Definitions Related to Spiritual Abuse


Abuse:  “Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.” definition from A Cry for Justice blog.


False Teacher:  The False Teacher is a person who presents himself to the Christian church as a legitimate teacher, but harbors the deep-set desire to gain control of the church in order to gain personal benefit from the members of the church. 

The “Inner Circle”:  This concept is discussed here.  People in the inner circle feed the pastor’s ego and will go to great lengths to defend and protect him.  They have a strong bond and most likely get preferential treatment or some kind of emotional reward for feeding the ego.  The pattern is they will report any kind of suspicious activity to the leader, any dissension in the group, anyone who may not be fully on board.

Commenter Lyida Thomas describes her “inner circle” experience.

No-talk rule:  In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they are not said out loud, you don’t find out that they’re there until you break them.

The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the “can’t talk” rule. The “can’t talk” [rule] has this thinking behind it: “The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem, you are the problem. (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse By David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen (Bethany House, 1991, 2005))

This is an excellent article on the no-talk rule by labeling it “gossip” and twisting the meaning of Matthew 18:  Rethinking Matthew 18  – Part 2  “Gossip – Control”

Spiritual Abuse:  Spiritual abuse is a spiritual role-reversal where a shepherd, instead of clinging to and emulating the Great Shepherd by shepherding God’s people (Acts 20; 1 Peter 5; 1 Timothy 3; Ephesians 4), subtly demands that members exist to meet the shepherd’s needs (James 4:1-4). Rather than relating as a servant leader, the pastor “pulls rank” and “lords it over others” (Matthew 20:20-28; 1 Peter 5:1-6), not for the benefit of the flock, but for the benefit of the pastor. Rather than speaking the truth in love and rather than ministering grace and truth (Ephesians 4:11-16, 29; Colossians 4:3-6; Titus 2:10-12), the spiritually abusive pastor intimidates, judges, condemns, shames, and blames the sheep without regard for the spiritual wellbeing of the sheep (Jeremiah 23:1-4; Matthew 23:1-39).  Definition from Bob Kellemen, Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition


Elephant in the Room

Elitism:  A common trait in spiritually abusive churches is elitism.   If we are so special, and all others churches are inferior, who wants to attend an inferior church?  Elitism is a manipulation tactic to keep people at the church.  And it works powerfully because we become convinced that no other church will measure up.

Trigger:  From Wikipedia:

trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate, and can sometimes exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which trauma survivors cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory.  A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.

3 thoughts on “Definitions Related to Spiritual Abuse”

  1. Note: For those looking for other resources regarding comp/patriarchy doctrines, Calvinism/New Calvinism, I have posted some good resources under the Off-Topic Discussion at the top of the page here. These resources were recommended by readers/posters over at The Wartburg Watch.

    I have also included issues related to sexual abuse in the church (skyrocketing according to church insurance companies and attorneys), a training video, and other links — also in the Off-Topic Discussion tab at the top of the page here.


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