Spiritual Abuse – Recommended Reading

Spiritual Abuse – Recommended Reading July 24, 2015

Undermuchgraceby Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace

According to the Spiritual Research Network, “spiritual abuse occurs when a leader, church or belief system – whether well intentioned or not – dominates, manipulates or castigates individuals through fear tactics, mind control or some other psychological or emotional abuse.”

I believe that Jesus dealt with a great deal of this phenomenon and that the Pharisees were the spiritual abusers of His day. They are shepherds who use, manipulate or hurt the sheep for their purposes.

This is a difficult thing to understand at first, especially if you are in a church and believe that your pastor or church leadership has subjected you to this process. Especially if you are new to this concept, based upon my own experiences and the recommendations of my own exit counselor to me, I believe that there is essential reading that must be done in order to recover fully.

Some of spiritual abuse is religious, but a large portion of it has nothing to do with religion or doctrine, although we do see these things occurring in the New Testament. Therefore, for the Christian, I believe it is very beneficial to first get a spiritual perspective, but then to go on to realize that spiritual abuse has nothing to do with the Gospel message or Jesus or true Christianity. The dynamics of spiritual abuse involve social influence and and psychological manipulation, so for that reason, I recommend that Christians read at least some of the secular literature regarding cults and exit-counseling. The dynamics found in abusive churches are identical to those found in any other cult, though they may vary in degree from group to group. I believe that spiritual abuse means exactly the same thing as “cultic” or what some people come right out to call a “cult.” Another area of literature that I believe is profoundly beneficial is that which pertains to sales techniques and how salesmen take advantage of human nature to “sell” their ideas. Interpersonal manipulation occurs as well, so this is another area of reading from which a person emerging from spiritual abuse or cults will glean and benefit.

I have listed books in this format, separating out each book based on its subject, though they are all helpful and they all will address some aspect of spiritual abuse. The first category details one suggested way of working through the literature in a way that builds upon the information in other books to help the reader glean the greatest benefit, though this is certainly not the only order or way to research the literature. Based upon the subjects, I will try to offer some choices and options, though I would definitely read as much as I could.

Please also see this post about resources dealing with shame, as well as the book widgets!

Note also the specific resources related to the teaching of the Botkin Family as well as the wealth of information at the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome site.
I. Suggested Reading Plan

II. Christian Books Addressing the Dynamics of Spiritual Abuse

III. Secular Books Addressing Cults and Cultic Churches

IV. Personal Accounts

V. Sales Techinques

VI. Manipulative and Abusive Relationships

**My Preferred books

I. Suggested Reading Plan

Christian Secular
Phase I:

First Priority

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse(Johnson & VanVonderan)
OrHealing Spiritual Abuse(Blue)
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion(Cialdini)
Deals with sales techniques that exploit human nature an natural tendencies
Phase II:


The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists in Leadership(Martin)


Churches That Abuse (Enroth)

Take Back Your Life(Lalich)

(older version of the book might be cheaper)
Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships(Landau-Tobias and Lalich)

Phase III:

Personal Accounts

I Cant Hear God Anymore(Duncan) ** I believe all Christians NEED to read this book!
Combating Cult Mind Control(Hassan)
Phase IV:

Continued Healing

Safe People(Townsend and Cloud)
Families Where Grace is in Place(VanVonderan)
Whose Pulling Your Strings?(Braiker)
The Lucifer Effect(Zimbardo)

II. Christian Books Addressing the Dynamics of Spiritual Abuse

III. Secular Books Addressing Cults and Cultic Churches

[Remember: The dynamics in Biblical churches and in cults are identical.]

An earlier version was **Captive Hearts, Captive Minds (Landau-Tobias and Lalich)

· **Combating Cult Mind Control (Hassan)

· **Cults in our Midst (Singer)

· **The Lucifer Effect (Zimbardo)

IV. Personal Accounts (and general information)

V. Sales Techniques

VI. Manipulative and Abusive Relationships


Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

Read everything by Cindy Kunsman!


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  • ChrisFromNewEngland

    Good resources all around for those who need to make the crucial distinction between a relationship with God and a relationship with Gnostics who claim to speak on His behalf.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Hey, don’t slam the Gnostics! They were actually less patriarchal and authoritarian than the Christians who gained state recognition under Constantine. ;-D

  • Evelyn

    Maybe make it gnostics with a lower case g 🙂 It’s definitely gnosticism rebirthed.

  • Astrin Ymris

    How do you figure that? They’re not like any Gnostic groups I ever read about.

  • Evelyn

    The dualism, particularly in the Manichaean flavor, where life in the world was hopelessly evil and could only be redeemed by inner illumination of spiritual truth. A person is united to the transcendent (“in the world but not of the world”) if only they have the right knowledge and teaching to see it. A strict ascetic life for leaders, supported by the works and alms of the rest. In the second century, this was a heretical movement within the Catholic Church, I suppose sort of a syncretism. Evangelical Protestants wouldn’t buy the reincarnation component, and I bet they would take issue with the rest, since it is/was a classic heresy, but that was the philosophy I left when I left the Evangelical Protestant church.

  • Astrin Ymris

    That is– as you point out– Manichaean or dualist rather than Gnostic. The Gnostics viewed the world as more the flawed creation of the incompetent upstart Jehovah, rather than the real Good God.

    Plus, while CPM leaders are supported by their flock’s money, such leaders lives are hardly ascetic. The Prosperity Gospel is enthusiastically embraced… at least for those at the top of the pyramid.

    The CPM’s driving motive is keeping their own caste in a privileged place in secular society; there’s nothing distinctively Gnostic in that.

  • Evelyn

    According to the Gnostic Society itself, Manichaeism is a gnostic movement, which ascended as classical gnosticism was waning. While it’s not a perfect match, it still has the viewpoint that attaining the right knowledge is what brings salvation, rather than a relationship with the creator. CPM preaches the latter but lives out the former. In my PE world, being publicly super spiritual/ascetic was a thing. He might be driving a nice car, but by golly he did a 40 day juice fast twice a year and discreetly made sure people knew about it.