I-6 FAQs: Spiritual Abuse, Toxic Systems, Recovery


  • Spiritual Abuse Resource Pages
  • Introduction
  • Spiritual Abuse Victims/Survivors and Supporters
    • Becoming a Survivor
    • Healing from Spiritual Abuse
    • Reaching Out … and Pushing Back
  • Spiritual Abuse Perpetrators and Their Enablers/Perpetuators
    • Identifying Malignant Ministers and Enablers
    • Toxic Tactics and Power Dynamics
    • What Do Health and Healing Look Like for Leaders?
  • Toxic Organizational Systems
    • Identifying Toxic Systems
    • What Do Healthy and Renovated Systems Look Like?
  • Getting a Big-Picture Perspective
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06 FAQs: Spiritual Abuse and Recovery,

Toxic versus Healthy Systems

Spiritual Abuse Resource Pages

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This is a long-term project, with more items to be added when I can. It won’t take long to notice that multiple links to the same question contain a lot of duplication — and probably a lot of gaps in the responses, too. That’s because the first stage in this project is just gathering together “chunks” of relevant information from a variety of places. The originating articles may go back as far as 2007, when I was just beginning to write about abuse issues. So, the perspectives from that early era will not be as clear or advanced as from articles written this year.

At some later time, the next stage will be to put the pieces together and edit them to come up with a more scaled down and polished version. Meanwhile, some of the additional questions I intended to respond to are listed as “forthcoming.”

The following responses to frequently asked questions about spiritual abuse link to posts on my futuristguy blog, and to comments I’ve made on other blogs posts.

If it is a blog post, the actual title linked to may not say FAQs or the exact question – but it addresses the question somewhere in the article. Please be aware that I’m not necessarily giving the full title of a post as the link. Also, a series of links after a question may not all be from the same series I originally posted on that subject – some questions use links drawn from multiple series I’ve written.

If I’ve copied and pasted on my blog a comment I made elsewhere, I may have added links and formatting that were not in the original, plus made minor corrections. Perhaps I’ve added an introduction to help understand the context of the comment. Otherwise, the text here is substantially what it was there, and to get the overall context you may want to go back to the original post on the linked blog.

The Spiritual Abuse Article Index page shares summary descriptions of most the following posts that appear on futuristguy, excluding the FAQ articles. Hopefully their titles work well as a summary description of the content.

Also, because I comment on a range of contemporary situations in the North American church, you may find me occasionally using the following abbreviations. Here are those terms, with links to some of the related case studies or archives I’ve produced. In them you will find numerous examples about what spiritual abuse perpetrators and enablers, toxic organizational systems, and challenges and recovery (or lack thereof) look like.

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Spiritual Abuse Victims/Survivors and Supporters

Becoming a Survivor

What made me susceptible to being taken in by a someone bent on misusing their position of authority/power for spiritual abuse — and how is vulnerability not the same as responsibility?

Healing from Spiritual Abuse

How do I know I’m healing from spiritual abuse?

What are some constructive ways to leave the past and move ahead?

What kinds of practices will help me heal? [Personal support, justice, validation, and constructive experiences to counteract the destructive ones.]

How can I find authentic hope and wholeness? [Security, Identity, Belonging, Purpose, Competence.]

How can arts, beauty, and creativity contribute to healing?

How do I learn to discern so I’m less likely to get taken in again — and can help prevent what happened to me from happening to others?

What does it looks like for someone to return to a functional life after deep brokenness, how does that comes about, and what does it means for the Kingdom?

Reaching Out … and Pushing Back

What kinds of questions could we ask to identify and/or responsibly challenge abusive leaders and systems, and to help people recover?

What is “advocacy” and why is it important to survivors?

What things should I watch out for if/when I feel led to share my story about spiritual abuse?

How do intervention, interception, and prevention fit in with challenging toxic systems and leaders, and what are survivors looking for from churches to show they are supportive?

What is “digital dissent” and what does it have to do with challenging toxic systems?

  • [Forthcoming.]

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Spiritual Abuse Perpetrators

and Their Enablers/Perpetuators

Identifying Malignant Ministers and Enablers

How could he ever be abusive, when he seems really nice, genuine, and apologetic?

How do an abuser’s role of power and malignant paradigm go together?

What about leaders who seem to have personality disorders – extremely self-centered, no conscience, no compassion?

What sorts of roles can abuse perpetrators and their enablers take, and what are hallmarks of each role?

Who are “Commenders” and what roles do they play in perpetuating/enabling abuse in an organization?

Toxic Tactics and Power Dynamics

What are strategies and tactics of leaders who are abusive?

What is “objectification”?

How does the “mental illness” label get used in spiritual abuse?

What is “gaslighting”?

What is “spiritual negligence”?

  • [Forthcoming.]

What are “power dynamics” — and requiring (unconditional) submission — about in abuse by someone in a position of authority?

What is “clergy sexual misconduct” and what makes it different from “an affair”?

How can irresponsible endorsement of unqualified or disqualified leaders happen?

What’s gone wrong with church discipline, and what does it look like to do it right?

What Do Health and Healing Look Like for Leaders?

What levels of complicity, culpability, and responsibility do spiritual abusers and those who prop them up have, and what should we do about it?

What are some indicators of genuine restoration to watch for in those who have abused their ministry position, versus counterfeit repentance hiding under the garb of reinstatement to leadership?

What do relatively healthy leaders and churches look like?

When leaders prove themselves abusive, what is restitution about, and should they be “restored” — allowed to keep a platform of influence?

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Toxic Organizational Systems

Identifying Toxic Systems

What are “systems” and “systemic abuse” about?

What’s the main difference between sin and evil?

What do “safe” versus “abusive” environments for personal and social transformation include?

What are the research criteria for identifying authoritarian “sociological cults”?

  • For an overview, see: What kinds of “cults” are there, and what are some criteria?
  • For detailed indicators that have been in use since 1961, and study questions for individuals and groups, see Robert Jay Lifton’s research criteria for identifying “cults” in the series, Lessons from The Hunger Games – How Do We Discern Dystopian Dynamics and Totalitarian Tactics?
  • Part A. Dystopian Dynamics, Totalitarian Tactics, and Lifton’s Criteria for Identifying “Cults.”
  • Part B. Identifying Cults: Authoritarian Communications, Motivations, Restrictions, and Confessions.
  • Part C. Identifying Cults: Ultimate Vision, Reductionist Language, Ideological Conformity, and Social Ostracism.
  • Or download the PDF of Lessons from the Hunger Games – Parts A-B-C.

What are different ways a leader/organization can exert social control?

What are some differences between a “sociological cult,” a “religious cult,” and a “heretical Christian cult”?

How do “interlocking directories” fit into toxic organizational systems?

How is it that toxic ministries usually are steeped in misogyny?

How do “cultures of consumerism” contribute to unhealthy dynamics for leaders and followers in ministries?

What does a comprehensively toxic “paradigm” look like?

What Do Healthy and Renovated Systems Look Like?

What do relatively healthy leaders and churches look like?

How can abusive systems be changed?

How can we work toward system solutions to repair toxic organizations – insofar as possible, if they are not so corroded that they should be imploded?

How can churches become safe places for spiritual abuse survivors?

What should we include as building blocks in a certification system for healthy leaders and holistic organizations?

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Getting a Big-Picture Perspective

What can we learn about authoritarian leaders and systems from George Orwell’s dystopian masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four?

What is the “Christian/Evangelical Industrial Complex” that spiritual abuse survivors talk about?

What lessons can we learn from the history of apartheid and the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission give us about systemic abuse, surviving, recovery, and reconciliation processes?

What are some of the historical background movements and emerging trends within spiritual survivor communities?



What are Christian “abuse survivor communities” all about? Who is in them? How do they relate with the #MeToo social movement? What systemic abuse problems in the Church are they challenging and how? What do they want to see change? What are major internal differences that could pose problems to collaboration?

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All materials (c) Brad Sargent except where otherwise noted.


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