In a twenty-six-year marriage, with over twenty-three of those years being abused, I endured many waves of abuse. One of those, which I will outline today, is spiritual abuse. But what IS spiritual abuse?
Spiritual abuse is multi-faceted. I grew up in the Catholic Church and my then-new husband promised my family that we’d raise our children the same way (Lie #1). After our first child was born and baptized, we had to move away from my family and in with his mother. He and his family were not “churchgoers,” but he assured me that he didn’t mind if the baby and I went, but he WASN’T. Um, okay? NOT what I was expecting, but I wasn’t going to force him. More flies with honey than vinegar — am I right?
I did that for a while until his mother complained that I was “too noisy” in trying to get myself and an uncooperative baby ready. So, I stopped for a while, watching church services on TV or reading my Bible, in order to feel closer to my family.
When we moved out, into our apartment, my child and I went back to church. My Abuser was on second shift, so he kept his second-shift sleeping schedule and all was well — that is, as long as I hurried home and had brunch fixed and the house clean!
We later moved to a home and had our second child all in the same year. He changed schedules so he started getting upset that I was leaving on Sundays to go to church and having the children go to Sunday School, so my attendance was intermittent until I became a Sunday School teacher. It was one of the few things that I truly enjoyed. My parents, who lived six to seven hours away, visited us a few times per year and he was ambiguous about it, for a time. However, when my oldest showed interest in being an altar server, he adamantly objected. Of course, the Nun over religious education called to appeal to him and was subsequently cursed at and belittled. I was then treated as not welcome by my Church, even though I apologized to the priest and the nun for his behavior. So, we stopped attending and I went back to reading my Bible for a while. I was extremely mortified!
After a while, the abuse got so bad, that my Abuser started mocking me and telling me I was so horrible that even God didn’t and couldn’t love me. I’m ashamed to admit that I started to believe him! However, after a few years away from the church, I started attending again. We had a third child and he was baptized and my middle child went through First Communion. My oldest child still needed to go through the Sacrament of Communion, but his Dad staunchly denied him the ability to. After my middle child went through Communion, we attended church for a few years after that but started being isolated from it once again, stating that we were NOT to give our money to anything but charities WE believed in (meaning HE). My youngest didn’t get to go through First Communion and the younger two didn’t get to go through Confirmation.
I began just existing, wondering how I was to be “saved” from this abusive lifestyle. I had rejected God, so He was clearly turning His back on me — right? That’s what my Abuser led me to believe. My Abuser had become an atheist and was belittling me for believing in a “pretend friend.” I was again humiliated. Maybe God had turned from me because I was married to a demon???
Once I got away from my Abuser, I started to pray regularly again. It was familiar and comforting. He had clearly saved me from being shot, because the day before the final incident, my Abuser shot at me with his 9 mm…how it didn’t hit me, I can only cite the Grace of God! I could’ve been killed!
I grow closer to God every day. Thankfully, by His Grace!
That is my story of spiritual abuse, but it can be more than that. A person can be spiritually abused by their church’s congregation or spiritual leader, stating that receiving abuse isn’t real, is the “will of God,” or not submitting to their significant other. During active abuse, when I questioned the new priest at my church, after outlining everything that went on, he told me to pray harder, go back to my husband (since he wouldn’t come for counseling), and “be a Godly wife.” Um, that SOB tried to kill me???? Later, once divorced, I asked about making things good after the legal divorce. Since my Ex wouldn’t marry in the church, my marriage wasn’t recognized and I was just a “fornicator” (which I could ask forgiveness for in Confession, before taking Communion again BTW). I started to panic and he continued to say I could go through the process of getting my marriage annulled in the Catholic Church, but that it wasn’t a real marriage, so it really wasn’t necessary. I also worried that would make my children illegitimate, to which the priest replied, “Oh, we really don’t do that anymore. They’re fine.” I was totally floored and disenchanted! I’m just a simple Christian, no longer specifically Catholic. I am a spiritual being, not “religious.”
Also, spiritual abuse can be the opposite of what my Abuser had done. The abuser can follow a religion staunchly, using the written word and services as a way to keep their victim trapped. Guilt and shame are common tools in their tool bags! They use the victim’s faith to keep them chained to them! This can include how spouses interact (especially where sexual intercourse is concerned), submission, finances, how the person dresses, roles in the family, how the children are to be raised…the list goes on and on. They can and will use the religious text to bend things in their favor. They are also adept at having others, within the practiced religion become their accomplices, or flying monkeys, of the victim (aka “the wicked, deceitful person”). Marriage is sacred in almost all religions, but hate and abuse are wrong, especially if it compromises safety. Murder is wrong in almost all religions too, isn’t it still???
God saved me to help others in abuse. I can almost always be reached, but please reach out to a domestic abuse advocate. While religious leaders mean well, they aren’t always as helpful as they think that they are. Besides, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions — that’s what my Mom always told me. I believe there is definite truth in that!
Love and light! <3