A Toxic Matrix

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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.

Easter and Domestic Abuse

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One of the most important ways in which my faith matured in the course of escaping domestic abuse in the name of God was the application of eternal life to the situation.

The way that the Bible and faith concepts were hurled against me was contrary to Jesus’ message and example, his demonstration that believers had the power of life over death.

They enforced a view of me and women generally as second- class souls. We were believing Christians, but the promise of the redemption and resurrection were somehow not fully ours.

Instead we had to keep earning our right to be treated with dignity, respect, and hardly ever the love we had been promised both in our vows and in the gospel.

The idea that my husband, a minister, was my Lord standing over me as head between me and Christ was scarcely different in the fundamentalist view than in the Catholic one in which I had been raised. The only difference was that instead of the priest between me and God, my husband was granted the responsibility.

This was one of the teachings I had left the Catholic faith over, citing the teaching to call no man Father.

Yet here I was being told that I must obey my husband who was a proxy for Christ  in our marriage.

But he certainly wasn’t acting like Christ. In fact there were many nonbelievers who had better marriages that we did.

Finally after years of begging, pleading, turning myself inside out to please, asking God in prayer for answers, I changed my prayer.

Instead of asking to change me so he would stop the abuse, I prayed to either change him or get me out of there.

The answer came. I was to leave because Christ did not die for me to live like this.

My own personal resurrection. Thanks be to God.

New Recovery Workbook

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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.