Walking Away From Spiritual Abuse
The most difficult phase of a spiritually abusive experience is usually the exit process. This is where victims of spiritual abuse usually suffer the greatest losses. Walking away from friends and possibly even family members when exiting a religious group is never an easy process. What makes it even more difficult is when these relationships are damaged or destroyed due to the tendency of spiritually abusive leaders to blacklist and demonize members who leave the church or group.
Many people never leave their spiritually abusive church or group due to the fear of losing a large portion of their life that they have invested into the group. Most of the people who contemplate leaving a spiritually abusive environment have seen an unhealthy pattern of what happens when someone exits the group: Loss of relationships, loss of time and money invested, loss of their reputation, and even fears of losing their relationship with God and being turned over to the devil. These fears are very real, and pose a hurdle for most people who want to leave a spiritually abusive group. Many victims of spiritual abuse wonder what will become of their lives if they decide to escape their spiritually abusive church or group. They have most likely been taught that if they leave the group it is equal to leaving God. They don’t know if they can cope in the real world without the help and support of their church group.
The question then becomes: Should I leave my abusive church? That question can only be answered by you. There will most likely be losses involved. However, you have to decide which is worse – suffering the losses, or continuing to suffer from the spiritual abuse? Let me use an analogy to help you see your situation from a different perspective. Let’s say you were taken prisoner of war in a foreign country. In the prison you become removed from old family members and friends, and develop new relationships with your fellow prisoners and even some of your captors. You spend 10 years in the prison, and then are offered a way of escape. You are then faced with the same decision: Do you leave the relationships made in the abusive environment, which may be very dear to you, to go back to your old friends and family members? The next question becomes, will your your old friends and family members even remember you or want you in their lives again? Are you willing to suffer the grief of leaving friends and possibly even family members behind in the abusive environment after you escape? These are hard questions to answer, but only you can make this decision.
As far as “leaving God’s will” goes, I personally believe that this is the biggest hoax that is used by spiritual abusers. Most spiritually abusive groups create a codependent dynamic in the group that causes followers to become emotionally and spiritually dependent on the group in an inordinate way. The tactics that are used to create this dynamic usually include fear, guilt, shame, manipulation, and brainwashing. Verses of scripture are twisted and used to make members fear losing their salvation if they exit the group without the leader’s permission. It takes a lot of willpower and inner strength to cross the hurdles of these fears and leave the spiritually abusive group.
Members who do end up deciding to leave spiritually abusive groups are usually blacklisted and demonized by the leader, being cut off from association with the group’s members. This becomes another huge hurdle to cross when trying to determine if it is best for your emotional and spiritual health to leave the group. Most members who leave these groups suffer great heartache and grief due to the lost relationships that were left behind in the group. This grief is usually the most painful part of leaving a spiritually abusive group, and can even be the cause of depression in members who leave the groups. This grieving process is not exclusive to leaving a spiritually abusive group, but is common whenever leaving a group of loved ones in a traumatic fashion such as a divorce or death of loved ones. The grief becomes multiplied when you lose more than one relationship at once. Some have even likened it to losing your entire extended family in an airplane crash.
I am not trying to tell you about the grief and loss you will suffer when leaving a spiritually abusive group or church in order to scare you into staying. Personally, I believe it is always best to leave any type of abusive situation if at all possible. You won’t be able to heal and recover from the abuse until you get away from it. However, it may cause you more grief and heartache in the short run to be able to experience a healthy emotional and spiritual life in the long run. If you decide to leave your spiritually abusive church or group, you will find the resources on this website of great value in your recovery process.
It is possible to recover from spiritual abuse. It doesn’t happen overnight, and the recovery process can last a lifetime. There are a handful of books available on the subject of spiritual abuse, but very few if any that provide methods of recovery and healing from it. I have found the best way to recover from spiritual abuse is to find a group of people that can relate to your experience such as the members of the church abuse forum on this website. When you can share your hurts and pains in a safe environment with others who can understand and are sensitive to what you have been through, it can help the recovery process along tremendously.
I hope that you find the resources on this website helpful in your journey through the process of recovery from spiritual abuse.