I experienced a great deal of spiritual abuse in my former marriage. I was constantly preached to, he would read scriptures to me and tell me if I would pray more, go to the temple more, etc etc I would be a better mother and wife. And in the end when I told him I wanted a divorce I was told the church says that is not OK, that families should be forever and that the leaders would not approve. Well the leaders did not approve of how he was treating me.
Thank you for sharing.
Can we also add those people who in the temple who act all smug if the dates or places are missing from your family file cards, or a partial name etc; or tell you they get offended when all their names can't be done first, or if you ask them for help completing ordinances!
Why do they act that way? To feel superior? No one is superior to anyone else!
The spirit of this article I'm sure is well intended and many valid and thought provoking points are made. My concern has to do with that very fine line between taking responsibility for our own "spiritual abuse" and blaming someone else for it. I see comments about parents and leaders attitudes toward children and how we negatively see ourselves. What if we just started our days by telling ourselves, "I'm not perfect and they're not perfect, mistakes will be made and that's okay." I've never been a proponent of taking anything for granted, particularly when it comes to my eternal salvation. Finally, I came to grips with the idea that I'm going so do the best I'm able to on any given day and put my trust in the Lord that my efforts will be acceptable. The more difficult part is allowing that latitude to everyone else - church leaders, children, spouses, everyone. Let's not blame someone or allow our testimonies to be swayed because of our rigidness toward the mortal nature of man.
While I found this article to have many valid and worthwhile concepts, the last paragraph's suggestion to the abused was woefully inadequate, if not harmful. To tell a person who is the victim of spiritual abuse that all they need to do is, "to ask for a blessing, go to the temple, and increase [y}our scripture reading and prayer so [you] can discern between truth and error," is saying the same thing an abuser says: "If you would just do more of the things I tell you to do, you would be a better person." Implicit in this statement is the idea that if you were already doing these things, (as you should have been if you were being good enough) you wouldn't be feeling abused. The author has reinforced the same idea that abusers, and Satan use against us - YOU need to DO more to BE GOOD ENOUGH. The Lord does not say this. He simply asks us to love Him, and love one another, and because we are children of God, we already are good enough.
Thank sister McFarland.
Great timing! I so needed this today, though I still don't think we have arrived collectively at a solution.,Is our only solution to withdraw from chuch? I found Kathleen's comment to be alarming as,it brought back memories of what I was told. If you endure suffering you'll be blessed and promoted after your trial. That just entrenches abuse and keeps everyone gagged. I have told people at chuch that it was safer for my children to stay away than to come. Sad times!
My son experienced spiritual abuse on his mission from district leaders who were more concerned about meeting TWE goals than teaching by the Spirit. No excuses were allowed. Not even when he fell off his bike and got a mild concussion! They were angry that he took a few days off to recover, told him he was a bad missionary and that's why he didn't have any baptisms. It was so unChrist-like. Spiritual abuse needs to stop and making people aware of it is a first step. Thanks for writing this article. I hope it will help him and many others to heal.
I tend to have reservations about the term Spiritual Abuse, too. Much of what is written in these comments is actually referred to by the Saviour as "unrighteous dominion", so aptly and clearly explained in D&C 121.
Any priesthood holder, be he a father, son or church leader, needs to study Section 121 regularly. There are so many insights, warnings and promises in this wonderful revelation that I never cease to be amazed by it — especially in Joseph's circumstances and turmoil at the time. This section in itself has always been a testimony to me of his prophetic calling.
Qué buen artículo Hna. Darla!!! Muchas Gracias por haberlo escrito y compartido!!!
Wow!! An awesome article that can help people to understand their pain. This article does not seek to lay blame on priesthood leaders but to awaken them o the damage caused by NOT teaching with the spirit guiding them.
I lost my trust when my Bishop sided with my husband who was physically, emotionally and sexually abusing me. My Bishop would not address these issues. The pain of the abuse was destroying me, and when my Bishhop said....."You know what your problem is...." I left the Church out of self preservation...... the pain of being/going to church was too great.
This is so good to talk about, but I need to point out that the author when talking about D&C 50:19-20 said, "Even when the truth is taught by the Spirit, if we receive it “some other way”—in the adversary’s way—it will discourage us and make us feel down and miserable and inadequate and incapable of living it."
That is not what the scripture was saying. You cannot receive the "Spirit of truth" some other way, but you can receive "the word of truth...some other way". There's an important difference between the two.
Excellent. This information and perspective is extremely valuable and I wish all members would read it. I know many people who have left the church over this type of abuse from parents and also leaders. I have noticed an increase in General Conference talks that mention this type of ungodly behavior, though they don't call it "Spiritual Abuse." As we become more prideful, it becomes a greater problem.
We have been told to avoid that which hurts us spiritually. Sometimes we are not experienced enough to withstand the psychic blows and we are injured physically also (in our brains). Im so ever grateful to the great L Tom Perry, who along with a beloved Bishop, one of his very good friends, told me the story of the Savior's Catcher's Mitt. Having been abused at BYU, largely through the hand of an inexperienced Bishop, (not a bad Bishop, just inexperienced, I was seriously injured....an injury which I did not have before, but have had to deal with ever since....a lifelong brain injury...and a deep and almost fatal wounding to my Spirit) Elder Perry looked deeply into my soul with the aid of Heavenly Father who knows all things and told me the truth of the situation and about me. He also stood up from his desk and slammed his hand down on its top and said "They damned well should have known better!" The explicative, so to speak, shocked me and at the same time showed me that Heavenly Father was infuriated at the injustice, the pain and change to my brain, and all of the rest. And....it showed me beyond any doubt that Heavenly Father Himself knew me. The thing about abuse is that it sometimes changes the way you see yourself and how you respond to the world in a very negative way, an untruthful way. When it hurts your spirit you can be sure you are also injured in the physical...and sometimes this is a permanent injury. But about leaders who do dumb or bad things; how to respond was taught to me by Elder Vaughn J Featherstone when he was filing in as a Mission President in our Mission area---it was the story in his life where a Bishop said and did some terrible things to his son, wife and himself in their local Ward. They prayed together as a family and decided to support the Bishop and respect the office of Bishop. They returned disrespect with complete respect and loyalty. Very soon after this new Bishop was released for personal misconduct and Elder Featherstone was called to be a Seventy....he told me this had been a test for he and his family. Sometimes victims feel alone in carrying the burden as well as alone in dealing with the long-term effects of the abuse. it wasnt until I figured out how to allow the Savior to str.ngthen me daily---He literally carries the burden so I can rest enough to get through a day---He has not healed the injury to my brain, which in a blessing I was told...this is to stand as judgement against some stupid and unfeeling people :)
Thank you Darla . . . it is about time.
Your supportive and loving friend,
I also have questions about how to handle spiritual abuse when it comes from Church leaders, usually bishops. I have experienced that several times in my life. I was trained to be respectful to people in authority, but these men went way over the line.
What do others do?
Very concerned by the comment by Rick. Why would it be a weapon to be used against someone's priesthood leaders if the leaders really are guilty of abuse and the abused member is calling them out on it?
I had to tell off one of my former bishops, who was not even in the ward anymore, when he decided to publicly try to shame me for not working for a time. I was supporting myself and had asked for nothing from anyone. But he knew best and he was going to publicly lecture me, at church, no less, because he felt it his place. This despite the fact his wife had not held a job for over 40 years but felt it was her duty to publicly berate any ward member who was between jobs! This was also the bishop who inappropriately shared things told in confidence during interviews with his wife and then she would loudly and publicly greet the person the next week in the foyer with what she had decided was correct.
Yes, several ward members privately spoke with both the bishop and the stake president about this. Nothing was done. My experience has been that nothing is ever done when the abuse is by a priesthood leader.
I have serious misgivings with this article - and more specifically the very concept of "Spiritual abuse." All of the situations described here to demonstrate spiritual abuse are clear cases of emotional abuse. The fact that someone uses false doctrine or authority doesn't change it from emotional abuse.
There is a great danger in using a phrase such as spiritual abuse. First off, it's not really accurate. It suggests that someone is using spirituality to abuse someone, which is not possible. Secondly, it's dangerous to the Gospel. In this world that is increasingly anti-religion, it feeds into the notion that religion is used to manipulate and abuse people. Even in the comments I note some preparing to use the phrase as a weapon against their priesthood leadership.
Wow. Just wow. I was spiritually abused, and did the same to my children. One goes to church or no treats or tv or bike riding for the week. You want breakfast, be up for prayers and scriptures. Be home for prayers at nine pm or face consequences. Choose to take a non member friend to the movies instead of a church activity, be grounded for a week and ridiculed for weeks....suuuure you can make wise decisions.....what I experienced and what I imposed on my kids. Just good parenting. I thought, but with a niggling voice in my heart but what about agency? What about love and long suffering. And peace.
My kids now adults are not active because of spiritual abuse. I was made to feel that if my children didn't attend or fast or pray correctly I was evil
My parental rights were questioned I know physical abuse and shaming occurred
I still pray for my adult children and wonder if this is covered by the atonement
JMHO: Looking back on raising 7 kids LDS, my hard-learned, most important advice to other parents would be this: the RELATIONSHIPS we have with our kids are way more important than their LIFE CHOICES or what is "right" or "wrong". If your kids know you love them unconditionally, no matter what, you are more likely to cement a mutual respect which includes doing things that make each other feel loved and respected, like honoring traditions or honoring family expectations or honoring free agency (hardest thing I've experienced to date). Sadly, there is no "How To" book on how to be the perfect parent. We're human. We all learn as we go. We all make mistakes. I've made a lot of them over time. I apologize to my kids when I'm wrong and they (now) do the same for me. Even Heavenly Father respected one of His son's free agency, so take comfort in the fact that God knows we are trying, and with His guidance (a lot of prayer) we can do a little bit better every day to raise His sons and daughters.
Thank you for this. ...i unfortunately experienced spiritual abuse from a stake president. .this shook the core of many... i still believe in my heart this is the Church that is true, though I went away.
I found this article eye-opening and can see that with my own children I have been a bit guilty of spiritual abuse because I panic when it seems like they are going off course. I am always trying to improve the way I teach the gospel. My question is, when do you correct and how? Alma did correct Corianton, and Lehi spoke to Lamen and Lemuel. I mean, we still have the responsibility to cry repentance and to teach what is right. I love my family so much and want them to feel the Spirit so that they can find true happiness through living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Remorse and Godly sorrow are important in the repentance process. I feel like I am treading a fine line. Thanks for this information and the thoughts is has provoked.
I attended a YSA ward and the Bishop was abusive. He manipulated and guilt tripped people into dating, marriages, missions and it backfired. When it all came crashing down, there was a suicide, divorces, early return missionaries, lots of inactivity and one marriage that needs to end. He wanted to be stake president and he figured the more people are doing things the more impressed the other local leaders would be, well, his plan crashed and burned. I was the EQ President at the time and the pressure was unreal to do things just so he could be stake president, according to his wife.
My husband and I enjoy reading your articles. I posted this one on my FaceBook page, not something I usually do because the majority of my FB friends are not LDS and I am very selective. A woman I know only from a preparedness presentation, shared it on her page with a comment about how she has had to deal with spiritual abuse here in the Bible Belt, and many of her friends commented with similar observation. I am writing this to let you know how many people have been encouraged and helped by you observations. Not only Meridian readers. We all require more love and understanding and less judgement. Thank you
So... with that being said, where's the "How-to" book on how to parent your children the right way, without Spiritual Abuse, or wothout any other forms of abuse? People, like myself, who grew up with any and all forms of abuse, need a model to be able to follow with lots of examples. Here I was thinking I was doing better than my parents, only to find that I'm the crappy parent who is spiritually abusing my children and I didn't even realize it! It's easy to say "don't do (this)", but seriously- where is the How-to book for what we should DO, and how to do it?
Some valid points were brought up. However, the implication that spiritual abuse without other forms of abuse is more mild is inaccurate and hurtful.
I have not been a victim of abuse of any kind, but I can identify with the section on self abuse. I am not sure I would title it that way, but it was eye opening to me. I think it goes right along with the talk Do Not Despair by Ezra Taft Benson. Satan is literally trying to overwhelm the saints with despair, depression etc. We need to recognize his lies how ever they appear so that we can avoid his traps and rejoice in the gospel. Here is a link to that conference talk. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1974/10/do-not-despair?lang=eng
Thank you for this essay. It is prevalent in our church culture and drives so many people away. When it happens within families, it is even more traumatizing. I'm not sure the suggestions given to those on the receiving end of spiritual abuse would always be helpful. Sometimes the trauma inflicted is exacerbated by "spiritual" activities like attending the temple, scripture study, etc., especially if those performance-oriented activities were the focus of abuse. Trauma survivors need the space and support to take back their voice, their power, their spiritual sovereignty, however they see best, in ways that feel safe to them. Some will need support from professionals trained in trauma recovery. Some will need to create distance from authority figures and institutions while they heal. Each precious soul's journey must be honored.
I worry that this author's ideas of spiritual self abuse may be a harmful formula of victim blaming, and ironically, spiritualy abusive. I don't think it is helpful to tell a person who feels like a spiritual failure despite their best efforts that they need to repent. What practical advice are you giving to such a suffering person?
There are a lot of valid points brought up here. I'm glad we're finally acknowledging spiritual abuse and how insidious it can be. A few things don't quite sit right with me, though. I don't believe any one person has a monopoly on truth. I also don't think the best answer is always to go to the temple, read scripture, etc. as that puts the onus on the abused. Sometimes a better solution is a more individualistic solution,: communing w God in whichever way seems fit to the abused. My story is complicated, in that, in addition to having experienced spiritual abuse in my family, I also was privy to sexual abuse inflicted by the daughters of my bishop towards me. Albeit, they were younger than myself, but not much and it has created lasting damage and confusion. It's a fine line, I think, between defining spiritual abuse and letting our religious experience color our perception of it instead of letting the client come to an understanding of God ( or not ). Oftimes, it is way too painful to go back to the source of hurt ( or the tool, as in scripture, etc. ), but a loving God will understand that, in my estimation and not condemn us further for our pained response. I commend you for bringing this to light and out of denial. I just don't view it as such a cut and dried solution.
Thank you for this. Every member should read this. ❤️❤️❤️
So true. I really enjoyed this article and the reflections it gifted me.
Great article, my wife and I have been encouraged by your articles many times, thank you.
Very nicely written article full of truth. What is the advice when the spiritual abuse comes from a church leader?
This is outstanding! Everyone should read this. I think we can all do better.
Dearest Sister Isackson,
There aren't enough words to thank you for this beautifully presented offering of hope and courage that I have feasted upon today. I have no doubt that I have been carefully and lovingly directed by Heavenly Father to this article on this particular day. From my heart to yours, thank you so much. I truly believe that when we need it the most; Heavenly Father sends us His comforting support in sometimes the most unexpected ways and always in His perfect time.
The bio at the bottom of the article doesn't match the author credit at the top. Who wrote this, Darla or Peggy?
What an outstanding article! Thank you SO much for these critical perspectives.
This is one of the most powerful pieces I have ever read. Thank you.
Revelatory! I think some of this is why 4 of my 5 kids left. I chicks not have been guiltless but I KNOW my depressive ex-husband was emotionally and spiritually in error, from ignorance, certainly not from malice. He lived our children but felt so unloved despite our efforts
Being in spiritual harmony as a couple is a wonderful thing. It can reduce friction in a relationship and increase love. A couple with common goals such as obedience to the gospel and regular temple attendance is and often hoped for and sought out. The reality, however is at some point in a relationship spouses are not on the same page spiritually. This can lead to division in the relationship. Either point of view can get in the way of the other spiritually and an abusive situation can arise fairly easily. Communication, respect, and understanding is more important than control.
Very good article. For parents there is a fine line between teaching with love and understanding and making your kids follow through. This dynamic also changes with age. Some good points to consider. The dynamic in spousal relationships is different. Spiritual abuse not only is coercing one to try to be obedient to the gospel...it can also be the opposite. Having a spouse that prevents you from being able to worship, pay tithing or consistently ridicules or persecutes you for trying to follow the gospel is also spiritual abuse.
Again, you have quite the knack or gift of the Spirit with the way you eloquently put into words what so many need to know and understand. Thank you for sharing this incredibly vital part of the gospel with those of us single/remarried parents of God's children. I am a dad of 4 with two active temple worthy returned missionary sons and two incredibly wonderful daughters who are not active in the church. None of them live with me anymore, as they are come of age, but they are all equally and individually gifted amazing people. I am hononored to be their father. This was a great lesson for me. As I have aligned my life with the Spirit, I knew all of the things that you say in article we're true, but the Lord has gifted you with the power to make these things plain in writing. Keep using the gift you have been given. Many will read these words and now be able to more effectively teach their children as the Lord Himself would do. You have given this dad lots to think on. Thank you. I sure love ya for it!
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