Profile of A Spiritual Abuser By Pam Witzemann


Profile of a spiritual aubserI 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

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”.

Related Posts ~ Spiritual Abuse and the effects on us as Children

A movie about Spiritual Abuse ~ Paradise Recovered

60 response to "Profile of A Spiritual Abuser By Pam Witzemann"

  1. By: Debra Gelbach Posted: 20th August

    I appreciate this article so much! I feel absolutely validated! I was 21 when I entered into the Christian world and had a very dramatic experience with my acceptance of Christ as my Savior. After 38 years of total commitment to the various churches I attended because I moved from one end of the country to the other, I have found manipulators on every level. The worst was a church I attended from 1984 – 2004 with a brief interruption. When I returned, there was a new minister whom the church which had grown considerably in my absence, had completely embraced. Long story short, this man sucked so many people in with his smooth, angelic like manipulation. The last 3 years of my membership I was in the “inner circle”. Wow! I was so controlled and deceived! Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing! I finally listened to my inner voice and left but not unscathed. I was harassed by this man for quite a while until I threatened to take legal action. I saved every letter written with the church letterhead and every letter written by certain members all condemning us to hell if we did not comply to their BS. I lost a lifetime of friends and my belief system was cracked. I worried about my foundation in life. I had other issues in my earlier life perpetrated by a dysfunctional family that made me ripe for the type of manipulation and control that I fell under. It was so insidious what went on within that church over the years which I began to learn when I entered the “inner sanctum”. Murder was also a thing that happened generating a book written by a popular author. The book did nothing in bringing down this man but the church grew smaller and he began reaching out more diligently to other spiritual communities under the attempt to claim that he was an apostle and that these other small spiritual leaders and gathers should unite under him. He often would write letters in the third person as though it was God speaking. I have not been in church in 12 years. I still believe in the triune God as God had nothing to do with the wrongness. I have learned a lot about myself from this experience. It was not and still is not but it is
    better. I suffered depression and distress in many area of my life. I am just now feeling able to be in charge of my life. I have had to unravel my entire life piece by piece to understand how I could let something like what I experienced happen to me. I so wanted to die at times because I felt so horribly guilty by the affects of my shortcomings on my family. I am grateful that I have the wonderful family that I have. Pam’s word’s are so true about how we are to truly minister and worship.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 21st August

      Hi Debra
      Welcome to EFB ~ Thanks for sharing.
      I hope you will consider joining the discussions on other posts as well.
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Aurele Posted: 15th July

    I’ll be glad to have your opinion.
    Thank you.

  3. By: Aurele Posted: 15th July

    ello everyone,

    That’s so much interesting to read you all.
    I am in a difficult situation and I have any closer friends to talk about it.

    I met a spiritually high guy with who I laugh, do crazy things and that’s contribute to free me. He also admires me and say I have a great potential and that I am strong, clever.

    But some of his behaviour makes me doubt.
    We had a relationship a month ago, but I had to litterally threw him out of my house because I felt in danger because he totally lost his control one day and broke things in my home in front of my eyes.
    And one another day he took a kinfe and cut his arm with it because I refused to listen to him.

    I decide to give him an another chance because he seemed to have changed. I recognized that he overeacted a lot.

    He knows my story about my abusive father and he listens to me.
    He believes in reincanations, in prior lives, and explain problematics situations with people by the fact that these situations have already occured in prior lives. Which for me seems totally crazy but why not, it’s his beliefs after all and it’s his buisness.

    He once said that we choose to born in our family. Yesterday, I said to him that I don’t believe that and that’s makes me angry because that put the blame on the childs.
    He answered me that I was born to endure all this to become later a powerful spiritual person able to do reiki, to heal people with energy, to eat prana and no more food.

    But his sentence “we choose parents” was painful for me and he didn’t understand and he spoke out on me and I was alfraid that he loose again his control like one month ago, so I didn’t answered.
    I feel a huge anger not being heard by him on this issue that matters a lot for me.
    I felt guilty to be on my nerves and I told him. He said to me very angry : “fuck the guilty” !
    And I was so afraid of him again.

    He told to give him in my arms and he came in my bed.
    I told to him to leave because I didn’t feel secure and aganin I felt terror. And he answered me : “we don’t care about your wishes, your needs only matters” !

    Finally he was ok to leave.
    This night I made the nightmare which is the same since 12 years, I am again in my house and my dad is here and I don’t how to escape.
    That’s the feeling I have with him.

    We again talked on the phone and it was horrible and we were angry at each other and couldn’t speak cool.
    He didn’t accept my reaction and said that I have hate towards him due to my father.
    He says that other people don’t answer when he gives them advice. And says “when someone give a piece of advice, you have to listen”.
    (not like me who doesn’t accept his advices”.
    He pretends to know what is good for me because he is spiritually high and a god’s child and to know “general truths” about the meaning of life that I didn’t know.
    He often say to me that he will move to an other town because he was sick of us too. And that breaks my heart.

    Is it me who overeacts a lot with him like he said because of my childhood or my anger was justified ?
    I am so lost and I don’t know if I can trust him or not.
    He said he wants to liberate myself and sometimes I believe him.

    Thank you for reading.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 15th July

      Hi Aurele
      It was hard for me to learn to stick to the facts when deciding if it was me or the other person who was the problem. I had to look at the truth I knew and the details that I also knew were “off”. He cuts himself? (huge red flag) He loses control and breaks things? (huge red flag) He says that he is “spiritually high” and therefore knows the meaning of life which “you don’t know”. (that is a huge red flag) I picked out many other red flags in what you have posted here about him. He is telling you that you are bitter about the past and judging him because of it, but you say he has said and done these actual things that are very dangerous and manipulative.
      There are some articles here about trust that might interest you. It seems to me that this guy has given you lots of information by his actions.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Krissy Posted: 1st July

    Pam, I am finding myself very sensitive to this topic lately. Maybe it’s because my ex’s abuse turned very spiritual as he could no longer physically, sexually or emotionally abuse me. Then I began to notice (and hate) spiritual abuse in general. It’s got to the point that I just wonder how people could be so invalidating in a church.

    For example, I find people treating me in a condescending way when they find out I am a single mother and victim of domestic violence. They want to help, but they end up being patronizing in the way they define me. I feel like they think only a certain type of person ends up divorced and leaving a violent relationship. It must be a person so broken and damaged that they have nothing to offer.

    Then the way the Bible is quoted to you. It’s as if I can’t read it for myself? Many times I actually don’t even agree with some of the statements made (like the way Darlene can’t agree with statements people post on FB that are supposedly inspirational). The central theme of many messages seem to promote blame and guilt. It’s always about what we did and how we should look at ourselves, which is great under certain circumstances, but when it comes to abuse, victim-blaming is just plain wrong. And most of the major crises in relationships are due to abusive dynamics. Nobody seems to recognize the elephant in the sanctuary or feel inclined to really address it.

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