Healing Religious Mindsets cultivated by Manipulation, Control & Legalism
How did I not see it?
Manipulation & control involve subtle or indirect tactics designed to influence your thoughts, emotions, or actions without your realizing it. It cultivates an unconscious co-dependence, a subservience to that person or entity, Legalism conditions its victims to believe their identity is tied to how they perform, serve, or behave, training them to hang on the approval of the abuser. When a spiritual authority manipulates & controls it represents a wrong view of God. Studies show that 75% of Christians say they have experienced spiritual abuse, but did not recognize it until they were out of the system or away from the person, so you are not alone!
“How could I have been so deceived? “Why did I stay so long?’ are the questions I often hear. Friends this is not your fault. When we start jobs, attend church, or enter into a relationship, there is a fair expectation of respect, honor, and healthy relational equity. So give yourself grace, and stop berating yourself for what you did not know. Those who are intentional manipulators know how to play on your innocence and naivety, most don’t stand a chance.
6 Reasons you don’t see it while you’re in it.
- Manipulators aren’t supposed to be found in church !! Our first instinct is to expect to be able to trust that church leaders are safe. In our professional or personal life, our peers, friends, or oversites are vetted and healthy. This is not always true. Many really know how to talk a good game and smooze those they report to, so they may not see it. The threat is mostly in peers or leading down, so they will control & manipulate to maintain power. This is not your fault!!!
- Manipulators can size up their prey and know which role to play. The charismatic and easy-to-follow type; or brooding and deep, a quiet personality that attracts codependent people. They appear, expert, very knowledgeable,& dynamic, The opposite character will seem private, dark, and introverted. People often think – I can change, help them or want to be their savior. Their ‘deep calling to your deep’ is deceptive and destructive. It will charm you and deceive you into serving them either way. Both create a co-dependant or enabling relationship.
- Manipulators often have three other traits that show up in their positions or in relationships. Intimidation, domination, and retaliation are siblings to manipulation. When they show up, so does a swarming beehive of confusion in your mind and thoughts. This is where you know witchcraft is in operation.
- Manipulators play on the way you are hardwired. For example, a person who has a strength of positivity will always think the best. It doesn’t occur to them to think negatively, be suspicious, or assume that someone has ulterior motives. They dismiss alarm bells and ignore every red flag. If they are empathetic or mercy oriented, they give multiple second chances to excuse ‘perceived’ bad behavior. Unhealthy empathy will take false responsibility, becoming their best friend or trusted helper. The deceiving part is it feels like an honor to be “their person.”
- Manipulators will use scripture and twist your own words against you, “Just trust the process, why are you having a hard time submitting?” or “You made a covenant, not a contract, so you stay no matter what!” “Why are you so defensive, maybe you need to check your heart.”, “I sense rebellion, are you really submitted?” “If you were spending enough time praying, your situation would have improved…maybe there is sin in your life?” “Don’t share too much about what God’s doing through you, you want to be humble.”
- Manipulators condition you to trust them more than yourself. The self-doubt aspect of gas-lighting, passive-aggressive remarks, looks & body language, and the hot and cold moods can make you think you’re crazy. This is mental torment, you just keep replaying and rewinding conversations in your mind. Most find themselves with people-pleasing habits, indecisiveness, inability to make decisions, and a complete lack of trust in themselves. The abuser becomes the authority.
Here are some signs to watch out for that may indicate you are being manipulated:
- Gaslighting: The manipulator may try to make you doubt your own perceptions or feelings, making you feel like you are going crazy or imagining things.
- Flattery: The manipulator may use excessive flattery or praise to get you to do what they want, making you feel special or important. Create co-dependence.
- Guilt-tripping: They may try to make you feel guilty or responsible for your decisions by making it about them, their problems, or emotions, they use your own vulnerabilities or weaknesses against you.
- Isolation: The manipulator may try to isolate you from others, making you feel like you can only rely on them for support or approval. Your special mentality…Spiritually above others..set apart because you are special.
- Shaming: They may use shame or humiliation to control you or make you feel bad about yourself.
- Fear: The manipulator may use fear or threats to make you comply with their wishes, such as threatening to remove a privilege, cut you from a position, or expose or harm you or someone you love if you don’t do what they want.
Hurt People Hurt other People!
My pastor, Robert Morris says that “Hurt people hurt other people,” He is right, they themselves are deeply insecure & wounded. They are terrified of being exposed, so they deflect; resorting to these behaviors to maintain their false sense of power. Humanity without Christ can unconsciously manipulate for self-preservation, but when one is consciously operating in control and manipulation, it’s witchcraft.
We must remember that pastors and leaders are human, and humanity at its finest is still broken. Yes, there is a higher expectation of healthy leadership, but what I know as both a pastor and a therapist is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, he wants to take you both out. The enemy comes to kill, steal, deceive, and destroy. Spiritual abuse & legalism keep you from knowing the nature & character of God. It distorts your view of self and of God; creating doubt, unbelief & uncertainty. It is the self-doubt that causes people to stay, overlook, submit, commit, and suffer thinking they are doing good for the kingdom of God.
How do I heal?
I wish I had a magic pill for you. The biggest challenge to healing is learning to trust yourself, your judgment of others, and God. It took time to condition you, and it will take time to heal. Our core belief system has been deceived into a counterfeit version of who God is and who we are in Him. Here are some tips to heal:
- Ask the Holy Spirit, ‘What is the truth?’ HE IS the Spirit of Truth within you, so tap into that resource. He wants to shift the wrong view of God by the abuse instilled. There is absolutely nothing controlling or manipulative about Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. He has literally given us free will to choose Him…The Kingdom is so opposite of these broken people who cause so much pain.
- Your feelings and emotions are created to serve you and not rule you. We must learn to recognize and challenge them. The more we know the nature, character, and heart of God towards us, and we know Him personally, you recognize when manipulation is occurring. The healthier you become, the lies you believed, and the fears you feared will fade. You will know with certainty that you are not crazy and you make good decisions. God is for you and wants you to learn to trust & love yourself.
- Legalism trains you to not trust yourself. Choose to believe in yourself even when you don’t feel it. In the natural, you’ll ask 10 other opinions before decisions are made. A practical tip is to limit yourself to two choices and make yourself choose. This is taking back your power one choice at a time.
- Positive self-talk speaking out loud! Your voice is powerful, and manipulation and control silence us. Connect with yourself in mind, body, soul & spirit. Put your hands on your head or heart, and ask yourself what or how you feel about yourself or your situation. If what you hear, say sense, or feel is NOT rooted in love or grace, reject it. Life and death are in the power of the tongue! Your words are powerful and your heart hears them. Faith and confidence come as we believe, so if ‘faith comes by hearing’ listen to your words! Replace negative thoughts with positive words. Learn to listen to your gut and move from the place of peace it brings you. Always lean into ‘what’s the truth?’
- Taking back your power includes setting small healthy boundaries. Start small and remember, these simply allow you to say yes to the things that add value to you and bring you peace or blessing, but they also allow you to say NO to the things that do not bring you peace and actually detract from your life or relationships.
- Forgive yourself & release the other person. Because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. Extend grace to yourself & give your mind time to align with your heart. This was not your fault. Second, releasing the other person frees up your mental space to focus on you. It’s not being ok with them, having to be friends with them, but it’s saying God I trust you to be my defender, so I am not always on alert.
Part of the healing process will include getting back into community; we get hurt there, but we also heal there too! You will meet new healthy friends, leaders, and pastors. It happened to me and I know He’ll do it for you! We have a saying “I know and perceive, so I will not be deceived.” You will recognize a counterfeit a mile away! It’s important to trust yourself, but also to seek support from trusted friends or professionals who can help you identify and address any pain from the manipulation or abuse. I’m sorry you were hurt, that was man’s humanity and not God!
I’m praying for you! –