beliefs onto you, recognize that you have the freedom to accept your own teachings.


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Spiritual Abuse In Religion

Spiritual abuse in religion is often associated with church elders, church leaders, spiritual authority figures, or spiritual leaders inflicting abuse on their church members.

This occurs by creating a toxic, unhealthy culture within a church or group by shaming or controlling members using the power of their position.

Abusive in religion is not new. For example, the Catholic religion has faced accusations of priests who have molested altar boys for years. Catholic spiritual abuse that leads to scandal is an example of both physical and spiritual abuse.


Not only have church leaders in positions of power performed an illegal sexual act, but they have created spiritual turmoil in the victims. Most likely, these young boys lost a connection to God's word due to being hurt by someone who was supposed to represent their faith.

How to Deal with Spiritual Abuse

1. Speak with the person who is abusing you.

If the situation can be mended, it may be time for a sincere conversation with the person who is responsible for harming you spiritually. It’s possible that the person isn’t aware that what they’re doing.

Talk to your significant other, family member, or church official about the way their words and actions are making you feel. It can be challenging to address the wrongdoings of our parents or loved ones. But, nonetheless, they should know that their pressure is becoming too much to handle.


The hope is that whoever you’re confronting will receive what you have to say and want to make a change. Through your open and honest communication, they will be able to see that they have made a mistake.

2. Remove the person or organization from your life.

You must also be prepared for the opposite. The person or organization spiritually abusing you might be upset and unwilling to stop their actions. If this happens, it might be beneficial for you to assess their importance in your life.

Although you probably don’t want to remove someone from your life, you must be wary of those who are being unkind to you — spiritual abuse is no exception. You should no longer spend time with that person or in that place of worship.

3. Reach out for help.

If you feel in danger, seek help immediately. Talk to someone you trust or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline which is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233.


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Isabella Pacinelli is a former contributor to YourTango, features editor for Ashland University's The Collegian, and freelance writer for Medina Weekly News. Follow her on Facebook for more.