Many people are familiar with the various types of domestic violence, such as physical abuse, psychological abuse, and financial abuse. Not quite as many are familiar with the term “spiritual abuse,” which refers to the use of religion as a way to control another individual’s actions and diminish his or her agency. Spiritual abuse can be perpetuated by a church leader against a congregation member, a parent against a child, or a spouse against a partner.
Signs of Spiritual Abuse
Spiritual abuse can be difficult to recognize because it often invokes religious principles as justifications for violence and control. Individuals who practice any religion can face spiritual abuse. In a marriage, spiritual abuse can arise out of the gendered power imbalance many religions perpetuate.
A few examples of spiritual abuse include:
- Prohibiting a spouse from working, opening a credit card, or accessing funds with religious justification;
- Using one’s role as the home’s “spiritual leader” to exert authority over how a spouse speaks, dresses, interacts with others, and practices religion;
- Using religion to isolate a spouse from his or her friends and family;
- Exerting sexual control over a spouse, citing religious justification for doing so; and
- Using guilt and shame to coerce a spouse into behaving in a specific way, claiming that he or she is not living according to their religion if he or she does not obey.
Read these statements again but this time, remove any reference to religious justification. If something is abusive when it happens without religious justification, it is just as abusive when it is done in the name of religion....