Abuse is a hot, yet tender, topic. Nearly everyone would agree that abuse is horrible, unjustifiable, and devastating. Invariably, within a discussion of abuse, someone will bring up the question of definitions and ask, but what is abuse? Are we just throwing the word around, willy-nilly, and making false accusations? Are we slandering others using this emotionally-charged word? Shouldn't we drop this word and perhaps use something a little less alarming?
We are conditioned to consider abuse to be that which inflicts violence in the forms of rape, battery, beating, or extreme neglect. And yes, those are examples of abuse ~ yet they are not the only examples. Here is how the United States Department of Justice defines abuse. Please read carefully.
We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.
Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.
Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one's abilities, name-calling, or damaging one's relationship with his or her children.
Economic Abuse: Is defined as making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one's access to money, or forbidding one's attendance at school or employment.
Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include - but are not limited to - causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.
Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life - therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers. Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime, and WomensLaw.org.
These descriptions illustrate the mis-use of power and control over another person's mind, heart, and body. But there is another form of abuse, a spiritual one. A popular blogger recently observed that the term spiritual abuse is becoming increasingly wide-spread. I am thankful for this! It means that awareness is growing and when one is aware, he or she is more likely to be alert and able to discern warning signs. But what is spiritual abuse? Ezekiel 34 illustrates spiritual abuse in heart-wrenching prose.
“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.”
Another definition is offered by Watchman Fellowship:
Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help. Sometimes abuse arises out of a doctrinal position. At other times it occurs because of legitimate personal needs of a leader that are being met by illegitimate means. Spiritually abusive religious systems are sometimes described as legalistic, mind controlling, religiously addictive, and authoritarian.
It is important to reach an understanding of words and what is meant when terms are used. But while one could argue definitions all day, please remember that meanwhile, there are some desperately hurting individuals in this world who need healing.