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

Continuing The Conversation: PTSD After Sexual Trauma

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photo by Angelo Pantazis

In the late 90’s, I began venturing into the early stages of my counseling education. In addition, I began a required semester of volunteer counseling. My first clients were women from the large church my family attended. One particular young woman came to see me who had been in an elementary Sunday School class I taught years before. Therefore, I struggled to maintain a calm composure as she described the sexual trauma she had endured at the hands of her brothers…and the subsequent PTSD she was suffering.

Unfortunately, I was not equipped to help her then. As a professor told us in our undergraduate program, we knew just enough to be dangerous. In the following years, more Christian women came to me with similar stories. As a result, I quickly realized that I never wanted to be in that position, again. There are people, trained therapists, programs, hotlines available for women who no longer want or need to be silent about their abuse and the resulting PTSD.

PTSD And Sexual Trauma Identified

As noted last week, initial research on trauma and PTSD focused on men. Most of these researchers concentrated on male combat veterans and how they responded to trauma sustained from war. However, in 1995, researchers who studied women’s experiences of sexual assault identified a syndrome that was similar to that experienced by combat-exposed men. This recognition led to an increase in research on women’s experiences of traumatic events and risk for PTSD. 

photo by Daria-Nepriakhina

Consequently, research exploded on women, trauma, and PTSD. As mentioned in my former blog, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. did extensive research on trauma and the brain, (The Body Keeps The Score). (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

What is Sexual Assault?

This may seem like a silly question. Nevertheless, I fear that it has grown so common in our culture that we have grown numb to the reports.

The term “sexual assault” refers to a range of behaviors that involve unwanted sexual contact or behavior. This can include actual and attempted rape as well as unwanted sexual touching.

Furthermore, sexual assault occurs at staggering frequency in the United States. The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,) estimate that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Common examples of sexual assault are:

  • Being taken advantage of by someone who has authority over you (boss, parent, teacher, doctor)
  • Bribed or manipulated into performing unwanted sexual acts against her will
  • Being forced into sexual activity because a woman is unable to give consent due to intoxication or being mentally/physically incapacitated
  • Being physically forced or violently sexually assaulted
photo by Liza Summer

Short-Term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Initially, the trauma of being assaulted can leave you feeling scared, angry, guilty, anxious, and sad. Additionally, the stigma surrounding sexual assault causes many to feel humiliated, embarrassed or ashamed. Other things someone who has been traumatized by sexual assault may experience are:

  • Shock and disbelief
  • Mistrust, sense of betrayal
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch
  • Repulsion to sexual contact, or hypersexuality
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Anger, thoughts of revenge
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Overwhelmed, fear of “going crazy”
  • Intense fear of injury or death

Many survivors experience a reduction in symptoms within a few months, whereas some women experience distress for years

photo by Alex Green

Long-term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Unfortunately, sexual assault produces negative, long-term side-effects when left untreated. Children who have experienced sexual abuse have many, sometimes severe long-term negative effects. We may discuss that in a later blog.

Surprisingly, the long-term effects of PTSD are global – mental, emotional and physical:

  • Chronic pain and worsening physical health problems
  • Risk of developing autoimmune diseases
  • Depression, anxiety, social withdrawal or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of occupational or academic functioning
  • Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Substance abuse, addiction
  • eating disorders
  • suicide

Healing: Is It Possible?

First, YES, healing is possible for most people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The process can be slow, however, and requires patience and a therapist. Regrettably, for some PTSD symptoms will be lasting.

Notably, the recommended therapy for PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, (EMDR.) Dr. Van Der Kolk found this to be true in his research and therapists support it today. This therapy helps the client process the trauma and release the past.

Secondly, Van Der Kolk recommends yoga. The brain tends to shut down during a trauma event which leads to numbing. Yoga enables you to reconnect with your body.

Helping Yourself While Healing

Along with therapy, there are several ways an assault survivor can help herself.

photo by Rachel Claire
  • Focus on slowing your breathing when you feel frightened. Your breathing may become irregular when you’re scared, which could lead to panic.
  • Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at something when they’re having a flashback.
  • Tell yourself you’re safe. Write down key phrases ahead of time which you can refer to when you are frightened.
  • Comfort yourself. Curl up in a blanket, listen to soothing music, or cuddle a pet.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down what happens when you have a flashback could help identify patterns in what triggers those experiences. You might also learn to notice early signs that they’re beginning to happen.
  • Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you stay connected to the present. For example, describe your surroundings out loud.

Where Was God?

I’ve heard the anguished question many times as a hospital chaplain and as a therapist, “Where was God when my baby died?” or “Where was God when I was repeatedly raped as a child?” or date raped or…

Fortunately, there have been several books written over the years asking similar questions. These books were written by people wiser than me. For instance, C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain. Philip Yancey wrote Where is God When it Hurts?

In addition, Tim Keller wrote Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. Joni Erikson Tada wrote When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty. One last book by an author I especially admire: Suffering and The Heart of GodHow Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Dianne Langberg, PhD.

These authors have each suffered and/or worked with suffering people.

What I know is sin entered the world in the Garden. With sin came death, evil and destruction. And we have been suffering the consequences to this day.

photo by Lina Trochez

Suffering and The Bible

As one who has suffered, I also am convinced that God never wastes our sorrows, though they may be many. Jesus suffered greatly. He identifies with your suffering.

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

And He comforts us with the comfort that only He can give…if we will accept it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It may be hard to see now, but our sufferings are not comparable to the glory we will see later.

Romans 8:18

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

And His love will never be taken from us.

Romans 8:18

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

And then, when it’s all over…

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Hear this song from a man whose son committed suicide in Nov. 2020.

Resources:

The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis (https://amzn.to/3hwkcbX)

Where is God When It Hurts (https://amzn.to/3hwkz6l)

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (https://amzn.to/3k3kVDc)

When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty (https://amzn.to/3r1rO9p)

Suffering and The Heart of God – How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (https://amzn.to/3qXX8G5)