1. “Hears” God for you. God apparently “goes through” him/her to speak to you. (This requires a sense of superiority – from him or her and is often framed as being “more mature,” and a sense of being “less” from you.)
2. Alienates (shuns, ignores) you if you do not adhere to his/her guidance, leadership, or authority. (This is usually VERY subtle – so it is easy to deny.)
3. Suggests that rejection of his/her “higher understanding” is done so at your spiritual or even physical peril. (You will hear things like, “Be careful. You will move yourself from the covering and protection of God.”)
4. Rewards your obedience with inclusion, and punishes your questioning or resistance with withdrawal. (Compliance gets stroked, resistance gets struck!)
5. Demands “cathartic” honesty. Unless you spew out every detail of your life you must be hiding or withholding something (and that “something” will, of course, impede your spiritual development).
6. Lavishes you with praise, acceptance, and understanding when you are “good” and “pushes” you away when you are “bad.”
7. Is apparently fixated on the use of titles like reverend, pastor, elder and cannot appear to relax in the company of “ordinary” mortals. The issue is not in the use of legitimate titles (or robes or religious garb) – it is that identity seems impossible without the titles or the trappings.
8. Leaves a trail of cut-off relationships. Usually in the trail are those who refuse to bow, to submit, to stand in awe of, to be thoroughly entranced by, the will of the pastor, the leader or the friend. Always regard with suspicion or caution leaders who are cut off or alienated from members of their family, especially their parents.
9. Lives from a “for me/or against me,” “black/white,” “all/or nothing” platform of “relationships.”
10. Genuinely sees God’s Call so zealously, so fervently that any signs of resistance are seen as the expressions of The Enemy or an enemy – thus, relationships are expedient (disposable) in the light of getting on with God’s work.
The perpetrators of abuse apparently fail to see that reconciliation, and forgiveness, “space,” and room to move, and room to respectfully disagree (boundaries, morality) are all part of the glorious work of the Gospel. Freedom begins with recognition. Recognition must result in action. Stand up to those who misuse their positions of leadership. Spiritual abuse serves the welfare or neither the perpetrator nor the victim – quite apart from the disservice it does to the church.
(This post is written in honor of “J” in Honolulu – I am sorry for all you had to endure.)