What is Spiritual Abuse?

forms of abuse

What is Spiritual Abuse?

spiritual abuseThere are many different types of abuse, but one you may not be aware of is spiritual (or religious) abuse. If it’s discussed at all, most examples of spiritual abuse refer to a church elder or faith leader inflicting abuse on congregation members, often by creating a toxic culture within the church or group by shaming or controlling members using the power of their position. However, spiritual abuse can also occur within an intimate partner relationship.

Spiritual abuse is not limited to a certain religion or denomination. Any person, of any belief system, is capable of perpetrating spiritual abuse, just as anyone can be the victim of it. Signs of spiritual abuse between intimate partners include when an abusive partner:

    • ridicules or insults the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
    • prevents the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
    • uses their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them
    • forces the children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed to

Spiritual abuse is no less harmful or difficult to endure than any other kind of abuse, as a person’s spiritual life is deeply personal. However, it can be very difficult to identify, as many victims may not recognize they are being abused. In addition, the abusive partner may claim that any challenge to the abuse is an assault on their own religious freedom. Regardless of either partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs, abuse of any kind is never acceptable or justified.

If you are experiencing spiritual abuse, it can help to create a safety plan that might include:

    • reaching out to a trusted member of your spiritual/religious community for support
    • exploring options for practicing your faith/religion in a safe way

Hotline advocates can help you create a plan to stay safe while exploring options and resources with you. We are available 24/7 by calling 1-800-799-7233, or you can chat live on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central.

Comment section

6 replies
  1. There are many ways that abusers use psychology physical nice then the next moment angry I am one that that live with this for 45 years I left come back I can’t count the time I left this abuse man why because I wanted to stay no because I knew l did’t know how to live by myself he was the ruler over everything I suffer now I need some feed back on how to break the circle to let those young gals of 12 to know what the first sign is and to get away not wanting your family members to know why u always tuning but where do I turn I don’t know bills house hold things scare go my mind says but what do I do☹️

  2. This post has been modified to remove identifying information per our community guidelines

    Hi Gladys,

    Thank you for reaching out for support. There is nothing you could ever do to deserve any form of abuse. Abusers often make it extremely difficult and scary to leave an abusive relationship and it is common for survivors to need more than one attempt to safely leave. You have a right to feel safe and to build a healthy life. If you would like to reach out to us to talk about your situation in more detail or to talk about how to support young girls in your life around healthy dating behaviors, we are always here. You can chat us everyday from 7am to 2am CST or call us at 1-800-799-7233.

    Take care,

    Advocate LC

  3. Awesome article!! Most people fail to see or even speak on Spiritual abuse!! It is just as real as any other abuse. May hurt even more due to the connection they have with their faith!!

  4. Hey Trish,

    We always love to receive positive feedback, thank you so much for the comment! It is great that you are finding our website and resources helpful.

    Spiritual abuse is definitely real and something many people have experienced. If ever you need to reach out directly to talk about spiritual abuse, or any other abuse in your own relationship, we would love to talk to you. We are always here 24/7 by phone 1-800-799-7233 or by online chat located on our website homepage from 7am-2amCT.

    Stay Safe!
    Advocate KB

  5. I’m at a small conservative church that I grew up in and have been active in for many years. I for a long time struggled with an addiction and am receiving counselling for it and in the process have come to see that I may be experiencing spiritual abuse, and it may be contributing to chaos in my life that is making my addiction harder to manage. I feel like I should maybe leave the church, but I have so much confusion around this topic. I don’t feel like the “little bit” of abuse I have received is worth leaving the church. This may be because I have been conditioned to “look down” on those who don’t come regularly, or who have left in the past, like its the worst thing you could do. Also, I feel one of the messages that is often pushed is guilt centered, and that hasn’t been helpful for me. There are leaders who carry a lot of spiritual currency as well who I feel I need to please and impress. I’m not sure if these things are trivial, or if that is my abused mind playing tricks on me making excuses for my abuser. Not exactly sure what I’m looking for here, but any feedback or personal experiences would be helpful I think. Thanks for hearing me!

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