Spiritual Abuse and Emotional Ravaging


After I came home from Bible College I decided to volunteer at the church I grew up in, leading a group that met to design the services with more creativity. There was a certain song that our pastor had blacklisted from being sung. During one of these meetings, I brought in an article written by the composer of the song explaining his meaning and intention behind it. The pastor said he had already read the article and felt it proved even more that the song wasn’t “theologically sound” and that the composer was in error, valuing our emotions more than our minds (that being the main problem). I challenged his point, highlighting a quote from the article itself which contradicted exactly what the pastor was saying. Eventually the tension peaked in the room and the pastor exploded at me: “So you think that what we FEEL is more important than what we THINK????”  I had heard this message in many subtle ways throughout my church life, but never so explicitly. It wasn’t just his theology that whacked me over the head that day- it was his tone and the vengeance in his words, the condemning message that said, “How stupid and wrong are you to think that your emotions are valuable in some way? Don’t you realize they can’t be trusted??”

I do still believe in Jesus and how he is portrayed in the Christian Bible. One of the things I take away most from the stories about him were that he asked so many people this question: “What is it that you want?” He engaged with their hearts. He stopped and listened to their answers. It doesn’t seem like he asked the question with furrowed eyebrows and suspicious eyes… He didn’t hint that he knew their answer or expected a certain response. He asked in such a way that people opened up and really shared what they felt inside, what they wanted. He gave them the freedom to be real. Because of this, people were empowered to know themselves better and had the opportunity to navigate and embrace a fuller life.

In all my years of church and Bible school attendance, a question like this was never asked without some kind of agenda or hook at the end. Out of the hundreds of sermons and chapels I attended, my desire, my heart, my feelings came with me but were most often pummelled or corrected to death by the time I left. Verses were sliced and diced from the Bible to condemn our anger, our jealousy, our doubt, our fear, our desires, and even our joy (be careful WHY you feel happy), our pride, our grief (God has a purpose for everything that happens to you, so feel sad for awhile but you better get thankful again soon). We were TOLD what we SHOULD want. “You call yourself a Christian? Then, you should want to read your Bible every day. You should want to pray a lot. You should want to ‘evangelize’ and give away all your earthly goods to the needy. You should want to tell everyone about God. You should want this, you should want that, and if you don’t then something is really WRONG with your faith, with your belief, with YOU.” I spent years agonizing over whether my feelings on the inside qualified me to be a Christian (even a PERSON) and filled a dozen journals with my doubts and anguish. At the root of it all was the lie that my humanity could not be trusted and had to be controlled in order to be pleasing and good.

My emotional landscape was blazed away like a fire on the prairies over and over again and I still struggle with this part of my recovery. The lies I learned in church about the evil lurking in my emotions were like blow torches on the prowl, snuffing out spontaneous inner life here and there, teaching me to fear and correct myself all the time. The hope in living whole and free from those lies means I can let this inner landscape come back to life. Just like Jesus, I can practice asking myself “what is it that you want?” and know my honest answer.


22 response to "Spiritual Abuse and Emotional Ravaging"

  1. By: Carla Posted: 9th July

    I’m really glad that you are finding mutual understanding and a sense of “refreshing” here Gale. When you say “I was afraid I was trying escape my inner self too”, do you mean in separating yourself from religious conditioning? If that’s what you meant, I can really identify with that. It is a continual process of healing for me, knowing that my true identity lies beneath all of the layers of “do-goodness” that were draped on me in my childhood, and a very healing truth to know that God wants to connect with my true identity that was under there the whole time. I can let go of the old identity and false truths that hurt me so much. Thank you again for sharing your truth and engaging with my post. ~Carla

  2. By: Gale Posted: 8th July

    This sure helps. Between my early years, men who cheat, boss’s that fire me for not sleeping with them, friends who were actually co dependent, therapists that took advantage,on and on… standing back from my religion was like suicide but being awake to watch and wait for the time of the end. With each story and each subject it sure helps to hear other peoples experiences. I read books about other women talking about their conditioning and I was afraid I was trying to escape my inner self too, the more I identified with them. It helps me understand the harm in how we try to teach others without having a degree on humanity and balanced healthy thinking. I thought just having faith, following the bible would help me fix all the past things that I couldn’t fix in my childhood. I thought the people I would meet would all be honest and searching for the truth too. I realize how it is not this church or that church, this Country or that culture. How all I was conditioned to feel, and why, has impacted my life and now effected all my relationships even my children. It is a lonely place never fitting in and trying to just belong and have purpose when nothing you do seems to be right. It is lonely when you keep separate from the world and its influences, including your family. I thought my children would have a new family, people who would not abandon us.It is hard to convince oneself your OK when those in your congregation are no different than many people you knew who have hurt you. It seems that when your naive your also a target for people who need you to stay that way. And when you speak out you are punished, and shunned, called an apostate. I really appreciate everyone’s comments, because I have been stuck and pushing everyone and everything away. Many people dont understand triggers and all I know is that I feel repulsed when someone tries to be nice to me.

  3. By: Elizabeth Posted: 3rd October

    Darlene, I love this blog!

    These posts you do take me through a step by step process which is both unsettling and healing.I thank you for this.

    Spiritual abuse and the issue of being abused by people intensely interested in power and control, are a big part of my family’s legacy to me.

    It was not so much I think that they REALLY all believed that God was gonna get them, if they didn’t measure up; i believe it was an arean where they could express their need for power over people. I met up with alot of what I now consider IRRATIONAL and deadened people. Deadened to other peoples’ pain.

    My mother DID really truly believe that God was a very damning God, but in the church there people who seemed very casual about God, but interpersonally they seemed hateful,judging, and one of the big things I remember is many people were cruel to those suffering spiritually but took no personal responsibility for how they treated people. It was like ‘God says this, not me…’

    I found the atmosphere in church like a minefield- very dangerous and unpredictable.alot like my alcoholic dad and repressed angry mother, so the church atmosphere reflected my home life alot.

    I almost self destructed at a young age because I had so bought into trying to be perfect and failing in every way. No one ever taught me it was ok to be human and make mistakes.I just gaave up at some point and accepted I was hopeless. That is what i learned at home.

    At this point in life I avoid church people because of the pitfalls of hearing that message again that I am worthless. I know that is not the message of the bible but it is the message I got from many people IN the church, and not just in one denomination.

    But I KNOW no one speaks for God.He is love, but his people have a long way to go.

  4. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 18th September

    Hi Sharhonda! It’s really nice to meet you and thank you for taking the time to add your two cents- it is so valuable! I can relate to a lot of what you have shared. I stopped going to church over two years ago because I just could not handle listening to another sermon, listening to someone else tell me what my relationship with God SHOULD be like, how I should feel or think. I had been learning all this new truth about my value and trusting in my own good heart, which was changing my life, and I didn’t feel like what I was learning at church was lining up with that. And I knew somehow deep down that God was cheering for the new truth that I was learning about myself too. It felt really risky to stop going, and I know some people in my life were concerned for me (even some relatives who didn’t even go to church themselves!!) But I kept trusting in my heart… I am a lot like you- I have that connection with God, I want to live my life the right way, the good way. And you know, I AM. My faith is more real to me today than it was back then. I have decided that living a life pleasing to God means working it out in my every day world, learning, growing, making mistakes, living out my own unique life with as much integrity as possible (even if that ruffles other people’s feathers). I have found new friends who have left the “box” too, and met new people who I have connected with in my journey beyond church (you are one of them!) I just love how you say that the root of real Christianity is the condition of the heart… Wow. That is so true- and your heart is good and on the right path. So many churches discount that. I will not put myself through that kind of treatment again. The further I get along this journey, the stronger I believe and experience that my heart is deeply good and that God loves it completely whether I go to church or not. I send you a big hug and just want to encourage you to keep listening to your gut, keep searching for the real truth, keep living true to what is inside of you. God doesn’t love us by using guilt and shame, or by making us conform to all these rules (just like you say). We can live full, satisfying AND God-pleasing lives without those rules. Love to you Sharhonda! ~ Carla

  5. By: Sharhonda Posted: 17th September

    Hi Carla, I’m so happy to read someone who is thinking the same way I am…I shared with Darlene, that since my recovery begin I left the church and have been away for a year. I guess my actions cause me to question if I still believe in Jesus at all. I’ve read so many other things since then but at the end of the day my heart always goes back to him. Alot of it has to do with spiritual experiences and what I’ve felt in my heart. I however continue to question where I stand with him. I like secular music, I may occasionaly drink, I love to dance, and sing! I would like a tatoo even though I don’t have the balls to get it! LOL I used to love hearing sermons but now all of them seem the same, they all seem to teach you to get rich or tell you to do this formula and things will go away. I used to feel so beat up by God the way I was being taught in churches made me feel that I’d never be good enough. Since i left I feel better but now spiritually I don’t know what to do. I have some very charismatic christian friends and they continue to talk about the devil did this, or you “better” do this, or you “have” to do this, and if you don’t xyz will occur in your life. That scares me to pieces! I want to live a life pleasing to God, I want to love him and his people, thats my thing I live by, love him and his people. I think Christianity like many other religions at the root is about the condition of the heart and it has been flipped to focus on other things….I just wanted to add my two cents in here…I”m late of course but still wanted to include my feelings here..I can so relate to your post and am happy to have been directed toward it…Thanks for your honesty!

  6. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 16th July

    Andrew, it is GREAT to see you here! Thank you for reading and for your kind support and words. All the best to you as well. ~Carla

  7. By: Andrew Snyder Posted: 15th July

    Thank you for all your hard work in this blog Carla.
    Your care is evident, as is your heart. I’ve enjoyed my ‘browsing’ and feel humbled by your honesty. I enjoy getting to know you through this blog.



  8. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 1st July

    Thank you for visiting and sharing this great hope Carol. I am thankful too… It is true- we can become alive again and find life to the full. I enjoyed visiting your website as well.

    Wow Susan, that is unbelievable. I’m sorry for how you were failed so badly, how those who should have empowered you disappointed you… The teaching that the man is the “head of the house” has often been used to justify abuse against women and children so terribly. I’m really glad you are part of the conversation here.


  9. By: Susan Posted: 1st July

    Good post as usual Carla! Personally – I see many points I can relate to in most of the comments. On the one by Manuel I can even see that one…although – I turned to the church for help to be a good parent because I had no clue how to do that coming from the background I did.

    And the church taught me to abuse and beat my children, deny them their emotions (ignore them when they fall down and get hurt – tell them they are ok when they hurt etc) not to mention that when I went for “counsel” the pastors said I was making it up that my husband was abusing me and it was my fault he hurt the kids – I was not “submissive enough and interfering with his being the “head of the house”. Well duh. Yes I was interfering – I stood between him and my children and took what I didn’t want them to get.

    Its great that you’re opening up a conversation about what typically is another “secret” to be kept and not spoken of typically.

  10. By: carol welch Posted: 1st July

    I too can relate to this article. Oh, so very much. My heart rends and my eyes tear up.

    And…my heart is also grateful…that I found my way out of the grave of suppression, of beating my self like I was some ravenous beast. Thankful to have risen out of that grave, out of that soul murder and/or soul suicide (as I call it). Still with scars and ghostly visits at times. Yet thankful to have arisen, for the most part.

    Thank you for sharing Carla…

    To life and hope,
    ~carol welch

  11. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 1st July

    Hi Nikie! I like what you say about having red flags for anything fundamentalist. When a system starts sacrificing people for the sake of life-killing beliefs, I won’t be a part of it. I do believe that there are truths in life that help us to grow and to become healthier, more loving people. How I see it, real truth works in a relationship with us. It invites us, understands us, challenges us, and works with us- doesn’t stand over us and whack us on the head so we conform and become like robots. Just like you say about your relationship with God being personal and relational- that’s life giving! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Shanyn, that is a great way to say it- fellowship that feeds us. I love the imagery of the truth being something to eat, digest, share with others. I’m so glad my words have been encouraging! It is my desire to bring people hope. Thank you again for sharing your joy and your warm heart Shanyn.


  12. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 1st July

    Jeanette, thank you for sharing your journey voice too!! I am thankful to be finding one source of authentic connection here at EFB, as well as the continuing journey of being real with myself (the most important one for me…) I am really glad I can connect with you on the “outside” (or is it a new “inside”? Well, if it is, it is one without walls!) It is enriching to learn from each other. Hugs to you Jeanette.

    Manuel, I agree with you. In reliving this “post” I felt angry at my parents for not seeing what was happening to me, even though I know they were just as trapped themselves. I love your “shout out” to parents- yes, think for yourselves! Tune in to your kids and what they are going through so you can make best decisions for them. Thanks for sharing this excellent point Manuel.

  13. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 1st July

    Hi Tracy! It is so sad to me that people leave a place promising hope and “life” feeling crushed and depressed. There is something really wrong with that! I had to distance myself from church too and no longer go. The last church I attended was the least abusive church I had been to and I did find some healing there. But over time other frustrations came up and I decided I just couldn’t be part of it anymore. It is unfortunate that so many church leaders block themselves off from listening to and learning from the people in their church- welcoming their questions and their points of disagreement. Thanks for sharing yourself here Tracy- it is great to have you here. ~ Carla

    Nikki, I like how you highlight that Jesus himself had all kinds of emotions which he didn’t deny or downplay. I think this was why so many people followed him- they were so attracted to his aliveness. I agree with your point about extremes too- I don’t think that our emotions should always dictate our actions; it’s the not feeling them, not validating them that scrunches our “humanness”. They need air to live and breath and give us insight into who we are and what is important to us. Hugs to you!

  14. By: Manuel Jones Posted: 1st July

    I think that there should be an outreach program for people who want to become parents, this would surely curtail or put a dent in the amount of spiritual abuse cases. Maybe we should look at prevention of as well as treatment for the spiritually abused simultaneously.

  15. By: Shanyn Posted: 1st July

    Hugs for you Carla, your images of the prairie fire and the torches ready to burn away anything that looked like feelings were so vivid and apt descriptions.

    Your feelings, your heart, shows through and helps me on my own journey of discovering why our emotional and spiritual needs need to be sliced apart by doctrine in a church that forgets that God FEELS for His children, with HIS heart and HIS emotions.

    Faith is nothing without heart and hearts are not build on logic or doctrine but on spirit and feelings. God loves it when we have joy, when we dance and sing and shout – He has told us so. But our churches, forget about making a joyful noise unto the Lord. They forget that the debate of believers is stone sharpening stone. They forget that it was the heart of people who were healed by their faith in God, their heart, their love led them.

    Not logic, not one person’s doctrine, one person who determines through their own comfort zone what is acceptable in their view of God. How limiting and vain of them, how deadly and dangerous to crush the spirit and feelings of anyone who comes to them, them who stand in the position of shepherding His flock in communities and churches.

    I have always liked this one saying, and this morning I’m too tired to find the attribution (that’s what Google is for folks) but I wanted to share: There is a huge movement amongst people of faith, they are moving away from churches and moving towards God. This is not to say we do not need fellowship, which we do, but fellowship that feeds us – mind,body and spirit. It isn’t fellowship when it wounds us, discourages us in our seeking of God or when it abuses us. That is not of God.

    Bright blessings for you Carla, you have inspired me and encouraged me once again…

  16. By: Moreheads/Nikie Posted: 1st July

    We struggled for years with this question and in the end we left Christianity behind and converted to Judaism. There was just too much hatred and anger, too many horrible memories. We wanted our sons to grow up in a community that had taken us in and nurtured our well beinging. Still, we don’t see Christianity as evil or without merit, it works for a good many people in a righteous and giving way. Even in Judaism we had to find the denomination that fit our beliefs, anything fundamentalist threw up huge warning flags. We identify as gay so there was another wrinkle in finding a congregation that was accepting.

    The path back from spiritual abuse is different for everyone, but that the core is finding your relationship with G-d in your own heart. We get great comfort from our religion and the community it provides, but G-d is personal to us.

    Your posts have been very heart felt and touched us, thank you. Nikie…

  17. By: Manuel Jones Posted: 1st July

    too bad parents want the church to raise their children, yes I’m indicting the parents! Children were not born to a Church building, they were born to parents. So there! The parents have to protect their children from all sorts of lies not only at church but also at church. Secondly, God indicts the “Church” as in the people or believers that go to the church and have influence over others (authorities first, then people who buy into the lies secondly).

  18. By: Jeanette Posted: 1st July


    You have touched on what has caused many people to turn from their spiritual journeys, to give up, and that is a hunger for authenticity which is so hard to find in the traditional places. It is a shame that for most of us, the only way to find truth and authenticity is to remove ourselves from the places who claim to have the only ‘way’ to it. And in that ‘way’ they kill whatever is authentic in each of us, and those of us who hunger for life, authentic life, find ourselves on the outside, knowing something is wrong, but unable to give it voice.

    Thank you for giving your journey voice! It is one that is shared by so many of us.


  19. By: Nikki Posted: 30th June

    Carla this is another very good write upon how often times in the religious community our own personal feelings is devalued. I say “religious” simply because that is what it is there is a difference in living religious and living Godly … a huge difference!
    One of the main points of healing in my life is by having my emotions, my feelings validated simply because when our emotions is not validated then who we are is not validate either. Though I do know that my feelings can mislead me for example in panic attacks my emotional level is way out there but at the same time I don’t need some one berating me because i am having these feelings instead I need someone that will just listen and be there until I can get back to myself to fully grasp the whole ordeal..

    Jesus validated people’s feelings everywhere he went by allowing them to be themselves and to be open with Him. At the same time He also helped each individual to move thru these emotions in a proper way.

    I use to really struggle with the verse that said “The joy of the Lord is my strength” because it was pounded into me by many that to have such joy we needed to be happy all the time.. but what these people did not understand was in order to be happy all the time I would have to be some kind of religious robot and I don’t think that is what God intended. Instead what i have learned is that the Joy of the Lord is not based upon a happy feeling it is based upon the reality that no matter what we are going thru we can have the joy of the Lord even in our tears and heartache because we know that He is there with us and He allows us to cry and to vent … He did that for Elijah and the one He called the man after his own heart, King David, wrote one of the most emotional books of the bible the book of Psalms.

    After reading this I posted a status update on my facebook I think it really sums up what you have been sharing here …

    “Self-doubt is what leads many people into troubled areas in their life and when we are told to doubt ourselves we devalue the truth that God has given us a free will.”

    Truth is as long as we deny our emotions and slap on the “pretend” happy face we are not being honest and we are not dealing with the reality of the situation. God will not lead us into areas of our life to where we have to sin to get out of them and being dishonest is a sin thus when we are going through hardships and trials etc. it is hard and our emotions do play a part on dealing with these things. Thru our emotions our tears are born and our laughter is given a voice. This is something that many in the religious community deny and I find that rather sad simply because even Jesus wept and even the night that he was arrested he told three of his disciples that “My soul is of sorrow unto death” as he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. (mark 14)

    The reality is salvation did not make us non-human without emotions nor without being able to show them … it is thru our tears that we can find healing and it is thru our laughter that we also can find healing..

    Spiritual and emotional abuse is the most common abuse among churches and it is the least talked about or dealt with. I call it the silent killer to the soul … what I have realized is however we treat ourselves is how we will treat others … Jesus gave us two great commandments the first is to love God with all heart, mind, and soul and the second being like the first is to love our neighbor as we love our self but if we are being taught that the way we feel or how our emotions is all wrong then we begin to feel devalued, worthless, and not in touch with life … thus we see other people that way too.

    I have had a long hard battle in this area of my life and much like what you have said in past blogs I draw back from recovery simply because it is so ingrained into me that I am wrong …

    Though I do see a trend of an extreme that is happening and that is some churches have really gone the opposite way and that is not teaching people that we have a responsibility when dealing with our emotions thus many become selfish and think that their emotional rights are more important than others …

    It is within human nature to go to extremes but in God there is a healthy balance and that is what I am working towards is that healthy balance and to know the truth for the truth sets us free.

    Thank you again for sharing your life and your heart with us. (((HUGS)))

  20. By: Tracy Posted: 30th June

    This is a big part of why I rarely go to church. I usually leave feeling crushed and depressed. I don’t think God’s word should make us depressed. When I was younger I used to argue points of theology, and tried to discuss things I didn’t understand with pastors and church leaders, but that impulse was stomped out of me years ago. I was always wrong, or had read the scriptures wrong, or whatever reason they gave me. And to add insult to injury, they turned a blind eye to my mother’s abusive ways, and added their own voices to my insecurities.

  21. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 30th June

    Melissa, welcome here and yes, you are definitely not alone! I’m so glad that my words can help to ease the struggle. For me, knowing now that I can accept and nurture ALL of my emotions is a big step on my road to healing. Hugs to you on your journey ~ Carla

  22. By: Melissa Posted: 30th June

    Carla, all I can say is thank you! Thank you so much for opening yourself up like this and putting into words something that I have struggled with for years! It’s nice to know that I am not alone.

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