Briefly examining the subtle power of spiritual and emotional abuse. This issue is one of personal significance to me. My hope is that perhaps the compiling of this information will be helpful to someone else as well someday.
10 Subtle Manipulations
These 10 examples are all things I have experienced first hand. Though from an outside perspective they may not seem to be that bad, the weight and total accumulating effect of these manipulations are more devastating than I can describe in words. I pulled these examples of manipulation from a book on spiritual abuse: (Johnson, David, and Jeffrey VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1991. Print.)
Forms of Subtle Manipulations:
- Shaming people out loud.
- Can’t Talk Rule – tries to keep people quiet by labeling them the problem if they notice and confront a problem.
- Coding – verbal manipulation where messages are sent in a way that they have to be decoded in a sense, but generally only those directly involved will get the message.
- Triangling – sending a message to someone through another person instead of delivering it directly.
- Obscured Reality – anything that could expose those in authority is denied or ignored. Interacting with people outside of the system is condemned because it is threatening to them. Problems are denied and therefore remain.
- Performance Based – When behavior is legislated from the outside, instead of coming from a heart that loves God, it cannot be called obedience. It is rather compliance with external pressure. This orientation squeezes people from the outside in, they are not transformed, but rather they are conformed.
- Unspoken Rules – you don’t find out what they are until you break them. Rules like this are never written down because if they were written down they would be easily exposed as anti-Christian.
- Humiliation and Scare Tactics – you can be ‘exposed’ for asking too many questions, for disobeying unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples in order to send a message to those who remain. Many methods are used to warn their friends and others about how ‘dangerous’ or ‘divisive’ they are.
- Misusing or Abusing Scripture – using scripture incorrectly in order to manipulate.
- Double Talk – the leaders sound very religious but there is a sense of vagueness. They will give you the ‘right’ answer but rarely the ‘real’ answer. You cannot confront them or pin them down because they never truly answer the question and are deceitful.
Spotting Spiritual Abuse
–Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.
–Demand allegiance as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.
–Create a culture of fear and shame. Often there is no grace for someone who fails to live up to the church’s or ministry’s expectation. And if someone steps outside of the often-unspoken rules, leaders shame them into compliance. Can’t admit failure but often searches out failure in others and uses that knowledge to hold others in fear and captivity. They often quote scriptures about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder. Yet they often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their circle of influence take on this task, silencing critics.
–Often have a charismatic leader at the helm who starts off well, but slips into arrogance, protectionism and pride. Where a leader might start off being personable and interested in others’ issues, he/she eventually withdraws to a small group of “yes people” and isolates from the needs of others. Harbors a cult of personality, meaning if the central figure of the ministry or church left, the entity would collapse, as it was entirely dependent on one person to hold the place together.
–Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.
–Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.
–Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.