Yes, there is such a thing as ‘spiritual’ abuse. Spiritual abuse happens when a system is set up in the name of God that hurts people. The Pharisees were the original spiritual abusers. A lot of people think that Jesus was upset with their legalism, and there is no doubt that he was, but really that was just a part of a larger problem. They were taking advantage of people in the name of God.
Not everything bad that could ever happen to you in a church setting is really spiritual abuse. Even in a healthy environment people hurt and get hurt. It becomes abuse however, when the person who is hurt is blamed, when their value is based on performance (against a standard that can’t be met), when they are afraid to leave but hate to stay. These are the kinds of features that you find in a spiritually abusive environment.
Unfortunately it is not just cults that treat people this way, it has become all too common to find in more mainstream settings. If you have been a participant in a system like this, you need healing. Every system is unique, but the essential features which cause it to hurt you are pretty much the same. For this reason, I recommend the book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson as a starting point. It is a very effective description of all of the components of an abusive religious system, and it is good reading not just for those who have been abused but also for the average person. Equally as good is the book Ken Blue’s “Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience.” Being aware of how these systems work can help us avoid making a wrong turn into trap that has God’s name on it.
One of the most common forms of spiritual abuse within the charismatic movement is based on the theology of the “Shepherding Movement.” There are a number of different books which deal with the Shepherding movement from different angles. David Moore’s book “The Shepherding Movement” gives the full history, although it is somewhat sympathetic to the leaders. “Damaged Disciples” by Ron and Vicki Burks gives a compelling personal account of how the system worked as does Adam Harbison in his more recent book “Savage Shepherds.” The systematized abuse of the Shepherding Movement made it worse, but sometimes there are abusive people in systems that are themselves not as abusive. Jesus brings freedom not bondage. If this topic is important to you, I encourage you to look at Abusive Church site.