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Identifying Spiritual Abuse in Relationships

Identifying Spiritual Abuse in Relationships

Spiritual abuse happens when lies are told as if those lies are the truth of God. Spiritual abuse is used as a way to manipulate and control, and it usurps divine authority in order to promote self, which is the opposite of what God does. God uses his divine authority and nature to promote others from a position of love, grace and mercy.

Who would misuse the words and character of God to perpetrate such a damaging falsehood? Tragically, some people do within the context of relationships. God, as the author of relationships, can be misrepresented and misquoted by those who seek to use relationships for power and control. When a person twists the truth of God to promote self, that person gains tremendous power over others. If a person hides under a religious mantle, then to question that person’s actions is to question God.

How is spiritual abuse manifested within relationships? When God, the Bible, and/or faith is used to weaken or destroy another person’s sense of self, spiritual abuse is present. The motivation behind the use of religion in this situation is not spiritual enlightenment but spiritual enslavement. When the spiritual abuser becomes the final arbiter for God’s will, then only by remaining in relationship with that person can the “truth” be known. In contrast, being out of relationship with that person becomes the same as leaving the “truth.”

At the root of dependency is an inability to be in true relationship with self. When this foundational relationship is damaged, other relationships are compromised. Misusing God’s Word, using religion as a way to scrape off a person’s sense of self, is a way for an abuser to create dependency. When the abuser takes on the equivalence of God, disobedience and doubt become defined as sin, with here-and-now as well as eternal consequences.

Spiritual abuse is the intentional misrepresentation of a spiritual truth for unspiritual reasons, such as greed, manipulation, injustice, hatred, or spite. Spiritual abuse is not a lack of knowledge. It’s using knowledge not to enlighten but to control, which is the opposite of what God does. God gives people truth so they can make a choice; spiritual abusers give people lies so they can take away those choices. Within relationships, spiritual abuse happens when one person misrepresents the truth in order to control and create dependence in the other person.

One of the most challenging tasks of a Christian counselor is to untangle those spiritual falsehoods from a person’s faith in God because, have no doubt, some people have developed deeply entrenched faith in their own unworthiness, their own unlovable nature, and their own hopelessness that is tightly bound to their belief in God. They have bound a belief in an all-powerful God with surety of their own worthlessness. We must gently peel away the untruths they’ve been taught and help them to discover the truth from the Source. Sometimes we must first convince them that they have the capacity to understand the truth of God’s Word without someone else, including us, acting as their filter.

To confront lies with truth, it is vital to go back to the very words of God that were used to spiritually bludgeon and to look at those words afresh through the lens of love and grace. Contemplating a different interpretation, a different viewpoint, than the one they received provides a personal connection between them and God. This also helps them to regain trust in their ability to decide, for themselves, what God is saying to them and why.

If you or someone you know has experienced any type of abuse in the past, it’s likely that they are still struggling with it in some form or another today. Our team at The Center • A Place of HOPE is skilled at addressing the symptoms today, but also unearthing and healing the root of the issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.


  1. Hi …im not sure how much to comment here but Ive been in an emotionally abusive relationship for three years that ive just come out of ‘again’. recently, ive started to realize that this person who claims to be a Christian has been spiritually abusive as well. I would like to ask some questions but not sure if this is the place. any response would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Penny,

      Apologies for the delay in responding to your thoughtful note. Please feel free to call our admissions office at 888.771.5166 and we would be very happy to talk. This is a free and confidential call and you will be speaking to professional staff at The Center. God Bless.


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