Linking Spiritual Abuse to Sex Addiction

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Jason Swilling

Not many people have heard the term spiritual abuse, and for some it may seem a harsh term. As a society, however, we are coming into the realization that more subtle forms of abuse, such as emotional neglect, parental enmeshment, and spiritual maltreatment, can have a major impact when someone is subjected to these abuses over a long period of time. For example, when children are emotionally neglected by their parents, day in and day out, that has a significant impact on their development into adulthood. Spiritual abuse can be experienced over time in much the same way.

Spiritual abuse can also be a single incident with a great impact, much like a car accident or a natural disaster.

So, what is spiritual abuse? Let’s put it in the context of other abuses. Physical abuse occurs when a person is damaged by another physically. Emotional abuse occurs when someone is damaged by another emotionally or verbally. Spiritual abuse occurs when someone is damaged by another spiritually. More specifically, spiritual abuse occurs when a person’s ability to connect with a Higher Power or with others in vulnerability and authenticity is limited or damaged.

Dr. Dale Ryan defines spiritual abuse as follows:

Spiritual Abuse is the mistreatment of a person who needs help, support or greater spiritual connection, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual connection.

If we understand the essence of spirituality to be the intimate connection between two people, as well as the intimate connection between a person and their Higher Power, then spiritual abuse at its core harms our ability to have an intimate connection. In other words, if we have been spiritually abused, especially in childhood, then we may have difficulty developing deep and intimate connections with our friends, our Higher Power, and our romantic partners.

This harm can be directly associated with the development of sex addiction because we know that sex addiction is an intimacy disorder. Sex addicts seek the intensity of their addiction to replace the intimacy that they are incapable of developing in their relationships. For some sex addicts, spiritual abuse is one of the factors that push them away from intimacy and toward an addiction.

Furthermore, spiritual abuse almost always leads to core beliefs rooted in shame. These beliefs are fundamental to our development from childhood into adulthood, and most of us are unaware of them. However, they can cause us to engage in destructive behavior, including the development of addiction.

Core beliefs rooted in shame sound like, “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t fit in,” and “I am unlovable.” They can also sound like, “I am fundamentally flawed,” or, “There’s something wrong with me.” Again, most of the time we are unaware that we believe these things until the consequences of our destructive behaviors force us to evaluate our view of ourselves.

Spiritual abuse takes place at our most fundamental framework for how the world works and our place in it. Therefore, spiritual abuse, like other forms of abuse, causes our core beliefs to be rooted in shame. Core beliefs rooted in shame are precursors for destructive behavior, including sex addiction.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with sexual addiction, Seeking Integrity can help. In addition to residential rehab, we offer low-cost online workgroups for male sex addicts new to recovery. The next session starts February 3, 2023. Click here for more information.