The following is a synopsis of the process of abuse as described in the book, Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse, by Lisa Oakly and Kathryn Kinmond. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, Chapter 4.
The authors interviewed numerous people in the U.K. about their experiences of spiritual abuse (SA) in order to map the process. The study of SA is in its infancy, and this book is one of the first research studies to be completed.
Once a person joins a church, there is an initial period of time when the person is welcomed and reports that things are positive. This period can last a long time.
As the person becomes more intensely involved, they may get into a place of leadership. Once they are close to the center, the abuse can begin. There are abusive events that cause doubts or questioning. These are called catalysts; the narrative of the experience changes. The individual usually recommits to the abuser or the context. This stage repeats itself, with more catalysts or abusive events and re-commitments on the part of the person, who is continuously trying to manage their emotions and make sense of what is happening.
A final abusive event occurs, and the person decides to leave the abuser and the abusive context. It is like they have enough evidence that something is wrong. It is a painful decision and results in the personal discredit and slander of the person who left. There is a loss of relationships and isolation occurs. “Amongst long-term effects is distrust, issues with forming other relationships, impact on the self and impact on faith and church attendance.” (p.87)
The authors liken the context to a revolving door where people silently leave, and new people join, not know what has gone on before them.
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