What is it? How does it apply to spiritual abuse? Who does it affect?

The dictionary defines dissonance as: “lack of harmony among musical notes. a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.”

A great analogy would be listening to your one year old toddler banging on a piano and the reaction your nerves would have from that discord.

In the realm of spiritual abuse, it occurs when the object of worship is portrayed in a harsh, unloving manner while being called a “loving God.” It affects the new believer as he or she begins to learn that there is a list of confusing rules to serving this God, and that the initial experience of joy and love is not considered an assurance of salvation. It is applied to the feeling the believer gets when he or she is told that obedience to a pastor is equal with salvation, yet discovers the leader in question is immoral.

The term was coined to explain the phenomenon of confused emotions that occur within a child who has been molested and yet feels an attachment to the abuser. This is often seen in foster children who realize their parents treated them horrifically, yet part of them wants to continue to cling to that parent in love and trust, even though they know the relationship was hurtful.

At one meeting, I sat and listened to a preacher as he told blatant lies, one right after another. I am not referring to instances where people have a mistaken memory, or a differing viewpoint, but rather outright lies that have absolutely no basis in truth. He was defending his position as his actions had been called into question. He lied without any hesitation whatsoever. The ease with which he lied was appalling, given his history and presumed position as a “holiness preacher”.

The dissonance was almost palpable. It was hard for me to remain in the meeting, knowing his boasts of integrity and “godliness”, yet listening to lie after lie rolling off his tongue.

How can a person be two very opposite things at once? This man was one who preached absolute honesty in all cases–to others. He taught tithing on the gross, no physical contact between couples before marriage, and necklines covering the collarbones. Yet he lies.

As facts began to unfold, it became apparent that dishonesty was a very strong thread in his character.

The discrepancy was astounding.

Yet, the more I come to know about the fellow sufferers of spiritual abuse, the more I see this common thread coming through. The dissonance is real. It comes from every abusive leader, in one way or another. It affects anyone in their power or domain.

Sometimes I think that spiritual abuse is the worst kind of abuse of all. It is abuse of the soul. To take one’s relationship with God and use it to abuse and control is the greatest form of harm. The dissonance may be with us for a while, but there is a God, and as angry as Jesus was in his day over the Pharisees, it cannot bode well for those who continue in their willful harm of souls.