Are You Being Abused?
How To Tell & Where To Start
Rather listen to the podcast version of this episode? Check it out over at The Spiritual Coaching Dashboard.
This is for women who wonder if their situation is abusive and requires action or not. I had initially intended this to be a three-part series, but that was before yesterday. Yesterday I yet again sat with a wondering woman who felt in her heart she was being mistreated. With her heart broken, her soul crushed, and her dreams all but vanished, she told me story after story after story of cruelty, humiliation, misuse, debasement, and just general unloving mistreatment. Confusion, frustration, discouragement, hurt, and lostness poured out in and around her words.
Still, she was not sure what to do or if she had the right to expect and fight for more. “Is what I tell you normal, is it an expected and unavoidable part of marriage, or is what I feel is wrong really wrong? Should I, can I, draw a proverbial line in the sand and say, “No more?” As I write and reflect back on those few difficult moment, I cannot help but fight back tears for this precious soul. How has it come to this?
In this article, we will consider your next steps:
1. Choose to Fight – Refuse to be his soccer ball.
2. Choose What to Believe – About the Bible’s and psychology’s teaching on abuse.
3. Choose to Tell Your Story – Start small by telling God and work from there.
- Advantage 1 – God Is A Safe Place to Vent
- Advantage 2 – God Will Patiently Listen
- Advantage 3 – God is Love, Close, Listening, Able!
- Tell the Whole Story
- Own the Whole Story
Interested? Want to read more?
An Open Letter to Wondering Women:
How to know when a relationship becomes dangerous & change should become non-negotiable.
When she covered her face, her head dropped and her face turned toward the floor in painful exasperation. Behind her walled up face, she shook her head back and forth as if to say, “I know in my heart that this is wrong, that I do not deserve to be treated this way, but am I right? Please, please do not tell me I’m wrong. I can’t bear hearing that again.”
She Knew… Not
She knew something was wrong. She knew something had to be… Wait, strike that. She did not “know” any of that. She figured it must be wrong, she hoped it was wrong. But no, she did not know for sure if she was asking for too much. She thought that the way her husband spoke and acted toward her was wrong but she was not certain that it was “bad enough” to call it abuse and to do something about it.
She certainly did not know what to do if she concluded she should do something. She feared what family and friends would think or say. She did not know where to turn because everywhere she had turned was a dead end. The voices in her life did not know the answers to the same questions. No one confirmed what she believed in her heart but could not find external corroboration. “Is this normal, is this OK, is this isolation just an expected and unavoidable part of the deal, am I being selfish, am I…”
Compounding the Confusion
What she was told was to stay put and fight for her marriage. I understand the well-meaning but misleading sentiment, but more confusion and uncertainty were all that it created. Since when is fighting for anything the equivalent of doing little or nothing to change the wrong you see around you? I thought that was a lazy, cowardly, insensitive, copout—the opposite of mounting a righteous opposition? Wasn’t what I was seeing before me, as she swallowed the embarrassment to share with me the prison she called life, wasn’t that the fight of a lifetime?!
Since when is fighting for anything the equivalent of doing little or nothing to change the wrong you see around you?
What she and other women know, women who tell their story of abuse while still living in it, is that just sharing their story took a massive dose of courage. See, staying put, doing little or nothing, and hoping he will change, after years of waiting have reduced that hope to nothing, is anything but fighting. It is the classic definition of insanity. Doing what you have always done but expecting different results. Drawing a line in the sand and refusing to live the way she was, while remaining 100% committed to her husband, her vows, and her God, that is putting up a fight! You go girl!
Just Like You
Many hurting wives, like the one I saw yesterday (along with you?), are not sure if what is happening to them is abuse. You suspect something might be “off,” even way off, but you wonder. You think to yourself, “Maybe it’s just me? Maybe it’s my fault? Maybe if I was more submissive? Maybe if I was prettier/skinnier/sexier/smarter/kinder/patient/cooperative… Maybe if I was a better wife/Christian/mother/cook/house cleaner/person… He’s angry at me so maybe it is me who is wrong? Maybe he has good cause to be angry? Maybe he’s the one in the right and has no choice but to scold me? Maybe he’s the one fighting for the marriage? Maybe…”
Drawing a line in the sand… while remaining 100% committed to her husband, her vows, and her God, that is putting up a fight!
When did serving your spouse become synonymous with saying nothing in the face of domestic violence? There is a difference between selflessness, sacrifice, commitment, patience, self-control, understanding, forgiveness… and being treated like a doormat, like a useless, worthless, annoying, stupid, object. Marriage has to be something other than being treated like a soccer ball whose soul purpose in life is to be kicked around, like she’s less than a prostitute who at least gets something out of the attack, like a slave owned by another and trapped in her own home, there is something more she should expect.
Your Next Steps
If you are a woman reading this for some help with your own situation, you could very well be living under abuse… unless you are reading this for a friend… (Or is “reading it for a friend” a slightly vailed excuse to read it for yourself?) If you are a woman/wife and can identify with any of this, if you are asking the same questions, if you are wondering if the constant pain and cruelty are your own abusive prison (or are a counselor who is reading to know how to help others) here are some initial steps to take.
Abuse is much more than simply the long and difficult yet rewarding process of learning to live and work and love together.
1. Choose to Fight
In the story I began with, choosing to fight for something better was fighting for her marriage. Demanding that things change and that she be treated like she is valued and wanted and loved is fighting for her marriage… and herself… and her children.
2. Choose What to Believe
Do not just take it from me or anyone else. I suggest you read or listen to my thoughts then study the Biblical passages yourself (from the three previous episodes) and listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Know what you believe. Then “test” your counselor of choice to make sure their advice will be in keeping with what God has said to you already.
From this “distance” (from you and your story) it is impossible to know if you are a victim of marital or relational abuse. But if you are “wondering” much of the same things I have “wondered” about with you, you owe it to yourself to keep wondering and do some research.
If you are not a Christian you still must decide what is right and wrong.
Reading the previous three articles will certainly begin to reveal the truth. They will also direct you to passages you can and should study. The articles along with your own research will probably be all the information you need to make at least an initial assessment of the relationship in question. If you need more, Google “domestic violence” and read or watch the explanations and testimonials you find. Know what you believe, where your Spirit’s led line-in-the-sand is on this issue?
3. Choose to Tell Your Story
This may be the hardest step of all. It also will, after the the next step, probably be the most helpful and powerful. Since that is likely the case, consider the advice of Darby Strickland that I found in an article to wondering wives.* Start by telling God, then begin a journal and write your story out, let passages of Scripture (especially those found in the poetry of Psalms) give words to your emotions and experiences, then consider telling another (trusted, safe) human being. *(https://www.ccef.org/a-letter-to-wives-who-are-wondering-is-it-abuse/?)
There are many advantage of beginning to recount your story to God, here are a quick 3:
To begin by telling God is a slow but certain start that helps you stand face-to-face with the truth you need to admit. The beauty of beginning with God is that there will be no judgement there, no gossip, nor can speaking the truth kept silent for so long pollute his heart or taint another’s reputation in his estimation. He already knows the truth you have yet to acknowledge. He knows better than you the person you point your finger at. Your complaint cannot be anything to him but precious.
The beauty of beginning with God is that there will be no judgement, gossip, nor… fear of tainting another’s reputation.
There is something powerful about the truth. There is also something helpful in having to think through and organize your thoughts enough to speak in sentences. God does not need coherent communication to hear and answer. More on that in a minute. But the effort of formulating ideas into (somewhat!) coherent expression so another can understand your experiences and feelings is good practice for following steps.
Telling God may also be the first time you have talked about it, really opened up and risked facing the truth, or even really understood for ourselves what you think and feel about your story. God will wait, listen, and even help you gain clarity, help you sort things out, and help you see what has been hidden or unknown to you. He give wisdom and direction to those who ask. And he will not prematurely rush in like may people before hearing your whole story and the wounds you carry and begin to tell you what he thinks.
Here is another advantage of beginning with God. You do not need sentences! If all you can reach inside yourself is the pain and anger and hurt, and all you can muster are groans and tears, he knows your heart, sentences or no sentences. Your weeping and confusion and loneliness and hopelessness and fear are your sentences.
God loves you, is close by, and is able to interpret any communication you direct his way, unintelligible by human standards or not! He is never confused and never misjudges or misunderstand or draws a blank or struggles to know what we think or feel when he hears our prayer.
Whether a fearful whisper, angry shout, mumbled complaint, silent pain, desperate need, or unspoken dream, God is so close, cares so much, and is so powerful that anything said, when nothing is said, and what is only felt, is known by him. We cannot fool or lie to him, but we also cannot ever be out of his sight or mind. He may wait till you talk to him to answer your needs, but he never forgets, fumbles, or fails to get your needs right. Begin with God, is that not the best and safest place to start anyway?
God is so close, cares so much, and is so powerful that anything said, when nothing is said, and what is only felt, is known by him.
You have to tell your story. In order to tell your story you have to know your story and be willing to speak it even when it sounds crazy, unbelievable, petty, or if you have no idea how it sounds. Inherent in telling your story, is telling it, all of it, truthfully.
If half told or couched in half truth, it is half a story, a made up story, and not your story. No more spin, excuses, justifications, half-truth, partially told or totally fabricate to “protect the innocent,” or the guilty. It is time to stop the denial and step into what is, whatever it is. It is the only path to change.
If half told or couched in half truth, it is half a story, a made up story, and not your story.
Brené Brown, a researcher and writer on shame, vulnerability, and wholeness says,**
- • We can’t smooth over hurt feelings in our families. It’s too easy for stockpiled hurt to turn into rage, resentment, and isolation. We must talk about it. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re tired.
- • We can’t pretend our family histories of addiction and mental health issues don’t exist if our hope is to write a new story and pass that legacy of emotional honesty and health down to our children.
- • We must own our failures and mistakes so that we can learn and grow. It’s hard but I’ve seen how it becomes part of a family and organizational cultures and unleashes innovation and creativity. It doesn’t feel comfortable, but courage rarely does… Owning our stories is standing in our truth.” **(https://brenebrown.com/blog/2015/06/18/own-our-history-change-the-story)
I think she is exactly right. Telling the whole story is a critical step, but it has to be followed by owning it. No more pretending or avoidance or self-pity or denial. Own what is. Deceiving yourself and others about it does not change it, nor will it allow the future to change.
Once you get a little comfortable having told and retold it to God, the same story and all the worst parts over and over again, or finally the whole story, begin to write. Committing it to hard copy helps make it more real. It helps further the process of self-discovery and finally putting it behind us. It also provides a place to recount ongoing abuse as new instances occur, either for yourself and your ongoing chats with God, with a counselor eventually, or even, God forbid, with authorities. It will help when the day comes that you decide to open up your story to another human being or are somehow forced to do so in desperation, calculated tactic, or self-defense.
Deceiving yourself and others about it does not change it, nor will it allow the future to change.
4. Choose God’s Help & Healing
It is my belief that healing from the wounds of abuse is something only God can provide. Yet another reason to begin to talk about your story with God. As the Designer and Creator of your invisible self, he knows how it works, how to keep it healthy, and how to heal it. Healing from abuse is swapping open wounds for scars. There will always be reminders and memories. But you can live a healthy life with a scar, but open wounds that need protection and tons a watchful care hamper and limit your mobility and adventures. If you have tried to move beyond the abuse but healing has never come, is sensitivity that sabotages new relationships persists, if fear that keeps you from even trying to connect closely with another human is a nagging and perpetual problem, you may want to consider God. Which is why I will give you this final step.
But you can live a healthy life with a scar, but open wounds… hamper and limit your mobility and adventures.
5. Choose Helpful Help
Listen carefully here. You need to choose someone who has experience with abuse cases. Someone who can be trusted both with the information you share and to give Biblical advice. But Biblical advice that is not removed from its context. Or not blurred and distorted by the standard approach (which is nigh unto abusive itself) that the church has been guilty of offering for decades. (See previous articles/podcasts.)
I suggest you choose a Christian counselor with this caveat. Make sure they are a Christian before they are a “secular” clinician. Some professed Christian counselors are Christians who give the same counsel as a non-Christ-follower would (which is good but incomplete from a Spiritual perspective). They may sprinkle in a few verses or the name of God. But I am talking about someone who holds to a Biblical standard of holiness, who uses the Bible to interpret secular culture and convictions, not the other way around. It may take some work, and that may prolong your situation, but finding the right counselor is critical.
6. Don’t Trust Your Own Judgement Alone
Allow me to tell you a quick story to make my point. I began this article a couple weeks ago right after a particularly difficult counseling session, as I mentioned above. Well, it happened again! Two days ago. Here is what I heard—and have heard many times over—again as this distraught woman wept into her hands. “I’ve been in abusive relationships before. I thought I knew how to recognize it. I told myself I’d never put myself in that situation again. I was sure I would be able to prevent the reoccurrence myself. How, how have I ended up here again?” It was hard for her to admit, it was hard to hear due to the pain and frustration and hopelessness she emoted, and it very typical and (psychologically) understandable.
I could take some time to explain the psychology behind her question and assure you that she is neither stupid or crazy. That it is quite normal and that ending up back in abuse is predictable and logical. I will however refrain from doing that by saying that a wounded heart will not be able to protect itself from the same wound happening again. From within our own story we are blind and biased. Wellness gives must better vision. And wellness usually connects you with someone outside your story who has the perspective and experience needed to stop a reputation of the mistake.
7. Choose Where to Stand
Assuming you come to the conclusion that your treatment is wrong and something needs to be done, where is your line-in-the-sand? Is getting out and getting safe already necessary? Do you need to begin to warn your spouse or partner that things are going to need to change? Do you need to begin to have a conversation to see if they will engage with you, listen to you, grant you your point of view, validate your feelings, and genuinely show some care for you? Or are you already there?
If this is the third or fourth time you have had to get up your courage to stand up for yourself, do not ask any of those questions. It is time to do something. Having a voice other than your own to confirm and support your desire for a better relationship and life, as long as those voices are not simply commiserating with you and aggravating things, will be invaluable.
So, number six comes back into play. Not only will good counsel help you make an accurate determination about your situation, but it offers invaluable guidance in the fight to extricate yourself from abuse, walk through recovery, wisely consider reconciliation, and either follow God into the best life you could ever dream of, or out of your current situation and into a alternative path to that overflowing life.
As a counselor, I have almost never had a wife who was trapped in an abusive marriage come to me with her questions and confusion about real abuse before she is at least 5-10 years into the marriage. Usually it is more like 15 or 20 years in, if not more.
Strangely, for Christian wives, it is on the long end before they speak. The way some describe how a godly wife should act, and the Scriptures they use to support their view, they exacerbate the confusion and prolong the agony instead of bringing clarity, hope and real help. They use misleading and unbiblical ideas about divorce, submission, purity, and faith. (For classic verses that are used this way read 1Peter 3:1-6, which is often used without any reference to verses 7-12, applied to both spouses.)
The guilt this creates, the shame it elicits, the fear, the hiding, the confusion, the bitterness, toward their husband and God, all that allows abuse under the guise of godliness is horrible counsel that creates a deplorable and unbiblical situation. Yes, there is a difference between submission and respect, and abuse and domestic violence. No, the former two do not include or condemn a godly women to endure (happily, willingly, sacrificially…) the later two.
If reading this before the previous three articles on divorce, domestic violence, God, and the Bible, and have more questions than you have (satisfying) answers, go back and read or listen to clarify what I am and am not saying. If you have read much Christian literature on these and related subjects, these articles should help you ask the right questions to discover if you have asked the right questions!
On the next blog… We will begin to tackle a theology of pain, including the necessity of pain, the 3 kinds of pain that make up the 3 gauges on the dashboard of life, coping mechanisms used to avoid pain, the problems that those coping mechanism eventually create, and Jesus’ prescription for facing pain. We will move from there into the connected subject of self-awareness and a new-old tool for becoming more tuned in to the inner workers of our own soul.