Spiritual Abuse: Clergy, Cults, Spiritual Leaders
We all understand the mechanism of abuse, whether it be Sexual abuse, Mental and Physical abuse, Bullying, peer Pressure etc., The Wounds that these things create, impact every aspect of our lives. They create a barrier between how we see the world. They create an environment of shame, devalued, guilt, fear and make us withdraw from future contact with others. The main thing that all abuse creates is a great deal of mistrust in our present and future relationships. We may try to use self-medication, promiscuity, isolation and detachment to deal with these events. We may be willing to explore psychological approaches such as therapists and other medical interventions. As we heal mentally, we start to look at other aspects of our lives. We may explore alternative healing, Establishing or reestablishing a Spiritual Connection in our lives. Many of us look for a community where we are valued, loved and accepted. Something, that many have never experienced from family. We look for friendships and the family that we never had. We find a leader that assists us and helps us to explore and nurture’s our newfound spiritual path, providing the parental approval and guidance that was lacking in our lives. We begin to trust again, open our hearts, bare our wounds and feel acceptance, love and purpose. We begin to see Hope and feel valued. We build a deeper connection to Spirit, God or the Universal Consciousness etc. As we deepen this connection, we see our own wounds more clearly. We confront the personal shadows and fears that created chaos in our lives. Then we start to see the reflection of our shadows, fears, insecurities in others around us. We then have an awakening event. We realize that our spiritual leaders, ministers, priests are human beings. They have their own shadows, fears and personal bias. We begin to see the person behind the curtain so to speak. Like the little boy, in the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, we shout the emperor is naked! Then everything comes collapsing to throw us back to the beginning. Leving us wounded, ashamed, self-judging, guilty, fearful, untrusting and devalued all over again. Except this time, we have the added shadow asking us how could I have been so stupid?
First remember this, you are not stupid. You have Just experienced ” Spiritual Rape”. We would not blame a child that was groomed by a pedophile, or an individual that has been raised to think they deserve the physical or mental abuse that another uses against them, we should not blame the individual that experienced ” Spiritual Rape”. This includes Blaming ourselves.
There are steps that spiritual leaders and groups use to hook their victims. These are the same steps that Pedophiles and other abusers also use. The group or leader may be aware of this occurring, or they start off with good intentions, however their ego, own wounds, Shadows, and need to find self-validation may unknowingly lead them down this path. The process is insidious and can catch people off guard regardless of their education, socioeconomics, racial, ethnic or sexual orientation. Most are charismatic and empathizing individuals. Their rhetoric appeals to individuals of like minds, and offer to fill some need that each individual is missing in their lives.
Here are the steps that are used to groom perspective members and individuals:
- Stage 1: Identifying a Possible Victim
- Stage 2: Collecting Information
- Stage 3: Filling a Need
- Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions
- Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse
- Stage 6: Maintaining Control.
Stage 1: Identifying the victim. In cased of Spiritual based abuse, the predator may not search the streets for individuals. Usually, the person targeted voluntarily presents themselves, they are seeking help and may already be searching for a spiritual path. This may be done by attending a seminar, conference, meeting a member that belongs to the group or knows the teacher. During the event, the individual may be hesitant in approaching the teacher/ leader. The first personal contact occurs and is initiated by the leader. Talking about what you are seeking and why? usually they touch a soul wound we carry, that empathizes with our pain. They make the individual that walks the earth feeling like a ghost, feel seen for the first time. They look for those individuals that match their own feelings of marginalization, isolation, being misunderstood, ignored, judged and those that have little power in their personal life.
Stage 2: Collecting information. The insidiousness of this process is to slowly get the individual to tell their narrative. They look at each of our wounds, fears, wants and previous incidents that caused us emotional pain. We tend to begin feeling relaxed and share what we want sparingly with some apprehensions as to their motives. We still hold back our deepest shames, events and fears. We are told that we need to share these things to set us free. Meanwhile the leader or his inner circle, look at each individual and decide who may be receptive to them. This may be as simple as meeting in secret after the event or discussing things over a relaxed social event and sending other individuals to find out more about them in a setting that puts them at ease. Just as many con-artists, internet scammers and other predators’ gain information, these individuals have no need to search for information, the individual is all too willing to provide it that information. This is why when we realize what has happened, we feel a great deal of shame and self-judgement, we allowed the wolf into the fold of the sheep. we may also have helped them gain information on others and feel guilt and betrayal, only worsening our befuddlement.
Stage 3: Filling a need. As humans, we all have a desire to be loved, protected, accepted, be seen as having value. With this we also have fears associated with Being Alone, Abandoned and Being seen as Different by others. when these things are not obtained, we begin to ask ourselves why? Are we not enough? What have I done in my life that makes me unlovable? Why did no one protect me? Why did i experience trauma, did I deserve it? Where was God?
All of these present a picture of who we are based on our pain, wounds and shadows. Our self-judgement, Shame and guilt make us vulnerable. We have all learned to hide that part of ourselves. Yet we still want that which has escaped us most of our lives. We all want to be loved, accepted and understood. we may be searching for a Parental figure which eluded us as children. We look for acceptance from a family, when ours was not. We may search to belong and have friends, rather than bullies we grew up with. These are just examples as our needs are as personal as our own true self identity. When we find that individual or group that seems to fill whatever need we have, that is a very powerful thing. We are told there is the family we are born into and the one we choose. This choice, can lead us to make poor decisions, result in addiction or to be involved with a cult. All of which stem from a need we have. Because we are Human, most of us have similar needs, therefore, we are easily attracted to others with similar needs, those with similar experiences. Because we have these similar needs and doubts, they can be exploited by others. These individuals and groups, understand that when these needs are fulfilled, a bond of Trust and loyalty are formed. Also, when our needs are filled, we are willing to turn a blind eye to our intuition, red flags and rumors. We delude ourselves, into believing those relationships are real, not just need based,
Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions (Breaking down Barriers). This phase of preparation is not just lowering inhibitions, it involves letting go of that which we have kept hidden from the individual or group. This may involve gatherings, classes and rituals designed to let go of our fears of judgement, and also remove the barriers that keep the individual sharing more and deeper secrets, wounds and fears. When we share our pain and release our own judgment of past behaviors and share intimate details with others, we create a bonding experience. This is done in what we perceive as a non-judgmental, Loving and caring environment. We share our own wounds, with others. Those shared experiences, lower our inhibitions and lead to the lowering of personal barriers. We start to build that idea of the group identity. Where we begin to feel a special, part of something greater than ourselves. This may include making the individual seem special, the use of Plant based hallucinogens, alcohol, sex or special group rituals designed to bond and reduce the suspicions of the individual.
Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse. This can take many forms and takes time. It can begin as making the individual feel special. Make them feel like for the first time in their life, they are truly seen for who they are inside, not judged for their appearance, past behaviors choices and mistakes. They begin a journey of self-discovery, that is guided by the individual or group. usually, an apprenticeship of sorts. This starts as sharing basic skills, traditions, secret knowledge and elevates them to a level just above other participants at gatherings. Usually, it involves the exchange of money. The training is usually followed by the expectation, that they will be present at other gatherings. Each meeting involves another fee. There is also the expectation that they will do the lower-level work, such as setting up for meetings, conferences, gatherings etc. This is reinforced as Service to the community, leader and Spirit/ God. They are slowly shown the basics of rituals, another secret knowledge and more soul searching, sharing of fears and wounds and validations. They are also introduced to the community’s version of moral codes and prohibitions. The meals at gatherings are usually sparce, lacking nutrient dense foods and carbohydrate driven and vegan in nature. Designed to breakdown mental barriers. Group activities are designed to form bonds with other apprentices and a strict hierarchy is established.
As their knowledge grows so does responsibility. There may be ceremonies, vestments, tattoos or other markings of rank and knowledge. They are slowly given certain prayers, meditations, rituals to place them apart from the new initiates. something that gives them a sense of belonging. This can also begin their part in the drawing in and grooming of other prospective members. They are also allowed to begin teaching lower-level workshops at gatherings, increasing their confidence, and giving them validation as a person that is valued. Their shadows and wounds become strengths and assist others during their healing journey. They also become aware of what punishments are given to those who break the rules.
Oaths are created and pledged. They state things like to break an oath is to like you were never born. Those who break the rules are ostracized and cut off from the community, only to be readmitted like the parodical child returning to the fold. They state everyone is equal in the eyes of spirit. However, when the leader group break their own rules, they rebel against the individual that points out their transgression.
Initiation then occurs, either formally or by consensus making them part of the whole group. Then the next level of work towards elder and teacher begins. There is always a next level to be achieved.
Stage 6: Maintaining Control. Without control the spiritual leader or group would cease to exist. this control can be as simple as threatening excommunication from the group. requiring an admitting of wrongdoing. It can take the form of a fundamentalist punishment-reward structure, that plays on the individuals fight or flight response. Or as integrated as knowing the triggers, fears and emotional needs and wounds of the individual. Thus, knowing what they feared most and using it against them on a mental level. They usually know the insecurities of the individual, because they also share the same ones.
From day one, the control begins. This starts with slowly adding more expectations to them. these, start to isolate them from existing family and friends. slowly a weekend every month, expands to two. Then other duties are added to the daily routine, to keep the group or leader in the loop. They communicate only with these individuals. The group slowly consumes all free time. They are told Holidays, birthdays and special events need to take a back seat to their training or needs of the others in the individual’s life. To not do so, will create tension and the group or teacher may question their loyalty or commitment. Thus, they feel that they are in a sense abandoning their oath, group or leader. Which plays into their own fear of abandonment. The individual may return and find out that a group decision or training event transpired while away, making them feel like an outsider and alone.
When we awaken to the realization of the abuse. We find ourselves Alone, seen as an outsider and caught in Self-judgement, pain, a loss of self-identity, guilt and Shame. We feel like our spirituality was stolen, feel betrayed, mistrusting and usually too embarrassed to tell anyone, including mental health professionals. We do not seek spiritual assistance, because the last person used it against us. We seldom confront our abuser. When we do the conversation is turned back on our own needs, wounds and self-judgement. The abuser is never the one to blame. The abuser counts on their respected position in the community to protect them, they spend a great deal of time and energy in creating this persona. They are counting on this standing to be their shield against anyone that challenges them. The perpetrator counts on the belief of others, that the abused, is crazy, unstable, ungrateful, unbelievable and jealous.
Leaving a Group or spiritual leader is hard. They often try to reconcile and draw the individual back into the abusive relationship. Leaving such a situation, is likened to a death, an ending of a dream, life and family. You are not to blame. let’s talk in a safe environment. I understand the mistrust, the fear and pain that accompanies this betrayal. They took away your trust. they did not steal your connection to Spirit/God. let me help you chart your course on you own terms. Don’t let this stop your healing and growth. contact me. let’s talk