Domestic Violence Forms: Spiritual Violence.

Domestic Violence Forms: Spiritual Abuse

“When someone dies in my family, he reminds me that in Islam, we don’t do party for the dead. We just bury them. If he or I spend money on the event, we are sinning. So, he spends no money on the event that takes place. Even when I feel like spending my own money for the event, he refuses me spending the money, saying I should spend it on my immediate family (i.e. him and his children). I spend almost all of my money on them anyways. However, when someone dies from his family or friends, he knows spending will be in his favour by improving his ego. He will go all out to spend on those burials”.  

“After our wedding, my husband said I am married to him now; I must cut ties with all my friends and acquaintances. I must distance myself from my family because all these people will lead me to heal fire. He is my only responsibility now. He never allows me to socialize and keeps quoting verses and hadiths on how if I do anything or go anywhere without his permission, I will end in hell fire”.

“During our morning devotion, we each take turns to pray to our father lord. While he says his prayer, he keeps telling Jesus to save his rebellious wife. He prays that without him, he knows that his wife is useless because he is the one who makes her worship the father. He tells God that God should purify his filthy and sinful wife. He barrages me so much I have begun to really feel filthy before the lord”.

“He keeps reminding me that paradise lies at your husband’s feet. So if I want paradise, I must obey him in everything and heed his control. 

Spiritual abuse within the domestic violence context is the kind of abuse that involves misusing spiritual or religious beliefs in order to manipulate or control another’s behaviour within the household. Sincerity and trust are thrown out of the window with spiritual abuse. The perpetrator does everything and says things for his or her personal gain and to take control of the victim’s actions. Spiritual abuse, which is also known as religious abuse, also involves preventing a victim from practising their religion; the perpetrator may use spiritual beliefs and doctrine to take control of the victim. With spiritual abuse, the victim is made to feel inferior spiritually. The perpetrator may have a holier-than-thou attitude and constantly breathe that down the victim’s throat. Making the victim so small. The perpetrator practically uses the scripture as a weapon to control the victim.   

Spiritual abuse may involve verbal, emotional, and/or physical violence. Sometimes the abuse is connected; for example, the perpetrator may physically violate the wife and justify it with the scripture by saying that a man can beat his wife if she misbehaves. And they may not be connected; for example, holds back financially (economic abuse) and can’t justify that with the scripture but still spiritually abuses the victim on something else.

Remember, abuse of any form occurs when someone has power over an individual and uses that power to hurt, control and manipulate that other person. With spiritual abuse, the perpetrator uses the knowledge and power they have of spirituality to hurt the feelings and override another person’s opinion, thereby manipulating and controlling that person. 

Spiritual abuse may be so subtle that many people won’t recognize it, and it may be so loud even the children will notice it. Usually however, spiritual abuse is hard to notice. So what are the signs to watch out for?

  • When a partner uses your religious scriptures to control your choices, e.g., how to spend your money, who to relate with, etc. 
  • When a partner uses the holy books to justify sexual, physical, economic, or emotional abuse
  • When a partner uses your religious beliefs and doctrines to intimidate you into conformity and or threaten spiritual consequences for not conforming. 
  • When a partner censors you from asking questions or disagreeing with his leadership. 
  • When a partner punishes you for not adhering strictly to gender roles in the relationship.
  • When a partner uses scripture to demand sexual acts or other favours
  • When a partner isolates you from your spiritual community and/or insults your beliefs and other belief systems, or forces you to attend a religious gathering
  • When your partner publicly shames or humiliates you and your religion or spirituality

Unfortunately, the adverse effects of religious abuse can be dire. Aside from the overall negative impact of domestic violence that it brings on the victim, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, insomnia, anxiety etc., spiritual abuse leads to peculiar adverse effects, such as feeling betrayed by God and others or making the individual lose their faith in God or a higher power altogether.  

Although spiritual abuse is challenging to live through and overcome, it is possible to heal and thrive. Become aware of common abusive situations and patterns and take action to protect yourself. Seek help within your faith community if your faith community do not condone such practices or has the same views as your abuser. If they condone or have the same opinions, seek help outside the community. Finally, you can also seek help from a faith base counsellor or therapist to get proper therapy, especially when other mental health issues have started, such as depression, PTSD, etc.

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