Clarifying Concepts: Faith

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“Now faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” I Cor 13:13

Of these three, hope is probably the least vague or problematic for women in destructive relationships. In fact, hope keeps her going. Through the skillful use of intermittent reinforcement, a woman continues to hope  her abuser will change, that if she can just hold on or do more, she will be delivered from the nightmare she is living.

Intermittent reinforcement is the carrot and stick method of bondage. The abuser is romantic, kind, insisting he cannot live without her.  Then some minor mishaps occurs and he flies into a rage that she is the stupidest woman he has ever met. This cycle of escalation-outburst-honeymoon keeps hope alive in the woman. If he can be so loving part of the time, she berates herself, the other times must be her fault. Surely God will show her how she must change to stop this torment.

We all need hope in the good or a better tomorrow to keep going. But this kind of hope relies on a denial of reality. It is too hard to admit that his behavior is deliberate and not her fault.

Love also has many meanings. When an abuser says he loves a victim, he means she seems ideal to use. Other ideas of respect,  honor, compassion, and commitment are not included in his definition, although they are in hers.

But perhaps the most frequently misused concept overall is faith. In fact, six faith concepts are examined in my self-help workbook, Redemption from Biblical Battering, which contribute to a believing victim’s confusion.

So when the word “faith” is used itself in verbal abuse, it is like having all six lobbed at you like a tennis ball machine. The more vague a woman is about what this concept means to her, the more an abuser can use Bible verses or ideas about faith against her.

Faith is often used in six of the verbal abuse categories: countering, discounting, blocking/diverting, accusation and blame, name-calling, and  judging/criticizing.

Below are some of the most popular quotes about faith and some of the ways they are misused as verbal abuse. And some of the ways you can counter these, even if only mentally and not aloud verbally.

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Cor. 5:7 – the abuser may counter  your need for answers or accountability by quoting this. You can counter this by explaining your faith is in God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, by faith, and his is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9- may be used by the abuser to deflect if you want some acknowledgement or recognition of your efforts to obey and be productive, thinking this will free you from his insults. You can counter this by asserting you have the gift of faith and don’t boast.

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. James 2: 24 – may be used by the abuser in the same way to discount your rightful desire for acknowledgement. This is a great verse to turn around on the abuser by citing his works are not developing much confidence in him.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Heb 11:1- may be used to criticize you if you ask for some accountability in his actions. You can counter by you have confidence that God wants you to be respected and loved.

Your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. I Cor. 2:5- may be used to accuse you or call you faithless if you ask abuser to contribute his part in the relationship. You can counter that you don’t have faith in the abuser’s  “wisdom.”

You can deal with these tactics? As with all the other tools, maturing your concepts into a clear understanding of what they mean provides a shield against using these ideas to insult or demean you. Combine clear concepts with assertive skills.

Of course, the inventiveness of the abuser in misusing faith concepts is ongoing. But combining clarity of concepts with assertive communication is a shield.

Faith is the evidence of what we have not seen because it is based on what we have seen. That is, we have experience that when we ask for help, we receive it. Therefore when we ask for help again, we can expect to get it.

Faith is not anti-intellectual. Faith is not magical thinking. Faith is not to be placed in people.

Faith is trust that the God in who we live, move and have our being will provide for our lives. God provided an earth that had food we would like before we even knew what we liked or were here.

We trust or believe or have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. If we had never experienced the sun rising, we would not have faith or trust or belief that it would again.

So faith is based on the experience of the nature of God in our lives. It is very personal and not a subject for anyone else to use against us to insult us.

“Don’t you have faith?” “You’re being faithless”  are merely coercive mind games to guilt you into doing what the abuser wants. Your faith is in God, not your abuser and you can certainly feel free to say so.

Your abuser certainly does not have faith, or he would not be trying to coerce you through fear, guilt, power and control.

And if he falls back on that old ploy of his standing in for the Lord, you can say you don’t believe in idolatry.

Have faith and be free!

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 ?