Relying upon a Higher Power in 12 Step recovery can be difficult for many. Not everyone has had good spiritual experiences and in fact, many have experienced spiritual abuse–being made to go to church, for example, as punishment and abuse.  Still others have experienced abuse from clergy or practices in the church settings. All of this can make for a very difficult time when encouraged to practice spiritual principles in the 12 Step program.


Childhood abuse can interfere with your adult spirituality.

Adults who were abused or neglected as children have another set of issues when it comes to a higher power. As mistreated children, their higher powers (adults) were sources of pain and not to be trusted. Coming to trust a higher power as a recovering adult can seem not only foreign, but can trigger memories of these bad childhood experiences, too.  All in all, finding one’s higher power and relying on it for strength and guidance can seem like a futile exercise. A higher power is not easily trusted when you have been neglected or abused by those who had control over you as a child.

Accepting yourself as powerless is another issue that has spiritual roots and ramifications. The 12 Steps ask us to accept our powerlessness over substances. The concept of powerlessness can also trigger the issues we have discussed here. It goes against the very grain of many to concede that there is something they have not be able to control. We want to feel capable, competent and in charge of our lives.  Also, if abused and/or neglected as children, the concept of powerlessness ties directly into the power and control dynamics of abuse: I am powerless and the abuser has  power.

Learning to identify such issues as these helps separate them out from spiritual concerns.  With work to label your experiences as a child and to talk about them with understanding people, you can begin to sort out your current issues from your childhood ones. Getting reality checks about that are helpful. You can ask trusted friends to help you see and understand the differences between an abusive or neglectful higher power and a loving one. This helps you slowly separate your spiritual self from church experiences that hurt you. That will be a significant victory in healing your spiritual abuse. It will help you find your own concept of higher power that you feel good about and that makes sense to you. Spiritual recovery is an important aspect of your overall recovery. It opens doors to other levels of healing.

Photo by Marie Monroe