Domestic Abuse Syndrome is a recognizable cycle with common behaviors among the men who abuse.*
Women often ask themselves how they become entrapped in their sinister dance of danger and sometimes even death. They blame themselves as they become exhausted trying to resolve problems with their partners.
No one would say that women are taught to accept abuse. But as with many ideas, a failure to follow an idea to its logical conclusion hides the effects that can be drawn from it.
My experience is that cultural expectations about women’s responsibilities contain the seeds and account for the persistence of these traumas. Churches can play an important if unaware role in conveying these expectations.
Outside those churches that teach submission, women won’t hear the actual words that they should accept abuse. However a predator has tools in pervasive messages given to women throughout their lives.
The first message is that their worth is defined by their relationship with a man.
That second message is that the success of the relationship is their responsibility.
Out of these messages come two strong positive expectations that a predator can turn into weapons.
The first expectation is that a good woman helps others.
The second expectation is that a good woman forgives others.
Helping and forgiving are seen as two primary ways she ensures the success of the relationship. However there is not as strong an expectation that her partner will do the same. Instead she may feel like she has to set herself on fire to warm other people. The matrix of these messages and expectations create a prison which traps a woman who does not question their all-or-nothing standards
They lead to two strong and pervasive fears: the fear of rejection (abandonment) and the fear of failure.
Interviews with abusers reveal that they often get their way by threatening to leave the woman. A financially dependent woman is seriously jeopardized by such a threat. A mother with children is seriously threatened.
A man leaving a relationship is often seen as a failure of his partner. The idea of “she can’t keep her man” is embedded in our culture.
A woman who has been raised with a definition of her worth and success based on helping and forgiving will need help seeing the limitations of these ideas when they are presented without exceptions.
We all want to belong and be loved. Abused women have been betrayed by a partner who said they cherish them. Women who give everything emotionally to their partners are cut to the core if their devotion is not reciprocated. They feel they have failed at their major purpose in life. Some feel they have failed as a woman.
The abuser is using an emotional carrot and stick to keep her confused and trapped.
This is what can fuel the cycle of honeymoon – escalation-explosion and makes it so hard to break.
If a woman can take her hurt and sorrow and step back for just a moment, she can ask herself if these two fears are fueling her one-sided struggle to make the relationship work.
She can ask herself if it is realistic to expect anyone to always help and forgive another without any limitation.
She can ask herself if it makes sense that, in a relationship of two people, she is the only one has all the responsibility for making it work.
She can ask herself if it is true that she failed the person who she supported wholeheartedly.
Unraveling these unconscious and unreasonable expectations of women in relationships is an important awareness. Women who cannot be everything to someone have no guilt or shame to bear.
They have not failed. They have simply been operating on false ideas which a predator finds ideal to use in their oppression.
If someone who says they care for her does not honor her needs and wants, that someone is not anyone she has failed. They have failed her.
Expectations of no-limit giving or a lack of personal boundaries create pain for her, no matter who has taught this role. By stepping back, examining the pain can be a doorway to her recovering her worth.
The pain makes it clear it is not failure to not be able to do the impossible. Denying needs does not create love in a relationship.
She can permit herself to be less than everything in a relationship. Reciprocal respect and regard are the foundation of a mutually caring relationship. Abusers have proven they will not provide these while they are allowed to misuse their partner.
*In every study, men are consistently 85-90% of the abuser population.
We looked in the last post of some of the reasons that churches across the doctrinal spectrum have been slow or reluctant to help the 1 in 4 women of faith in their congregation who are in destructive relationships.
Churches derive their power from their claim that they represent Christ’s message on earth.
Their history is one of organizing and transmitting the legacy of Jesus Christ in the world.
Jesus is presented as the Savior, the One Who, once followed, takes our heavy burdens upon Himself and provides a never-ending source of support, love and forgiveness.
Indeed, the claim is that once people accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will be redeemed – made new. A transformation is to take place. A new birth, a new creature is now operating in the world.
What happens to the church’s message when this doesn’t happen?
In the slide toward political power and social approval, churches left themselves without recourse when members fall short, not in small human foibles, but in gross behaviors which even non-believers may not condone.
Such is the current fallout with sexual abuse and other extreme violations of human dignity. Discussing views on how the church got sex wrong will be held for another post, but the dilemma the church faces over members who fall below a decent not to mention Christian claim to character is a major challenge.
If the standard of character transformation is no longer a sign of accepting redemption, the church is left with the watered- down tea of social pressure and lip service.
When not just members but leaders are shown to have fed upon the fold rather than nourish them, the party line is left with nothing but condemnation. Sin becomes the focus and not relationship with God. Cries of “kick them out” arise. There is no mercy for the twice-sinned. Members turn upon each other. Traumatic house- cleaning commences.
The application of forgiveness of sins becomes problematic when narcissistic manipulation protects the predator and condemns the victim. This is the reverse of what Jesus taught. Protecting the institution becomes more important than genuine repentance but this is only cliff hanging.
The church is left with the dilemma of admitting they have been a sham show or closing ranks. What would Jesus do?
Here we are left with His disdains for the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. He did not mince words for them and instead preferred people who knew they were in trouble, needed help and were grateful when they got it.
Mock repentence in order to hold onto to position and power are not Christ-like. When churches encourage a view that we are better than those who are unsaved, they have painted themselves into a corner if the betters are less than the lowers.
The window out of the corner is to abandon the false foundation and start over.
The foundation crumbled when a static rather than a dynamic view of salvation was used to build.
In the static view, salvation remains outside the person and he still remains a worthless person, relying on Jesus outside of himself for viability. Eternal groveling is required. “Rejoicing” in what Jesus has done for me or to me, not in me, is the membership card. It becomes a system that praises suffering and death. Emotional pathology can be encouraged as pain becomes pleasure. There is glee in righteous gore.
In the dynamic view of salvation, Christ within is the hope of glory. An original worthlessness is not required to grow into a fullness of life. Indeed Christ is followed because of higher dimensions of being human. God’s Spirit lives in each person and is pleased with growth and development, harmony, peace, and continual well-being. God is not anti-human. Christ shows what is possible and invites people to do it.
In this view of salavtion, church members are not focused on social status and political power (externals) and concentrate on the power of compassion for fellow human beings who hold Christ within (internal). They don’t hire “professional Christians” to do their faith for them or tell them the right way to do it.
That’s what Jesus did.
The church must not go away sorrowful, like the rich young ruler, when asked to follow Jesus. Nor should they organize around power which becomes the lure for scam artists. Rather they must reclaim gender equality in leadership and use consensus to create community so that everyone is empowered and no one is excluded. There are models, such as recovery groups, that emulate the early house churches.
Being human is not what backed the church into its corner. Pretending superiority is: members better than outsiders; men better than women. A static view of salvation leaves people fighting over manna. It is horrible to see a church torn apart as finger pointing becomes more vicious. Hurling attacks about who is the “genuine” follower is not the path of peace. Neither repentance nor forgiveness are acts that can be commanded on schedule.
Once trust has been betrayed, it is better for the hurt and the ones who hurt to receive therapy and healing and maybe not together. Often the church will have to disband. It takes time. If we are graced, a genuine group of people who want to follow Jesus will reemerge. Love is the doctrine.
The 30 pieces are never worth it.
More awareness of gender abuse within church groups has become news recently. Doctrinal groups both reflect and shape the culture they are in.
Groups like Christian for Biblical Equality, FaithTrust Institute, and Twitter voices such as #savedfromthe silence, #defendthe sheep, #churchtoo, #emptythepews and others are witnessing that church is not always safe for women.
During Domestic Violence month, I want to point out that an estimated 25% of church women are abused in their homes. They stay longer because of wrestling with faith questions.
Although prevalence seems to be higher in conservative religions, enforcement of patriarchy as God’s will is not limited to these groups. Many books are now coming out about the struggle to maintain faith within a system that does not honor the equality of women.
However, I did not find a self-help recovery workbook to help women sort out the complex and subtle pressures to keep them in an abusive relationship within some churches.
That is why I am happy to report that my workbook, Redemption from Biblical Battering, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. I hope you will consider it when you meet a woman of faith who thinks she must choose between her faith and her marriage.