1 Peter 2: 21–23 states, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
I met a woman who had left her violent husband and was going through divorce proceedings. She was angry at the legal system for allowing her husband to stretch out the process. She felt that, due to his status in the military, the judge was lenient with him and accepted his excuses to constantly reschedule the hearings. Rescheduling was a financial burden for her because she had to pay for her lawyer’s time with each new change. Yet her anger at her husband’s manipulating the courts was nothing compared to her feelings towards God. At any mention of God, her body stiffened and her language was overcome with emotion. “God? Where is God? Why is he allowing me to suffer? How can he let my husband get away with the pain he’s causing?” Her tone of voice was so intense that it made me want to leave the room.
“Where is God?” “Why is he is allowing me to suffer?” “Why has he abandoned me?” These are questions that many Christian women ask when they are experiencing domestic violence. I used to ask myself the same questions. As Christians, we often turn to the scriptures to explain our suffering. They are used to justify the reasons for our suffering. In 1 Peter 2 we are told, “Didn’t Christ suffer unjustly?” He suffered physical pain and false accusations. He was spat on, called names, and made the center of cruel jokes, but he didn’t retaliate. Since he suffered in silence and did not retaliate, we too are expected to do likewise and follow in his footsteps.
But when 1 Peter is used to justify our sufferings, it makes it easy to accept abuse, and it also produces guilt. We feel guilty because our suffering is less than what Jesus experienced on the cross. I felt guilty because I wasn’t suffering as much as Jesus was suffering. Therefore, by this logic, I had no right to complain. When we think this way, we accept abuse and come to believe that we are following Christ’s footsteps.
We are told that our abusive marriage is our “cross to bear,” that it is God’s will for our lives. Our suffering is rationalized with scriptures like Matthew 16:24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” and Luke 14:27, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross, and follow me” (NLT).
The question here is, what is the cross we have to bear? Is it our “cross” to be beaten until we cannot see through our blackened eyes or speak through swollen lips? Is every vicious act our “cross?” Does bearing our cross mean we must accept insults, physical threats, or separation from our friends and family?
One of the books that helped me decide that my suffering was neither my cross nor God’s will for my life was, No Place for Abuse, by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. They point out that Christ went to the cross voluntarily. His suffering was for a greater good, which is salvation for all. Carrying our cross means surrendering to God and allowing Christ to lead us, and not to be led by the sinful actions of others.
The suffering experienced in an abusive relationship is involuntary and has no benefit to anyone, not even the abuser. Where are the good results from the abuse? Is standing and letting someone inflict pain doing any good or saving anyone? Did you choose to be beaten or verbally insulted? I am pretty sure that no one enters a relationship knowing she is going to be hurt. And surely no one believes that putting up with the violence will stop it. I have yet to meet a woman whose suffering caused her abusive partner to clean up his act.
Covering up someone else’s sins and quietly accepting abuse is not the kind of suffering that leads to good results. It only allows the abuser to dodge the consequences of his cruelty.
Also, surrendering to God’s will does not mean accepting senseless suffering and the abuser’s lack of remorse. Yes, the word senseless is appropriate when we suffer at the hands of someone who professes to love us.
Carrying our cross does not mean accepting every mistreatment by others, especially when God has given us the power to make changes. Abuse destroys the souls of both victim and abuser. When I finally accepted these facts, I was able to set boundaries and seek accountability for my ex-husband’s actions.
What about you? God loves you. And, as his daughter, you have a much higher calling than to be a victim. You don’t need to suffer senselessly. Jesus has freed you from oppression (Luke 4: 18–19) and will bind and heal your broken heart (Isaiah 61: 1–2). That means that he has set you free from abuse and will comfort you when you suffer. Since he has set you free, you need no longer be burdened by the bondage of abuse (Galatians 5: 1).
He wants you to live life to the fullest (John 10: 10), which means a life free of violence for you and your children. When Jesus was crucified, he took upon himself the suffering deserved by all sinners. Therefore, you don’t have to suffer as he did. 1 Peter 2: 24 states, “He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross. So, we can be dead to sins and live for what is right” (NLT). Do what is right by exposing the abuse and seeking accountability which is repentance. Repentance means showing remorse and making amends for the suffering he caused. Making amends at the very least is that he stops abusing you.
Next Blog: The Christian Abused Woman: What Submission is Not
*No Place for Abuse: Biblical & Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence by Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark
LORD, I FIND IT DIFFICULT to tell my story. Sometimes I forget the details. I forget the conflict. I forget the emotions because you have helped me to overcome. If it is your will, help me to recall as if it was yesterday.
I remember searching for you because I felt lonely and needed your peace. I needed your peace in my time of storm. My life was a storm then. My marriage had fallen apart and the abuse had intensified. In my mind, I felt like I was locked in prison. Instead of loving me, my husband made me fear him. Yet you made me feel like I was in the eye of the storm— all around me was chaos, but you kept me in a place of peace and calmness.
You, Lord, were like the light that brightens the ground after a storm. The peace and beauty you showed me motivated me to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to worship you. I was eager to meditate on your Word because I knew that in you alone I would find my strength and peace.
Although I had your peace, I still found myself wanting answers from you. I remember struggling and wrestling with you. I remember asking the “why” questions. I remember questioning my faith. If I had faith, then why wasn’t my husband changing?
I remember being told that my relationship with my husband is the same as my relationship with God. WOW! Will I ever have a good relationship with you since my relationship with my husband is cool and distant?
I remember asking the questions about forgiveness. Does it mean I haven’t forgiven my husband because I react to his behaviors? If I have forgiven, why does he provoke the same emotions as before?
What about suffering? We are supposed to persevere in our sufferings. I remember someone using 1 Peter 2 to demonstrate that I must persevere in my sufferings. Is my relationship with my husband the same as a slave to his master? I am commanded to respect my husband, but am I a slave? Am I a slave to be beaten by my master? Sarah called her husband “master,” but Abraham loved his wife and always protected her. If he is my master, as Abraham was Sarah’s, he should protect and not hurt me.
What about the instructions to submit? Was I submissive enough? Does submission mean that I do not have any input in the decision-making process and must do everything he tells me to do? Does it mean I stand still while he screams at me with degrading and belittling names in the presence of my children? Doesn’t that tell him and my children that it is OK for someone to call someone else stupid or degrading names?
What a dilemma! I constantly felt guilty, fearful, anxious, angry, shameful, hopeless, and helpless. I felt guilty because I thought about giving up on my marriage. Does it mean that I am impatient to wait for change? Did that mean I didn’t trust you to change my situation?
But during my times of confusion, you were there. You showed me that the solution was to separate and escape the abuse. I struggled with this solution because I did not want to break my marriage covenant and my understanding of your scriptures. I wanted my reasons to leave to be based on biblical convictions.
I examined scriptures that dealt with marriage and divorce and found that adultery was a reason for divorce (Matthew 19:9). My husband committed adultery, but I forgave him for that. I thought about leaving after a bad beating, and had him arrested, but ended up taking him back.
Ultimately, I developed a personal conviction and left my marriage because of the psychological and physical abuse. No one deserves to be beaten down physically and emotionally, especially by a person who professes to love her. In Malachi 2:16, you said you hate divorce but you also “hate a man’s covering himself with violence.”
When I accepted Christ as my Lord, you gave me the same inheritance as every other Christian. You love me same as everyone else in your family. You love me and don’t want me to be abused.
Edith’s story is from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman. Her story is my story and the stories of most abused Christian women. Her interaction with God encapsulates the spiritual conflict or dilemma that is experienced by any Christian woman.
The term “spiritual dilemma” was taken from When Violence Begins at Home by K. J. Wilson. Spiritual dilemmas relate to the feeling of abandonment by God, the reason for suffering, the benefit of submission, and the justification for separation or divorce.1
I like this term because it exemplifies the inner struggles that the Christian woman is faced with as she experiences domestic abuse. Whatever she does to resolve her situation will have unpleasant outcomes or result in a double whammy.
I remember searching for a deeper understanding of the attributes of God during my abusive relationship. I dug into the scriptures to gain wisdom and to find meaning in my experience of my abuse. During this quest, I struggled with God just like Edith. Why was he allowing me to suffer? Why wasn’t God changing my husband? Was it because I had hidden sins? Didn’t I have faith? Wasn’t I submissive enough? Did thinking about divorce mean that I was impatient and didn’t trust God to change my situation? Those were the types of questions I was asking God.
I believed then that my struggle with God was unique and that my emotional reactions were also unique. I wish I knew what I know now that other Christian women were having the same feelings. This knowledge might have saved me from suffering alone.
Later in the relationship, the book that helped me recognized that I wasn’t alone was Marie Fortune’s Keeping the Faith. She brought to light the questions that I was asking myself about my relationship, about God, and my reaction to what others were telling me about my relationship.
Most Christian women endure these conflicting emotions towards God alone. And when the abuse is exposed the well-meaning advice of others makes her situation worse. When the woman tells about her conflicts, the response she gets is often one of judgment and blame. As a result, she learns to internalized her suffering.
It is essential that we identify and address the woman’s spiritual conflicts and help her to resolve them. When we do, she will develop her convictions and feel empowered to break free from the bonds of domestic abuse. Her power is the choice she makes to stop the violence.
In my next series of blogs, I will address the spiritual dilemmas from the perspective of the abused Christian woman. I will use my experience, along with those experiences of other abused Christian women that I have met. I believe that when the woman understands her dilemma, she can then change her misconceptions about God and receive the strength she needs to resolve her situation.
God gives his wisdom freely to anyone who seeks him. James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” When we gain wisdom from the scriptures, it has the power to set us free. When we break free, then through God can help others do the same.
Next Blog: The Abused Christin Woman: Why Am I Suffering?
1K.J. Wilson, When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse (Alameda: Hunter House, 1997), 181.
Liz Brody’s article, “Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships,” in http://www.glamour.com, compiled data from an online survey of 2,500 women ages 18-35. According to this survey, the number one reason why these women stayed in their abusive relationships was love. I believe most people marry because of love. Love is the glue that holds a relationship together.
Love allows us to see the good in others, despite their flaws. It gives us faith in them. It enables us to envision their full potential, to look beyond the gloomy present and see the shiny future. Most importantly, love keeps hope alive. Hope for change. Hope for a better tomorrow.
I married out of love. When I met my Xavier, I saw his ability to make his dream come true. I could relate to his dreams and plans. As a team, I believed that we would fulfill those dreams together. I had faith in him even when I saw his flaws. I believed that he could change.
He behaved in ways that looked an awful lot like love. For example, he bought me gifts and flowers, took me to dinner, and attended to my physical needs. All these actions “proved” that he loved me.
Then, when the abuse began to worm its way into the relationship, my view of love became skewed. How could he say he loved me when his actions showed otherwise? How could he whisper sweet words of love to me one moment, and then a few hours later belittle and degrade me? Even though I couldn’t make sense of his behaviors, I still needed to be loved by him. Therefore, I made it my responsibility to make him so happy that he could feel loved enough to love me back.
When that didn’t happen, I internalized that I wasn’t good enough. There was something wrong with me. Or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to know his needs. But to arrive at this kind of thinking, I had to discard my own belief of love and accept his version.
To accept his abuse and still believe that he loved me was incredibly dysfunctional. I wish I knew then what I know now: I had embraced a sick view of love from a person who did not know what healthy love was, let alone how to give it. I wish I also knew that he wasn’t the giver of the love that I needed to nourish my well-being.
My definition of love wasn’t healthy either. I had come to believe that my happiness and self-worth was the result of another person’s actions towards me. When I left my husband, I had to work on re-learning love, especially self-love. I had to go back to the ultimate giver and source of love, which is God. I had to redefine love and embrace that love in order to heal.
To a Christian, God is the wellspring of love. The bible says God is love. It is he who is the giver of love, not out partners. Let’s see how scripture defines love and compare it to the behaviors seen in our abusive relationships. I will paraphrase the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. (I will be quoting from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman.)
What is love and what is not love?
Love is… patient.
Love allows for your faults without criticizing everything you do. It doesn’t harp on your mistakes to belittle you. It guides you patiently through difficulties by teaching you to overcome your challenges.
Love is… kind.
Love is empathic and compassionate. It produces goodness. It doesn’t make you feel “stupid,” “lazy,” “useless,” “like a failure,” or “unwanted.” It does not ridicule you. It always strives to bring comfort and joy, not fear or pain.
Love is not… jealous.
Love is trusting, not suspicious. It does not spy on you or gather information to use against you. It does not stalk you. Nor does it try to separate you from your friends and family. Love always expects the best and gives you the benefit of the doubt.
Love is not… boastful or proud.
Love is humble. It does not need to be superior or make others feel that they are wrong. Love listens and seeks input. It accepts responsibility rather than seeking blame.
Love is not… rude.
Love is respectful and considerate. It is not aggressive. It does not seek to degrade. Love does not ignore your presence. Love respects you and your needs.
Love does not… demand its own way.
Love thrives on freedom. Where there is love, there is freedom. Love does not demand “my way or the highway”. It is not controlling. It respects your right to make choices, even when they are sometimes wrong. Love accepts and rejoices in the individuality and uniqueness of every one of us.
Love is not… irritable.
Love is self-controlled. It is not easily angered, overly emotional, out of control, and does not experience “fits of rage.” Love is calm and accepts others’ weaknesses and differences.
Love does not… keep a record of wrongs.
Love is forgiving. It does not undermine or erode your confidence by keeping a record of your mistakes. It does not hold grudges. Love moves forward, rather than dwelling on the past.
Love does not… rejoice about injustices.
Love embraces justice. It does not take away your moral and legal rights, which include the right to speak your mind or participate in the decision-making processes, as well as the right to privacy. It does not take away your right to socialize or have your own personal friendships. It does not view its own rights and needs as more important than yours. Love recognizes the value and equality of others.
Love rejoices when truth wins.
Love cannot lie. It never deceives. Love does not keep secrets or twist reality. Rather, it celebrates when the truth is spoken. It does not hide abuse but exposes it. Love is honest and open because it has nothing to hide.
Love never… loses faith.
Love is faithful. It has faith in you and your good character. It has faith in your abilities and accomplishments. Love leads you to believe in yourself.
Love is… always hopeful.
Love has high hopes for the future. It expects improvement and growth. Love seeks ultimate joy and peace for others.
Love endures through every circumstance.
Love does not change with the circumstances. It does not use bad circumstances or outside influences as an excuse for doing wrong or hurting someone. Love endures patiently to achieve what is right.
Love will… last forever.
Love never dies. It does not show itself only when things are going well. It does not disappear during disagreements or conflicts. Love lasts forever.
Form the scriptural definition of love, we can all see that we were not loved in our abusive relationships. Our abusers’ actions did not demonstrate love. To move forward, we have to go to the source of love and embrace God’s love so that we can love ourselves and then love others. When we embrace God’s love, we are empowered to break free from the shackles of abuse.
Paul knew that our inner power is established in understanding God’s love, so he prayed for us in Ephesians 3:16-19: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Put your hope and trust in God’s love. Let your roots grow deeper in his marvelous love so that you may receive the power that comes only from God. This power will allow you to discard all of your dysfunctional forms of love and to love yourself and others the way he intended.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9).
Next blog: Understanding Abuse: The Abused Christian Woman
In my last blog, I discussed denial as the most common reason for accepting abuse. In this blog, I will talk about fear as another reason why a woman might stay in an abusive relationship.
Let’s start by looking at what fear does to the body. Fear activates our body’s alarm systems, just like denial. Unlike denial, which blocks us from experiencing the emotions, fear keeps us stuck in “fight or flight” mode. It allows us to live in a frightful state. As a result, we find ourselves trapped with no relief.
Fear robs us of the energy that we need to function. This lack of energy impacts all areas of our lives, such as taking care of our children or doing our job. The strength needed for these tasks is shifted to thoughts of how to stop the violence and be safe. We become preoccupied with seeking ways to protect ourselves and our children.
I remembered being preoccupied with what was happening at home. I spent many hours trying to make sense of my husband’s abusive behavior towards me and to find ways to escape it. His unpredictable moods kept me in a state of anxiety because I didn’t know when to expect an explosion of verbal threats and intimidation. As a result, I found myself physically and mentally exhausted both on the job and while caring for my three children at home.
Fear stops us from seeking help. We feel helpless and believe that we can’t break free. We fear we cannot change our lives, so we stay. This is where your abuser wants you! He wants you to be in a place where you are afraid to seek accountability for his actions and, consequently, where he can have control over you.
There are many types of fears experienced by the abused woman. A common fear is being blamed for the failure of the relationship. The role of the woman, according to society, is to make the relationship work. Because of this assigned role, we blame ourselves for not doing everything we can to create a happy family. This way of thinking is especially true for the religious woman who has a spiritual component that supports this belief. (I will discuss this aspect in future blogs).
Other types of fears are rejection from family, friends, the community, and, especially for those who are religious, their faith community.
For me, the fear of rejection from Xavier’s family kept me staying in the relationship. My mother died when I was nine years old. My mother-in-law had no daughters, and she treated me like her biological daughter. I was afraid that I would lose her and the relationships I had developed within his extended family.
I know of survivors who lost relationships within their own families. The abuser was successful in manipulating family members to believe his version of what was happening in the home. And when they finally parted, friendships that had formed during the marriage were sometimes sundered as a result of his manipulations.
Fear of rejection and judgment from the faith community is enormous, especially for the Christian woman. She fears that the church will condemn her for wanting to leave her husband. She fears that she will lose her membership in the church and the friends within it. I know of women who had to leave the church when they finally decided to end their abusive marriage. Others stayed because they were afraid to lose their church family. A Christian woman might even fear that she will be punished by God if she leaves the relationship.
For the woman with children, there is the fear that they will lose their father if she leaves, and so to become failures in life. Society has doomed children from abusive relationships to failure. According to statistics, children from abusive relationships also become abusers or victims, or have high potential to use drugs and alcohol. This prognostication reinforces the fear of failure and robs the woman of hope for her children.
I grieve the fact that my children will not have a father who is actively involved in their lives. I made every effort to smooth relations between my children and their father. Only when I realized that it was also his responsibility to nurture his relationship with them, was I able to grieve and let go.
Fear of losing her children keeps the woman in the relationship. Any normal woman cares about her children’s safety and wellbeing. This fear gives the abuser another means of control: he can threaten to harm the children if she leaves him. She might also fear losing custody because she is unable to physically and financially care for them.
Some women rely solely on their partners for financial support. Even those who have jobs and contribute to the household might not have any input into how the money is managed. With few financial resources, it can be difficult to leave the relationship.
But the most important fear is the fear for her life. According to research, seventy-five percent of women who are murdered are killed after they leave their partners. In many cases, her attempt to leave is followed by increased threats to stop her.
These are all legitimate fears. But when we let these fears control our lives, it hinders us from seeking change. It also obstructs our ability to see God working in our situation.
It was difficult to accept that I had allowed my fears to stop me from seeking help and taking responsibility for my situation. I had to admit that I made a choice to take no action due to fear. Then I had to go through the painful process of learning to overcome those fears and move forward.
To move forward, you must acknowledge that you made many decisions based on fear. You must evaluate your fears to determine if they are rational or irrational, real or unfounded. Overcoming fears will require identifying them and seeking help. The domestic violence center in your area is an excellent place to seek help. Find resources in your community to help with financial support, childcare, and other tangible fears.
You can check out my website, rosesaad.com/abuse-information/ for contact to resources for assistance.
Safety will always take priority. Please ask for help to develop a safety plan! Be cautious how you deal with your abuser, especially if you decide to leave. Know your abuser and his potential for harm. There are different types of abusers. Some are volatile, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. The potential for harm increases when the abuser has a violent history.
Even when there is no history of physical violence, trust your intuition. If you feel that he has the potential to hurt you, develop a safety plan. I disregarded my intuition as I struggled to answer the question, “How can I believe he loves me when I can’t trust him with my emotional and physical self?” Due to the fear of being belittled and degraded, along with the real possibility of physical harm, I couldn’t be honest with myself. I wish I knew then what I know now, that instilling fear to control others is never an act of love. (I will address love in my next blog.)
Most of my fears were unfounded. My fear of losing my new family did not pan out. I still have a great relationship with my ex-mother-in-law and the rest of her family. My worries about being unable to support myself or the children also weren’t borne out. I was very blessed to have physical and emotional support from my church family and my ex’s family. My college-educated children are pursuing their various professions, and have the incredible hearts to serve others.
As Christians, fear stops us from living the lives that God intended for us. As told in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God wants us to overcome our fears and will be there for us when we do.
As I stated earlier, examine your fears and seek help for the ones that are tangible. Remember that God is on your side as you seek help to overcome your fears. Hold on to his truths because they have the power to set you free.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Next blog: Understanding Abuse: Love
I never thought that I would find myself in an abusive relationship. My parents never raised an unkind hand against me. My mother died when I was nine years old. Even though my father was seldom involved in my upbringing, my memories of our interactions are pleasant. I was sent to religious school from kindergarten to high school. The Bible stories taught during those years helped me to develop a moral conscience, which enabled me to see the good in others. I believe that good has the power to overcome evil.
As I reflect, I ask myself how I could have ever become entangled in an abusive relationship. Many factors played a role. For starters, there was fear of judgment and rejection by others, a sense of failure, and the hope that he could change. The important factors, though, were denial, fear, and love. I will discuss fear and love in future blogs. For now, I want to talk about denial.
It is amazing what denial can do. As an emergency room nurse, I took care of women who had been brutally beaten by their partners. These women excused their partners’ actions. I imaged I would never act this way, even as I was making excuses for my husband’s behaviors. I remember watching the movie The Color Purple. All the belittling and degrading exhibited by Celie’s husband, and her reactions to it, were similar to what I was experiencing in my relationship. And yet I could not emotionally connect to it.
Denial keeps you from dealing with the reality of what is happening. It unconsciously protects you from emotions that you are unable to tolerate, and so you suppress them. It makes it easy to tell yourself and to persuade others that the abuse is not happening. Denial says the truth is not real.
When the truth cannot be ignored, then denial is ready with excuses. It says your partner called you hurtful names and hit you because he was under stress. It says you are overreacting.
Even though he hit you and might have injured you, you believe he won’t kill you. Denial allows you to accept that type of thinking. Consequently, it puts you in danger. We hear stories of women who denied that their abusers would kill them, and yet they lost their lives.
Denial helps you cope with the violence. You come to believe that everything is OK. You desperately cling to the hope that things can change. “Be patient,” you tell yourself, “he will change.” And you look for behaviors that feed this hope. For example, when he makes small gestures of kindness, like taking you to dinner or buying you flowers, it props up the hope that he will change.
However, using denial over time stops the inner alarm that warns us of the danger. Our alarms activate our “fight or flight” response to make us aware that what we are facing is not good for us. When denial is overused in a situation of repeated harm, it turns off that alarm. When your body’s signal is turned off, it loses its fighting ability, leading to hopelessness and helplessness.
I wish I knew then what I know now: Denial hindered my ability to see how I was emotionally and physically exposing myself to danger.
Denial also stops you from relating to others. When others are talking about their experiences, you hold to minor differences to prove that your experience is different. “My partner doesn’t do that, or say that.” Therefore, your situation is different from mine. Denial allows you to believe that since he is not behaving like everyone else he is not abusive.
In reality, the minor differences mean nothing. Each abuser might use different tactics. Yet, the end goal of the abusive behavior is the same: control. The motive behind the actions is to control the one being abused. Understanding that fact was empowering for me.
Even among people who are highly educated, denial is common. Women who have authority at their jobs and the resources to protect themselves use denial a lot. It is shameful, embarrassing, and humiliating for a strong woman to admit that her partner is abusive. This denial might even stop the woman from being open about the abuse when she leaves the relationship, resulting in adverse effects on her healing process. I have encountered many educated women who left their abusers and have moved on with their lives without addressing the violence but are still showing the emotional scar of the abuse.
Unless we are open about what is going on in the relationship, we cannot break the walls of denial. Breaking the walls of denial requires being honest and exposing the truth. We have to expose the abuse, whether past or present, for what it is and ask for help.
It was hard to admit that I was in an abusive relationship. The shame and humiliation that it produced were overwhelming. Even to this day, I have some of those emotions. What do others think of me? Will they believe my story, or will they think that I am out to smear the good name of my ex-husband? Will they see me as being weak? But you, like me, must recognize that we can’t break the bonds of abuse if we don’t acknowledge the truth about what has happened to us. As John 8:32 tells us, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Just as important as knowing the truth is speaking it. Validating our stories is the first step toward empowerment. If you are in an abusive relationship or have left one, find a safe place, like a domestic violence center in your community, or an empathic listener to tell your story to. You no longer have to wear the mask of denial.
When you tell your story to an empathic listener, you change your brain’s neural pathways, thereby allowing you to change your story. When you change your story, you change your life. When you integrate your story with God’s story, life-sustaining changes occur! -Curt Thompson M.D., Anatomy of the Soul
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”
Next Blog: Understanding Abuse: Fear
Purchase my book on Amazon: A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman
Please check out my website: rosesaad.com
During my ten years of marriage, I wasn’t aware that the abuse I was experiencing was infecting my physical and emotional well-being. It took a while to recognize the symptoms of abuse and its invasion of my psyche. Just like a disease, when you don’t heed the signs early on, it spreads and will take more effort to treat. Anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, and the sense of helplessness all impaired my healing process.
Subtle behaviors exhibited by my husband and the transformation of my thinking made it difficult for me to identify that I was in an abusive relationship. Take the example of his ignoring my presence when he walked into the room. I didn’t know that sort of behavior is emotional abuse.
My culture and religious beliefs also played a role in concealing the fact that his controlling behaviors were abusive. For example, he made all the major decisions without my input. I grew up in a culture where the husband is in charge of the household. Also, my religious beliefs reinforced that I had to submit to the man’s leadership. With these types of beliefs, it was easy to let go of all the decision-making power even when his choices were bad ones.
I would spend nearly all day ruminating about his behaviors to make sense of them. If he said, “You didn’t clean the house, so that’s why I screamed at you,” then I believed him and found myself cleaning the house to please him. But that rarely happened; in most cases, he didn’t even acknowledge the house was clean. Instead, he found something new to complain about.
When I asked him the reasons for his anger, his response was usually, “You didn’t do what I told you to do” or “You don’t listen.” His answers didn’t make sense. How does leaving a dirty spoon in the sink lead to being called a stupid bitch?
My rational mind wanted to understand his actions. I began to create reasons to justify his behaviors. I figured maybe he had a rough day at work or he didn’t mean to do it. My answers made it easy to accept his behaviors.
I often hear people ask, “Why didn’t you guys communicate?” That question assumes that the reason for the abuse was poor communication. The reality is that abusers use the communication process as a tool for control.
For instance, there was the time when I tried to talk about our finances. I needed him to contribute more to the household budget because I wasn’t earning enough to pay for what he had assigned as my portion of the expenses. I went into the communication process for understanding and assistance, but he simply retorted that I was careless with money and didn’t know how to budget.
I left the conversation feeling at fault for spending too much money, which was simply not the case. The truth was, I was spending every penny of my income on childcare and household expenses.
I didn’t know then that his goal during the communication process was to create self-doubt. He twisted my words around to blame me. As a result, I left the conversation questioning my competence. I accepted his reality that my financial difficulty was because I was irresponsible with money.
This type of communication was evident in all areas of the relationship. I got into a conversation with a goal and left feeling that I’d done something wrong. I wish I knew what I know now: these types of behaviors are emotional and financial abuse.
Over time, the abuse had an impact on my rational mind. I was unaware that I was changing. I disregarded my reality and accepted his reality as the truth. It was like brainwashing: you accept and believe your captor’s truth.
This lack of awareness was seen in my reaction when Xavier physically assaulted me. My response was to tell him I hadn’t done anything wrong—as if to say, he had the right to hit me if I did do something he didn’t like. It took the transformation of my thought process to get to where it was easy to accept abuse.
What is domestic violence? Check out this link: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/
It is important that we understand the dynamics of abuse and how it affects us so that we can break the cycle. We don’t have to take the abuse. There are resources to help us break the bonds of abuse and find healing.
Check out my website, rosesaad.com for links to resources.
Next blog, Understanding Abuse: Denial
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).”