Author:Paul Gilmartin

I Am a Spiritual Abuse Survivor: A Guest Blog by “Christy”

Spiritual Abuse Survivor

By: Christy

You wouldn’t know from looking at my life now, but as a kid, I used to reenact exorcisms during play dates. As a teen I spent my summers doing dramatic, religious, crucifixion mimes for onlookers in third-world streets. As a young adult, I could be found trying to convince Buddhist kids they were sinful, and there was a hell waiting for them if they didn’t convert. Most of you with church backgrounds reading this don’t have such extreme stories, but many of you may have baggage around harmful beliefs you were raised with and some of you are survivors of spiritual abuse.


Spiritual Abuse Definition: Harm, or control inflicted on a person in God’s name, or under the guise of religion.


I was raised in The Jesus Movement, a Christian counter-cultural response to the Hippie Movement. The Jesus Movement was characterized by living in communes, and helping others in need. Some major beliefs and practices of this movement were speaking in tongues, exorcisms, spiritual warfare, and the End Times apocalypse. Our family of five, lived “on faith” with no income, and were meant to be a sort of healing agent for people who came to live with us. This included people with criminal records, addictions and untreated mental illnesses. We lived with some very dangerous humans.


My memories and personal formation in The Jesus Movement are mixed, sort of like a crazy circus filled with laughter, then changing to absolute horror, then back to laughter.


The horror part, the part that is connected to trauma for me, is something that I’m still working on even now. I was subject as a small child to beliefs that were overwhelming and terrifying, which are the very definition of trauma. I’ll name a few: Hell for unbelievers, The Rapture, Satan/demons seeking to destroy Christians, and not trusting others outside of our belief system.


Imagine if you will:

  • The years I spent thinking about the people around me suffering in hell for eternity if I didn’t share my faith/be a witness for Christ.
  • The obsessive terror that I would be demon-possessed if I didn’t put my spiritual guard up.
  • The fear about how I would survive an End Times apocalypse.


The results were:

  • Unspeakably violent nightmares for decades.
  • Chronic anxiety, and OCD tendencies.
  • Migraines, chronic illness.
  • Final diagnosis of PTSD


Spiritual abuse is openly evident to most people who witness the awful televangelists taking advantage of people financially, especially the poor. Or it’s clearly exposed in high-profile cults such as Scientology. But it’s often not validated in the general public in every-day church experiences.

Some common examples are: being treated differently or poorly because you dared to challenge a pastor/leader, being slated as dangerous because you asked too many questions about doctrine, being viewed as “less than” because of your gender or sexual orientation, being used up as resource in church, but never acknowledged or thanked, and being shamed and manipulated for any religious reason.


For children, spiritual abuse can look like: being scared into making a conversion decision, using God to shame or scare a child into good behavior, teaching violent, complicated scripture inappropriately, and teaching children they so bad/sinful that Christ had to die a violent death for them.


These abuses, often unintentional, can be both implicit and explicit. They often represent the ultimate double bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


If I honestly acknowledge the depth of my own spiritually abusive trauma, I can say I felt like I was living in a Saw horror movie with a Jigsaw God playing sadistic games with humanity. He asked me to either commit violence on myself (don’t ask questions about anything, keep in line and ignore my doubts, fears and abusive experiences) or commit violence on others (other people are going to hell to be tortured forever, and I have to be ok with it to keep my community, and retain my salvation).


In short, many people have walked away from church for spiritual abuse reasons. The ultimate “fuck you” from the church is to call them “weak, fallen, or deceived” or some other invalidating or diminishing label. I see a tragic and tangible example of this horrible double bind in the high rate of suicide in LGBTQ youth coming from religious backgrounds.


Is it any wonder that there is a mass exodus from churches? Between doctrine that is engrained into children as shame and fear, to invalidated adults not being able to question and be honest about human struggles, to the church being judgmental and politicized, people are leaving. They are sadly not finding many places to process their pain, or be understood. People who’ve experienced spiritual abuse often feel utterly alone, and unseen in their struggle.


I’m not saying all churches or religions are bad here. There are many great, faith communities who do wonderful, healing work in the world. But, religious systems overall need to do a better job for those who have been harmed in God’s name. The Church especially needs to practice non-judgment, non-violence, acceptance, kindness and speaking out publically against all forms of abuse.

If you have experienced any of my story, or this type of trauma, find a safe mentor or counselor to help you process your feelings. Spiritual wounding goes deep, and we need others to help us navigate our healing like any other trauma in our lives.









Jerry Stahl

The Pushcart Prize-winning writer (Permanent Midnight, I Fatty) shares about the loss of his father to suicide, his mother’s belittling of his manhood, his recovery from heroin addiction and always feeling like an ashamed outsider.

This episode is sponsored by

Follow Jerry on Twitter @SomeJerryStahl



Christmas Dread : A Guest Blog by Cassie J. Sneider

I love Christmas, but I am dreading the inevitable questions from my boyfriend’s well-meaning midwestern family that always seem to come up about what my family is doing, what they’re up to, how they celebrate, etc. Even though they know that I don’t talk to my family, this always seems to come up and it can turn a great day into a teeth-grinding panic attack spiral. It’s hard for normal people with healthy families or at least only mildly quirkily sitcom-dysfunctional families to understand why me or you or anyone we know would want to remove themselves from their Family. Families stick together! Blood is thicker than water! My family is my everything! My mother is my best friend! Sisters are special! Number One Dad! Live Love Laugh! Dance like none of your creepy uncles are watching!

If you don’t understand why you might want to not spend the holidays, or any day, with your family, try to imagine surviving in a cave with a pack of wild, angry dogs. At first you’re like, “Oh, cool! I love dogs!” and you reach out your hand and a dog bites your finger off. You’re like, “Wow, that’s terrible, but at least I have nine more fingers.” Throughout your time together, the dogs growl and snap at you more often than they are nice, but you still try to reach out to them when you are lonely, afraid, or sick, and then the day comes where you only have one finger left. You can try with the dogs again, and hold out hope that maybe this will be the time they come around to you. Or you can try to protect yourself and keep that finger, because you might want it someday to press a power button on a TV or to ding a bell in a hotel lobby or to point at something or maybe even just to fill out one of those foam hands at a sporting event.

I chose to leave the cave of wild dogs and to keep my one finger. I try to surround myself with people who love me and care enough to say, “Holy shit! You only have one finger! I’m so sorry. Can I help you with that Cat’s Cradle?” when I am struggling. It’s not easy to get by with this much damage, but my life has improved greatly knowing that I am no longer putting myself at risk by trying to be a part of a pack where I don’t belong.

Cassie is an artist living in NYC.  Check out her blog

Follow her on Twitter @CassieJSneider


Lynn Fox – Mom with BPD

The mother of two talks about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, her incredibly abusive father and her life in Silicon Valley doing PR for Apple, Twitter, Google, Star Wars and others.  Lynn hosts the podcast TechCares.

For tickets to Paul’s live podcast taping in Oakland on Jan 21st, click here



#252 Paul Gets Interviewed

Paul’s friend, former Dinner and a Movie co-host (and former podcast guest) Lisa Arch asks Paul about his life, his struggles, the podcast and questions posed by listeners, who have been requesting an episode where all of Paul’s bullshit can reside in one place.  Well here it is.  Regular listeners may find that they’ve heard a lot of this information before, so this is really for the new listener who wants to get up to speed on what a nutjob Paul is.  We decided to take a week off from reading surveys.