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Your religious or spiritual beliefs are supposed to help uplift and inspire you, not make you feel oppressed and exhausted.

Religious abuse happens when people who claim to love you use your own beliefs against you to keep their power over you. 

I often remind you to choose your battles wisely. Today, I want to address a battle with a topic that I’ve been avoiding for many years – religious or spiritual abuse. It is a form of abuse that is often swept under the rug, and victims suffer in silence.

I had somebody write to me, and they told me their story. And she had been married to someone in the church. And he apparently knew all about the Bible. He had very rigid, legalistic beliefs, according to her. He often used scripture to control and manipulate her and used the teachings of the Bible as an example when raising the children and treating her like a second-class citizen, basically his slave. I mean, I don’t know how else to say it.

She didn’t know much about Christian beliefs and the Bible and things like that, and she desperately wanted to be a good Christian wife and mother, so she did everything she could to mold herself into what he said and what he claimed the Bible said for women to be: basically barefoot and pregnant, do everything around the house and everything for the kids, while the husband makes the money, comes home, and gets waited on hand and foot.

There was more to it, but I’m not going to share those parts of her message here.

She finally decided to read the Bible herself because she felt like she was being hurt. She felt emotionally abused. And after learning what she found out, she realized that’s what was happening.

She discovered his teachings were basically for his own benefit, not hers. He twisted words, concepts, philosophies, and religious ideas and ideals to work in his favor, so she finally got out of that relationship.

Then she wrote to me and said, “Would you please share this with others just in case they might be going through it?”

I’m not a Bible scholar. I don’t know that much about it. My girlfriend knows a lot about it. She was brought up that way. I never really learned about religious abuse until about eight years ago. And then I found out it was a thing, just like financial abuse, it’s a thing. It’s when someone wants power over you, and they use a system to create that power over you or to maintain it.

And what this person did was use Bible scripture and the word of God, according to him, and what he interpreted to work in his favor.

This is known as religious or spiritual abuse. When somebody uses your spirituality or religion or your beliefs against you, and they do it in a way where they twist things, philosophies and beliefs, and words in a book in a way to make you feel powerless.

You can probably apply the same concept in other areas of life too. It’s like somebody being the authority and abusing that authority.

I’m not saying he was an authority of the Bible, but he was an authority in the church where they attended, I believe. And when you have that kind of responsibility, you have to be careful what you do with it.

There are people who have authority and are in positions of leadership, and they will use their knowledge against you so that you feel powerless. You might feel like you have no options and just have to do what you’re told because they claim to know more. This is an abuse of authority.

If you are experiencing this kind of abuse, you need to do your own research to figure out what’s real and true. Otherwise, you might end up like the woman in this situation. She started studying the Bible and learning about what was true and what wasn’t.

Eventually, she realized that her husband was mainly benefiting himself and abusing her. They ended up getting a divorce, but he refused to go to therapy or get any help because he believed she was broken.

He will have to live with this kind of thinking for the rest of his life unless he finally changes his path or his idea of what the Bible teaches.

I’m not here to talk about the Bible or religion in general, but I want to talk about the abuse done by someone in a position of authority.

Religious and spiritual abuse is a real thing. If you’re in a situation where you feel like you have to be the dutiful, submissive person in the relationship because someone else claims to know more, it’s important to understand what your options are.

The reason I’ve avoided talking about this for so long is that I’ll be biased, and it’s not fair of me to tell you what to do when you already have a belief system in place.

I don’t want to change your faith or beliefs; I just want to help you change the way you think about them. My bias causes me to question what you believe to be true, but I’m not telling you what to believe or not.

I believe everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. You deserve to have your own beliefs. And you should absolutely do what works for you.

When you’re in a relationship where there is religious or spiritual abuse going on, it’s important to question if what you’re hearing is true.

You might feel like you can’t think any other way because of your beliefs. However, it’s crucial to understand that if the origin of their abusive behavior is based on a common belief or spirituality, again, you should be aware of your options.

If you’re in a situation that makes you believe you’re going against God if you do anything other than what you’re told, you need to learn more. You should want to learn more and understand what they’re talking about when they try to put you in your place, control you, or make you feel bad.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a place of no power, it’s important to know as much as you can. If you think you’re going against God by believing differently, it might be time to question whether what you’re hearing is true.

Let me rephrase that because I want to make that clear. If I were in a relationship where I was being told that what I was doing was wrong, or that I needed to be submissive, or I needed to follow rules that made me feel bad, or made me feel unhappy, or made me feel like I was being controlled, I would want to question those rules.

I would want to question my own beliefs too. The reason I would say that is because I believe that all religion and all spirituality should lead to happiness, kindness, respect, and a sense of fulfillment. It should be about enjoying each other’s company and having something bigger than yourself to look up to.

However, whenever a belief or religion is used against you, and you feel bad, guilty, or like you’re doing something wrong, it’s time to do your own research.

Here’s my bias again: it’s time to question your beliefs if your beliefs are being used to make you feel bad or wrong.

Let’s say that your religious beliefs say that you are supposed to be submissive. According to this person who wrote and everyone I know that’s in a good relationship and has a good set of religious values and beliefs, there is no submission in a relationship. Relationships are about working together and being happy with one another.

Yes, there are roles, but submission feels like a slavery type of role to me. And I don’t think any religion should teach that. And because I have that view, it’s why I have avoided talking about this subject. But that’s what I would do if I were in this situation.

I have different tools and philosophies at my disposal. And my big picture in religion and spirituality is that they are supposed to lead to happiness, hope, inspiration, motivation, and feeling good about what you believe in.

These things are not supposed to be used against me to control me. When they are, I need to question what’s being taught. Sometimes it’s not just the people who tell you what to do, but the teachings themselves that need to be questioned.

If what I’m saying doesn’t vibe with you, then don’t listen to me. Just do what you feel is right for you. My personal desire is for you to be in a comfortable place inside yourself. And if religion or spirituality is a part of your life, it should be a good thing. If it’s not a good thing, it’s important to question what serves you and what doesn’t.

If something written in text or some authority, religious or otherwise, says that you need to do something that makes you feel bad, it’s okay to question it.

There’s been a lot of interpretation of beliefs throughout the years, and some people have used that interpretation to gain power.

You can see why I am on thin ice when I talk about this. I do not mean to step on anyone’s toes.

If you’re offended by this or if you’re listening to this because somebody gave it to you, I don’t mean to offend you or make you change what you believe. I’m just putting this out there because if you’re in that space where you don’t feel happy or comfortable, and you feel controlled or put in your place, or you feel like you’re in some sort of emotional or even religious prison, then you need to question.

This is a choice, of course. I’m empowering you and giving you the option to question what you believe or what you’re being taught.

If you say, “Paul, I’m not going to question this stuff, this is my religion,” then I’m going to say, “I support that. I am all for that. If this is what makes you happy, if you feel good, and if you think this will get you to Heaven or to some other plane of existence, and you feel it’s all good in your life, then don’t question things.”

But I’ll also tell you to remember to look at the big picture. What is the big picture of your beliefs? What is the big picture of your spirituality? Because if the bigger picture doesn’t match your current experience, then it’s important to question it.

Find the right interpretation. Learn all you can. If someone is twisting your belief system to make you feel bad or take away your power, then it’s important to learn what you can for yourself.

Sometimes, you need to get grounded in your own beliefs first and foremost. Listen to no one else, not even me. Get comfortable in your own skin with your own beliefs. Then you can go out into the world with this solid foundation instead of listening to anyone else.

Remember what the big picture is. Remember what the overall goal for everything you believe is. Because if the overall goal is that you have to be unhappy and submissive for the rest of your life, that doesn’t sound like a religious experience to me. That doesn’t sound miraculous, heavenly, godly, or Christ-like, or whatever your beliefs are.

And when it doesn’t sound right and doesn’t feel right, that tells me something isn’t right.

I don’t know if you’ve gotten anything from this episode today, but I wanted to maybe give you permission to question if you wanted to or needed it.

And I know I’m not the person to give you that permission. But I’ve seen too much pain and suffering at the hands of people that use good things against people to make them feel bad.

When somebody uses good to make you feel bad, that’s the time to learn all you can and get a solid foundation in yourself of what’s true and real to you.


Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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