Psychological abuse involves the regular and deliberate use of a range of words and non-physical actions used with the purpose to manipulate, hurt, weaken or frighten a person mentally and emotionally; and/or distort, confuse or influence a person’s thoughts and actions within their everyday lives, changing their sense of self and harming their wellbeing.” (source)


Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit another, thus causing spiritual wounds. Spiritual abuse differs from most other forms of abuse in that it may be perpetrated with no intent to harm.

Spiritual abuse is much larger than any one religion and happens in all populations, including the “spiritual but not religious,” the New Age, New Thought, and Human Potential Movements, all religions, and even where religion is not the issue. In fact, it happens in homes, schools, and even in workplaces all around the world. . . it can also happen whenever someone tries to tell you how to feel, what to think, and/or what to believe so much that your own original thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are not allowed into the room. Take, for example, a case in which someone is told by a spiritual leader for the reason she had an auto accident was that she’d been thinking negative thoughts and that she needs to control her negative thinking to keep negative things from happening to her. It has the potential to raise so much anxiety that she will try ever after that to push away (repress) any negative thoughts or feelings and to replace them with what seems to be positive thoughts and feelings. This puts her in a constant, moment-by-moment battle with her own inner world so that she cannot allow thoughts to arise and feelings to be made conscious. No, she must fight these off to make sure nothing negative ever happens to her. This is spiritual abuse because it teaches her to go to war with her own spirit.” (Mathews, LPC)


Nonphysical abuse: a pattern of behavior in which one person deliberately and repeatedly subjects another to nonphysical acts that are detrimental to behavioral and affective functioning and overall mental well-being. Researchers have yet to formulate a universally agreed-upon definition of the concept, but they have identified a variety of forms that emotional abuse may take, including verbal abuse; intimidation and terrorization; humiliation and degradation; exploitation; harassment; rejection and withholding of affection; isolation; and excessive control. Also called psychological abuse.” (APA Dictionary)

Emotional abuse centers around control, manipulation, isolation, and demeaning or threatening behavior. More subtle signals of emotional abuse: regularly judging a person’s perspective without trying to understand it, relying on blame rather than improvement, regarding the other person as inferior, frequent sarcasm, and telling the other person how to feel in an attempt to be “helpful.” (PsychologyToday)

Gaslighting constitutes a form of emotional abuse. By manipulating the victim to doubt his or her own sense of reality, leading the victim to rely on the perpetrator for a sense of reality. Gaslighting can instill confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. (PsychologyToday)

Many individuals who were in cultic groups experienced some type of abuse. Not every cultic member was or felt abused. Not every member experienced the same type, intensity, and consistency of abuse. Many individuals did not know they were abused when it happened. Many did not know what abuse was.