6 Things Spiritual Abuse Victims Need to Hear

  Kelly-Jayne McGlynn | Crosswalk Contributor | Wednesday, January 19, 2022
A sad millennial sitting on a window sill, millennials are dissatisfied with their personal relationships

Healing from spiritual abuse is one of the messiest but freeing things someone can do. It takes guts, faith and a validating support system to wade through years of twisted Scripture, distorted views of God, and the feeling of injustice that accompanies realizing that you’re a victim.

So, if you’re reading this because you are in the throes of healing from spiritual abuse, please breathe in these beautiful truths. I pray they can assist you on your journey.

And if you’re reading this to support someone who has been spiritually abused, remember that though these truths may seem elementary to you, to an abuse victim, they can be new foundations to build their faith upon – completely opposite of how they have previously been told to see God.

Let’s begin with the most basic but transformational truth:

1. God Is in Love with You

I don’t mean that a distant, vague God loves you in a distant, vague way. I mean that God, who created and fills the entire universe, including the air you’re breathing in right this very second, is utterly obsessed with you. He gets giddy when he thinks about you. He goes behind and before you in everything you do. He thinks you’re hilarious, charming, and gorgeous. He just can’t get enough of you.

I know this is hard to believe when spiritual abuse has taught you that God is constantly disappointed. We receive this message indirectly, of course, but it’s there: in the sermons that are constantly telling us that we’re not doing enough; in the lauding of only certain spiritual gifts that you lack; in the way that only your problems were pointed out by others and not your gifts because they were focused on “speaking the truth in love.”

It’s so hard to believe this when you have been spiritually abused. But I pinky promise you it’s true. And if you do the inner healing to be in a place to believe this, it is absolutely life-changing.

2. Your Heart Is Good

So often, spiritual abuse makes you feel less than. But further than that, spiritual abuse makes you feel depraved. Just absolutely inept of anything good, holy, or beautiful. Spiritual abuse relies on you feeling broken so that you rely on your abusers to fix you.

Yes, it is true that you are sinful. It is true that Jesus had to die for your sins. But he did it! And not only did he die for your sins, but he rose again into a new life that he now gives you.

Ezekiel 36:26 tells us, “I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and to carefully observe My ordinances,” (emphasis mine).

Because of Jesus’ salvation, you were given a new heart. A soft heart, a heart that wants to follow God’s statutes. And because of that, you’re allowed to trust this new heart.

You don’t have to second guess every decision you make because it could possibly be selfishly ambitious. You don’t have to overanalyze how you’re “doing spiritually” because you were taught to be desperately afraid of falling away.

You love God. Trust that. Walk in that.

A great podcast resource to learn more about this:

The Good Heart by Wild at Heart Ministries

3. You Can Trust Your Gut

 Related to trusting that you have a good heart is being able to trust your own gut. People who have been spiritually abused have been trained to ignore their gut when it is telling them something because people who ignore their own instincts are easier to control. Spiritual abusers demand loyalty and submission at a great cost to their congregants.

One verse that was told to me over and over was Jeremiah 17:9, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT).

It was used as a sort of trump card, something to make me submit when I disagreed or wanted to do something my own way. The result of this is that I learned to distrust myself and my own instinct, and therefore ignored many red flags of my spiritual environment.

Learning to trust your gut again is a process. But you have the unique thumbprint of the very Image of God. If something feels profoundly unsafe, be curious about what your gut is trying to tell you. God gave it to you for a very good reason.

4. God Is Angry for You

There is such a weighty grief to realizing you have been spiritually abused. The church is supposed to be a safe haven from the rest of the world’s wickedness, not perpetrators of it. But unfortunately, it has happened. It is happening. But trust me when I tell you, God is angry about it.

I encourage you to read the entirety of Psalm 18 to get a picture of this, but here’s a snippet:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;

    I cried to my God for help.

From his temple, he heard my voice;

    my cry came before him, into his ears.

 The earth trembled and quaked,

    and the foundations of the mountains shook;

    they trembled because he was angry.

Because God is in love with you, like any good shepherd, He is angry when someone hurts his flock. It can be easy to question where God was in all of the abuse, why He let it happen, or why He didn’t rescue you sooner.

There is so much that can be said about why God allows suffering. But take great comfort in knowing that He was NOT okay with what happened to you. Just because you can’t see Him enacting justice doesn’t mean that He isn’t.

Rely on God’s heart as a Father, and know that He sees the injustice done to you, and He will deal with it in the best way possible.

5. God Is Not People

This is a statement I had to tell myself over and over when I was considering leaving God because of the hurt I experienced at the hands of church people. You can read more about that experience here. But it is worth emphasizing here, too.

God is not people. He did allow the hurt, it’s true. You can read Romans 8:28 and wrestle with His goodness and sovereignty. But it is extremely important for victims of spiritual abuse to be able to separate who God really is from who spiritual abusers said God is. It is a messy task, but an imperative one if they are to continue in their faith.

Even if your abusers convincingly used Scriptures or logic to convince you of untruths, it is absolutely possible to disentangle a good, kind, gracious God from all the other lies you were handed. It takes time. But it is a beautiful process.

6. You are Allowed to Rest and Heal

If you have been spiritually abused, you were probably told that some version of your worth or salvation is dependent on your works. Even as often as you would explicitly hear otherwise, it was implied everywhere. And so it can be so counterintuitive to believe that you are not only allowed to rest, but you are allowed to take the space you need to heal.

Confession: I have very seldom read my Bible while I’m spending time with God since beginning my spiritual healing journey. I just still hear such a harshness when I read Scripture because of the spiritual abuse I’ve gone through. Instead, I read spiritual books with Biblical principles, I listen to spiritual podcasts, I practice contemplative prayer. And I think God is so okay with that.

I’m warming up to reading the Bible again. Like a little kid who is curious about what her parents are reading in the newspaper, I peek at it every now and then. I engage in conversations about it. I’m healing. But I’m not rushed.

Resist the voices telling you to be legalistic in your healing. Take the time and the space you need to be able to hear kindness in the voice of your Shepherd again. God isn’t in a hurry. Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Be curious about what it would take to believe him, and rest at his feet.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Fizkes

Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.