For the past few months, I've been researching the types of abuse and how to spot them. I learned about this in regard to dating and relationships back in high school and I've decided to look into it more after a conversation with my aunt, who pointed out another close relative as a "manipulator". She'd been present when an immediate family member made a potentially self-destructive choice.

It happened four years ago this month and I'd been close friends with this relative. She was very religious and devout but after a spiritual conversion, became stricter. Her kids couldn't stand it, but I figured it was for their own good. After all, they're kids (half were teens). It's not like they really know what's good for them. Even I wasn't free from her criticisms but I trusted that she knew best.

"You're the only one who understands me," she would say, telling me sob stories about how her husband and former friends were "persecuting" her and that her kids were ungrateful for her sacrifices. She said that whenever she did what God wanted, that was the response to expect: division, alienation, and scorn. I questioned some of the things she said but I felt like I shouldn't. What if it was true? Maybe my intuition recoiling from her being extreme is just an indication that she's right and I'm just a bad Christian?

All hell broke loose when she tried to move way out of state, taking all of her kids. Her husband didn't want to go and she clearly stated that he can stay. She, however, had to reach "utopia". The thought of coming home to an empty house drove him mad, to a bout of alcohol poisoning...and normally, this relative was no heavy drinker.

This lady's kids were having the worst day of their lives but she acted as if nothing had happened, even after seeing the overturned furniture inside her house. It was the creepiest thing I'd ever seen!

"I knew something like this would happen. This was supposed to happen. What else is to expect when you do the work of God?" She said.

"You think God wants this?" I asked, appalled. She glared at me and told me to be quiet

I wondered all that day, what to think of her? Saint or psycho? In abusive situations, manipulators mess with the minds of their prey, make them question their own judgement, doubt the validity of their own feelings and intuition. Just add a religious and moral facet and then you're questioning the quality of yourself not only as a person, but your quality as a Christian. I only wanted to do the right thing. I'd read books and saw films about saints' lives before and there's always that difficult person in the story to test the saint. That or it's as if the whole world turns on him or her. I always pictured myself in the story as that one person who was supportive when no one else would.

I thought this was my real-life chance. All this time, she was insisting that she was the martyr and that everyone else was being difficult. But someone just got hurt! The day before she left with her kids, I told her that I was concerned for her husband's sanity and safety after she leaves. When she first saw me, she looked at me as if I was a traitor. "You too?"

After hearing why I was concerned, she responded, "I did nothing wrong. He chose to drink. I'm doing what God wants me to do. He is just too stubborn."

I totally lost the discussion, nothing could sway her. Thankfully, her son also stayed behind so I became less afraid that her husband would hurt himself again.

He joined her halfway across the country several months later...why, my aunt has a conspiracy theory involving the wife which could be true but I'll omit it since I haven't confirmed it.

The last time I saw her, she has gone back to being her normal self. She's not running her household like a dictatorship anymore, she's made friends again, and has her lively old personality back. However, after seeing that side of her, any one-on-one time is not the same. I can't open up to her as a confidant like I used to. I'd try restoring the trust, but I know what this woman is capable of.

Abuse can happen at any level of the human faculties. Any sort of physical abuse can be proven, but abuse in our emotional, psychological, and even spiritual faculties is less obvious. Most victims of emotional and psychological abuse don't even realize they're being abused. They're conditioned to believe it's normal.

Spiritual manipulation is the worst because if you believe in supernatural priorities, in a reaching an eternal reward when this life is over and it's evident that you try to be devout, that will be used against you. Spiritual manipulators will try to bind your conscience. Fear and guilt are their tools. Your whole view of God and your religion can become one of fear and guilt. Joy? Peace? What are those when you're walking on eggshells? Spiritual narcissists may put it in your mind that if you disagree with them, you disobey God, the last thing you want to do. In truth, discouragement, fear, confusion, scruples, and sadness are not from God.

They tend to be hypocrites. Maybe that lady had the best intentions in mind but the ends don't justify the means. She said she wanted to live a traditional Catholic life in a small town where most people share the same religion and values. However, going behind her husband's back was untraditional. She said she was doing God's will, but if that's determined by authority and she did not care at all what her husband thought (trads are patriarchal), then what really was the right thing to do? She acted as the martyr, like she was the only one in the right, to hell with everyone else. Anyone else was "brainwashing" me with lies, she said. If I disagreed at all, or wasn't excited about her plans, I was "brainwashed".

In the faith, you need trust. I need to reconstruct my trust after being duped like that. Sometimes I don't know who or what to believe. You say this is the will of God, friend, but for all I know, it's another get-holy scam. I need to restore joy, since she'd use God to endorse making everyone's life miserable. I must restore fraternal charity. I was forced to mistrust everyone I knew and respected as if they were war enemies. She used me as a scout whenever I looked after her kids, some of the only relatives my age, and they cut me off, suspecting I was "spying". Abusers isolate you and it's lonely at the top of their pedestals.

They target you if you're highly sensitive and empathetic. I sympathized with and believed her. Recently, I heard of a young lady, a parishoner's niece, who came to America seeking refuge from religious persecution and I felt no sympathy but instead, annoyance. The old me would've wanted to help and wouldn't have doubted a victim for a second. Altruism, compassion, and mercy are the most abused and exploited values. Maybe that's why many turn them off, because they don't want to be robbed blind and taken for fools.

It's the worst when your sense of self, along with the virtues you once valued, grow dim from the compromises you made trying to live up to the manipulator's standards. It hurt the whole way through, but you were convinced the pain was normal, if not from the greater good. Then you look back and realize that you're far from the ideal and part of it was because you fell for the manipulator's tricks.

When I graduated from a Catholic school, the priest giving an address told us to prepare to be persecuted in the near future, to be considered insane and locked up for our principles and beliefs. I think it was mostly fear mongering but if that does happen, I hope the spiritual narcissists are lobotomized first. After all, they're the ones putting that "crazy" impression out there, crossing the fine line between wisdom and madness.