What is Spiritual Abuse and Are you a Spiritual Self Abuser?
The term Spiritual Abuse popped into my mind while I was spending quiet time with God. I had never heard this term before. No explanation came with it just the two words. I certainly hadn’t thought of spiritual self abuse.
What is Spiritual Abuse?
Out of curiosity, I looked it up in the dictionary first and there it was. Spiritual abuse was linked with religious abuse and defined as abuse by religious authorities. That left me feeling it was incomplete and wondering why the thought had come up.
I searched the internet and found the term mostly connected to spiritual abuse by religious authorities and cults. There was the addition of a few articles about spiritual abuse by good intentioned Christians without realizing what they were doing to other Christians and to non-Christians. I could only envision the “bible thumpers” we all know and love. I’ll write my thoughts and research on these another day.
Then I looked at sites about abuse and found spiritual abuse by a spouse included in a few lists. Most articles said that one spouse controlling the other by quoting scripture and threatening eternal damnation to manipulate or control them was emotional abuse but a few named it spiritual abuse.
One of the best definitions of spiritual abuse I found was “spiritual abuse leaves us spiritually discouraged and emotionally cut off from the healing love of… Click To Tweet.” The article didn’t credit the quote.
So What is Spiritual Self Abuse?
My personal experience with spiritual abuse didn’t fall under any of the categories in my reading. I can only describe it as spiritual self abuse. When my first marriage fell apart and my health deteriorated, I came to the end of my rope. As the shame of a marriage ending kept us from regularly attending church, we lost fellowship with Christians. Thinking back, they reached out to us but we distanced ourselves.
Without the fellowship and support, things spiraled out of control and we were divorced. I was a Christian but I found my relationship with God had floundered. I even remember screaming at Him how much I hated Him just like an angry teenager. I didn’t go to Him with my problems; I was still angry with Him and felt He had abandoned me. I knew scripture enough to beat myself with it (spiritual self abuse) but not enough to know the heart of God for His children.
Overcome with Guilt and Not Able to Face God in my Shame.
We’d been married in a civil ceremony but I still believed we were married forever and before God. I believe divorce is not part of God’s plan and I still do. I had no one telling me I should be filled with guilt and shame. I just kept hearing the common scriptures about divorce, a few sermons about marriage and Billy Graham’s “ I have thought of murder but never divorce.” I have only myself to blame for not getting Christian support and help.
I Began to Heal and Slowly Allowed Myself to Be Near God
I cried for my marriage, I cried for my very soul. I humbled myself before God and I started attending church again and cried through every service. People were empathetic but I’m sure they didn’t know what to do or thought I was just grieving.
I knew it would take a long time to heal my hurting heart.
My parents asked me to live with them after my teenage sons left home so I could help them as they aged. I was content with that plan and felt it fulfilled the scriptural idea that I shouldn’t remarry. It gave me purpose.
I began to socialize with adults again but I didn’t date. It wasn’t easy to find new friends and the old ones were busy with the old life I no longer fit into. In fact, the process of ending a marriage is very isolating even if you weren’t isolated before. I met a few men but kept them at arm’s length in groups only.
Then I met a fellow who became a great friend. It was my 16-year-old son who told me I was gaga for him. I didn’t believe it but started to realize I watched for him to arrive when we were in the same group. I was always glad to have him sit by me.
I Began to Listen for God and Started Praying Again
Now I was confused. I told him I only wanted friendship and he agreed. We went to a few events together and grew closer but I still believed God wanted me to remain single according to scripture. I began to pray again begging God for guidance. He didn’t seem to be asking me to give up seeing Neil but I had no idea what to do with him in my life. We stayed friends and I thought that was the end of it.
Yes, I still cried during church. The spiritual self abuse of guilt and shame would overcome me during prayer as well. Then one day we attended a wedding together. There were many “coincidences” about location and the unusual service. I now believe God was answering my prayers. The priest (it wasn’t at a church I attend) gave a casual talk in the middle of a formal service. I felt like it was just for me and God was talking to just me.
I came to realize God had forgiven me but I hadn’t forgiven myself. The talk brought out everything that had happened in my marriage as he cautioned our friends to feed their marriage every day and sometimes every five minutes. He added that if only one was feeding it, the marriage would die.
As he continued, I felt complete peace and for the first time didn’t cry in my guilt and shame. I knew I had tried for twenty years to keep a marriage together mostly on my own.
Ending the Spiritual Self Abuse by Letting in God’s Forgiveness and Love
Not only did God release me from my guilt and shame, I got the clear message of His love for me and the gift He was giving me in Neil. This wonderful man was content to be my friend without asking for more.
With the tears gone, my heart began to heal. I was hearing God again and seeing His love again. I knew I was falling in love with Neil but he wanted children and I was over 40. One weekend at my parents’ home, I discussed him with my mom. I didn’t want to lose his friendship but felt I needed to be honest with him. Turns out, he talked to his parents about me at the same time. Our first time together after that weekend is another story but I’ll say we were engaged within the week.
I’ve been married to Neil for 22 years now. It’s not always smooth but it is a committed Christian marriage. I spent many years learning to be a homemaker in my desire to be a better Christian wife. God has given me a second chance at marriage and being a wife for life.
It Didn’t Need to Take 3 Years to Feel God’s Love
I’ve learned of the wonderful love God has for us. Even David committed adultery and murder and God declared him a man after his own heart. I now read and study the Bible with a new understanding.
As any loving parent, God tells us of many things we are to stay away from and gives us His plans for the best of life. When we mess up, whether our own doing or another’s, He doesn’t remove His love. He still wants the best for us and He treats us each as individuals just as we do our own children. There are certainly consequences and sometimes discipline but the love of God for us is amazing. The story of David’s transgressions and God’s response is in 2 Samuel: 11 and 12.
Have you ever abused yourself spiritually by using scripture to flog yourself? Where did your abusive use of scripture come from?
If you’re suffering from guilt and shame, please read The Guilt and Shame of Being a Christian? From Guilt and Shame to Love and Joy