I guess you can tell by now that I ask a lot of questions. I keep asking myself this one question over and over again, "How have so many smart, normal people ended up in a situation like this?" I have researched long and hard. I think I have found a pretty good answer and I want to share it. I am copying from the book - 'The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse' by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderan. The words in green will signify quotes from the book.
"In a very real real sense, the spiritually abusive system is a spiritual trap. And not just any old trap; a "good" one.
Spiritually abusive systems are easy to get into but hard to leave. The leaders assume power and demand obedience. They foster loyalty to the organization with implied or overt scare tactics and threats. Leaving the system is equal to leaving God and His protection. Paranoia about the evils outside the system makes people afraid to leave. This begins the building of a trap. Then comes the bait.
There are many kinds of bait in the spiritually abusive church, family or organization. "Right standing with God" is probably the most common bait. The abusive system gives people an opportunity to earn God's approval with their own positive self-effort. In fact, this is so appealing that people fail to notice several things.
For instance, they learn to ignore others around them who point out that they are being neglected or mistreated. They overlook it when they grow more tired as time goes on. They ignore the fact that people close to them are leaving and urging them to leave. They are oblivious to how it is becoming easier to justify the things that not too long ago they abhorred.
Other baits might include: the approval of people; religious status or position; a paycheck; the promise that things will improve; or an opportunity to be shamed and mistreated in a way that is consistent with their sense of deserving to be punished for being so "bad."
In addition to everything else these people ignore, they overlook the fact that their goal keeps moving out of reach. This reveals the third aspect of a good trap. Like the donkey who runs faster to reach the "carrot on a stick," the bait draws people deeper and deeper into the abusive religious system. If they want to stop struggling, a voice within "warns" them: "What if you give up now, just when you were about to have a spiritual 'breakthrough'?" So they cannot stop.
-more to come