What Is Spiritual Abuse?

What Is Spiritual Abuse?


The unfortunate truth is that most of us are familiar with some sort of abuse. Whether we experienced it ourselves or knew someone who experienced this heartache… we know of it. In preschool we learned not to kick or hit our friends. It wasn’t too far a leap for us to understand as adults that this kind of behavior is abusive and known as physical abuse. As we matured and grew we came to understand “good touch” and “bad touch”. Again, it wasn’t too big of a leap to understand that this is abuse too – sexual abuse.


Types of Trauma And Abuse: Spiritual Abuse

There are many kinds of trauma and abuse. And some of these other kinds of abuse are a bit more nuanced. For many of our clients, spiritual abuse falls into this nuanced bunch. So let’s start with a definition of spiritual abuse. 


Spiritual Abuse Definition

Spiritual abuse consists of experiences or environments that have a negative effect on the development of:

  • Meaning 
  • Purpose 
  • Connection and belonging
  • Faith
  • Morals and Ethical guidelines 


Spiritual abuse is a very personal, intimate experience. The person doing the abuse may have been backed by a community (e.g. parish, ward, congregation, etc) or culture that seemed to support their behavior. Further, spiritual abuse can also be overtly religious – meaning that the abuser may have used God, the bible or other religious text or concepts (i.e. salvation, sin, etc.) to justify their behavior towards you.  This experience can lead to a crisis of faith. To learn more about navigating an LDS faith crisis you can read more here…


In fact, according to a Psychology Today blog post “Loss of Access to Self is a Result of Spiritual Abuse”  since 1994, when the DSM-IV allowed for a V-code for a “Religious or Spiritual Problem,” therapists have become more and more interested in the spiritual element of therapy.  At Guided Wellness, located in St. George Utah, we take such things very seriously.  Have you experienced religious trauma or spiritual abuse?  Read more to get a better understanding of what it is and how you can cope.


“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”

― Shannon L. Alder


Did I Experience Religious Trauma And Spiritual Abuse?

These journal prompts will not tell you if you did or did not experience spiritual abuse, religious trauma or other similar experiences. Rather, they will encourage you to reflect on your unique experiences. These questions are meant to be the start of a conversation. I hope that they will encourage you further in your reflection upon your amazing, transformative spiritual journey.


  • How did your experience of faith impact your ability to make meaning of life’s events? Did you ever find meaning in something only to find out later that your faith expected you to adopt their interpretation of the event?


  • What did you think was the purpose of your life in your childhood, teenage years, young adult and adult period? Did your faith have a different plan for life and, if so, what was their plan?


  • When did you experience feelings of belonging, community and identity with your faith? Are there times when you felt ‘other’ or left out due to your age, gender, sex, sexuality, relationship status, ability, race, ethnicity, employment, social status, income or other factor?


  • What did your faith believe about other beliefs or religions? Did they talk badly, degrade or instill fear of people that believe differently?


  • Morality/Morals refers to what societies sanction as right and acceptable. What did your faith teach you about right and wrong? Are there times when you felt conflicted by these group expectations? Are there times when these morals gave you direction or a sense of confidence?


  • Different from morals, ethics is a more individual assessment of values as relatively good or bad. Did you feel empowered to reflect as an individual on your life’s direction, beliefs, choices and decisions? Were you encouraged to feel a sense of personal choice and sovereignty?


Therapy for Trauma and Finding A PTSD Therapist

Unpacking your experiences at your own pace can be deeply affirming, especially if you are experiencing a faith crisis. But, it can also be disorienting and raise confusing questions about how to heal from the spiritual abuse. Perhaps you suspect that you’ve been having symptoms of PTSD from spiritual or religious abuse. You might be wondering how to “find a PTSD therapist near me” but don’t really know where to start or what to look for in a trauma therapist. 


Schedule Your Free 15 Minute Consultation


Therapy for trauma and abuse can truly make a difference. The first step is often doing a brief consultation. At Guided Wellness Counseling we offer a free 15-minute phone consultation so that we can learn a little more about your unique journey and better answer all of your questions. Why do we do this? Because when you are looking for a trauma therapist near you you’ll want to pay attention to a few key things from the very first phone call: I feel heard, I feel respected, I feel safe. And, having your questions answered plus any additional information we can provide allows you to step into a process of informed consent – imperative to overcoming trauma and abuse!  


You don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to carry the secrets and doubts forever. You can stop the shame from moving down another generation. It’s our deepest hope that these affirmations will guide you in however you choose to care for yourself as you travel the path in front of you. Whether you’re a potential, new or existing client, we want you to get the help you need.  Get resources and more information on our website where we focus on all things mental health.


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