Physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse are fairly well-understood areas of concern, and I’ve shared podcast episodes and blog posts about them in the past. But perhaps less well understood, or less well conceptualized, and therefore less discussed is the topic of spiritual abuse. On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, Jill Monaco and I discussed hope for finding freedom from spiritual abuse.
As a coach and a spiritual abuse survivor, I asked Jill to share more here about steps to heal from spiritual abuse.
3 Steps to Heal From Spiritual Abuse
By Jill Monaco
Those that know my story can’t believe I still love God and continue to serve in full-time ministry.
I’ve gone through physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse from people in ministry that were supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. They were leaders, pastors, influencers, and friends.
I realize my story of physical abuse is compelling, and many people can relate to its lifelong impact on someone’s soul. But there is something just as damaging that many overlook — maybe because it’s so common that people don’t equate it to abuse:
My definition of spiritual abuse is “when someone uses God’s authority to manipulate or control you, often for their gain.”
The most visited blog on my website is “The 25 Signs of Spiritual Abuse.” If you are curious, I recommend you read through it and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you’ve encountered it in your life. I pray that it clarifies that check in your spirit and that you can begin the healing process.
There are many things I coach people through as they begin to identify and heal from spiritual abuse. Some key topics to address are forgiveness, boundaries, finding your voice, and overcoming shame. Here I want to offer you three of the first steps to guide you on your journey.
3 Steps to Heal from Spiritual Abuse
Are you able to face what you’ve been unable to see? Are you willing to grieve what you lost? Are you ready to heal?
1. Face it — What happened to you: The first step to overcoming the pain of spiritual abuse is to face it. We must face our disappointment, rejection, fear, or anger. We may have to face the fact that we were duped, manipulated, or taken advantage of. It can be hard to face, and you may have to overcome cognitive dissonance. Friend, we can’t heal what we don’t address. We can’t move through what we won’t step into. But we can find victory when we look into the face of Jesus and ask Him to help us see things as He does. You may be surprised at what God shows you. He will address what you need to know to move along the journey to restoration. He may show you what was happening with that person to give you a perspective you didn’t have before. Or reveal to you if it created bitterness in your heart. Remember, anything He reveals, He heals.
2. Grieve it — What happened in you: Once you are able to see what has been hidden in your heart, emotions, or thoughts, you can begin the process of grieving. People who have gone through spiritual abuse often have things they struggle with consistently. Things like triggers, hesitations, resistance, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. You may have made choices in your life to avoid spiritual abuse from happening again. Those defense mechanisms are consequences of spiritual abuse. These things may linger in your life — you may have lost relationships, your church community, or your connection to God. It’s okay to grieve what you lost because of someone else’s actions or your response to those actions. Take the time to grieve with God and let Him comfort you. Let your grief lead you to share in the sufferings of Christ and draw you closer to Jesus.
3. Heal it — What happened through you: Just as a cut heals from the inside out, so does the healing of your soul. It may be slow, and you remember what happened every time you look at it. You may have limitations to what you can do, but you will get better with every passing day. Be patient and kind to yourself if you have setbacks. Like a physical therapist, God may ask you to do things that will aid in your healing. It’s an invitation to partner with Him. Is He asking you to forgive, take chances to find a new community, or soak in His Word? How you recover will be seen by others, so do it in a way that those who are struggling can look to you for hope. If you let it, a beautiful spirit will come through you and impact others. That is when you look like Jesus.
I intentionally gave you the three steps in order: face it, grieve it, and heal it. As Christians, we want to jump to the last step because it seems godly. It’s an admirable goal. But the truth is we can’t skip a needed surgery and expect to heal.
My bonus tip for healing from spiritual abuse is this:
Whatever comes to you is cultivated in you and communicated through you. We can choose if spiritual abuse will take us out or grow us up. Be prayerful about what you meditate on because it will be nurtured in you and eventually impact others.
You get to choose to partner with God or the enemy — with grace or bitterness — with love or hate. Let’s focus on the goodness and presence of God so He can finish the good work He started in us and bring it to completion. (see Philippians 1:6)
If you’ve been the victim of spiritual abuse, we’d love to hear in the comments below what has been helpful for your healing.
About Jill Monaco
Jill Monaco is the founder and CEO of Jill Monaco Ministries, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has a passion to encourage people to pursue the presence of God and find freedom in Christ. She is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) life coach with the International Coach Federation and a Certified Master Christian Life Coach (CMCLC) and Mentorship Coach with the International Christian Coach Institute. Jill has developed Freedom Coaching®, a model that blends hearing God, prayer, and coaching tools.