I am pleased to have Pam Witzemann guest blogging for Emerging from Broken this week writing on the topic of Spiritual abuse for this miniseries that I have been publishing in recent weeks. Please help me welcome Pam and as always we look forward to your feedback and all comments are welcome. Darlene Ouimet ~ founder of Emerging from Broken.
Profile of A Spiritual Abuser By Pam Witzemann
I am a Christian and my experience with spiritual abuse is in the Christian context. However, spiritual abuse is not limited to Christianity. There are abusers in every faith, religion, and philosophy. Where ever human beings gather, there will be, at least, one abusive person. Spiritual abuse is differentiated from other abuse only by the use of God and the abused’s faith in God being used as a manipulative tool. All abusers want power and control over others and spiritual abusers are no different. This power over others can be used to carry out all kinds of evil and is at the root of the terrorism we experience today. It isn’t the philosophy that does the evil but the power hungry abusive men who lead them. It is impossible to clear all faith organizations of spiritual abusers but there are ways to spot them and follow a course of action in protecting one’s self from them. The following is a profile of those who spiritually abuse.
A spiritual abuser often appears almost angelic. They seem to have their lives and their families in perfect order. They are often popular and will have a following. Sometimes, they are leaders in the church but often, they are lay persons who use the church as a place to build a reputation and a following. They usually have few close friends but the closer one is to them, the more they must maintain control over that person. A spiritual abuser mistakes admiration as love and will do anything to protect and maintain their source of admiration. When they speak of “protecting their testimony” they aren’t talking about the testimony of how Christ is working in their life, they are speaking of their image in the community. The public image they create is highly important in their quest for and obtaining of admiration.
It is easy to feel inferior around someone who appears to be a near perfect Christian. An abuser works hard to engender such feelings of less than and is diligent to maintain them. They are expert in finding the weaknesses of others and seek control over them by pointing out the differences between their victim and themselves. They will offer themselves as a source of advice in overcoming whatever they define as missing in the person they are seeking to control. They will constantly point to themselves as successful in comparison to most others. A spiritual abuser won’t tolerate anyone close to them who does not cow-tow to their point of view. They will also seek to destroy the reputation of anyone who dares to criticize anything about them. To do so is to threaten the false image they have of themselves and portray to the world. Threatening an abuser’s false image will put the person who they once desired to control in danger while the easiest way to remove one’s self from under their spell, is to refuse to give them their needed admiration. If they can perceive no personal benefit to themselves in maintaining a relationship, then they have no use for that person and in their mind, they simply cease to exist.
It may be more difficult to first recognize a member of clergy as a spiritual abuser. Churches expect near perfection in their pastors and ministers and since these people are in a fish bowl, they often feel forced to live under a certain amount of pretence in fulfilling what is expected of them. However, a leadership role in a church is a perfect seat of power for a spiritually abusive person. They have the pulpit as an aid in maintaining control over others and it isn’t uncommon for them to criticize those who see through them or simply disagree with them over some matter from the pulpit. Sometimes, very personal information is shared in this manner. If you are the one who’s personal problem is being announced before the congregation, it doesn’t matter if no one knows who the pastor is talking about. The threat is made clear and in a very public and authoritative way. These kind of preachers will always point out sins but seldom point to Christ as the cure. Instead, they will create and teach rules for their congregations to live by. People who are constantly focused on their short-comings and struggling to maintain rules that often make them stand out in the larger world, are downcast and easy to control. This is when the spiritual abuser steps in between God and the people in his congregation. He takes the place of mediator and bars the way to God for those who don’t comply with his standards. The abuse may go no further than this or it may become more sinister as a means of supplying victims for sexual abuse. They may also use their power to gain monetary wealth from the people they rule over. In the extreme, cults are formed around these kind of leaders. Once completely cut off from the outside world, followers have been led to killing themselves and even murder.
A spiritual abuser is happiest when his/her following offer so much admiration that it borders on worship. They rejoice in being able to control what “their people” wear, watch, listen to, and even eat. They leave no room for the direction of God in others but insist that they themselves be the source of spiritual enlightenment. One sure way to detect these persons is by their attitude toward God. A true believer will have a healthy respect for God and be fearful of crossing God’s boundaries. Spiritual abusers will talk a lot about God but will live their lives by their own pleasure. Their convictions will change with the situation and the person that they desire to control. A true spiritual abuser sees themselves as God and persons who truly believe as foolish and as marks.
As with preventing all abuse, I believe it is important to set boundaries that will protect us from falling under the control of a spiritual abuser. I begin by not expecting out of any human being or group of human beings, what only God can give. I look to God to solve my problems and not the church or leaders in the church. I also refuse to give anyone the power to speak for God in my life. I can pray, I can read the Bible, I can think and I can make my own spiritual decisions. No one else knows God’s plan for my life. That is between me and God. When someone attempts to spiritually abuse me, I speak out against it and remove myself from their presence. These simple boundaries make it impossible for a spiritual abuser to take control of my life. I’ve found that they will seldom persist and will move on.
I am a Christian and I can speak for no other faith but my own. There is a common misconception that when people believe in, Jesus they receive morality. Jesus instead, offers eternal life to those who accept Him by faith. One isn’t immediately transformed into a perfect person. Both believers and nonbelievers often expect more of Christians than they are equipped to give. Christians are just people who believe in Jesus and struggle with the same problems in life that everyone struggles with. If I keep this in mind, I’m not surprised when someone who calls themselves Christian does something that is unchristian. This differs from spiritual abuse as it isn’t wrong-doing for the sake of control. Some well meaning individuals may teach a twisted understanding of a portion of scripture because they have been taught it that way. They may also behave in an unbecoming manner as the faith has been modeled to them wrongly. They too are victims of spiritual abuse and usually, can be corrected and will want to change in order to please God. A true spiritual abuser cares nothing about pleasing God but uses Him as he uses all others, for his own purposes. Spiritual abusers like to think of themselves as gods but they are just frail humans like the rest of us. They can be spotted and it is possible to protect one’s self from them. I always check what I am taught by the Bible and I take time for my own personal study of scripture. I also know that Jesus is my mediator to God and I need no other. I’ve found this the best prevention in protecting myself from manipulative teaching and control by spiritual abusers.
Pam Witzemann was born in Santa Fe, NM and is now 54 years old. She has been married for 33 years, raised two boys and has two grandsons. Pam and her husband have had their own business for about twenty years. Pam is a painter a writer and hopes to make these pursuits more than a hobby in her later years. Be sure to visit Pam’s blog “Boomer Back-Beat” where she writes about a variety of subjects.
Another popular post shared here by Pam: “To be objectified is to be dehumanized”.
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A movie about Spiritual Abuse ~ Paradise Recovered