By Kim Van Wuffen, LAC, CCTF, CCTSS, BHCC
This is no light-hearted blog. It is a reality being faced by many people, every day, even in this moment! It is time that the Church of Jesus Christ, stands up and says, ENOUGH! Warriors do more than sit around, drinking Starbucks, discussing revival when these things are happening right now!
Spiritual abuse is one of the most manipulative forms of abuse because its very nature presents God as the reason to misuse power by means of control and domination. The people that often fall prey to spiritual abuse are those who themselves have had trauma histories or early childhood abuse. Not always the case, but often.
The reason being, is most people with abusive histories operate in ambivalence and cognitive dissonance. Therefore, it is difficult to fully accept something as either evil or good. Things might feel weird and uncomfortable to them, yet somehow familiar, and therefore ‘tolerable’.
Some people with abusive histories often have existing pervasive feelings of shame, guilt, low-self image, and depression. They are vulnerable to people who can make them feel good about themselves. They are also vulnerable to people who claim to know more than they do simply because the self-assurance and confidence to know otherwise is not there. Whether or not, the truth is in them, it is difficult to own or trust their feelings and experiences. Again, not all individuals, but many, in these cases.
People who are prey to spiritual abuse are not weak, they are not ignorant, or stupid. Neither did they ‘ask’ or invite their abuse. To imply otherwise is ignorance and lack of understanding.
When people are abused by spiritual leaders they are often convinced that the leader is an expert and therefore should be listened to and obeyed. These leaders often operate in some sort of power plays, whether it be means of deception, prestige, expressing strong and dynamic personas, or using money to control others.
I call the spirit that these leaders operate in a very snake like one because it involves deception. Ultimately however, the snake is a PREDATOR! The snake can twist a scripture and make solid arguments for his or her case. The snake can hide and attack when least expected. The snake referenced in the Garden Of Eden was beguiling and so these leaders are very seductive and enticing to those in whom they come in contact.
I have seen this type of abuse in churches in times past. Usually, it’s one narcissistic and proud character who claims to have some sort of connection to God that others do not. Often he or she uses some sort of magic (and I use that term loosely) to express the abilities that others do not possess. This person will use his or her power to get people into compliance to have narcissistic supply met.
In Christiandom, these types of displays of ‘power’ are usually public personas. And masses of people are draw in to the vortex of nonsense. But these power plays are also personal, sadistic, and isolating.
And how does the snake gain power? He or she does so through a grooming process. There is an invitation of trust, intimacy, and understanding that only the leader may have for the person being abused. Once this intimacy and trust are gained, he or she can easily dominate and coerce the person into activities that serve their interest rather than the person being abused. These activities or types of abuse (needs of abuser) can include the following:
- Sexual abuse
- Betrayal of others
- Forced labor
- Physical abuse / threat/coercion
- Rigid rules of engagement
- False hope
- False expectation
- Supporting spiritual phenomena
- Financial gain
Ultimately, the snake feeds off of the false power absorbed from belittling others and using them for personal gain. This type of abuse can occur in all types of religious circles. More often than not, it is found in what is considered to be cult-like activity. Therefore, does not have to have a religious connotation in order to be thought of as abusive.
Any means that gains followers through repetitive conditioning, isolation, alienation, and control can be deemed as abusive and dangerous. I am however, focusing on the Christian realm here.
The effects of Spiritual abuse
As time goes on, the individual being abused will feel mentally exhausted, confused, terrorized, and ultimately more shameful as the snake continues feeding off of them. Often people will report to feeling as if they cannot think straight or feel that they are confused. One of the worst effects is the compartmentalizing of God’s presence and their ‘activities’. In other words, they will feel that God is doing this or requiring of them.
In more violent and extreme cases, the person being abused will experience fear and anxiety due to threat and manipulation. The snake may use tactics of violence, or threat of harm to others in order to gain control. Sometimes these snakes will use slander and gossip to completely silence their victims, even using information over their heads to control them—thus causing the person abused to feel completely helpless, wondering where God is.
Using God’s Word:
Yet despite these confused feelings truly know in their own hearts that what they are being asked to do is not God’s will. Again, the ambivalence comes into play. An example would be a young woman is asked by a married, charismatic youth pastor to engage in sexual activities. He has convinced her that she is serving her pastor and being ‘obedient’ to authority. When she questions, he will misuse scripture in order to gain more control. The young girl is left feeling empty and confused wondering if God would really have her do this. Once the snake realizes that she is feeling confused, he will groom her again making her feel like she is number one, and very special.
Typically, the snake will convince them to leave their family members, ex-communicate others, reject friends, and anyone who presents as a support system. This alienation of safety perpetuates feelings of loneliness and isolation. In the world of that isolation it feels like no safety exists except with the abuser. This can cause deep seeded depression and desperation. Many people, sadly, report to wanting to die. It is very heart-breaking.
I have met so many clients who have been traumatized by such abuse in their lives and so much to the degree that they cannot accept God’s love for them. It takes a lot of work to undo such damage. This is just unacceptable. And it is frankly, VILE what these individuals endure!
Gas lighting is the ultimate abuse and comes straight from hell. The process of gas lighting convinces a person that he or she imagined something, but their experience of it is not real. Gas lighting extends to convincing others around the victim that they are ‘crazy’ or unstable.
There is so much more to write on this issue. We as Christians can do something about this by calling it out and naming what it is.
We must stop celebrating these snakes and silencing others from speaking out! This silencing is beyond deplorable! Dismissing and belittling the experiences of others is shameful. Calling victims jezebels and weirdos is gas lighting and exactly what their abusers want to have happen. Telling people, ‘Not to touch God’s Anointed‘ and subsequently vilifying the victims —when they need to NAME their experiences is- SICK!
I will say this, if you are someone who conceals overt abusive behavior from a leader because he or she appears ‘powerful’ or ‘anointed by God’ , in my opinion, you are complicit to their abuse and therefore to blame too. Allowing impostors, snake-like abusers to continue promoting themselves and giving them place to do so is wrong.
We have done a disservice to many precious people by allowing these characters to continue their behaviors and making excuses for them. Myself, and many other people are rising up and saying ENOUGH! We are not going to tolerate this anymore. We are angry, and I am sorry if that scares some of you. Our anger is not met mixed with vengeful thinking, but rather, JUSTICE.
We will expose these snakes and urgently imbibe their repentance and healing. Ignoring this will not make it go away. Never! Praying about it, and wishing others ‘well’ doesn’t make it disappear either. Sad, to say. Together, we can be agents of healing and freedom for people. And we can crush the head of the serpent of abuse!