Healing the Pain of Religious and Spiritual Abuse

February 4, 2014 Becky Oberg

Healing from the pain of spiritual abuse may seem impossible, but recovery and healing from an experience with an abusive church is possible. Here's how.

Last week, I wrote about my experiences with an abusive church. To be honest, I don't know how I survived the mass abandonment that happened when I left. But I do know that it is possible to recover from the pain of religious and spiritual abuse. Here are some steps toward healing.

How to Heal from Spiritual Abuse

Know the difference between toxic faith and spirituality.

In their book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, David Johnson and Jaf VanVonderen write, "Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment." In other words, look at the results of the religious actions.

Jesus said we would know our teachers by their fruits. You can't get crab apples from a peach tree, nor can you get apples from a gingko. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Again, look at the results of the spiritual actions.

Toxic faith has bad results, while real spirituality has good results. Toxic faith condemns, real spirituality releases. Toxic faith is works-based, real spirituality is faith-based. Toxic faith judges, real spirituality is all about grace. It's that simple.

Realize you are not alone in the pain of religion.

Sadly, the pain of religion is nothing new. It is mentioned in the Bible. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for adding extra rules to God's law, saying in Luke 11:46 "How terrible it will be for you experts in religious law! For you crush people between impossible religious demands, and you never lift a finger to help ease the burden." The Apostle Paul and other early Church authorities spent much of their time fighting legalism, calling it an added burden that stole the joy of the early believers.

You are not alone. Many other people have experienced what you've experienced and survived.

There are many great resources for spiritual abuse survivors, including books such as Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn (a must get for spiritual abuse survivors) and The Subtle Power of Spirtual Abuse. There are also great web sites, such as and As you open up about what you experienced, you will find others who've experienced the same thing.

You are not alone.

Take some time off from religion and opt for a personal relationship with your higher power.

Recovering from the pain of religious abuse may seem impossible, I know. But recovery and healing from an experience with an abusive church is possible. Here's how.After I left the abusive church, Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, I stayed out of church for a long time. It's okay to do this. Taking a break from religious activities is like resting after a physical injury--you simply need time to recover.

I returned to church (a different one), but have not returned to the charismatic movement. It is still too painful, and I've found I don't need the charismatic aspects to feel spiritually fulfilled. Do I miss it? Yes. But I can survive without it.

I eventually returned to small groups at a different church. At first it was difficult and I needed anti-anxiety medication to attend. But as time passed, so did the anxiety attacks. I now look forward to going to small groups and don't need medication or de-escalation techniques to attend.

I still hurt, but for the most part have made my peace with what happened. Time has helped numb the pain and ease the severity of the wound. The same can be true for you. You are not alone and it's okay to take a break from church until you can discern toxic faith from real spirituality.

You can survive and heal from being abused for Christ.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2014, February 4). Healing the Pain of Religious and Spiritual Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Becky Oberg

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