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Three Definitions of Spiritual Abuse

I’m surprised that I continue to run across any number of people who don’t know what spiritual abuse is and, in fact, have never heard of it.  I suppose I’m surprised because I’ve dealt with it for so many years in my personal struggle, it seems that everyone else would also know what it means.  Clearly that’s not the case.  Apparently there are church members for whom “church” means only something positive and good.

Therefore, those of us who have experienced spiritual abuse in churches must be a subset group of “everyone else.”  Even among that subset, there are folk who don’t know to call the traumatic events done to them – they don’t know to call that trauma by the phrase “spiritual abuse.”

So what is spiritual abuse?  If so many people don’t know what it is, then I must begin my blog by attempting to define it.  Barbara Orlowski, in her book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery:  Dynamic Research On Finding a Place of Wholeness, defines spiritual abuse as “the misuse of spiritual authority to maltreat followers in the Christian church.”1 

Graham Barker in his article “The Insidious Harm of Spiritual Abuse” defines it this way:  “the manipulation and exploitation of others by the misuse of spiritual privilege and power.”2

And Jamie Marich quotes Kingdom Grace in her article, “Understanding and Treating Spiritual Abuse”:  “Spiritual abuse is trauma…It has an external cause (someone does it to you;) you are violated by an unwelcome intrusion; and it is unexpected and beyond your control.”3

Misuse authority, power and privilege.  Maltreat followers.  Manipulate and exploit others.  Violated.  Unwelcome intrusion.  Unexpected.  Beyond your control.  These are some of the descriptors that researchers use to describe and define spiritual abuse.

How would you define spiritual abuse?  Does one of these definitions resonate with your experience more than the others?  Do you feel the need to add something to these definitions because of what has happened to you in your church?

Leave me a comment below.

And remember, you're awesome!  May God bless you and hold you in the palm of His hand.



1 Orlowski, Barbara.  Spiritual Abuse Recovery:  Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness.  Eugene,                               Oregon:  Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010, p. 11.

2 Graham Barker.  “The Insidious Harm of Spiritual Abuse.”  www.alivemagazine.com.au

3 Jamie Marich.  “Understanding and Treating Spiritual Abuse”  Sacramento, CA:  NetCE, 2015


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