Spiritual abuse is a serious form of abuse which occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim's spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.
Spiritual abuse is the maltreatment of a person in the name of God, faith, religion, or church, whether habitual or not, and includes any of the following:
- Psychological and emotional abuse
- Any act by deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the natural worth and dignity of a person as a human being
- Submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree; intimidation
- Unreasonable control of a person's basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters
- False accusation and repeated criticism by negatively labeling a person as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demonized, apostate, enemy of the church or God
- Prevention from practicing faith
- Isolation or separation from family and friends due to religious affiliation
- Physical abuse that includes physical injury, deprivation of sustenance, and sexual abuse
- Exclusivity; dismissal of an outsider's criticism and labeling an outsider as of the devil
- Withholding information and giving of information only to a selected few
- Conformity to a dangerous or unnatural religious view and practice
- Hostility that includes shunning, (relational aggression, parental alienation) and persecution
Despite the comparative frequency of spiritual abuse, those types of behaviour and actions which are today classified as spiritual abuse can be seen to be prohibited in the major texts and scriptures of numerous religious traditions. Indeed, in the Christian Bible, spiritually abusive behaviour is condemned as being one of the worst forms of sin due to its capacity to diminish or even to destroy an individual's relationship with God.