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: Pam Posted: 29th August

    Renee,I’m blessed to have the love of my husband but he is still human and I respond to his love by also meeting his needs for love. That is a kind of condition because humans are all so needy. God loves me just because He made me. He loves everyone that way. I found my way by responding to God in love and learning to love myself unconditionally as He does. I can’t give you all of the answers you need but I know you can find them. You are loveable, Renee. Your family missed the boat by mistreating you and using you in a way that didn’t fulfill your intended purpose.

    I know how hard it is. I deal with that void where my family of origen should be every day.


  2. By: Renee Posted: 29th August

    Thank you, It hurts a lot. It’s been going on all my life. Being devalued, unloved. You would think I could get over it. I just want to be loved without strings and conditions I could never meet. I just don’t know how to grow beyond it.

  3. By: Pam Posted: 28th August

    Renee, I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m glad you stood up for yourself though. I know what it is like and I had one of those cries also when I really took an honest look at how my family treats me and understood how little they value me. It is better now though because I value myself and I only have relationships with people who treat me with respect. It is a whole new world. Hang in there.


  4. By: Pam Posted: 28th August

    Nicki, We all need to be able to spot an abusive person and protect ourselves. We find them in faith based organizations but they are everywhere. God is just a tool in the hands of a manipulative abuser.


  5. By: Renee Posted: 27th August

    I am so emotional!!! I basicly told my sister it was ok if she moved out. I told her that when she said I was cold hearted it really hurt me. I told her I had done my best to support her and with my abuse issues I can only do what is safe for me. I don’t measure up to her or any one and It just all hit me about how disrespected, devalued, not supported and unloved I felt. I told her the animals got better treatment than I ever had. I cried and cried, then I sent her the letter. I am over whelmed with sadness.

  6. By: Nicki Posted: 27th August

    This is true and it needs to be said. Thank you for saying it. I have experienced it myself.

  7. By: Pam Posted: 26th August

    Angela, Thanks for the compliment! I don’t have a book out on this subject but maybe I should!


  8. By: Angela Barribeau Posted: 25th August

    One of the best books I’ve ever read is titled “Tired of Trying to Measure Up: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen! I would be interested in reading your book also! God Bless! Thanks for writing and sharing with us! Angela

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th August

      Hi Angela,
      Welcome to EFB. I read that book too! I love Jeff VanVonderen! He has some really great books out!
      Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Pam Posted: 22nd August

    Kate, I know those boundaries are a good thing having done much the same. I’m much happier without the cloud of disapproval hanging constantly over my head. I know no that I never deserved it but it was a major part of their manipulation of me. I don’t make excuses for it any more either. When I confronted them openly and found out how little reguard they had for me, there were no excuses left. I don’t analyze anymore either. It is all pretty easy to understand once I admitted to the existence of evil in them.

  10. By: Kate Posted: 22nd August

    Pam, i guess that you could say that I have made more definite boundaries between me and my parents. For many years, I never learned to say the things that needed to be said. I never learned to stand up for myself. But in the last few years, I have said some things that needed to be said, and still having more contact than I wanted due to circumstances beyong my control, I have suffered through the agony of having to hear so much untruth over and over. So, now that I have moved away, it is WAY better for me. And I have seen that what they say to me, with all of the hidden messages, has never changed, even if they only talk to me (on phone or in person) once or twice a year!! Amazing how they prioritize on what to say and get in the regular insults. And no more excuse-for-abuse making for me. No more feeling sorry for them, etc., analyzing them, no more. Not listening.

  11. By: Pam Posted: 22nd August

    Kate, Maybe I misunderstood but I thought there was a split between you and your parents lately. Sorry, if I didn’t get it right. I see what you mean by deceit from clergy. I thought maybe you were making a specific reference.


  12. By: Kate Posted: 22nd August

    #36, Curious as to what you mean by my making some big, imortant steps lately?
    As for the scripture quoted above, just a good confirmation of reality that relates to all the subjects we dicuss on this blog, and especially to the kind of confusion resulting from spiritual abuse. if people are deceiving you, they are not trusting in the Lord. Why hang around?

  13. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Kate,Yes, they are opposite. God is truth and lies are required to deceive others. I’m not connecting the dots somehow, Kate. Could you clarify a little?


  14. By: Kate Posted: 21st August

    Psalm 25:3, “No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.”

    The statements (“trusting in you” and “try to deceive others”) are contrasted to show that deceiving others and trusting in God are opposites.

  15. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Kate, My parents treated alcohol the same way and I had to realize that alcohol wasn’t my problem, it was the way they treated me. People do use church like a drug as a place to escape and to numb their emotional pain. What they did to you was neglect. They abdicated their responsibility toward you to train you to be a part of the world around you. My parents did the same. Neglect is hard to wrap your mind around and it took a long time for me to realize what a huge whole my parents left in my upbringing through emotional neglect. I’m sure they have their hurts also but they will never get well until they take responsibility and quit hiding from it or pushing it off on others. My dad went from alcohol to being a preacher with the very same results. His faith is like an alternate reality that he escapes to. It is also a cloak for the evil things he has done in his life. People don’t talk much about having a healthy spiritual life but as you know, there are many who have an unhealthy one. We can be spiritually healthy also. We can enjoy a relationship with God and still function in the real world. In fact, it should be a source of strength that helps us cope with reality not escape from it. Hang in there, Kate. You’ve made some big, important steps lately. Go easy on yourself.


  16. By: Kate Posted: 21st August

    My parents had a loveless marriage, a truth that I lived with my whole life, but came out clearly in later years. Also, my mother cannot go to sleep at night in a bed, she recently told me, and I think that she was abused as a child. Her home was extremely dysfunctional. She has never told my dad that she loves him!! I think he had to have had some issues to have married her and buried himself in the church to avoid having to really deal with his wife.

  17. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Renee, You are valuable to God and to me and so are your kids. I know all about small towns. People think crime is bad in cities but in small towns there are those who are allowed to commit crime and those who are blamed whether they did anything or not. I believe that people who use God for gain and to hurt others will have to account to God for what they’ve done in His name. That’s the only comfort I can offer right now. We live in a world where the bad guys are in control but I also believe that their time has a limit and there will be a time for the righteous to rule. I know I’d rather be kicked out of every church in the U.S. rather than be a part of what you just described. I’m sad you had to go through that and I know it makes Jesus sad too. If they could, they would do the same to Him.

  18. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Kate, None of that has anything to do with God. It has more to do with parents who want the church to handle their teenagers for them and clergy who want to please those who are supplying the funds for their paychecks. It does create an atomosphere of abuse because it is first and foremost an abuse of what believers meeting together should be. The church was never meant to be a surrogate parent. I don’t know what emptiness your parents were trying to fill by being over involved in the church. Sometimes, I think people who have little success in the outside world like being somebody because of their visibility in the church. Others, I think are trying to earn favor. There are also those who truly love God and like to serve. I don’t think it is so much the action as the underlying reason as to why people spend so much time in church service. I know there can be intense pressure to do so but a psychologically and spiritually healthy person won’t do any more than they feel led by God to do. The integrity of people that we entrust our children to should always be under scrutiny. It is foolish to think a christian is above committing sin. It makes me feel sad that you were treated that way. I think parents who behave that way are trying to fill a void left by great dysfunction in the family and it is more a symptom of the bigger underlying problem than the problem itself. My parents were that way with alcohol. Jim Beam and Pabst Blue Ribbon were god in our house. When they quit drinking, I thought things would get better but I found out that the alcohoism was only a symptom.

    Thanks for sharing, Kate. All of that stuff needs to come out.

  19. By: Kate Posted: 21st August

    My mother didn’t go to a lot of these church functions, and I don’t remember her ever asking me about them. My dad might have asked me how the catechism class was, and I probably said, “Fine.” Imagine your child being in a place where she is about the only girl and lots of guys around, and thinking about it now, I wouldn’t even LET my kids into a situation like this and they wouldnt’ have wanted it anyway. But we don’t question anything that goes on in a church, THAT is the abuse. If it calls itself Christian, then we don’t evaluate the character of the people found therein. Above scrutiny.

  20. By: Renee Posted: 21st August

    Sure it was illegal, but you have to understand where I lived was a “good ole boys” town. When we filed police reports do you know what I got? A police officer sitting in my living room telling me they define child abuse as a broken bone or death. Bruses, blood, and welps are not abuse! Slaping or slugging is just a means of keeping your wife or child in check. This is the absolute truth! When I went under ground I was turned away from every church in the city I went to. My girls and I slept in our car for 2 weeks. I prayed and prayed I got another job (2) so I could get a place. I was driving around when I saw a guy doing some remodeling on a duplex. He turned out to be the owner. After hearing my story he told me to come back the next day. He wanted to talk to his wife. I met with him and he said we could move in. He also went to the electric co. because they wouldnt turn on the electric. He was a blessing.
    When my youngest daughter went into counseling the phyciatrist notified the police dept. and asked for our police reports. They were distroyed as well as the pictures of bruses. My ex’s girlfriend was related to half the police dept. and like I said before she was very rich, her parents leaving her 1.2 million in assests and life insurance. So you see we had no value never did.

  21. By: Kate Posted: 21st August

    Between the ages of 7-15, I spent an average of 12 hours per week either in the car travelling to and from church, or in classes or services in church. Add it up and I could have earned a master’s degree by then in something useful to everyone, including me and my family via my ability to earn money.

    Instead, what did I have? A use for God’s creation, that is, me? Not at all. Just a bunch of words w hich got me nowhere that do NOT live rent-free in my head anymore!!

    At age 15, I went to a church with a large youth group, which in essence, became my parents, as they were pretty non-involved in my life anyway. The paycheck of the youth pastor became the driving force in my life. We were told if we were dating how and when we could touch, and not to touch, hence we had no privacy as the pastor’s words got between the two of us. We couldn’t know our own selves or navigate our own relationships. We were divided into groups where we memorized everything that they taught us for the past six weeks, which we wrote down furiously while the leader lectured. Then we had “quizzes” where we competed to answer questions as teams, earning points, and, are you sick to YOUR stomach yet??

    We needed to be working by then and having adult level responsibilities and we were forced back to kindergarden, AND to knock on every door of our small town harrassing everyone who wasn’t in our church to come to our church or die and go to hell.

    Our youth director told the rest of the group (about 100 people) that if I would get baptized their way then MANY others in the group would repent and get humble and be saved.

    Abuse, control, manipulation, anyone??

  22. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Joy, Your love for others will play a major role in helping you to heal. When you’ve put all of your personal boundaries in place and know how to love others safely, there will be no stopping you! I was much like you and sometimes, I thought I was too open and loved too readily but I just had to learn to love while keeping myself safe. It is victory to me that no matter what was done to me, I never lost my ability to love and I no one can seperate me from God. Those two things are my anchors that keep me from being swept away in all the storms I’ve weathered.

  23. By: Pam Posted: 21st August

    Susan, You know that I was told the same thing by psychiatrists and it was also God who helped me escape and rebuild my life. However any of us conceive of God, I know He loves all of us and accepts us as we are. I am good enough and I’ll gow where I want to go and do what I want to do and I’ll let no manipulative maniac have control over me. I am free. I hope everyone who is being abused through manipulation will learn the tricks they use, create boundaries around their own person, and also find freedom. One thing I know is that I’m not going to let the bullies rule any playground I want to play on!

  24. By: joy Posted: 21st August

    Hi Susan…

    It is freeing not to be concerned about which knee I put down first in church and whether I crossed myself right.. I do believe GOd is so much bigger than we can imagine after all God is bigger than all he universe and God is not finite or mortal.. so no matter what word or what measurement we try to apply to God we would be so totally off..this i believe..

    I really don’t want to be tied to any “faith” but want to try every day to love everyone as much as I can because I truly believe. real love .. is from God and makes us closer to God when pure. .but i may be wrong. but rather be wrong in loving too much than in not loving enough..

    Hope someday I can be healed and whole and be able to do everything I am suppose to do. I really am so grateful I have T and therapy in my life!

  25. By: Susan Kingsley-Smith Posted: 21st August

    @Joy – what you wrote makes me smile and at the same time feel very sad that the differences created by humans can be the source of so much pain and suffering. I envision a being bigger than I can imagine sort of in a similar state. tsk tsking at how his kids could be fighting over such things and yet grieving the pain and suffering being created throughout the world by this kind of conflict. I feel so very sad for those who cannot allow others their own faith. It is so freeing to have left the “doing” of that kind of faith behind me where I had to do and be “right enough” to be accepted by God. Its good to hear that you’ve shifted from that focus of right way wrong way to that of acceptance. I’ve found thats a really good place to be:)

    @Pam – thank you. It took a good long time for me to work out my issues around the idea of a God – or not. In the end – it was my faith in that thing bigger than the rest of eternity that helped me put my life back together after 2007 when I escaped psychiatry and went through the withdrawals from numerous drugs that I’d been told I’d have to take “for life”. For me this is all connected and been such a huge part of my journey. Its nice to talk about it. 🙂

    @Darlene – I like the way you point out that the characteristics Pam brings up are those of all abusers. It was in learning how to recognize these things that I became empowered to protect myself and finally stop repeating the patterns in my adult life. Thank you for doing that here on EFB in so many ways. 🙂

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