Warnings signs you may be experiencing spiritual abuse:
- Leadership cannot be questioned. If you're attending a religious group in which the leadership cannot be questioned because it is believed that they are speaking directly for God or some other supernatural entity, there is a strong likelihood of spiritual abuse.
- Leadership is painted as flawless. If you've never heard anything negative about your group's leadership, if they claim to have special access to truth that keeps them from erring, or they seem to be amazing, nearly superhuman people that you could only dream of being, it is possible they are manipulating you.
- If you feel there are a number of things being hidden from you.
- If your group does not disclose their finances publicly.
- If money is a topic continuously brought up. I'm not talking about phrases like, "We are hurting for money to keep the lights on in this building," or "Remember, we rely on your donations." All churches and organizations need money to survive. That's just a fact. But if you're hit up for money left and right; you are asked to bring in copies of your financial documents; or have books, movies, courses, or services solicited to you constantly, this is a huge red flag. Additionally, if your salvation or spiritual well being are conditional on you donating a certain amount of money to the organization, this a red flag.
- A tactic called "love bombing" was used on you. Essentially, what this means is that the members of the group, especially if they hold leadership positions, praised and loved you upon first meeting you, then as soon as you were in, they began criticizing you. Example: Leadership tells you that you're a shining example and very smart, then months later tells you you've gone astray and you need to be fixed.
- If the focus is on sin or defect in you. If in the majority of services or interactions with you they constantly bring up sin or some defect with you.
- If you are made to feel guilty constantly or that you're not contributing enough.
- You are told you are worthless.
- If they question your loyalty to the group or cause if you raise any questions.
- If they tell you that if you leave them, you will be miserable.
- If you're asked to donate huge portions of your time to the cause with no financial compensation.
- If you have to pay money to achieve a certain level of holiness or spiritual wellness and no alternative is given.
- If you are struggling financially, and still expected to donate to the organization.
- If they demand that you perform services for them in exchange for charitable compensation when you are down on your luck.
- If they will not hear your concerns with things that are happening within the organization.
- If they take things told to them in confidence and use it as blackmail to get you to submit to their authority, get money out of you, or provide them a service.
- If the focus is on the group at the expense of the individual. If you're in a group that tells you that all members must live a certain lifestyle, dress a certain way, discourages individuality, or tells you you need to be more like somebody else. Also, if they tell you your desires aren't as important as the common goal of the group.
- If you are asked to sign legal documents or if you're asked to swear to things before being told what you are agreeing to.
- If you feel like you have no voice and no way to express your concerns.
Spiritual abuse is a serious matter. It can seriously damage your self esteem and lead to many other issues. If you have been spiritually abused, it is not your fault, you are not stupid for having fallen victim to it, and you did nothing wrong. If you discover that you have been victimized, anger is a very normal reaction. If you feel you want to talk to someone about it, I am here, I also know many other people of many faith traditions and those outside of religion who would be more than happy to talk things out with you.
If you feel like you're in a situation where you are being spiritually abused, do not ignore it, and seek help in some form. If you feel physically threatened by the organization for trying to leave, contact law enforcement.
Remember, your religion should be a safe haven where you are pushed to grow into a better person and feel a sense of community. You should always feel safe and at peace in your religious community. And most of all, remember that you are not forced to stay with any group. Your participation in the group is 100% voluntary and they cannot force you to stay. You do not need anybody who will exploit you.
Until next time, peace be with you.