Is Spiritual Abuse Really Abuse?

Lately, with the #Me Too movement women have been speaking out against sexual abuse. Any kind of abuse weather it be physical, verbal, and emotional isn’t being tolerated like it used to but what about  spiritual abuse? Is everything considered “abuse” nowadays?

Spiritual abuse is psychological in nature much like emotional abuse however it uses the guise of religion to control and manipulate women with the fear they will be sinning against God if they do not obey. So, no – not everything is abuse but yes, spiritual abuse is abuse.

The 1975 original version of The Stepford Wives was classified as being a “horror film” of its day. Maybe not the Stephen King kind of horror, there isn’t any blood, guts or gore. What made the movie so horrifying is that the wives in Stepford were secretly and eerily being replaced with exact replica robots that could do all their wifely duties perfectly and happily. The ploy intensifies as new wife Joanna moves to town and notices something just isn’t right.

The wives are just a little too perfect. On top of that they were obsessed with housework, prancing around as trophy wives and sex kittens with seemingly entranced pre-programmed responses and actions. Joanna eventually finds out the secret.  All along “The Men’s Society” of which her own husband is a part of  are the masterminds for the whole operation in programming a replacement automaton wife to look, exactly like the former with a few enhancements of course. While the real wives are quietly and secretly done away with, never to be seen again.

Of course this movie aired in the wake of huge women’s liberation and feminist waves. Male chauvinism and misogyny prompted this dramatic depiction of “submissive” wives. While it did not have any biblical overtones whatsoever, we cant help but connect the dots to some traditional, fundamental, legalistic, hierarchal and patriarchal views held by many people and churches still today.

On her wedding day, her husband takes the title of her life and says just like property…”You are mine now. Hence, I am the leader, ruler, head and operator…spiritually, physically and mentally. Furthermore, the Bible tells you to submit to my authority, and if you don’t you are not submitting to God and you are sinning.”

Does this break your heart? Does it get you angry? It should. This kind of  mental, emotional and spiritual abuse IS horrifying. It should make us shriek and hide under the blanket to think Christian men would guise this behavior under spiritual leadership.

Listened to one woman’s heart breaking testimony,

“I wish he would have just hit me and got it over with, but the verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse, coercion and manipulation was a constant beating and berating of the inner most part of my soul. I’d honestly rather just take the black eye, it would heal so much faster and at least there would be evidence to prove what he was doing.”

This is not to minimize the pain of physical abuse. Her neighbors had no idea. She was isolated from her family, they were completely shut out and clueless to the reality of this spiritual abuse for over a decade.

How does this happen?

It happens with BAD theology. When the curse of Gen. 3:16 “...and he will rule over you.” is turned into a command. Something that is described in the Bible does not mean it is to prescribed.  If a doctor describes your condition that is a lot different from him prescribing medicine to fix an ailment.  God never prescribes man to lord over their wives in order to fix their lack for submissiveness. In fact He says the opposite in 1 Peter 5:3.

The idea that the husband is the hammer, the wife is the nail and the children are the result of his well crafted workmanship is warped. It happens when people read the Bible with a sense of religiosity and head knowledge and not with the heart of God illuminated by the Spirit. It happens from decades of sweeping this stuff under the rug… until one day as a society we trip over the huge hump in the rug.

Let’s lift the rug…

It’s not going to be pretty but I’m going to start by listing the early red flags of spiritual abuse. Then some tell tale signs of both the husband and wife (or couple) to look out for. Lastly, advise what do you do if this is you or someone you love.

These are things you need to be looking for if your dating, if your daughter is dating, if your married (no matter how long) and if you believe someone you know might be experiencing spiritual abuse.

Being in a spiritually abusive marriage or relationship doesn’t happen over night. These are early signs something is not right. Many of these are found in a book I highly recommend Boundaries in Marriage also Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend.


First, The Red Flags

  • His father or grandfather has a history of chauvinism.
  • His mother is fully domesticated, may have a large family.
  • He has a pattern of disrespecting women in previous relationships.
  • Believes men were created to rule over women, not just in marriage. (Gen. 1:26)
  • Believes Men are inherently better and less sinful than women. (1 Tim. 2:14)
  • Feels that feminism and women’s liberation is a threat to God’s Word and his marriage.
  • Believes that the woman’s place is at home “barefoot and pregnant”
  • Is very charming and takes the lead. Protects her.  She may like that at first.
  • Is overly jealous and suspicious.
  • Wants to control everything, you’ll notice extra-biblical demands, limitations or expectations
  • Doesn’t wait for sex until after marriage. (1 Thes. 4:3-5)
  • Doesn’t like the word “No”.
  • Is very selfish seeks to gratify himself at the the expense of others.
  • He needs to be needed. Is most happy when she is fully dependent on him.
  • Withdraws emotionally and withholds love as a punishment
  • Makes her feel less educated and knowledgeable.
  • Projects authentic Christian beliefs going to church regularly. Maybe very disciplined in Bible study.
  • Is religious not necessarily spiritual
  • Acts one way to her and another way in public. A hypocrite.
  • Judges or corrects things she does wrong.
  • Doesn’t support her hobbies, if they take time away from her duties
  • Doesn’t invite or appreciate her opinions, values or beliefs.
  • Is defensive and not able to receive correction
  • Is self-righteous instead of humble.
  • Demands trust yet is not trustworthy.
  • Negates her pain. Controls with fear.
  • Blames her for his actions.
  • She tries to fill some sort of emptiness with their relationship
  • Views him as a father-figure, she can trust.
  • Is often naive, immature or vulnerable and he plays of of that.
  • Slowly distances herself from things or even friends he doesn’t like.
  • Learns not to get him angry
  • Confuses infatuation with love
  • Has no idea of these red flags.

The Tell Tale Signs

  • He insists he knows and understands God’s Word better than she does.
  • Makes ultimate decisions on everything.
  • Isolates her from people and family.
  • Is obsessed with oneness, anything she does that distances them is considered a threat. Even the children.
  • He equates his authority equal to that of Jesus’ over the church. (Eph. 5:23)
  • Submission is not voluntary, it is commanded (Eph. 5:24)
  • Love is secondary and control is priority.
  • He has high expectations of a clean house, managing of children staying productive… may even ask for a lists of what she did.
  • Has a limited concept of grace.
  • Expects sex on demand (1 Cor. 7:4)
  • He emotionally withdraws and the only connection they have is through physical intimacy.
  • Twists and claims she is trying to control him so he is the victim.
  • Reins over her with fear, manipulation, guilt, domination, intimidation.
  • Doesn’t take ownership of his failures or mistakes.
  • Is narcissistic.
  • Is a TAKER and not a GIVER
  • She loses parts of herself, is less rounded and more one dimensional.
  • Loses passion for life and often battles with depression. Goes through the motions.
  • Does not love him, she simply obeys him.
  • Feels objectified and loved conditionally.
  • Her deeper spirituality dries up. Loves God but feels like a constant failure.
  • Is convinced God wants her to be a GIVER and not a TAKER and therefore, submits.

What To Do  – It’s never too late.

  • Understand that women suffering from spiritual abuse are often very fearful of losing his love, trust, respect and provisions.  She, furthermore fears those very same things from God if she fails to obey her husband.
    • First, start educating, reading, watching…Blogs,  books, anything she can get her hands on that will confirm what she is experiencing is abuse.
    • Encourage her to talk to someone. That it’s okay to talk about her feelings and have them validated by her family, friends, counselor and (safe) church leaders- probably from another church. She needs a strong support structure. She likely to doubt herself a million times. She’ll need and an outlet for her feeling of bitterness, resentment, depression and/or anger.
    • She often feels like a traitor for telling people bad things about her husband but needs reassuring her intuition is right something is wrong and she needs to follow it and get help if not for her but for her children.
    • Reassurance God’s love is unconditional and not dependent on her performance. That God doesn’t force her to obey, neither should her husband. It is NEVER stated that the husband’s job is to make his wife obey. She is not sinning because she doesn’t obey his every word.
    • She isn’t called to sacrifice for her marriage. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for her every deficiency.
    • She needs to seek good solid biblical advice on how to properly interpret scriptures that have been used against her to manipulate her.
    • She needs to press deeper into God than ever before and rely on His Spirit to enable feeling again and to love again where it is numb. He will direct every step of the way. When her spirit is wounded, she will naturally default to an unhealthy or non existence relationship with God. This must be built back up. She needs God’s wisdom on how to proceed.
    • A confrontation is going to be necessary. She must tell her husband how she feels. Not being truthful gives a false impression that everything is okay and its NOT.  She must communicate as calmly and clearly as she possibly can that his oppression is unbiblical and she will not tolerate it any longer.
    • She needs healthy boundaries. A boundary is an imaginary property line to  shows where her property ends and his begins. Whenever he trespasses she will let him know in the future.
    •  She needs to initiate the Matthew 18 process: yes, even with her husband.
    • Separation for a time maybe in order. This will hopefully allow him to reconsider his ways and the goal is repentance, and a spiritual change not merely temporary or a simple “I’m sorry”.  This is NOT unforgiving and maybe necessary. See if he is willing to go to a counselor. Keep in mind often “A mocker resents correction: he will not consult the wise” (Prov. 15:12).
    • If she needs to leave she needs to make that decision herself. The goal is she comes to a self realization. She may start to clutch too tight on those who are helping her. Point her to complete dependence on God.
    • Severe cases require intervention and rescue. The wife is kidnapped in a sense and none of the above can happen without possible danger being inflicted to her or the children. This should be executed very carefully and prayerfully. It may involve law enforcement  and a good lawyer.
    • Spiritual independence is the goal. She will walk with God and pursue a deep relationship with her First Love, “For your Maker is your Husband” (Is. 54:5)

Don’t Lose your Identity – Find it in Christ

The key to avoiding spiritual abuse and not losing yourself as a Stepford Wife is to have a deep love and relationship with your God. Safeguard  your boundaries with his Word -correctly applied. Loss of self happens when you give up your true identity and fuse it with another taking on their identity, likes, hobbies, and most critically their spiritual beliefs. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. God does not create you to be an automaton. Overcome the fears of conflict, anger, loss of love, withdrawal, being alone, losing man’s approval with the truth that God loves you apart from anything you do.

A Message To Men

If you insist on controlling your wife then you can no longer expect be loved, but only obeyed. You have chosen to be a master and have a slave for a wife and you are slowly killing her identity. She is not a robot. Upon marriage she didn’t hand over the master controls. They are and have always been in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father who loves unconditionally. Your maleness doesn’t give you the right to abuse anyone. She was not created to serve you. She was created to serve and glorify God, as an individual, free of coercion and control so she can voluntarily bring her individuality into a relationship to enrich and bless it.

Songs to PRAY

When I’m With You – Citizen Way

O’ Lord – Lauren Daigle

Freedom Hymn – Austin French

Other Resources:

Leslie Vernick Free Resources

Steps to confronting your husband

Understanding Biblical Authority

Boundaries books

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

The Hidden Epidemic God Hates -TGC

Sermon by Charles Price Married to the Law

Watch The Stepford Wives here

Other posts you might like,

The Unspoken Broken Rooms of Our Soul

Some Days Hope is Harder to Find Than Others

Help! I’ve Lost the Desire for God’s Word

Modern Day Tulip Mania

Do you have an idol? Nope go fish!

Should I Impersonate Christ?

Spiritual Fruit Versus Tinsel? Take the Test

Visit my YouTube Channel to watch these and more!

Superfruitful YouTube Channel



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