The Pain of Narcissism, Part 2

Narcissists will destroy your life, erode your self-esteem, and do it with such stealth as to make you feel that you are the one that’s letting them down.

Anonymous

photo by Caleb Woods

Where Does It Begin?

People often wonder where narcissistic behavior began. Was someone born a narcissist or were they molded into one? There are several theories, but no definite cause that is agreed upon by researchers and professionals.

Dr. David Orrison, as mentioned in the last post, is one of many who espouse the idea that parents or caregivers have the greatest influence on creating a narcissist. When hyper-critical and negative words are often spoken into a child who is vulnerable, they require an inner response. For example, “You’re stupid”, You’re weak”, “You’re evil”, etc.). Some children receive those and agree. Some try to compensate; others deny those words. The children who are vulnerable for narcissism hide. The hiders feel the negative input but now try to over-compensate by:

  • Getting attention
  • Becoming popular
  • Being condescending
  • Distracting
  • Being impressive
  • Becoming increasingly controlling
  • Manipulating others

When parents lack warmth, they express little affection, appreciation, and positive affect toward their child, and they show little enjoyment of their child (). In such an upbringing, children might place themselves on a pedestal to try to obtain from others the approval they did not receive from their parents.

photo by Anete Lusina

On The Other Hand…

We’ve probably all known parents who thought their child was God’s gift to the world. Their child was the most talented athlete, the most intelligent in the school…you get it. It is possible these parents were raising a narcissist. When parents have excessive adoration for their child, which sober observation would find no occasion to do, they are creating an environment for narcissism to develop. Consequently, children might internalize the belief that they are special individuals who are entitled to privileges

Furthermore, genetics may play a role in the development of narcissism. However, researchers at the National Institute of Health stated that there is a only a moderate link between parental narcissism and the child becoming narcissistic.

 Parental narcissism…only weakly-to-moderately correlated [with developing narcissism.]. Additionally, even when controlling for parental narcissism, parental overvaluation still robustly and significantly predicted increased child narcissism over time. Thus, parental overvaluation contributes to the development of narcissism in children above and beyond parents’ own narcissism levels.

photo by Odonata Wellness Center

How Did We Get Here?

Relationships with narcissists are held in place by hope of a ‘someday better’ with little evidence to support it will ever arrive. ~Ramani Durvasula

Life is like a fairy tale when you first enter a relationship with a narcissist. They love bomb you, saying all the right things and showering you with gifts.  Once they have won you over, however, all the compliments and gifts come to a halt. Criticism and gaslighting take their place. In fact, it’s so confusing that you begin to question what happened to the person with whom you fell in love.

Most of us begin making excuses for the narcissist. It’s likely he has told us a sob story about his upbringing or another tragic life event. It’s equally likely that we are very empathic…which is why he was drawn to us in the first place. Regardless, a point is reached when we finally realize this person is never going to change…and we must leave the relationship.

photo by Liza Summer

Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome

Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it. ~Charles J. Orlando

There are several signs of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome. The most common symptoms are:

  • confusion and self-doubt
  • guilt
  • fear
  • lowered self-esteem and confidence
  • conflicted feelings toward partner
  • trauma bonding
  • PTSD.

These symptoms indicate that it’s time to leave. However, before you do, you need to make some quiet preparations.

photo by Anete Lusina

Leaving a Narcissist

It’s also helpful to make sure that you get all your legal and financial documents in order. Make sure you have copies of any of the documents you need access to. Make sure you have the keys that you need to have. And, talking to an attorney and an accountant before you announce that you’re leaving may also be helpful.

Don’t try to have a conversation about leaving with your narcissist. It will only enrage him. Conversely, he may attempt to manipulate you into staying with him.

Narcissists are masters of manipulation.

If necessary, have someone with you when you are ready to leave. Keep it short and if possible, keep your emotions out of it.

phot by Alexandr Podvalny

Now That You’re Out

Accept that you cannot change narcissists – you can only change how you react to them and how much longer you choose to invest in them at the risk of your own sanity.

 

Set firm boundaries, including a no contact rule. You must adhere to this because he will constantly challenge it. Arrange for someone to be cc’d on emails or a third party to be with you if you must communicate by phone.

Prepare for retaliation. Some narcissists will retaliate out of hurt and rage. Proactively change all passwords and PIN numbers. Block them from your social media accounts. You’ve likely experienced his verbal and emotional abuse before so, prepare yourself mentally.

Pack away or discard reminders of the relationship. This will keep you from looking back and only remembering the “good old days.” Remember, it was all a sham.

Build a support system. Work on re-establishing the relationships that you were likely isolated from while you were with the narcissist. Those people likely still care about you and will want to help you, now.

If co-parenting, choose your battles carefully. This can be tricky as he will attempt to control every decision concerning the children. Give where you can give, but hold your boundary when it’s something that is important to you for your child. There will be decisions you will likely need to make together.

Seek professional therapy. Anyone who has been in relationship with a narcissist needs the help of a therapist who has experience working with narcissists. It’s very helpful to have someone walk with you as you heal.

photo by Brett Sayles

Christian Marriages

From a Christian context, marriage is an easy place for narcissists to do their nasty work. Spouses feel compelled to stay in the relationship in order to be spiritually acceptable.

Therefore: The intimacy brings intensely painful feelings of betrayal which the victim feels he/she deserves because of foolish choices and can’t escape because of the spiritual expectations of the marriage relationship. We can understand why Christians find the narcissistic marriage such a quandary.

And the Christian is left with no good option. Since the narcissist almost never changes, the spouse can either choose to stay in the painful relationship or leave it and suffer the consequences. Neither choice is desirable. Reconciliation, restoration, honest change: these normal relationship options do not seem to be available in the narcissistic relationship. Added to this is the fact that few churches are educated on narcissism or prepared to help victims.

Although many denominations continue to condemn women for divorcing their abusive, narcissistic husbands, a few are becoming educated concerning domestic abuse. Doctrinal statements concerning divorce should not supersede God’s overarching care throughout Scripture for the oppressed.

God Cares For The Oppressed

Time and space does not permit for me to relate the numerous stories where our Father stood for the cause of the oppressed. Please, never doubt – He deeply cares for the downtrodden and oppressed. Isaiah 10:1-3

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

Our Father is a God of justice. His Word bears that out over and over again. When abusive husbands attempt to cut off their wives from homes, finances, their reputation, and friends, it reeks of oppression. God is never pleased with that…as the following Scriptures attest.

Psalm 9:9; 12:5; 103:6; 146:7-9;

Proverbs 22:22-23;

Zechariah 7:10;

Isaiah 49:26

Luke 11:42

Your narcissist may have abused you. Your church or friends may have forsaken you. However, our righteous, holy, loving God will never leave you or forsake you.

The Pain of Narcissism

The Narcissist Test

Step 1: Take a moment to think about yourself.

Step 2: If you made it to step 2, you are not a narcissist.

Anonymous

photo by William Fortunato

What is Narcissism?

The word narcissist seems to get thrown around often in the selfie-obsessed world in which we live. If someone is more self-absorbed than the average person, she is quickly labeled a narcissist. However, in the psychological world, the term narcissist doesn’t mean self-love. It’s more accurate to say that people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are in love with an idealized, grandiose image of themselves.

Narcissism is a mental health condition that is characterized by a egotistical sense of self-importance. He/she exaggerates achievements and talents. He expects to be recognized as superior – even when there is no evidence supporting it! (Diagnostic Manual and Statistical of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition)

People with this disorder have no empathy for others. In fact, they have no problem depersonalizing others, even their spouses, if it benefits them in some way. Moreover, narcissists are willing to use and abuse others to serve the image they have created for themselves. (Dr. David Orrison, pastor, author, Narcissism in the Church)

We are all aware that most teens display narcissistic tendencies, however Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) often presents itself from teen years to early adulthood.

photo by Andres Ayrton

I let him take everything, until there was nothing left for him to take.
― Eleanor Moran, Too Close For Comfort

Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW, devised a list entitled 7 Deadly Sins of the Narcissist, which I believe will be helpful in identifying a narcissist in your life.

  • Shamelessness – Shame is the underlying factor in all cases of unhealthy narcissism, but they come across as shameless.
  • Shame is processed in a normal manner in a healthy person, however, narcissists have difficulty processing this feeling in a healthy way. Narcissists also tend to inflict shame on other people, a concept referred to as projection.
  • Magical thinking – Narcissists tend to perceive themselves as perfect and flawless. This distorted thinking and illusion is called magical thinking.
  • Arrogance – Arrogance and disregard for other people’s feelings are typical characteristics of narcissism. Narcissists often have a low self-esteem which they try to relieve by insulting or degrading others. This helps to re-inflate their ego when they are feeling deflated or lacking in worth.

Are you thinking of someone you know, yet? Statistics reveal that it’s 75% likely that it’s a male.

photo by Shvets Productions

The List Continued

  •  Envy – Due to their sense of superiority, narcissists may feel insecure when faced with another person’s ability. Therefore, they may try to belittle by demonstrating contempt or be dismissive.
  •  Sense of entitlement –  Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment. They expect automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply may be perceived as an attack on their authority and superiority. A person who disregards their authority is often considered to be a difficult or awkward person by the narcissist, who will proceed to demean them or their opinion, especially in front of others. Defiance can also trigger anger in the narcissist, which is referred to as “narcissistic rage.”
  •  Exploitation – This refers to the narcissist’s tendency to exploit others and show no regard or empathy for their emotions or interests. This often occurs when the other person is in a subservient position, where it is awkward or impossible to resist the narcissist. On some occasions, this subservience is only assumed rather than real.
  • Lack of boundaries – Most narcissists fail to understand their boundaries and recognize that other people are individuals rather than extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who support the self-esteem of the narcissist are expected to always do so, with the narcissist failing to recognize the independence of the other person.
photo by Pexels, Lisa

Since narcissists deep down feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault.” – M. Scott Peck

Covert versus Overt Narcissism

Overt narcissism is what we typically think about when we hear the word. This is the charismatic, boisterous type who must be the center of attention in every situation. These individuals flaunt any attribute they possess – money, looks, career, attractive spouse, etc. In fact, they believe you should feel honored when they spend time with you.

The covert narcissist is less easily identified. There are 10 Signs that may help you identify a covert narcissist:

  1. Extreme sensitivity to criticism – act as if they are above criticism by dismissive, sarcastic remarks
  2. Passive-aggressive behavior – sabotaging, mocking others, giving others the silent treatment
  3. Tendency to put themselves down – but with the goal to receive compliments
  4. Shy or withdrawn nature – People with this type of NPD are deeply insecure and afraid of other people seeing their failure.
  5. Grandiose fantasies – often spend more time thinking about their wild successes than talking about them
  6. Feelings of depression and anxiety – due to their deep fear of failure and unrealized perfectionistic ideals
  7. Tendency to hold grudges – if they feel they have been treated unfairly, they may wait to have revenge
  8. Envy – they are envious of others for what they feel they themselves deserve
  9. Feelings of inadequacy – due to the inability to meet their own unrealistic standards
  10. Insincere empathy – can seem empathetic and compassionate, but it’s usually self-serving and just for show

Covert narcissists can drain the life out of you and make you feel guilty about it at the same time!

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava

 Scripture and Narcissists

I love what 2 Timothy 3:2-5 says, especially in light of what we have learned regarding the characteristics of a narcissist.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Writer Jen Grice uses this passage to compare with the nine narcissistic traits outlined in the DSM-5. It’s an interesting read, one which I think you will find enlightening. I did.

Many Christians who study the subject of narcissism, especially in the area of domestic violence, believe that the Proverbs dealing with fools aptly apply. Although the word itself isn’t in Scripture, the characteristics of narcissism are spelled out clearly. Grice deals with a few of those, as well.

One truth is clear throughout the Bible, God resists pride and loves humility. James 4:4-6 (ESV) says:

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The Problem of Pain & Suffering

When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. ~ C. S. Lewis

photo by Liza Summer

As we finally begin to welcome a few clear, crisp days of autumn in our area, my personal pain level rises as the temperatures lower. It’s nothing new; fibromyalgia and arthritis don’t like cooler temperatures, despite my love for this season. The majority of us take pain as a personal insult, especially when it becomes chronic. Pain, whether physical or mental, is a problem.

An interruption…and definitely not on the schedule.

There would be various answers if you were to interview a group of people who live with chronic pain or ongoing mental anguish. However, the majority would likely tell you that this type of pain is a game-changer,

a dream-thief,

and a life-stealer.

Unfortunately, for 20.5% of Americans – or 50.2 million people, pain is a daily reality.

photo by Ron Lach

Effects of Chronic Pain

Many studies have shown the far-reaching effects of chronic pain on the body, brain and emotions.

Sadly, chronic pain is often associated with other health conditions such as anxiety and depression, resulting in a low health-related quality of life.

Living with daily pain is physically and emotionally stressful. Chronic stress is known to change the levels of stress hormones and neurochemicals found within your brain and nervous system; these can affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Disrupting your body’s balance of these chemicals can bring on depression in some people.

photo by Cottonbro

Chronic pain can also have long-lasting effects on the brain.

When you have acute pain, your symptoms stop when your injury heals. This happens naturally because your peripheral nervous system stops sending pain signals to your spinal cord and brain.

If you have chronic pain, however, your pain receptors continue firing. With all of the constant messaging, your brain becomes overwhelmed, causing changes in both emotional and cognitive areas of your brain:

  • thalamus remains open to keep routing the pain signals, which can lead to more intense and heightened feelings of discomfort.
  • The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain responsible for managing social behaviors, personality, and emotions. When it experiences excessive activity in response to chronic pain signals, neurons in this region can die, causing this part of your brain to shrink. As a result, you can experience higher states of anxiety, fear, and worry as your prefrontal cortex becomes unable to manage these emotions properly.
  • Your hippocampus is a small structure in your brain responsible for forming new memories, learning, and emotion. Living with long-term pain can shrink this important area, causing increased anxiety and problems with your memory and learning.

Consequently, pain like this can be equated with a deep, dark hole of physical and emotional darkness.

photo by Liza Summer

Emotional Fall-Out

As mentioned earlier, people who live with daily pain, especially severe pain, are highly susceptible to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In fact, nearly half of the people who see doctors for chronic pain report emotional health problems, as well. Therefore, it is extremely important to address these issues as soon as they arise.

Remember that you are not atypical, oversensitive, or weak for experiencing emotional distress because of pain. These are normal, reasonable responses to physical suffering and its associated limitations.

It’s a vicious cycle. Hurting people see their doctors for pain relief, but fail to tell them of their depression. The undiagnosed depression can lead to lack of appetite, sleeplessness, lack of energy, which all make the pain worse. And so the cycle goes.

Be completely honest with your doctors, my friends. Get ALL the help and relief you need.

Another Perspective of Pain & Suffering

But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem Of Pain, p. 83

Truly, when our lives are running seamlessly, we have little need of God. Oh, if we’re practicing Christians, we likely go through the rituals and routines of Christianity, but when we are satisfied with our lives, it’s secretly difficult to think that there is something to surrender to God, isn’t it?

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We “have all we want” is a terrible saying when “all” does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full…”

C. S. Lewis, The Problem Of Pain, p. 85

At times, the upside-down kingdom of heaven is difficult for us to grasp. In order to shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency, our Father is willing to allow pain into our lives, for it is indeed a bugle call. Notice that I said allow, not cause because there is a vast difference.

photo by Steven Arenas

Why Pain & Suffering?

When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I was often asked the “Why” question: Why did God let this happen to my loved one?

I don’t possess existential answers for individual situations, but I do know this with all my being. When sin entered the world in Genesis, Adam opened the door to suffering and death for all of mankind.

Our Father doesn’t cause the pain – that is a consequence of the Fall – but He will use it at times. Furthermore, Jesus suffered and died that He might know personally what we endure. He, therefore, is able to walk with us and comfort us as no other can. When we find ourselves neediest, we are more willing to seek Him.

photo by Karolina Grabowski

Pain, Suffering, and Our View of God

For centuries, non-Christians have used suffering and evil as their argument against a loving God, and Christianity in general. In fact, pastor and author Tim Keller said:

At the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us—is suffering.

One common misconception is that our suffering is related to personal sin. This is called retribution theology. However, this theology was for those living under the Mosaic Law, not for those living under the new covenant. Moreover, Jesus corrected this mistaken theology several times, (see John 9 as an example.)

Writer and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright asserts that there are no simple answers to why there is evil and suffering in the world. In his book, Evil and the Justice of God, Wright tells us:

…the Old Testament tells us first that the problem of evil begins in our hearts, second that God is sovereign and there is no tidy philosophical answer for it, and third, that God will resolve the problem of evil through his own intervention.

In addition, Wright says the New Testament teaches us:

The New Testament shares the story of a God who does not just stand back from evil, but who intervenes. And yet his intervention isn’t as we might expect. Jesus heals those broken by evil, he seeks out sinners, he confronts those who believe they are righteous…The cross defeats evil, not because it defeats something out there, but because it defeats the grip of evil and death in our own hearts.

I can recall so many instances in the New Testament when Jesus entered into the suffering of the people and comforted or healed someone. He isn’t a God who stands back from us in our suffering and pain.

God defeated evil and suffering through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He will remove evil and suffering totally from our future world, (see Revelation 21-22,) when every tear will be wiped from our eyes forever. That is our future and our hope.

For now, He is Immanuel, God with us – through every trial, in every painful day, even on days when we wonder if life is worth living…

God. is. with. us.

Community: Experiencing Little, Needing Much

We are living in a time when there are more ways to be in touch with one another than any other time in history. Phones, texts, emails, FaceTime, social media, Zoom are all avenues that can keep us connected wherever we are in the world. The personal, near ancient art of letter writing? Practically non-existent. With each deeper foray into the cyber world, culture suffers more from little sense of the community which we need to lead healthy lives.

In addition, and further isolating, working from home is the new normal, thanks to Covid-19. Yet, even before Covid-19, (since 2018), we have been experiencing less community and more loneliness than perhaps ever before.

What is Community – The Bare Minimum?

What comes to mind when you hear the word community? For me, I imagine friends gathered around a table of food, talking, laughing, and sharing life together. I don’t mean in a commune sort of way, but being close enough to genuinely care about each other.

There are several definitions available, depending on whether we’re dealing with a business, health, or non-profit culture. However, the most basic definition of community remains the same:

a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

Additionally, we must have the element of trust if we are to add the warm sense of togetherness for which many are longing. Too long we have lived in, and are continually fed distrust and skepticism. Community is a place where we can go to find a listening ear. Furthermore, we know what we say can be entrusted within our community.

photo by Fauxels

Where to Find Community

Historically, communities were formed around the places people lived. Imagine the 1950’s in America or the UK when most urban families lived in small homes or apartments. These places were called neighborhoods. This is where people usually formed friendships, socialized together and raised their children together.

Technology and jobs moving us around the country changed that. Now, a type of  community can be found in online groups, book clubs, churches, support groups, and so on. However, they all require some basic, key, components to be recognized as a genuine community.

One writer believes community involves four elements.

Our definition, based on our experience is, a group of people existing in a place that shares a purpose, a sense of belonging, and who communicate with each other.

On the other hand, businesses use the term differently. Business leaders seek community in the light of how it benefits their business.

  • Having a community is having a support network.
  • They are a safe space to share knowledge and can foster collective creativity and innovation.
  • Communities offer valuable networking opportunities.
  • Provide opportunity for authentic mentoring relationships

Furthermore, there are education communities, health communities, and I could go on…but won’t.

Photo Tima Miroshnichenko

Benefits of Community

It would be difficult to overstate the role community plays in our state of well-being. Every human being has a deep desire to belong. A healthy community provides that.

Having a sense of community embraces spirit, character, image and pride and is a vital element of a healthy community. It is a feeling that people within the community matter to one another with a shared faith that their needs will be met through commitment and togetherness. Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

Moreover, this writer believes other benefits include:

  • support – for you and other members of the community
  • influence – participation in a community can cause one to feel empowered to make a difference
  • sharing – sharing ideas helps everyone grow and gain knowledge
  • reinforcement – can be an effective learning tool to encourage desirable behaviors and provide motivation. 
  • connection – An open bond with new connections is what builds valuable relationships, and gives us a deeper sense of belonging.

There are a few others that you can check out for yourself at the link provided.

photo by Dmitriy Ganin

If It’s So Great, Why Aren’t We All In Community?

Thank you for asking! However, the answer likely has less to do with us than with the culture in which the we live. Western countries such as the United States and Europe, Australia, and S. Africa are considered individualistic cultures. People living in these cultures generally value independence.

Within individualist cultures, people are more likely to “see themselves as separate from others, define themselves based on their personal traits, and see their characteristics as relatively stable and unchanging.” An individualist’s sense of self is defined more by who they are on the “inside,” minimizing the influence of factors, contexts, and people “outside” the individual. Individualists tend to communicate in direct styles—they say what they mean, prioritizing that information is conveyed explicitly and unambiguously. European and “Western” cultures are typically more individualist.

photo by Kindel-media

Collectivist cultures value the group over the individual. Countries with the collectivism culture are Japan, China, Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil, and a few others.

Collectivist cultures emphasize the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and desires of each individual. In such cultures, relationships with other members of the group and the interconnectedness between people play a central role in each person’s identity.

Therefore, we can understand why it is difficult for most of us to wholeheartedly align ourselves with a community. Initially, at least, each of us needs to overcome a hardwired, cultural individualism, which minimizes the influence of others in our lives.

photo by Matthew Devries

Christian Community

Unfortunately, people outside of the Church sometimes think that Christian community means living in a commune on a farm somewhere in the country. For a very small percentage of Christians, that is what it means and I applaud them.

However, for the rest of us, Christian community is simply sharing an authentic life together. It moves us beyond ourselves and our isolation to invest in the other. In addition, it’s more than superficial social contacts that’s called “Christian fellowship.”

Pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote an entire book about community entitled Life Together. It created a deep longing within me for this depth of fellowship the first time I read it. (https://amzn.to/393P4eC)

The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us, (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together).

Indeed, the biblical idea of community can be found in the one another passages of Scripture, which I’ve been taught all my adult life. We find that we are committed to one another because we love one another, John 13:34. We want the best for each other because we are members of one another, (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25.)

Moreover, we need the community of faith to gain maturity in Christ. To underscore this, I’m going to share a list that a professor emeritus from George Fox University believes a community of faith provides.

  • a way to see Christ in others
  • a source of accountability and guidance
  • a place to pray and worship
  • a place to serve
  • a model and witness of Christ to the world
  • ambassadors of God’s love

I encourage you to read the article to see how he explains each point.

What About You?

photo by Dim Hou

I’m an American, thus, an individualist. Add to that a past with trauma, violated trust from more than one spiritual leader and… I get it. Trusting a group to have a sense of belonging can be very difficult for many. However, let me comfort and assure you, when I have experienced genuine Christian community, it is the sweetest thing this side of heaven.

Please don’t give up, dear sister. It is available. Go find it!

A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

 

 

 

Five Areas of Abuse, Without Lifting a Hand

Last week we began to discuss how to identify an abuser. I hope the information was helpful for you. Sometimes when we are in the middle of something it’s difficult to see what is happening. Today I want to point out the five areas an abuser uses without ever lifting a hand to strike his victim.

In addition, while you’re reading, I’d like for all of us to ponder what we are allowing to be done to the children in the homes of abusers. Are we perpetuating another generation of pain when we sense something is off or witness behavior that is unsettling, yet we remain silent?

photo by Jackson Simmer

Again, I want to thank Natalie Hoffman for her wisdom and insights, which were gained from 20 years of living with an abusive husband. I am learning so much from her and others in a Domestic Violence class I am taking.

Denial of Responsibility

I mentioned last time that this is the #1 sign of an abuser: nothing is EVER their fault. However, there are subtle ways in which he denies. For example, he will:

  • Minimize – ‘You are so sensitive!’ ‘Why do you make a big deal out of everything?’
  • Justify – ‘My phone died, so it’s not my fault I couldn’t call you.’ ‘I got stuck in traffic! What could I do about that?’
  • Mutualize blame – ‘We BOTH need to change. We BOTH have problems.’
  • Blame shift – ‘If YOU hadn’t made me so mad, I wouldn’t have (drank, hit the wall, watched porn, etc.)
  • Project onto her – blame her for doing what he himself is doing; EX.: having an affair, hiding money, etc.

Deception

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to realize and accept that your spouse tells lies and half-truths very convincingly. In fact, he tells them so well that sometimes he begins to believe them himself!

Akin to this fact, usually an abuser leads a double life. For example, he may be a revered leader at your church and in the community, but indulge in child pornography at night. (See the story of Rev. Jimmy Hinton and his Pastor father, who was later revealed to be child molester.)

Gaslighting is a third area of deception, which is especially harmful to their victim’s mental health. (A marriage counselor needs to be very alert to this.) Gaslighting is repeatedly denying his victim’s reality. For instance, he promises to do something for her, but doesn’t do it. After a time, she brings it to his attention. He then heatedly denies that he ever made the promise.

This scene plays out so often that the spouse begins to doubt her sanity.

Photo by Carolina Heza

Inability to Empathize

Interestingly, an abuser cannot join his partner in any pain or rejoicing. He is actually offended when his spouse is experiencing an emotion that doesn’t match his own. On the other hand, if he can gain something from her behavior, he has the ability to mimic empathy.

In keeping with any narcissist, an abuser puts his own interests ahead of hers, (another reason why he cannot empathize with her needs.) He is sullen when she is happy and chronically unavailable when she needs him.

Photo by Fuu J E

Desire For Power and Control

Abuse, itself, is about power and control. It’s never about the bruises inflicted. Furthermore, if an abuser’s theology supports a power control model of male and female relationship, he will claim greater power and leverage as ‘God’s design.’

An abuser may not control his partner at every level, but he disrespects any boundary she attempts to have. In addition, she is never allowed to say no to him without consequences.

Photo by Anete Lusina

Mind Control

From the beginning, an abuser seeks out a sensitive person, a woman who is a people helper. He will mirror her qualities to entice her. However, after they marry, his genuine qualities will be revealed and he will use her qualities against her. Soon, she won’t know the man with whom she is sharing her life.

This man will withhold praise while criticizing and demeaning her. In public he will speak highly of her unless she dares to challenge him or speak against him. Then his rebuke will be will be swift and brutal.

Consequently, a victim learns to doubt her own judgments. In addition, to save herself the pain of repeated humiliation, she will back down when he speaks his opinion and/or changes the narrative of a conversation.

Without counseling, even after she leaves him, his voice will be in her head for a long time.

Remember – abuse is a cycle. The bad behavior and the good behavior are both in play to keep his victim guessing. It also serves to keep her under control. For instance, he may take the kids to the park after he exploded in rage at the ‘messy kitchen.’ Another example: he may bring her flowers after he humiliated her in front of a friend.

Photo by Aaron Burden

The Bible and Abusers

If you have been in a conservative church for very long, you have heard a sermon on Malachi 3:16 along the way.

For the Lord God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,

Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.

That was the New King James version. This and earlier versions have been used for decades to force women to stay in abusive marriages. However, newer translations carry a completely different implication than earlier translations.

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” ESV

The fact is, God hates oppressors of any kind. The type of oppressor he is addressing in Malachi is the husband who decided he wanted a new wife simply because he was tired of the old one. Unfortunately, this meant she would be destitute.

God was not pleased with this scenario. In fact, He hated it.

God hates injustice and oppression both inside and outside the people He calls His own. Isaiah and Jeremiah are full of incidents of God’s wrath at His own people for oppressing the needy or weak among them. (See Isa. 10:1–4; 30:12–14; Jer. 6:6-8; 9:6–11.)

God hates abuse of any kind.

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Sounds like someone we’ve been describing, doesn’t it?

Does that sound like someone you want to be friends with?  Or someone who is a healthy person with whom you want to be in any relationship? Does it sound as though God approves of this type of person??

What Now?

If you recognized your marriage or relationship in this blog, you have some decisions to make. None of them will be easy. However, I pray for your courage to move forward to safety. There is hope…always, there is hope in Jesus and the truth of His Word.

I have included a relationship test by Leslie Vernick, which may further help you see more clearly your status in your marriage/relationship. It might be easier if you can print it out.

You’ve likely felt isolated for a long time. Perhaps you have sought help from a pastor or friend before to no avail.

This time can be different. You do not have to do this alone.

Natalie Hoffman’s organization, Leslie Vernick, Give Her Wings – all provide assistance for women (Christian and non-Christian) in abusive relationships wanting to leave. There are likely Christian counselors in your area, but make sure they are familiar with domestic abuse.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Dating Abuse Hotline 1-866-331-9474; 866-331-8453; OR

TEXT: loveis to 22522

Lament: Another Way To Deal With All The Loss

 

photo by Liza Summer

Like you, my family hears news every few days of friends who are being impacted by the Delta variant of Covid-19 or some other tragedy. A mom in her 40’s died from Covid-19. A teen is fighting for his life. One local family lost their 6 year old to a rare form of meningitis.

How do we deal with all the grief and loss we have experienced in the past eighteen months?

It just keeps piling up…like the bills from lost jobs and higher prices due to inflation.

photo by Nathan Cowley

What is Lament?

Mark Vroego, the author of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, (https://amzn.to/2VWbTNY), explains that we enter the world wailing. Truthfully, tears and sorrow are part of being human. Yet, lament is more than crying.

But lament is different than crying because lament is a form of prayer. It is more than just the expression of sorrow or the venting of emotion. Lament talks to God about pain. And it has a unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.

Furthermore, more than a third of the Psalms are laments. Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations is entirely written as a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. In addition, Jesus lamented in the Garden at the end of His life.

Ultimately, lament is based in trust in the character of God. It is a form of praise and prayer with the intent of drawing close to God in times of great suffering and pain.

photo by Cheron James

Steps of Lament

To be honest, the practice of lament is not natural for us. Why? According to Vroegrop, because every lament is a prayer, a statement of faith. Moreover, we are also wrestling with the paradox of suffering and the promises of God’s goodness.

Taking our direction from the Psalms of lament, let’s look at the main elements of a lament.

  1. Call on God – We don’t direct our words to our pain, our suffering or our enemy, but to God. Examples: Psalm 13:1; Ps. 22:1; Ps.77:2-3
  2. Tell Him your complaint – be honest and open about your anger, frustration, or pain. Ps.3:1-2; 57:4; 86:1, 14
  3. Request help from God – be clear in your request. Ps. 6:2-4; 25:2, 16-17; 28:1-4
  4. Express trust or praiseThe destination for all laments is an affirmation of trust in God. Gut-level, honest prayers provide a pathway for hurting people to move through their pain. Laments are not cul-de-sacs of sorrow, but conduits for renewed faithPs. 6:8-10; 28:7; 57:7-11

To make it easier to remember, let’s break it down into four words:

  • turn
  • complain
  • ask
  • trust

To pray in pain, even with its messy struggle and tough question, is an act of faith where we open up our hearts to God. Prayerful lament is better than silence. (Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy.)

photo by Inzmam Khan

Avoidance of Lament

Sadly, during times of trial, we often turn away from God rather than toward Him. The circumstances of our lives feel overwhelming. We don’t understand why this thing is happening. In anger and frustration, many sink into silent despair.

Despair lives under the hopeless resignation that God doesn’t care, he doesn’t hear, and nothing is ever going to change. People who believe this stop praying. They give up. (Vroegop, pg. 32)

Actually, I think our reasons to turn away in times of pain go even deeper. In 1993, Dr. Larry Crabb wrote Finding God, (https://amzn.to/3xL8e2Y). In the book, Crabb pointed out that our natural inclination is to doubt God’s goodness. Like Adam and Eve, deep within, there is a gnawing kernel of belief that God is holding out on us. Therefore, when suffering enters our lives, many rage against God for not doing enough to protect us from it.

Perhaps God isn’t a good God, after all.

However, that false belief is completely contrary to what the Bible tells us. Throughout Scripture, God invites us to bring our complaints, our sorrows, and our pain before Him. The Psalms, in particular, are full of examples. In Isaiah 1:18, God invites Judah to a conversation, in spite of their sin: Come, let us reason together. He often pleaded with Israel to return to Him so He could restore them.

Silence before God will kill your soul. Therefore, we do not need to fear lament. Run to Him; pour out your fear, your anger, your pain. In addition, pray your questions and your struggles. He invites it.

Discomfort of Lament

The full-throttle cataloguing of pain sets the context for the call for God to remember. However, it has been my experience that many Christians are uncomfortable with the tension of the long rehearsing of pain combined with the appeal to God’s grace. We tend to hush the recitation of sorrow. However, restoration doesn’t come to those who live in denial… (Vroegop, pg.144)

As a culture, we have become strangled with an oversized political correctness that has leached into the Church. Unfortunately, we have mistakenly placed the nice pc language onto God and His image. However, a read through the Old Testament or Paul’s letters to the churches would soon relieve us of that notion.

Jesus wasn’t nice when He threw the moneychangers out of the temple. Nor was Paul gentle when he wrote of the sexual sin in the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians chapter 5.

As a result of our distorted beliefs concerning God, the raw language of lament is uncomfortable to those who see Him as unapproachable or unconcerned. Lament invites boldness, questions and honesty about everything we are feeling. Therefore, lament is challenging if you’re not accustomed to being genuine with God or others concerning your thoughts or feelings.

In fact, despite our societal love affair with violence in entertainment, we don’t know what to do with people who are truly suffering or grieving a loss. Moreover, we would rather they simply move on as quickly as possible due to our discomfort.

What if, instead, we offered the valuable gift of talking to God about their pain?

photo by Liza Summer

The Gift of Lament

Lament is seeing and trusting that God enters our pain with us. It is, as Vroegop wrote, the song we sing in the space between pain and promise. At times, it is a raging song. At other times, it is a song of sorrow and tears.

I have sung these songs in times of pain and darkness. Sometimes those songs lasted for weeks, months. Thankfully, my Father never left me, but rather held me close and let me, metaphorically, beat His chest in anguish. In the end, however, I know He is who He says He is…whether I understand it all or not.

What about you? Will you lament your losses?

 

Let’s Talk About PTSD

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

My father was a World War 2 veteran. I can’t remember a time he talked about his war experiences. What I do remember are times when something would trigger him, and he would withdraw into their bedroom for hours. My brother and I knew something was wrong, but not what.

Years later, while doing research on the topic in graduate school, I suddenly realized my father had post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

As I mentioned, my gentle, soft-spoken dad never spoke of his years in the war to his family. In fact, he likely would have taken those memories to his grave until my college-aged son asked him to tell him about it for a research project he had. Only then, in his mid-seventies, was my father willing to speak of some of the unspeakable horrors he witnessed during the war.

Compliments of British Museum

Ancient History of PTSD

Early attempts at diagnosing PTSD were made by an Austrian physician, Josef Leopold (1761), who called it nostalgia. He reported that soldiers exposed to military trauma, reported missing home, feeling sad, sleep problems, and anxiety. This list helped the U.S. military efforts in assessing soldiers for psychological injury during the Civil War.

A second model of this condition was called Soldier’s heart or irritable heart. This model suggested a physical injury as the cause of symptoms. These symptoms included a rapid pulse, anxiety, and trouble breathing. U.S. doctor Jacob Mendez Da Costa studied Civil War soldiers with these cardiac symptoms. He described it as overstimulation of the heart’s nervous system. It was also known as Da Costa’s Syndrome.

Unfortunately, soldiers were often returned to battle after receiving drugs to control symptoms.

Compliments Victoria Museums

WW I, WW II Treatment of Pre-PTSD

Later, during World War I, PTSD was thought to be caused by the loud explosions from the artillery shells. For this reason, the term shell shock was coined. Symptoms were much the same as earlier wars, with the addition of panic. Moreover, it was first thought to be the cause of hidden brain damage due to the impact of the large guns. However, that thinking had to change when auxiliary soldiers, not near the explosions, began presenting with the same symptoms.

This condition also came to be known as war neurosis.

During World War I, treatment was varied. Soldiers often received only a few days’ rest before returning to the war zone. For those with severe or chronic symptoms, treatments focused on daily activity to increase functioning, in hopes of returning them to productive civilian lives. In European hospitals, “hydrotherapy” (water) or “electrotherapy” (shock) were used along with hypnosis.

Unsurprisingly, World War II’s long surges of battle called for a new name for the symptoms the soldiers were showing. Therefore, shell shock was replaced by Combat Stress Reaction (CSR), or battle fatigue. Due to the long surges during this war, soldiers became battle weary and fatigued. Unfortunately, some American military leaders, such as Lieutenant Gen. George S. Patton, did not believe battle fatigue was a genuine problem.

On the contrary, up to half of World War II military discharges were reported to be the result of combat exhaustion.

Photo by Aaron Blanco Tejedor

PTSD in the 20th Century and Today

In 1980, after years of research involving Viet Nam veterans, Holocaust survivors, sexual trauma victims, and others exposed to traumatic situations, the American Psychological Association added PTSD to their diagnostic manual, the DSM-3. Finally, they had established a link between the trauma of war and post military life. Moreover, and to the researchers’ surprise, PTSD was more common than previously believed.

Each update of the diagnostic manual reflected the advancing research in this area of mystery regarding those exposed to trauma. Ultimately, in 2013, PTSD had earned it’s own category in the DSM-5, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.  There were too many other moods and behaviors associated with PTSD, (depression, anger, reckless behavior, etc.) to keep it under the umbrella of another disorder.

PTSD includes four types of symptoms:

  • reliving the traumatic event (also called re-experiencing or intrusion)
  • avoiding situations that are reminders of the event
  • negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal or over-reactive to situations)

Realistically, any of us could experience some of these symptoms immediately after a traumatic event. Therefore, all four types of symptoms must be present and last for at least a month before a PTSD diagnosis is made. In addition, they must cause significant distress and/or problems with daily functioning.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov

PTSD – The Discovery and Some of Its Effects

Fortunately, a few researchers and scientists like Bessel Van Der Kalk, M.D. and clinician, began studying posttraumatic stress in the 70’s. In the 1990’s, the introduction of brain scanning revolutionized their work. In his 2014 book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma, Van Der Kolk transformed the understanding of traumatic stress or PTSD.  Their research uncovered the fact that trauma actually rewires the brain, specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust, (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma). (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

Van Der Kolk’s team’s ongoing research was also able to clearly establish PTSD symptoms in anyone who experienced trauma. In fact, there was a concurrent study in the 1990’s, instigated by Dr. Vincent Felitti, called Adverse Childhood Experiences, aka ACE. They interviewed over 17,000 people regarding carefully defined categories of abuse in their childhood homes, including physical and emotional neglect, and family dysfunction. The ACE study revealed that traumatic life experiences during early childhood and adolescence are far more common than expected, (The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma, Van Der Kolk.)

Two thirds of the group with mid-high ACE scores reported various effects from their childhood trauma/PTSD. More than half had learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Sixty-six percent suffered from chronic depression and/or chronic pain. Furthermore, there was a 30% increase in the risk of cancer  Additionally, those with a high ACE score:

  • dramatically increase the risk of suicide over their lifetime
  • are 33% more likely to be raped in adulthood (women)
  • have a 70% chance of being a substance abuser
  • are more susceptible to ischemic heart disease, COPD, skeletal fractures, and liver disease
Photo by Noah Buscher

How Shall We Live After Trauma?

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975…That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past…Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I resonate with Hosseini’s statement. When the light in my brain finally clicked on to reveal the dysfunction in my childhood family, I felt like curious people going by a car accident. Even though they know it’s none of their business, and the police/EMS are rendering aid, they can’t tear their eyes away from the carnage.

I could not stop staring at the pain, poking at the damage which had been perpetrated. Moreover, I had been numb for so long that the anger surged over me like fire – I thought I would smother.

But God…

God whispered my name. He revealed to me anew that He had never neglected me or abused me.

And He never will.

He lifted my eyes away from what I perceived as my personal carnage and highlighted how He had carefully placed people around me all my life. These adults were supporters, encouragers, teachers, pastors, even neighbors.

They helped me be one of the resilient ones. I’m not an ACE statistic due to those whom God supplied.

That’s not to say I’m not headed that way a time or two or fifty! But God always pulls me back to Himself with His love and comfort, (Isaiah 41:10.)

And He longs to do the same for you, (Isaiah 30:18; Hebrews 13:5.)

There is help for you; there’s no need to keep peeking down the alley of your past.

 

Resources:

https://www.houstonmds.org/blog/post/dacostas-syndrome-chest-pain-and-anxiety.html

To take the ACE test:

What ACEs/PCEs do you have?

I highly recommend Van Der Kolk’s book, if you struggle with PTSD. He wrote it for the average person to be able to understand. In addition, he also offers ways to help  yourself when you are triggered. ( (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

 

Fear: Is It A Friend or A Foe?

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My husband and I recently kept 3 of our grandchildren for a week. Their parents went on a lovely vacation to celebrate my son’s birthday. They have a wonderful tradition of reading to the children each night before bedtime until they are proficient enough to read to themselves. When she is here, our five year old often chooses a book we have called Fears, Doubts, Blues, and Pouts by H. Norman Wright and Gary J. Oliver. At five, fear still feels more like a foe than a friend. (https://amzn.to/3xwsoOt)

Photo by Cottonbro

Fear as a Friend

Fear is a powerful emotion. It originates in the amygdala, which is located near the base of our brain. This almond shaped structure is primarily involved in emotion and memory. However, it serves another important function. When faced with a real or imagined threat, the amygdala gives us the fight or flight urge.

In this way, fear keeps us safe. With lightening quickness, we have heightened awareness when our safety is threatened. For instance, fear will quicken the footsteps of a woman who is walking to her car at night when she senses she is being followed. Additionally, it will cause her to grab her keys or mace.

Fortunately, fear can motivate us to change. For instance, if your doctor told you to change your diet and to begin walking daily or you will have an imminent heart attack, fear would motivate you to do so. At least, it would for most people.

Fear motivates and drives us. The fear of failure, of rejection, or a fear of loss will often drive us to do whatever it takes to overcome those negativities. We’ll tap into or explore options or resources or approaches we haven’t tried in the past. The fear of rejection often drives us to go out of our way to add value to a relationship. It causes us to make that extra effort to succeed. Fear is there to drive us in the direction of whatever it is that we really want.

And finally, fear must come in order to develop courage. Courage cannot exist and cannot be experienced or expressed without the presence of fear. Fear is often brought into the equation in order to help us tap into, develop and embrace our courage. (emphasis added)

photo by Kat Jayne

Fear as Our Foe

When we allow it to grow out of its healthy boundaries, fear becomes our enemy. Furthermore, it is the root of anxiety, phobias, and stress. The needed hormones released during a fight or flight situation are damaging to our bodies when we live in a constant state of fear, whether low grade or otherwise.

The cortisol hormone released during fight-or-flight mode and when we experience stress weakens the immune system by decreasing the volume of lymphocytes circulating in our body. Being stressed out all the time makes us more susceptible to infections and even cancer. The lymphocytes are partly composed of B-cells that release antibodies to terminate invading bacteria and viruses external to the cells. The T-cell type of lymphocytes target invaders that have entered into cells and begin destroying the virus or bacteria. Another aspect of living in long-term fear that can damage the health may be collateral. Individuals suffering from extreme stress or the fear of something may abuse substances to cope.

Furthermore, fear that produces anxiety and self doubt paralyzes us from achieving goals and dreams. American writer and film director Suzy Kassem once said: Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will. I second that!

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Another Downside to Fear

A second area fear targets is memory. As mentioned above, fear floods the amygdala area of our brains with hormones. During the initial fear-inducing event, the perceptions we have are vividly imprinted on the brain.

This impacts memory by storing the moments when our perceptions became more acute in high-resolution. These memories will burn into our souls as thoughts that have paramount importance over any others… These may be perceived simply as red flags in our subconscious minds that make us feel a looming sense of dread regarding individuals associated with these fears. This reactive irrational fear-based thinking is the force behind PTSD and can lead to long-term memory formation problems and damage to the function of the hippocampus. The memories incurred from the mechanism dubbed the ‘amygdala hijack’ are always perceived as negative, as a warning to avoid similar situations in the future, possibly explaining why first impressions are so important.

It also causes what is known as brain fog in people who have PTSD or acute anxiety.

What Else?

Lastly, the long-term effect of being exposed to adrenaline is certain to result in cardiovascular damage.  This will reveal itself in the form of tissue damage and the constriction of blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure.

Clearly, unhealthy fear is not to be disregarded.

Photo by James Coleman

What Does God Say About Fear?

There is a reason God placed fear not in the Bible 365 times. We are a fearful people. In fact, politicians and unhealthy leaders of any field know this. They use fear in attempts to control their followers.

So does the enemy. Satan whispers the “what-ifs” in our ears over and over.

What if you:

  • fail?
  • are rejected?
  • lose?
  • succeed?

The list can be endless! However, God’s Word says something altogether different. Some of my favorites follow:

Psalm 34:4:

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 118:6

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Isaiah 41:13

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

I John 4:18

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

These are simply a small representation of the reassurances the Father has offered us. It isn’t necesary to live in fear any longer. It never was, but we fell into the trap at some point along the way.

I am fully and personally aware that it is a difficult task to forsake living in fear, but take courage my sister. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world…and unhealthy fear is a liar.

 

Verbal and Emotional Abuse: Can You Recognize It?

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Photo by Cottonbro

What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is a range of words or behaviors used to manipulate and intimidate another person. In addition, these behaviors are used to maintain power and control over that person. It can occur in the home, at work or in a religious institution. Furthermore, verbal and emotional abuse may not begin as physical abuse, but it often progresses to physical abuse.

Regardless, it causes serious emotional and psychological harm,

Verbal abuse creates emotional pain and mental anguish. It is a lie told to you or about you. Generally, verbal abuse defines people, telling them what they are, what they think, their motives, and so forth.

Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship (https://amzn.to/3pkd5FE)

Not all verbal and emotional abusers become violent, but they all create pain and fear in their homes. The atmosphere they create impacts their children to such a degree that they do not know what is normal and what is no.

Children from abusive homes may learn not to feel, may learn to become perpetrators or victims, and may try to perfect themselves through eating disorders and compulsive behaviors to escape in drugs and alcohol. Bottom line: Defining people and their inner world is a very irrational behavior. It is mind numbing and very scary to the recipient, especially when the person who is behaving irrationally says, “I love you.”

Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change? (https://amzn.to/3z0ZRC9)

The Violence of Verbal Abuse

Verbal and emotional abuse includes violence. However, initially, the violence is not directed specifically at their partner. The violence used is to intimidate or frighten. (Remember, the behavior is about control.) For example, slamming doors, punching walls, throwing things, destroying property, or harming pets are tools to threaten and bully.

Sadly, these combined behaviors are just as damaging to the victim as other forms of abuse.

Emotional abuse may start out innocuously, but grows as the abuser becomes more assured that you won’t leave the relationship… If you look back, you may recall tell-tale signs of control or jealousy. Eventually, you and the entire family “walk on eggshells” and adapt so as not to upset the abuser. Being subjected to emotional abuse over time can lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, inhibited sexual desire, chronic pain, or other physical symptoms.

Why Don’t We See Verbal Abuse?

Verbal/emotional abuse is more difficult to recognize than other forms of abuse.

It doesn’t leave physical marks.

In many cases, perpetrators of verbal abuse will raise or recondition the other person. This may lead to the person on the receiving end believing that these behaviors are normal, which may also make it difficult to recognize.

Types of Verbal/Emotional Abuse

Here are some things to look for if you suspect that you are in an abusive relationship. It could be with a friend, parent, boss, or romantic partner.

  • Humiliation, Threatening, Intimidation
    • Cruelty can create fear and coercion. This allows the abuser to maintain the desired power and control he/she desires. For example:
      • Belittling or humiliating you, especially before others
      • name-calling or constantly criticizing – “You’re so stupid,” “You’re an idiot”
      • threatening to leave you or harm themselves if you leave
      • driving erratically to frighten you or force compliance
      • threatening to take your child or pets away from you

3. Emotional Manipulation

    • Abusers create chaos. An abuser may:
      • accuse you of cheating
      • blame you if they are cheating
      • blame you for their abusive behavior
      • give you the silent treatment
      • constantly argue
      • tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about
      • make confusing and contradictory statements

3. Gaslighting and Discounting

        • Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that causes you to question your sanity, judgments, and memory. Discounting involves repeatedly discounting and dismissing another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The abuser may often say you’re:
          • too sensitive
          • are childish
          • don’t have a good sense of humor (after he has said something cruel and then claims he was “only kidding”
          • are being too dramatic
          • The abuser may also:
          • insist you said or did something you didn’t
          • deny an event happened
          • question your memory of facts and events
          • deny their earlier promises and statements

4. Judging

    • This involves repeated negative critical, judging statements. They usually begin with “you” or “you’re”:
      • never happy
      • always mad for no reason
      • are so negative
      • wear that to get attention

Dealing With Verbal Abuse

The first step in dealing with any abuse is to recognize it. You can begin to discover the support that is available to you by naming your experience. Next, there must be a plan for emotional and physical safety.

Patricia Evans said, Domestic violence begins with verbal abuse…(The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change?) Not all verbal abusers become physical abusers, but the majority of physical abusers were verbal abusers first.

Create a Support Network

This step is vital. The abuse has likely isolated you to an extent. However, now you need a trustworthy friend, therapist, or mental health advocate with whom you can confide. It may be difficult to be vulnerable. Moreover, you could find it embarrassing or even humiliating to realize that the abuse has gotten this far before you realized it.

After being demeaned and criticized constantly, it may be hard to wrap your mind around treating yourself well.

But, this, my friend, is a huge part of the healing process. You are taking back your self-worth, even for just a few minutes a day. As much as you can, take a stress-free break each day. Do something you love for 5 to 30 minutes.

Remind yourself of your value and that you deserve to be respected and cared for.

Make a Safety Exit Plan

Unfortunately, it may be necessary to leave a relationship in order to be safe. That is a big decision which requires planning. Therefore, reach out to your network of friends/helpers and local resources to assist you. There are people who are equipped with the tools to help you develop an exit plan and thereby give you a sense of control.

Be cautious using your phone and personal computer.

Photo by Jill Wellington

You Are Valued

In Isaiah 49 (ESV), Israel had accused God of not caring about them. God spoke these words to His people. He revealed that His love was greater than a mother’s love for her child.

They apply to us today through the new covenant, made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

Furthermore, God knew and loved us before we were formed in the womb! Don’t let anyone take that knowledge from you…or if they have, be assured that you have been lied to. Psalm 139 (ESV):

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

God believed we that we are such a treasure that He gave His only Son to die for us. Decide today that no one is going to convince you otherwise.

National Domestic Violence Hotline : 800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Dating Abuse Abuse Hotline: 866-331-9474; 866-331-8453 or text: loveis to 22522

The Dark Night of The Soul vs Clinical Depression

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Last week we discussed clinical depression, its symptoms, and when to go for help. This week I want to turn our attention to something that looks like clinical depression, but is actually a type of sickness in the soul. St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul, (https://amzn.to/3blkm2k).

Some, like the late psychiatrist and spiritual director Dr. Gerald May, have written about the dark night in an effort to explain it, (https://amzn.to/3tI9eTg). Others, like the late monk and psychotherapist Dr. Thomas Moore have written as a guide to walk through the dark night without losing hope, (https://amzn.to/2R50OZd).

What is The Dark Night of The Soul?

Photo by Atanas Dzhingarov

First, the dark night of the soul is not for a select few, the holiest of holy people. Neither is it simply bad things happening to good people. Dr. May believed that in some ways it could happen to anyone.

Yet it is much more significant than simple misfortune. It is a deep transformation, a movement toward indescribable freedom and joy. And in truth it doesn’t always have to be unpleasant!…The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely.

The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald G. May, M.D.

Although May’s description is more upbeat and glowing, Moore tends to describe the dark night perhaps more realistically.

“To be spiritual is to be taken over by a mysterious, divine compulsion to manifest some aspect of life’s deepest force. We become most who we are when we allow the spirit to dismember us, unsettling our plans and understandings, remaking us from the very foundations of our existence. Nothing is more challenging, nothing less sentimental, than the invitation of spirit to become who we are and not who we think we ought to be.”
— The Soul’s Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life

Secondly, a season of darkness implies nothing sinister, as May points out. Neverthless, it is generally a time of stripping away things or ideals to which we have clung. In the midst of the upheaval is confusion and oft times pain. Therefore, we feel as though we are wandering in a dark forest without a light.

A Personal Dark Night

My first experience with a season of dark night was deeply wounding. It happened during a time when our eldest was undergoing his own painful struggle within a personal relationship. In addition, he had been tossing overboard most of the belief system we had instilled in our children since their birth.

For a brief time, he tossed us overboard, too.

I remember lying on the floor of my bedroom, wailing before God. Hadn’t we followed His commands to raise up our children in His ways? Hadn’t we loved them all unwaveringly? (In other words – hadn’t we followed the spiritual A, B, C’s in order to have godly children?) Then why wasn’t God holding up His end of the bargain??

Looking back, I’m a litte surprised the Lord didn’t strike me dead due to my impudence!

Yet, His mercy never ceases. Over time, He revealed to me the useless, false beliefs I had clung to in an effort to control the outcome of my life. Dr, May was right about me when he said:

We cling to things, people, beliefs, and behaviors not because we love them, but because we are terrified of losing them.

The Dark Night of The Soul, Gerald G. May, M. D.

I would never have seen the error or rigidity of my belief system had I not gone through that season. Yes, the pain was searing, and it was long. However, when I emerged, a new grace flowed into areas of my soul that had been parched.

That is the fierce beauty of the dark night. 

The Bible and Spiritual Darkness

The late R.C. Sproul wrote about the dark night of the soul:

This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

This malady afflicted Jeremiah, who gained the nickname The Weeping Prophet, (Jeremiah 13:17). In addition, David soaked his bed with tears, (Psalm 6:6). Elijah was more defiant in I Kings 19, when he believed that God had forsaken him.

But then…when we grasp our lies to our chests while God is attempting to loosen our fingers, we can become defiant, too.

Moreover, Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon experienced numerous seasons of spiritual darkness. Yet, each of these eminent men of faith continue to have impact today due to their depth of intimacy with God, which they gained from those seasons of darkness.

It’s a paradox, I know. However, I’ve come to realize that’s how the upside down Kingdom of God works. For instance:

  • we must die in order to have life (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:21-22
  • when we are weak, we are made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  • whoever desires to be great in the Kingdom of God must learn to be a servant (Matthew 20:25-28)

Light Emerges From the Darkness

Since I was a young adult, the beach has been a favorite spot for me to relax. Perhaps there more than anywhere else, I experience the majesty of God and His creation. Waves constantly rolling in to shore soothe my spirit. My husband, who is a gifted photographer, enjoys taking photos of the sunrise over the ocean.

Consequently, we have some beautiful shots of the sunlight emerging from the dark.

These photos remind me of times we come out of the darkness of depression or a deep disappointment in God. It’s as though we are stepping from behind the clouds. Rays of light begin to fall across our faces once again.

David must have felt frightened and somewhat abandoned in Psalm 30. Even so, in the last two verses of the chapter, his faith reemerges as he practically sings:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

He will, you know…one day; all the mourning will be turned into dancing. What a glorious day that will be.

Hold on, sisters; hold on…Light will shine in your darkness, again. But for now, be held through the dark hours before the dawn.