Spiritual Abuse, Addiction and Fanaticism

Fanatic: n. A person possessed by an excessive and irrational zeal, especially for a religious or political cause.

Extremist, zealot:  A person who shows marked and usually excessive, compulsive attachment to a cause, often to the exclusion of virtually all other interests.

Religiosity: adj. Excessive or false piety without true virtue.

Addiction: adj. The condition of being addicted to a substance, habit or state of mind – usually excessive destructive, immoderate, intoxicating.

Abuse: v. To misuse, hurt, mistreat, insult, deceive. 2. A bad, unjust, corrupt custom or practice.

Toxic Faith: Destructive belief system based on deception and employing abusive, manipulative methods.

Not everyone within an abusive religious affiliation is addicted to the system. Many of them were born and raised within the group or were deceived by the leaders through the use of mind control.


False concept and expectation of God – May view Jesus Christ as mortal – just a spiritual leader or example. While giving lip service to God’s love, the religious addict feels that “God doesn’t care about me except to punish me!”

Distorted understanding of “faith – Faith is in the religion or its leaders rather than a personal relationship with God and understanding of His Word.

Low self-worth is reinforced by manipulative leaders through misuse of scripture – childhood abuse victims are vulnerable to religious abuse & addiction.

Compulsive religious activity consumes the members’ time, energy or thoughts.

Passivity – wanting God or someone else to take charge, make decisions, etc. Avoidance of reality, withdrawal from relationships and society.

Giving to get – not truly interested in the needs or pain of other people, selfish, self-centered.

Unusual speaking voice, smooth, and pitched differently, eyes glazed, staring, or cast down, posture is sometimes stooped during religious activity.

Intolerance in many spheres of life: money, work, sex, marriage – “think my way or you are worth nothing to God or to me.”

Spiritual euphoria and association with other “groupies.” Occasionally, leads to addictive behavior in other areas.

Conditional love and the focus on trivial issues produce family friction and detachment.

Little regard for the emotional needs of women and children.

Inability to relate scripture to every day living. Usually, resort to mystical or allegorical meanings of scripture.

Depression and euphoria are cyclical – the ruling emotions are shame, guilt and fear.

Sin must be hidden at all costs, rather than confessed and dealt with.

Destructive anger, masked by super sweetness, false serenity, brusqueness, intimidation.

The belief system interferes with personal relationships causing loneliness, and inability to communicate honestly.

Denial of problems, reality, and one’s true personality.

Recruitment of others into the religion becomes obsession – deceit is necessary – control of information and reality – lying, evasion & double-talk.

Outspoken. Little regard for one’s own offensive comments, arrogance, behavior or lies.

Leaders make claims of special anointing/ revelation.

Doctrines are contradictory and confusing – abusive to the minds and logic of members. Autistic doctrine results in schizophrenic behavior.


Leadership controls everyone — replacing God’s power and control.

When a problem arises, find a scapegoat.

Mistakes are not allowed (to be acknowledged).

Ignore reality. One must be happy and confident in the fellowship of fakes.

Irrational drive to be perfect like Christ- an impossible goal.

Questions and opinions are not allowed.

No deviations allowed outside the boundaries of your role of conformity.

Trust the leaders, not yourself or anyone else.

Nothing and no one is more important than the system.

Faith in the system is more important than facts. Contradictory information is of the devil, no matter where it originates.


Manipulative leader(s) – live in fear of losing control & of being found out; must constantly manipulate information.

Co-conspirators – the manipulator’s enablers, live in fear of rejection by the leader; must act as insulators.

The Victims – feel unworthy & fearful of rejection

The Outcasts & Rebels – live in confusion


The Deceivers

The Deceived


Breaking through the deception and denial – Family and close friends must collect as much information and historical documentation about the situation as possible. Know and verify all the facts. Wait for an opportunity when the religious addict is alone and at a possible low point; preferably not after a significant religious gathering or during a busy season. Prepare one’s message with statements about situations that have precipitated family misunderstandings regarding the person’s behavior or statements that have hurt others. Confront the person with the error in his concept of God and faith.

Don’t ask questions or give the religious addict opportunity to talk. Take charge of the conversation, but don’t lose your temper. Affirm your love of the person again and again.

Give the person space and wait for the information to sink in. Be prepared for several months or years of waiting for the person to hit bottom on his own,

Give the person unconditional love, no matter how he or she responds to you.

Look for a support group for yourself and for the religious addict, in the hope that eventually he will want help.

Work on family relationships to heal the dysfunctional aspects that have created the climate for religious addiction.


Toxic Faith: Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen

Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan

Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth

Breaking the Chains by Leo Booth

By Kathleen (Munn) Lewis