Spiritual abuse is the misuse of spiritual or religious beliefs to manipulate, control, or harm others. An abusive partner may exploit their partner’s spiritual or religious beliefs to exert power and assert or maintain dominance. It can be difficult to identify since many victims aren’t always aware that their spirituality is being used against them.
Spiritual abuse can manifest in many ways, including:
- Skewing religious teachings: abusive partners may distort religious doctrine and/or texts to justify or excuse their abusive behavior, including things like rape and physical and financial dominance. Abusers may also use scripture to humiliate or belittle the person they are abusing.
- Isolation and prohibition: abusers may use religious practices to isolate their partners from their faith community or support networks or prohibit them from practicing their religion.
- Ridicule: sometimes abusers make fun of their victim for being spiritual or religious.
- Forced religious practice: some abusers may coerce their partners into engaging in religious practices against their will, using spirituality as a tool for manipulation.
Spiritual abuse can have profound and lasting effects on survivors’ mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Survivors may experience intense feelings of guilt or shame, believing that their abuse is a result of their perceived spiritual shortcomings.
For members of the clergy, Greene County Family Justice Center in partnership with other local organizations provides training to better help them better recognize the signs of all forms of abuse. When a couple turns to their faith leader, they don’t open with the fact that they’re experiencing domestic violence, so it is important that the clergy evaluate the power balance in the relationship before they provide counsel. It is a tricky position when a member of their congregation comes to them about marital issues, and clergy need more tools in their toolbox to be able to dissect what’s happening.
Spiritual abuse can lead to a loss of faith or a strained relationship with religion and spirituality in general. By acknowledging that spiritual abuse is abuse, we can work toward creating an environment that promotes healing, empowerment, and safety for anyone who is experiencing it.
The Greene County Family Justice Center is a non-profit collaborative of local agencies offering comprehensive services to survivors of domestic, sexual, and family violence. Our services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and we welcome survivors at any point in their process. We partner with local non-profit service providers as well as local law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, and Children’s Division to make victim services more accessible and completely voluntary. If you do not want to participate in the criminal justice process, we support you.
Our vision is a future where we all work together to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors through comprehensive and accessible services, education, and perpetrator accountability. Through a coordinated framework and co-located response, we strive to break the vicious generational cycle and community impact of domestic violence and resulting victimizations.
We can help you plan for your safety whether you plan to stay in the relationship, or you are actively trying to escape. All our services are free, confidential and survivor centered. Have questions about what services are available? Visit us at 1418 E. Pythian Street or give us a call at 417-874-2600. We are open 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.