Spiritually Abusive Groups

Abusive groups are not outward-looking, but inward-looking, guiding members to find comfort and support and a replacement family within the group. Designed bonding to the group creates isolation from friends, relatives, previous relationships; abusive groups over time feed ideologies into their consciousnesses, saturating their senses with specific doctrines and requirements of the group. The seed of extremism exists wherever a group demands all the free time of a member, insisting he be involved and calling him to account if he isn’t, is critical or disapproving of involvements with friends and family outside the group, encourages secrecy by asking that members not share what they have seen or heard in meetings or organizational affairs with outsiders, is secretly, openly, or publicly critical of other churches or groups (especially if the group claims to be the only true one ), is critical when members attend conferences, workshops or services at other churches, questions members in any way, i.e., to determine that the reason they gave for missing a meeting was valid, or makes attendance at all functions mandatory for participating in church ministry or enjoying other benefits of church fellowship.

The leaders may also persuade the members that they have the inside track with God and therefore know how everything should be done. When their behavior results in disastrous consequences, conflicts, as it often does, the members are blamed. Sometimes the leaders may have moments, especially after abusive episodes, when they appear to humble themselves and confess their faults, and the contrast of these moments of vulnerability with their usual pose of being all-powerful endears them powerfully to members and gives hope for some open communication.

There is a feeling of being monitored, watched, and assessed by those in the group or by leaders. In other words, what the organization wants, believes and thinks its members should do becomes everything, and you feel preoccupied with making sure you are meeting the standards. It no longer matters whether you agree that the standards are correct, only that you follow them and thus keep the peace and in the good graces of leaders.

People subjected to this type of spiritual abuse become worn out by tension, fear and continual rushing about in an effort to meet group standards. They must often avoid displays of fear, sorrow or rage, since these may result in ridicule or punishment. Rigid ministry demands and requirements that members attend unreasonable numbers of meetings and events make the exhaustion and ability to resist group pressure even worse.