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.”
On the wheel, emotional abuse is described as:
*Name calling (e.g. “sinner”)
*Required to suppress parts of yourself
*Inability to trust yourself
*Reliance on external authority
*Fear of consequences for breaking rules
*Possible abandonment for thinking/doing/feeling different
*Devaluing of body and emotions
Emotional abuse is tricky because we don’t see physical signs of abuse (although the body definitely harbors the abuse in other ways). Because of the lack of physical evidence, victims may minimize the behavior. I think emotional abuse is a more sinister form of abuse because it plays a significant role in physical, sexual, financial, and digital abuse.
Emotional abuse diminishes a persons value, self-worth, and dignity. This usually takes a long period of time and involves specific patterns by the perpetrator that makes the victim feel unable to navigate life on their own. Everyone is susceptible to emotional abuse because it isn’t overtly shown at the beginning of the relationship. The perpetrator (or group) will do everything in their power to be nice, caring, compassionate, or whatever it takes to earn your trust. Once that trust is gained, then behaviors such as name calling, gaslighting, and manipulation are slowly introduced to see how much you will take. By the time this happens, victims are so enmeshed in the group that the behavior is viewed as normal.
Emotional trauma can lead to depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, or other forms of self-harming behaviors. Emotional abuse should not be taken lightly or diminished because it can take years for survivors to heal and recover.
What have you seen from religious leaders, family members, friends, churches, or organizations that would be emotionally abusive? If you’re comfortable with sharing, what experiences have you encountered? How did you recognize it? How did it affect you and how are you healing from it?