The Abuser’s Best Kept Secret

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If you or someone you know is living with an abuser, he or she is overwhelmed.

Even if no force is involved, confusion and  isolation combine to reinforce fear.

High levels of fear immobilize. And that is what the abuser wants. At least on the surface. But we have to go deeper if we are to begin to see a path out.

Reactions to Fear

Standard ways of dealing with fear are fight, flight, freeze and fawn. You may have tried all of these without relief.

An abuser may intimidate through threats of violence, removing fight as an effective response. It is not wise to physically confront someone stronger than you.

He (or she) will block avenues of escape, so flight is not an option.  Isolation is a tool for this.

Confusion often shows up as freezing.  The goal is to remove the ability to process what is happening. The abuser will always be right, always criticize the target’s thinking and feeling.You can’t do anything right, according to the abuser.

Gaslighting makes those targeted feel they can’t trust themselves and keeps them bewildered, immobilized.

Finally the victim is reduced to fawning, using flattery and self-betrayal to ward off attacks. Each time they betray themselves to survive, they lose another piece of the self-respect they need to fight. And so each one of the responses to fear are shut down. Eventually blocking self-protection creates physical illnesses on top of emotional and mental depletion.

So what is left?

Discover His Secret

What doesn’t he want you to know?

The abuser is a parasite. You are the host. The abuser is a bully. You have what s/he wants.The abuser is a liar. You must begin to counter the lies in your mind.

And in the case of a religious abuser, you have to disregard any appeal to God or religious texts used to keep you in bondage.

He is a hypocrite, using God’s name only to control you because he knows your faith is important to you. Like all wisdom literature, the Bible has abstract  ideas which are open to interpretation.

While you can find many comforting and strengthening verses, the aim of an abuser is to turn verses he emphasizes to gaslight you. He wants to escape responsibility and leave you believing that escape will send you to hell forever.

Church leaders who put the church’s image ahead of your survival might shield the abuser.

Find Your Ace

What can you do when you feel surrounded? 

You can counter this wrongful use of your faith by educating yourself on religious domestic abuse, removing some of the confusion. This removes some of the fear. You can then seek support, removing some freezing isolation.

You can stop some fawning with verbal self-defense. You can then consider flight. Whatever you do, though, you can’t help him because he does not respect you.

How do I know this about abusers? Because I learned it and successfully used it to escape religious domestic abuse.

 Understanding I had power turned the tables on my fear and gave me an Ace to play.

An abuser needs a victim

You see, in all history, the oppressor depends on the oppressed. An abuser needs a victim. People who want to misuse others depend on the other person’s desire not to be like them. They know idealistic people don’t want to retaliate. They want to forgive or be the “bigger person” in the relationship.Some man-made doctrines want to keep women controlled. They may even teach women to accept abuse as a path of salvation or being Christ-like.

If the oppressed can identify what the oppressor needs the most, you will discover what your leverage is. And you will start to feel stronger and glimpse a way to get free.

That’s why abusers are masters of image manipulation. They don’t want anyone to see the reality of who they are.

In my case, I realized the years of ministry, prayer and Bible study were a smokescreen for what my husband wanted: control of my money.Most abusers want control, sex , money or all three. My husband of course married me to have the first two, but the one he wanted the most was money.

What is the consistent demand that your abuser makes? What is at the root of all the other demands? What is he afraid of?

He intimidates you to keep you from realizing his dependence on you. In fact he is afraid of that dependence.For example, while it may seem unbelievable, I was actually glad when my husband found a mistress.

That was because she had money. Earlier in the marriage, I would have felt to blame if he had sought out another woman. But now I was so ready to leave that,  instead of moaning and pleading for him to stay, I realized she could distract him while I made plans to escape.

If the abuser can be provided a way to save face, look like the winner, and discover another supplier, escaping is easier.

Stop believing him. It’s a game to him, and like all games, your opponent’s moves are more important than what he says. Actions speak louder than words.

Some games and counters are explained in the Redemption from Biblical Battering workbook or other advocacy resources. Advocates also understand the game. They can help you discover more cards to play.

But for now, your task is to identify your Ace.

He isn’t the strong one.

You are for being able to operate under a vicious and prolonged captivity.

Tred carefully but know you have more cards to play than you thought.

A Second Tool: Labeling

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Abusers deliberately create chaos, bewilderment and confusion. This helps them avoid  responsibility for their behaviors by constantly blaming someone else. Their partners begin to feel they deserve the mistreatment.

They use no-wins, deflection and projection to blame their victims and tell them they deserve the mistreatment.

A no-win demand or double-bind statement is one in which, no matter what you choose, you will lose. Sometimes these are known as Catch 22s.  Biblical battering itself is based on a primary no-win: by  forbidding a woman to leave an abusive marriage and condemning her if she does, she loses both ways. If she stays, she gets mistreated by her husband. If she leaves, she gets mistreated by her church.

Double-standards are related to double-binds. A double-standard means that privilege, ability or power is allowed one person and not the other who is an equal partner. For example, your partner expects to be able to not come home at night but calls you or tracks you from your work to your home and forbids you to go out with friends.

Deflecting means avoiding admitting his behavior by accusing you of not being obedient or some other label not related to his behavior. You may ask him why he is late and he begins to harangue you about the floor needing to be swept. Some men habitually raise their voice and act upset to intimidate their partners so they don’t have to ever explain. His reaction goes beyond what is involved in the situation.

Projecting means that he will accuse or blame you for what is true of him. Margery’s husband routinely accused her of being unfaithful, which created enormous pain for her. She found out years later he was cheating at those times when he would accuse her.

These are common and regular in the daily life of the abusive relationship

Any realistic expectation for healthy relationship will come under attack. It would expect him to take responsibility in the relationship, which limits his power or control. He is only interested in a one-way interaction with you. No-wins, deflections or projections accuse you of not being submissive or obedient. He knows this idea is important to your faith system. These are effective methods to create your sense of worthlessness because you can’t do anything right to please him.

What patterns do you see in your relationship? Are there standards that are hurtful or demoralizing? 

 If a person is regularly “locked into” a no-win about a variety of issues with a person they care about, it will wear them down, which is the purpose. 

Margery donated most of her salary to his “missionary” work yet he screamed if she spent any money. She finally had to face that he wanted to be free to spend money in any way he wanted without any accountability. “God gave you the ability to earn that money,” he said. “You owe it to give it back to God.” There was one standard for his use of our money and another for Margery, that is, she was not to have any use.

Too often the concept of “obedience” has been used to browbeat the women in a relationship. It has been used as a tool for any demand, no matter how unreasonable. Obedience does not require losing your health, your sanity, your peace, your overall ability to care for your children if you have them. Obedience is an easy weapon for a tyrant to wield to get his way without having to justify it. This is not the concept of obedience that Jesus taught.

Take some time to look objectively at what happens when you obey or when he says you deserve the abuse. Often what happens is that, even if you obey, it will not change his abusive behavior to you. That tells you that his main goal is creating fear, guilt and shame to maintain his power and control. It also tells you that you do not deserve the abuse, because you are doing your best to be a loving supportive wife.

Practice redefining and relabeling the accusations and charges made by looking at what is reasonable. This will free you from believing you somehow deserve abuse.

Redefining and Relabeling

List the words or phrases he uses.  For each one, identify the tactic.  These contain broad labels and do not have facts. Example: burning toast does not make you a lousy wife.

Is this a _____no win/double bind _____deflection _____ projection?

You can tell by your lurching gut feeling when these are not true of you. They feel foreign and are not how you behave. An objective observer would confirm this. Challenge each one in your mind by redefining or redirecting them.

Example:  “You never listen to me. I try and try but you keep on being a faithless, unbelieving and disobedient wife.”

Redefine, redirect in your mind: “Is it true that I never listen to him? I agree with him, ask him questions, try to comfort him. In fact, it is only when I don’t agree with him that he says I don’t listen to him and accuses me with these labels.”

“It is not disobedient to be who I am. He said when he married me, he loved me just the way I am. It is not possible for anyone in a relationship to be the only one responsible for the trouble as he says I am. Obedience does not keep him from mistreating me.  He is increasingly demanding I obey him as a god rather than God.”

“What he seems really to be saying is that obeying him means always having things his way, and even if I try that, he still hurts me. This is not the mutual support of a healthy relationship. It is not what God gave as a guide for us.”

Relabel: “When he accuses me of being disobedient, I realize it is because he wants his way all the time. When he accuses me of being faithless, it is because he means I shouldn’t question any of his desires. When he accuses me of being unbelieving, it is because I am not ‘believing’ only his version of things. If he can continue to use my belief in God to make me feel bad or like a failure, it isn’t good for me.”

How often does he use no-wins/double binds?  ______regularly        _______once in a while              ______ rarely

How often does he deflect? ___________regularly  _______once in a while   _____ rarely

How often does he project? ____________regularly_______once in a while    _____rarely

_____Withholding____Countering___ Discounting_____Blocking and diverting______Accusation and blame-______Judging and criticizing ______Trivializing and undermining– _____Name calling_____Ordering– _____Deliberate forgetting or denial– ____Abusive anger– _____Threatening– _____

Which verbal abuse methods are being used?

Is this behavior part of   fear ______guilt ____, shame,____ enforcing power____ or control ______?

Is this behavior part of a belief in  male privilege______, women are morally inferior and cannot trust their own judgement_______, suffering is a Christian virtue, especially for women, ____forgiveness and reconciliation are a woman’s duty.________

Which classic abusive behaviors are happening?

Isolation____Intimidation_____Threats_____Using Children___Sexual Abuse___Economic Abuse___Emotional Abuse___Physical Abuse____Spiritual Abuse______

What parts of your faith experience or relationship with God are being threatened ?