Religious Power and Control, Religious Trauma Institute, Shunning, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Authority

Religious Power and Control: Isolation

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Many are familiar with the Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel used to identify power dynamics within domestic abuse. This wheel is extremely useful when working with victims and survivors to identify power and control tactics used in their interpersonal relationships.

One day it occurred to me that a power and control wheel could easily be put together on spiritual abuse. Abuse is about power and control, no matter the type of abuse. The same tactics that we see used in domestic abuse may be found in spiritual abuse. I am thankful that Laura Anderson at the Religious Trauma Institute was willing to share the Religious Power and Control Wheel she created.

Religious Power and Control Wheel credit: Laura Anderson, LMFT and Religious Trauma Institute

Each section of the Religious Power and Control Wheel describes a tactic used by abusers to maintain power and control over their victims. According to Laura Anderson, when the tactics are combined, a system is “designed and intended to exert power and control over others by their rules, requirements, punishments and consequences for not adhering to the specific requirements of the group.”

Many who read here will be able to identify with some or all of these tactics. I thought it would be good to provide a space to talk about each one individually. On the wheel, isolation is described as:

*Cutting off relationships with people outside the system
*Information control
*Reporting back where time/money was spent
*Increased level of commitment to the systems’ activities
*Devaluing people not in the religious system
*Fear/propaganda regarding motives of people outside the system

Abusive religious leaders isolate in order to control the way members think, behave, and feel. Members find that their energy, money, emotional and mental energy, and time becomes focused on the leader and group while outside relationships or information become more untrustworthy. Physical isolation may also occur; members may be required to live in the same house or move to a remote location.

Are there other ways that you have seen controlling religious groups or leaders isolate? If you experienced spiritual abuse, how did isolation impact you?

13 thoughts on “Religious Power and Control: Isolation”

  1. As a child trapped and brainwashed in the Christian patriarchy cult there were so many things that made my hours, days, weeks, and years unbearable. I looked forward to going to sleep because I did not want to be conscious but I dreaded going to sleep because I was scared of what the next day was going to bring.

    No factual information. Just propaganda that benefited selfish, lying, abusive men.
    No good happy emotionally pleasant anything.
    No secular resources.
    Having to pretend to be happy.
    Having to pretend to like wicked perverts.

    Not having the right to say no to men. Not having the right to escape men. I am talking about selfish misogynistic men. But, of course, all these men think they hung the moon.

    My cousins and friends had music, magazines, movies, TV shows, books, and different kinds of people to help get their minds off of misery. All I had was the things that were making me miserable and ruining my childhood.

    Cults are fake make-believe worlds tailored to benefit selfish insecure abusive people. There are so many secrets that have to be kept and all day every day is pretending and lying.

    TRUTH and REAL is 100 percent prohibited.

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  2. I think there is a more deceptive form of isolation in legalistic churches. We are taught, week after week, that Christians are superior to non-Christians, and so first the community is isolated from those who cannot possibly understand our struggles and needs. Then, the community itself is isolated because, under the guise of “Total Depravity” we are taught that even our fellow Christians sitting in the pews next to us would do horrible things if it weren’t for God’s active restraint. But, then we are taught that “God’s gift to the church” ordained leadership are wise, righteous and helpful to guide us.

    So, we are taught to isolate ourselves from people outside of the church, we isolate ourselves from fellow Christians inside the church and we are cultivated into an environment of blind trust in church leaders.

    I was in a church where there was great fellowship and trust. I left for awhile and came back, and in the intervening years, the pastor retired and an authoritarian took over. He elevated his own role in the church so much that even the leaders were afraid to do anything that looked remotely like “pastor work”. Then they elevated “elder work” such that people seemed afraid to do much more than faithfully occupy the pews each week. Ironically, the pastor started bemoaning the lack of vibrance and fellowship…

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  3. I remember being in a church whose pastor was quietly hiding his KJVO and TOB tendencies, and one of my first warnings was when I spoke well of resources outside that pastor’s sliver of fundamentalism. Even when it was sources that were fully evangelical, or even from an orbit of fundamentalism, it was a real cold shoulder.

    Since I wasn’t afraid to note my disagreement with him, attempts at isolation did not succeed, really, but I’m guessing that if I’d been a bit quieter, things could have been rather oppressive for me. (I decided to hit the road after the guy berated me because the unleavened bread I’d made for communion was cut too large, and I couldn’t ignore the KJVO/etc.. anymore)

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  4. One area that had a big impact on me was in the fringe, fundamentalist homeschooling movement (25+ years). This particular crowd would use fear mongering and governmental distrust to the extreme. Fear of someone reporting you to the authorities, assuming that this is the only “biblical” way to educate your children, suspicion of the public schools, arrogance regarding the superior education that homeschooling will deliver, not to mention the favorite homeschool curriculums that leaned towards a particular worldview and pretty much only taught American history (these are just few examples from my time in our local homeschool group). Unfortunately, now there are many stories of abuse from ex-homeschoolers, now adults. The fear of government intrusion because it was going to “come after you” and the movement would lose “freedoms” was the mantra. BTW, the organization Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a group I appreciate (advocate for reform), which the big leader HSLDA dislikes (hates!) and vilifies. No surprise there.

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  5. Gretchen – I’ll email you a PDF.

    If anyone else in interested in a larger copy, feel free to send me an email. Contact info is at the top right corner of the blog.

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  6. Mark – So, we are taught to isolate ourselves from people outside of the church, we isolate ourselves from fellow Christians inside the church …

    There could be no better way of strangling evangelism than this. I have been to meetings designed to get Christians to witness more effectively to their faith, and being isolated in a Christian bubble is one of things they are most criticised for.

    There is a real danger of ungodly influences from the world around, but if your faith cannot cope with genuine questions from those with no church background nor with hostile objections from those who are more seriously opposed to it, you have to wonder just how authentic such a faith is. It’s the last thing that ought to need protecting!

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  7. From the UK which I meant to include above:

    One of the blessings of Corona isolation is that it is helping pastors wean themselves off their need to be needed, and wean people off their over-dependence on pastors. When a more conventional form of church resumes, make sure you don’t slip back into bad habits.

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  8. KAS, yes, although I should have said isolate with an asterisk. It’s okay for us to interact with other Christians, and those outside, but only in a very ‘how is the weather’ kind of way. The only people we can trust to unload our baggage on is the church leadership.

    An example of this taken to the extreme is that there a companies that produce “Christian-only” yellow pages so that you don’t need to interact with heathens when doing business.

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  9. Do you have a link for the religious power control wheel? I can’t make out the writing only the titles. Tks and wonderful article!

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