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Guest Post by Provender: "Dealing with a Sense of Futility After Leaving a Spiritually Abusive Situation"

I am honored to welcome Provender to Quivering Daughters.

Dealing with a Sense of Futility 
After Leaving a Spiritually Abusive Situation

I recently visited a forum of former members of certain restrictive-type churches. I didn’t have to search long to find fallout from a spiritually abusive experience. The third comment on the most recent post said this:
I don't know what is sadder, that we've left and basically no one has cared or contacted us or that we still feel kind of sad that no one cared. We left the church I grew up in about a year ago and then started going to a new bigger church. … When we left the first church, family members shunned us and treated us bad because basically, how dare we leave the little family church to go to a bigger church, one of their enemy churches. As far as they are concerned we are basically out of the Lords will and living under a curse for leaving them. Then in May we stopped going to the big church and no one cared. What's crazy is that we still haven't completely given up on the idea of going back to …[this kind of] church, we just don't know which one to go to. We are entertaining the idea of going to a different type of church but it's like we are stuck in depression and confusion and don't know what to do anymore. What is wrong with me that I tend to cling toward a religion and think about going back to these churches that were nothing but crazy drama anyways and then to top it off when we left the people didn't care anyway! We have no friends anymore and most of our family doesn't speak to us. They don't even like us enough to try to win us back!
Then, sadly, the author of the comment adds a pathetic “Lol.” at the very end.

There really isn’t a lot to laugh about here.

The comment was just the first example I could find. It is not an isolated case. Far from it. All over the nation – really, all over the world, according to the Feedjit site reader on the Provender page – individuals are leaving churches with their faith demolished and their spiritual ideals shattered, victims of abusive churches.

When churches or church leaders take the most vulnerable parts of us, our trust and faith, and rip them to shreds, the results are truly devastating.

On Provender, I link to an article called Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups by Jim Moyers. This piece examines the great damage done to those whose faith was shattered after leaving “fundamentalist” groups.

Moyers details the effects of something he calls “Shattered Faith Syndrome.” Here is how he describes it: Having lost faith in what was once a primary source of meaning and guidance, the former believer feels lost and overwhelmed. While not all groups go so far as to prohibit contact with those who leave, a former member is unlikely to be well regarded by the faithful. Estrangement from the community of believers - the focus of social life within many such groups - will compound the sense of isolation and despair that often comes with the loss of one's faith.

Isolation and despair: the hallmarks of severely abused Christians abandoned by their former friends.

Moyers says that the psychological effects experienced by such outcasts are long-lasting. He says they often undergo a chronic “sense of dissatisfaction coupled with difficulties in finding new sources of meaning and direction.”

That certainly would describe the forum commenter above. Because controlling groups treat human reason with suspicion, Moyers says, these members too often fall prey to authoritarian teachings.

Their teachings stress “human imperfection.” The followers often internalize the belief that pride in oneself is sinful, and that results in a perpetual negative self image.

Carrying around a persistently negative self image is a horrible way to live. The toll, even before leaving the group, must be a burden difficult to shoulder.

Moyers says that many inhibitions and compulsions as well as frustration and guilt stick around long after those who leave have intellectually rejected the teachings. “Having been taught to regard every impulse as potentially evil,” Moyers writes, “the former believer may have little capacity for spontaneity and lack viable means for genuine self-expression.”

Some of the spiritual abuse checklists mentioned on Provender include “lack of a sense of humor” as a sign. Living with constant negativity is a sure way to beat out of a person any spontaneity or humor. It is no wonder people from controlling groups begin to dress, act and look the same, and often seem to have little joy.

Even after they escape or are kicked out of controlling fellowships, they still experience some of that same flatness, and sometimes things might even seem worse for a while.

After you are out, where do you find new friends? In churches your former elitist church looked down on and castigated? Unlikely. Out in the world, full of sinners and backsliders? Hardly. In another elitist group? All too often that’s what outcasts are led back to.

It isn’t unusual to find people who’ve fallen from one abusive group right into the lap of another. Wanda Mason’s story comes to mind. Also, Margaret Jones’s.

Moyers claims that when people leave restrictive groups, they lose the tenets that formerly composed their source of meaning and self-definition, “the central organizing principle of her or his life.” When you lose the core, you are suddenly open to a sense of meaninglessness or futility.

Because of this, there is going to have to be a period of grieving, and people in these situations don’t always recognize that need. Many of these groups are already suspicious of “worldly” psychology. Psychology is seen to be a system of explaining the human heart in direct competition to the biblical worldview.

If you didn’t trust psychology when you were in a controlling group, you probably aren’t suddenly going to find it acceptable when you are out. It still holds a threatening place to many. But even so, just as medicine has value, mind medicine also has value, and survivors who do take advantage of therapeutic methods may end up with an advantage.

Moyers suggests that naming your losses and also those things you gained by leaving “can go a long way towards helping someone move through a necessary grief process. The depression that an ex-member may feel is a normal and understandable response to a very real loss.”

He also points out the “double loss” that ex-members from these groups have to deal with. They aren’t understood by family and friends still in the group, and they aren’t understood by those outside. To the world, any member of an unorthodox group is probably going to seem weird. Moyers says they are therefore “misunderstood and isolated.”

Another article on the deep repercussions of spiritual abuse comes from the churchabuse.com site. Titled Spiritual Identity Crisis? this article describes the loss that comes after spiritual abuse as a void, as the stealing of our identity. The anonymous author says that when we let our identity be taken by these groups, we are “forced to manage our own identity again” after the leader is no longer a part of our lives.

The author likens the process to brain surgery. Afterwards, you have to learn all kinds of basic skills all over again. It’s not impossible, but it can take a long time.

Here is a very powerful description from the article on what happens: “When we turned our back on the pastor/group, it was equal to abandoning God in our minds. In our desire to please the group/leader, we learned to become people pleasers, which caused us to abandon our own identity. We replaced who we were on a very deep spiritual level with the identity of the group/leader. We emptied ourselves out and took on the group mentality. After we escape this process, we find ourselves feeling empty and fractured. This is not because God is gone, but rather, because we abandoned our self identity.”

No wonder we who have escaped controlling groups often wander around aimlessly, almost in a state of shock sometimes. The central core of who we are has been manipulated and distorted. When we no longer have purpose, when we have lost our own identity, everything we do can seem futile, worthless.

The author describes what can happen when you feel this way. Some will stop reading the Bible or going to church for a while. Some are exhausted and stop working to please others, focusing on self. Others find it hard even to make decisions or perform simple, daily functions. Some cannot form their own opinions. Some will struggle for years.

But the article does end on a positive note. It says that though it is hard to do these basic things, you CAN take back your life again. Like atrophied muscles, your decision-making powers just have to start being exercised again, and eventually they can get into shape.

So if you are dealing with a sense of futility after leaving a spiritually abusive situation, what do you do?

Recognize, first, that you aren’t alone. What you are experiencing is a common reaction to the manipulations of a spiritually abusive group.

Second, be careful that in your haste to avoid all the negative fallout you don’t immediately seek refuge in another abusive group. Keep eyes and ears open!

Third, recognize that you might have to take a break from church and church-related activities for a while. It might feel strange and seem wrong, but until your discernment skills are given a chance to be strengthened, and until you have “decompressed” or “detoxed” it might be necessary.

Fourth, list the negatives of being in the group as well as the gains from being out of it.

Fifth, talk about your experience and read about the experiences of others on sites such as this one. When you’ve lived under repressive systems for a long time, chances are there was an unspoken “don’t talk” rule. You feel like you’re gossiping every time you mention your negative experiences. You weren’t. You were being controlled. Now it’s time to get it all out in the open.

Sixth, pray. Even if you’re not sure who God is anymore. It’s okay. It really can’t hurt to pray.

If these authors are right, and I think they are, eventually you will be able to find purpose and light and hope again, though it may take time.


For more, please visit Provender"A clearinghouse of sources on spiritual abuse and cult-like practices in churches and groups." It provides a wealth of information, hope, and encouragement. Many, many thanks for your contribution to Quivering Daughters.

The Daughters of Patriarchy: Torment

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Mark 10:13-15

"If I had stayed in Ohio, I wouldn't be alive," she said. "In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first — imagine the honor in killing me.
"There is great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It's in the Koran," said in the interview, which has been posted on YouTube.
Rifqa, who is seen wearing a large diamond cross during the interview, said she had to hide her Bible "for years," and she repeatedly "snuck out" to attend Christian prayer meetings. She referred to previous victims of so-called honor killings, in which young Muslim women were murdered for bringing dishonor to their families.
"They love God more than me, they have to do this," Bary told WFTV. "I'm fighting for my life. You guys don't understand. … I want to worship Jesus freely, that's what I want. I don't want to die."  ~ FoxNews.com
I can't help but wonder: what if young Rifqa had been told that she cannot hear from God herself, but that He communicates through her father?
What if she had been told that she is easily deceived, because she is a woman?
That she is too young to discern truth?
That God wouldn't tell her something without confirming it through her parents?
That she is rebellious? That she is wrong?
As Christians, we champion her cause and pray for her safety. And yet, what of those among us, who seek to obey the voice of God and yet become essentially ostracized for doing so?

Within fundamentalist faith, the "least of these" are the little girls ~ the little ones who grow up and become women, like us, with sorrow and sadness and pain. We might not be killed, yet our hearts wither away. We might not be beaten, but we suffer the effects of dissuasion to the call of God. We might not die, but our spirits may lack vitality. We might not be tortured, but we hide tortured souls.

Religious persecution is abuse ~ the mistreatment of a person or group based upon spiritual affiliation or belief. Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also." John 15

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me."
John 6

Who hated Jesus most?

In the New Testament, the world is often characterized by religious traditions, practices, and the leaders thereof. The world is often fleshed out by legalistic religion, a religion blasphemous in nature. For a legalistic religion gives us a god we can see, touch, feel. A legalistic religion negates the need for faith. A legalistic religion provides a false sense of security, an "if / then". If I do this, then I will be more righteous. It provides a false sense of boundaries, of safety. As long as I don't do this, I am fine. It promotes rules, not relationship.

Jesus came to restore relationship and abolish rules.

Those who promote legalistic Christianity, re-creating God in the image of man, are driven by fear. Fear is the absence of faith; fear involves torment. And emotional, spiritual, psychological, and even physical torment is what many daughters of patriarchy experience as they seek to follow the gentle voice of Jesus who whispers, "Come. Rest."

"Do not quench the Spirit," warns Paul. It takes courage to step out in faith, but it brings blessing and reward from the True God, who freely gives the Holy Spirit and guides us into truth.

And He is the healer, the comforter, the life-giver, of tormented little girls.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33
Image from foxnews.com and youtube

Soul Rape

He took the poor man's lamb.
2 Samuel 12 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds.  But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him.  And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
This depiction of tenderness and sweetness marred so cruelly by death grabs my breath and won't let go. Even King David rose up in rage. "So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”(v. 5-6)

When innocent, vulnerable souls trust those in charge for protection, nourishment, and sustenance, only to be used, manipulated, and betrayed, it is not unlike the story of the poor man and his little ewe lamb.

Both were oppressed. Both knew injustice. Both were sinned against. Both were helpless in the hands of one bigger, stronger, and more powerful than they.

Physical rape is one of the ultimate damaging, horrific crimes against another living being. It assaults the most intimate, private element of the body, deeply affecting the heart, mind and spirit. With force, it seizes and plunders—it is the abuse of power over the powerless. It violates the sacred, with brutal desecration.

Spiritual rape violates the soul.

God as a weapon

Religious abuse, especially from those closest to us, plunders the most intimate aspects of our existence. When we are told what to think, when those in authority assume the position of Holy Spirit, when God is re-shaped by human hands, when those in leadership control thoughts, behavior, and being in the very name of God, He has been used as an instrument of violence.

A parent who manipulates thought and behavior using the name of God, "the Bible says," fear of hell, death, disappointment, worldliness, the world, the falling away, the mark of the beast, and a hundred other threats, seizes, plunders, and exerts force . . . and mis-represents the true God to trusting, innocent beings created in His image.

Within Christian families, a child who accepts Jesus becomes a brother or sister in Christ. And Jesus said, "as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me."

This does not diminish the importance for instruction in righteousness, or the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But using religion as coercive means demonstrates utter lack of faith and trust, putting authoritarian parents in a very dangerous position.
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. John 6
As a son starts to walk by the Spirit, an earthly father should encourage his son’s decision-making and guidance to come from a personal relationship with the heavenly Father, not himself. To the degree that the father makes the decisions and dictates the lifestyle of his believing son, to that degree he hinders his son’s spiritual life. A father’s role should decrease just as John the Baptist’s role decreased when Jesus appeared (John 3:30).
This applies to daughters, too.

Will the Real God please stand up?

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12

To those taken advantage of, spiritually, particularly in the realm of a religious family,
to those used and manipulated to advance human interpretations, ideals, and intentions,
to those who feel helpless, exhausted, and afraid,
to those who want to discover truth and know who the true God is, really . . .
. . . there is hope.

Because He wants to be known by you.

True shepherds balance truth with humility, mercy, and grace.
True shepherds do not take the little ewe lambs. They do not kill, eat, and consume them. Rather, they feed and nourish.

Recovery from Spiritual Rape

Much like incest—which is sexual abuse within the family—familial spiritual abuse is especially repugnant. Out of every place on earth, family should be the safest haven, opening inviting arms as shelter for ravaging, brutal storms.

When dysfunction occurs, when humans are humans, when they say, "I will be like the Most High," wounding happens.

And the little ewe lambs are taken.

1) Acknowledge truth

King David wrote Psalm 51 following his exposure by the prophet Nathan. Verse six has been a lifeline for me throughout spiritual abuse recovery.

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

We tend to gloss things over, especially when it comes to those we love most. We defend and make excuses; we elevate our own flaws as though this justifies abuse. But advocating denial keeps us in darkness, unhealed. When we invite the light of His truth to expose the violation, the rape, the abuse we sustained, He has space to work. It is frightening to venture towards the darkness. It can be messy. But He makes everything beautiful in its time, and who the Son makes free, is free indeed.

2) Renew the mind
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12
In addition to overcoming denial, we must be willing to let God sort through the wheat and chaff within our minds. For me, this required that I let go of everything I had always believed except for Jesus and the cross, and beseech God to replace lies with truth.

Within a spiritually abusive environment, mind control runs amok in the hands of authoritarians, who use good things for selfish purpose. It is vital we allow God to correct errors in thought, belief, doctrine. We must be a living sacrifice, serving Him and not the theology of man, and this necessitates renewal of the mind so misshapen and injured by abusive principles.

To be conformed to this world is to be pressured from the outside. This fleshly mind Paul decries in Colossians 2:
why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The antidote for worldly thinking is transformation: change from within.

3) Learn to express truth
1 Peter 1:13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Spiritually abusive methods which implement mind control rely upon re-interpreting or eliminating individual thinking and acknowledgment of feelings. Whereas feelings are not always a barometer of truth, they can reflect crucial internal conditions. As you journey towards recovery, you will feel many different feelings, such as anger, grief, loss. The old way, the way which conformed to our religious world, instructed us to deny these feelings, to die to ourselves. Yet how does convincing ourselves to believe a lie—I shouldn't feel anger, this is just my flesh, I cannot allow this sadness, for I should have the joy of the Lord—have any sort of merit in a quest for healing?

How often did denying these feelings lead to deep, lasting wholeness?
For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. Ecc. 2
We tend to over-spiritualize, but Paul cautions against the mind corruption which distorts the simplicity of Christ. My exhortation for those struggling with overcoming pain from spiritual abuse is to try a new way. To be truthful with yourself, with God. To be transformed—changed from within, through the work of the Holy Spirit. If you feel, then feel. If you need rest, then rest. A foundational element of spiritual abuse is the drive to do . . . to pray more, fast more, read the Bible more, witness more. Perhaps as you re-discover the true God, the one who bids come, rest, you will find that the journey to healing requires you to stop.

Cease striving.

Comfort for the weary

Jesus prayed, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. This is a beautiful, gut-wrenching prayer—literally, as He hung upon the cross. He knew of their ignorance, He knew that His torturers did what was right in their eyes, and the eyes of religious law. But that did not stop the spear which pierced His side. Did not stop His agony as He cried out, My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?

It did not stop His death.

We who bear the rape of the soul have wounds so deep, pain so great, because it affects the core of our being which is created in the very image of He who is used against us.

He is abused when we are abused.

We can take comfort, joining Him in the fellowship of His sufferings.
that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
There is hope even for those who have inflicted this destruction. The Jesus who took our place on the cross for our sins, with whom we have fellowship of sufferings, who became sin for us, endured at once the pain of the abuser and the abused.

And His mercies are new every morning.

Similar posts:
The Stolen Years
Sparrows, Falling


The next several days will find me catching up on what seems a million and one things needing my attention. Here are links to a few articles which have especially touched, inspired, or helped me this week.

The Broken Beloved, by Ann Voskamp
The Grace in Parenting series, by Karen Campbell
A Holy Longing, by David Taylor
Helpful Sites on Spiritual Abuse, by Provender
Perseverance, Proving Character, Hope, Abounding in Grace, by Anika


Spiritual Abuse in the Family

**this is an updated version of an earlier post**
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.
—Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is one of the most devastating crimes committed against another human soul. Using the name of God to control the life, behavior, thoughts, and even the future of another is sin. One which, I believe, causes God to weep and rage with jealous fury.

To take His name in vain, and attach it to the doctrines of men, causes them to commit idolatry.
2 Corinthians 11:2-4 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
This is no light thing, and invites the wrath of God.

Thankfully, those who have experienced horrendous spiritual abuse within churches or other religious organizations have many resources designed to facilitate recovery. Tender shepherds, ministering healing to the brokenhearted within Christendom—hearts wounded in the sanctuary designed for nourishment, rest, and growth in Christ—have a special place, I believe, in the eyes of God.

But when this occurs within our homes, what then? Is it still Spiritual Abuse? Is it still as serious? Should it be addressed, or left between each family and God? What if you are biologically bound to those in leadership? If there is no evidence of mistreatment to the physical body, is it really called abuse? What about mistreatment of the soul and spirit? How do you answer when you are still a youth, told you are too young to discern truth, and to trust your elders? When questioning is treated as rebellion? How do you respond when you are a woman?

Father, Father!
Many authoritarian and patriocentric families promote isolationist ideology in an effort to withdraw from the world. The advocation of unworldliness and Christian Separation is compelling, resulting in many well-intentioned parents who become independent from the system and society—consequently, disconnected from healthy accountability. This often includes a wholesome, established church body. Acknowledging need for Biblical study and Christian exhortation and instruction in righteousness, the head of the family becomes the sole conduit for religious growth and guidance. It is a natural progression, as left unchecked and unaccountable, the role of spiritual leader becomes exploited, and grave ramifications take root.

According to David Henke who founded the Watchman Fellowship, spiritual abuse has five distinct characteristics: authoritarianism, image consciousness, suppression of criticism, perfectionistic standards, and imbalance in belief or practice. In the context of family, these features are particularly noxious, for a godly Christian family should be a haven, a place of safety. If it is not, then Jesus has strong words for those who cause others to stumble . . . "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." Luke 17:2

And to offend is to abuse.


Authoritarians exercise complete or almost complete control over the will of others, as well as favor complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom.

In familial structure, authoritarianism happens when the parent—in patriarchal ideology, always the father—wields absolute control over his children. Thoughts, actions, decisions, desires are all subject to his will, often regardless of age. Plans for future, activities, clothing, books, even, to some extent, the food they eat, are governed by parental conviction. This may not always be carried out consistently, especially in large families—however the goal for absolute domination over the personhood of another, remains.

Many raised within an authoritarian environment—especially women—find it extremely difficult to make decisions later in life, particularly if they have been taught that their own thoughts and communication with God cannot be trusted, due to the deceptive nature of the heart. While the degree of authoritarianism is determined by such facets as personality, relationship with God and others, and personal dogma, typically authoritarian parents:
  • react rather than respond
  • are excessively demanding
  • require instant obedience and conformity, often without explanation or with a "Because I am the dad!"
  • are intimidating and become angry, animated, or forceful
  • often communicate unreasonable expectations
  • convey unspoken messages such as: you are loved and / or accepted by me only when you perform the way I demand
  • disparage and discourage the emotional needs of their children
  • are restrictive and intrusive
  • do not respect boundaries

Contrast this with authoritative parenting, where the authority of a parent is inherently established by being who they are, rather than through austere insistence. It is believed that authoritative parents are a healthy balance between authoritarian and permissive styles.

Authoritative parents:
  • respond rather than react
  • have high but reasonable expectations
  • are assertive
  • practice healthy balance between discipline and nurture
  • are sensitive to the needs of their child, including the emotions
  • respect boundaries, including those of their children
  • encourage responsible decision-making while still under protection of the home
Christianliberties.com reminds us that:

  • All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18).
  • Jesus alone is the Head of the church (John 5:26-27, Eph 1:22-23, Col 1:18).
  • God does not permit Christians to have controlling authority over other Christians in the church (see Matt 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:24-27, 1Pet 5:3, Matt 23:8-12, etc.).
  • We do not have multiple special high priests over us. There is only One High Priest, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 3:1, 4:14).
  • We have One Master Christ and we are all brothers (see Matt 23: 8-12).
  • You cannot obey two masters; you will love the one and hate the other (Matt 6:24, Luke 6:13). You simply cannot obey Jesus as master and a pastor as master at the same time.
We must remember that all Christians, even those within an isolated family, are members of Christ—and therefore comprise the church. A father who makes himself prophet, priest and king is no less liable for his actions than a pastor for his flock. And what is done to the least of these is done also to the Lord of heaven and earth—He does not take this lightly.

Image Consciousness

Spiritually abusive families place undue emphasis on how things look. This is taken by proof-texting a popular KJV verse: Abstain from all appearance of evil. 1 Thess. 5:22 Responsive or initiative actions are weighed according to how they might appear to someone else—believer or not—regardless of actual truth. Image conscious "Christian living" counters the gospel and ministry of Christ, evidenced by the fact that Jesus Himself appeared with prostitutes, gluttons, and drunkards. Appealing to "your witness" emphasizes appearance over truth and heart. Jesus concerned Himself with heart and truth, not appearance.

Suppression of Criticism

To question
is rebellion within authoritarian, spiritually abusive families. Children, even adult offspring, who raise issues or inquiries regarding beliefs, convictions, and way of life or doctrine, are perceived as a challenge to authority, a threat to family values.

A common reason for this view is the element of influence among members of the family—specifically, brothers and sisters. For the proliferation of established creed, any challenge is detrimental, for it enables seeds of doubt or uncertainty to become planted into the minds of others. If all were to question the leader, his power and influence becomes undermined, weakened. As preventative, the challenger becomes the errant one, the problem, the black sheep, the prodigal child, the wayward one—possibly even considered unsaved, or shunned.

However, questioning is a healthy way to grow and discover what is righteous and true. Test all things; hold fast what is good. 1 Thess. 5:21

Perfectionistic standards

". . . but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15,16

To "prove" the success of patriocentric parenting, it is critical for mothers and fathers to have perfect children. Although verbal protests arise—"Nobody is perfect except God", for example—in actuality, families rife with unspoken messages use performance-based love as subtle coercion. "Responsible" parents dangle approval or affection before a child, to achieve desired results—thus validating the right-ness of a chosen lifestyle. In reality, this is behavior control—manipulation. But holy living—"God's way" or the "biblical way"—accumulates many regulations, so parents believe extreme control is justified as instruction in righteousness and "training up in the admonition of the Lord." The foolishness of children is taught with gusto—stark contrast, however, to the serious warning of Jesus.

Parents who demand perfect adherence to established dogma end up re-creating God in their image, laying the foundation for grave theological and relational errors in the hearts of their children. When perfection is demanded throughout formative years, children have no true example of humility, godliness, or truth. Failure is anathema—there is no grace within a spiritually abusive system, and little faith.

Appealing to fear—fear of hell, fear of disappointing parents or God, fear of the world, fear of the flesh—is another method of behavior control with attempts to ensure perfection. In addition to subtle condemnation for questioning, challenging, and other understood 'misbehavior', further error is {often silently} promoted: that the spiritual head alone hears from God and interprets truth, for those within his care are not able to accurately discern any matter which may contradict the accepted family creed. Those who do, or attempt to do so, are labeled rebellious, and humiliated.

As a result, truth is suppressed in unrighteousness, for all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

The pursuit of holy conduct has inspired centuries of debate, reformation, creed, conviction, and judgment. Legalism has reigned through religion since the institution of religion itself. Peter teaches, however, that true holy conduct is not based on works at all.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Spiritually abusive families retain severe lack of balance. Many claim a special grasp on truth, or God, that is not shared by others even within the Christian faith. Some claim to be more holy, more enlightened—perhaps not in words, but subtle inferences cast this conjecture upon others who may feel less-righteous by certain standards. Proponents suggest that this is conviction, yet true conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit and leads to salvation, whereas the sorrow of the world leads to death. It could be death of relationship, death of joy, death of spiritual growth. Imbalance, or extremism, rarely produces any godly fruit.

Other aspects of imbalance are manifested as spiritually abusive families frequently downplay the importance of evangelism, or elevate Mosaic Law despite the sacrificial work of Jesus.

Biblical Response to Spiritual Abuse in the Family

Ezekiel 34:2-4 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them."

Authoritarianism and religious abuse never, ever, ever have a place within a true, godly home.

When your father is your shepherd, when your father does not feed you or strengthen you when you are weak, nor heal you when you are sick, nor bind up your broken places, nor bring you back when you are driven away, nor seek you when you are lost—dear sister, you have been gravely, inexorably wounded.

When your father is your shepherd-who-slaughters, a leader who weakens your heart and faith, who brings sickness to your soul, who drives you away, who makes you lose your way, who rules you with force and cruelty—you have been injured in ways that slash marks upon your heart, possibly even marks upon your skin.

When God's name is used to hurt the ones created in His image, when His name and nature, when righteousness and the Bible, are distorted, when things that are not of God are made to be so, when sacred pillars become erected in the heart, we witness the rise of idolatry. When we serve and follow anything that is not God, we sin. When your father has taken the name of God in vain, and used it against you, to control, manipulate, and to harm you, he will answer to the Lord who says it would be better for him to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Lean not on your own understanding

We who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit have the Spirit of God leading us unto truth. We must examine our hearts, and forgive, lest bitterness take root and poison our love and faith. However, forgiveness does not make abuse okay. Forgiveness does not miraculously wipe away the pain we feel.

As adult women, we must acknowledge our Lord in all our ways, and He will direct our paths. We cannot blame our parents, our fathers, even our husbands in patriocentric families. Just as we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and as we are able to approach the throne of grace directly, through the work of Jesus needing no other mediator, we are also responsible for our own hearts, our own attitudes, and what we do with our own hurts—the pain we feel, the abuses we sustain.

We can pursue truth, with vehemence, determination, and passion. We can seek wholeness, and understand why we struggle, why we ache, why we have wounds which need healing. We can throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and writhe and weep and rage, for He will not turn us away or tell us we are not perfect enough. We can live, and flourish, and become His hands to the ones who come behind.

For Jesus' love is messy love. His hands are bloody and He is not afraid of darkness. He does not heap oppression on our souls or give us more to do. He Himself leaves the flock to seek us, lost in our sin, and rejoices when He finds us. He is the Healer of the Broken, who binds our wounds.

He is the good Shepherd.

What now?

For those of you haunted and wounded through a spiritually abusive family, one thing essential to understand is that God does not condone what has been done in His name. It is also important to acknowledge that true abuse has occurred; until then, denial will prevent lasting healing—for denial perpetuates falsehood and suppresses truth.

The journey to healing is as personal as we are, for God meets us in our pain and gently guides our paths. Begin with the basics—God, His Son, and the cross. Offer to Him everything else you have always believed so that He may redeem your mind, thoughts, beliefs, heart, and your years. He can separate the wheat from the chaff, even within your mind. This takes courage—for it is when we are faced with questioning—challenging—everything we have always believed, that we discover how often we place faith in things that are not living. When everything falls away, and we stand naked before our God, He can restore, renew, and rebuild the foundations of our lives. And be patient—learn to let yourself feel, for it is crucial to mourn that which is lost. God Himself feels, expressing wrath, jealousy, sadness, joy, and love. You will likely feel anger, betrayal, distrust, grief. It takes time to heal, but His mercies are new every morning.

The journey out of darkness is a pilgrimage to the true, Living God.

It is a journey to life.

John 10:9-11

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.

For further reading:

spiritual abuse

Spiritual Abuse in the Bible?
Vampire Pastors
Leaving the Spiritually Abusive System
The Bible and Spiritual Abuse
What is Spiritual Abuse?

parenting styles