Easter: Now or When?

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“Christ didn’t die for me to live like this!”

The realization came upon me one day as I was struggling with domestic abuse from a minister I had married.

As a young woman, I maintained a conviction that the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lived in me and my essential spirit was eternal.

That was the spirit that kept fighting the abuse. The faith in love and goodness overcoming kept me fighting. But I didn’t understand that reasoning could not overcome insanity.

A man who beats his pregnant wife is insane.

A man who tries to poison her drinking water is insane.

A man who justifies mistresses with the story of David has broken his vow.

A man who enforces prayer each morning and hatred each night is using coercive control.

And it took me years to understand that trying to make a relationship work with such a man was something only God could do. I could not..

A few years before this, I heard a woman say, “If you pray to be crucified with Jesus, you will be.”

The doctrine of imitating Christ by seeking out unnecessary suffering is not God’s will.

The doctrine that we must be locked into an abusive relationship because of a vow is an invention of men using God’s name.

Man-made doctrine is toxic. It is built to control women for the ego of men.

Abuse in the name of God is still abuse.

And so, when will your Easter come?

Is your faith static or dynamic? Does it exalt suffering or the abundant life in the gospel?

The Christ spirit of life was demonstrated by Jesus.

The Christ spirit within raised Jesus. It didn’t leave him in the tomb.

It doesn’t leave you there either.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you it does.

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.

The Key to Your Door

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The Key to Your Door.

Those of us who were in a destructive relationship know the strength it takes to cope with those who don’t understand. We often would hear, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Often those who say this won’t help. They don’t understand the pressures to stay.

Isolation

Lack of money

Violence

All powerful external forces working to keep us trapped.

And as long as I focused on those, I felt tormented and helpless.

The shift that turned the key to unlock those doors began within me. My bottom line. The straw on my back.

And that is what the abuser fears the most.  That is why he began and continues to work to demoralize you. He knows you are powerful.

What was that shift?

Conviction.

Conviction of the core truth about me. Whatever the central button was that he would push, that’s the one I began to affirm the truth about.

I stopped believing the lies.

Each time he hurled an accusation – an insult – a condemnation at me, I had to affirm the truth about me.

My prayer changed. I used to ask God to change me or him. That prayer wasn’t being answered after 15 years. That’s because it wasn’t God’s will.

Now I silently asked God to show me the way to get out. That prayer began being answered.

This practice kept me going as I found

Support

Money

And a way to escape Violence.

Here are some common falsehoods that keep women of faith trapped. These must be overcome to access the strength you need to get out and stay out.

  • Few understand that we may not think of ourselves as victims. Instead we may think we are taking the high road morally.
  • We may have been conditioned to value the ability to suffer, thinking we are pleasing God. We may be praised as “longsuffering” or “patient”.
  • We may be tolerating the abuser’s extra affairs, telling ourselves we will not give in to jealousy – “like other women”.
  • We may believe we have an unlimited amount of forgiveness, emulating the teaching of “70 x 7” verse.
  • We may have been taught to look to our life in heaven.
  • We may have been told we will go to hell if we divorce.
  • We may fear losing social status, asking “What will others think?”
  • We may believe we should stay “for the kids”.
  • We may believe we can keep a relationship going without the other person doing his part.

All of these ideas are not only untrue, they harm us. And they allow the abuser to continue without any consequences while we grow steadily weaker.

It is not pleasing to God to enable sinful behavior in our partners.

It is not God’s will to be yoked with someone who harms us.

It is not our job to earn salvation by suffering: Jesus already did that.

Men have perverted absolute ideals about living the spiritual life into locks that keep us in bondage. They never hold the same standards for themselves.

In this way, they get to do what they want and we pay the price in the name of God.

When I began mentally converting each statement made to keep me down into its opposite, I became stronger in my conviction not to live this way anymore. I knew Jesus did not die so I would live like this.

I used the weapons hurled against me to strengthen me. For example, if he said I was lazy, I reviewed the work I had done that day. If he said I was a derelict mother, I knew the love in my heart that I had shown my children that day.

It’s useless to argue but I can keep my mind on the truth.

And I stopped trying to change his mind, correct him, make him understand, or any other wasted effort that were not my job, no matter who told me it was. I committed  him to God and stopped trying to do what only God could do.

Eventually, this practice did more than stop the demoralization.

It opened doors so I could leave.

It kept me going in that difficult first year out of the marriage with three small children.

I believe God moves for those seeking righteousness.

Leaving an abuser is a move toward righteousness.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found money when we needed it.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found food when we didn’t have any.

Listening for God’s guidance, I got transportation to work after my husband took the car.

Claiming God’s promises, I ignored pressures to return.

Claiming God’s promises, my children no longer lived in emotional terror.

Claiming God’s promises, I found competent trauma counseling to recover.

Claiming God’s promises, I rejected those who would try to enforce guilt, fear or intimidation on me.

Don’t let the lies in. Fortify your mind and heart with encouraging and comforting truths.  “Gird up your loins of your mind” I Peter 1:13.

Get those who understand to help you. There is always a way but rarely a good time to do it. We just have to make plans, take Christ’s hand and step out on faith.

But first we have to find the key in your mind and heart. What is the core belief you need to tap into determination? Courage is not the absence of fear but acting in spite of it.

You have it within. Hold someone’s hand, turn the key in your lock 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 ?

The Battered Women of Faith: Reality vs Myth

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Do you wonder why church leaders or members don’t help the 1 in 4 abused women of faith in their congregations? Here are 4 possible reasons.

Myth One: She’s weak.

Predators are drawn to idealistic, strong and caring women. The church can be a field day for them to find potential victims. Believing women want to help others, relieve distress, give (too many) chances, and share their resources.

Rather than being weak, the Christian woman’s ideal of forbearance or perseverance will keep her trying to figure out how to change herself or help her abuser.

Those who criticize her for these strengths are not taking into consideration that these are the very traits she has been raised to display and are overlooking the fact that the church does not support her being any other way. Instead they are more likely to tell her to repent.

Myth Two: She’s Unintelligent

A mature faith is not blind but too much reasoning and questioning is not encouraged in some dogmatic churches. Indeed, believers are urged to “lean not unto your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) or “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways  my ways, says the Lord.” (Is. 55:8) 

Abusers or controlling church leaders are quick to discourage a woman from questioning. Indeed the above verses can be used to discourage her from questioning her husband or pastor.

A woman has to defy what she is conditioned to do in many churches. She has to question, trust her intuition and inner voice, and grow in her faith in spite of resistance from members or leaders as well as her abusive husband.

Myth Three: She just needs to be a better Christian wife.

Domestic violence is not a marital problem. It cannot be healed with marital counseling. It is the deliberate subjugation of a person to mistreatment by a narcissist. He only uses God, faith or the Bible because he knows it’s important to his victim. It’s another tool. He is not trying to follow any of the faith demands he is screaming at his wife to follow.

Pastors who are more concerned about saving the marriage or advocating for the husband  more than the safety of the woman are playing the predator’s game. The doctrine of wifely submission will be used against her in counseling sessions.

Domestic violence may occur within a marriage but it is not about the marriage.  The woman is a hostage in her home. 

 Domestic violence is a man’s problem. Any other approach that focuses on her changing misses the mark. She has not failed in her marriage. In fact she is probably overdoing in trying to comply with unreasonable demands that dismiss her as worthy of the most basic humane consideration.

Myth Four: She can always leave.

Churches who are afraid to allow for divorce are more  interested  in their church’s reputation than solving this problem.  They have painted themselves into a corner because divorce is often the only reasonable action.

Going no contact with an abuser is necessary since he interprets any contact as an opening for mistreatment. This is an identifiable diagnosis – Narcissistic Personality Disorder – and the Bible is not an adequate one-size-fits-all solution in these cases.

Members who continue the conspiracy of silence, shun the woman, or want to enforce Bible study and  repentance are only re-traumatizing the abused.

Those who ask why she doesn’t leave are the very ones who will not help her. Understandably they do not want to bring violence into their own homes. But there are many ways to support women short of  taking her in.

Redemption from Biblical Battering: Your Path to Faith-Based Freedom is one of those ways. Using it or similar resources to guide a small group study or having it on hand to give to distressed women is an effective way to open and continue a conversation to help. Holding men in the church accountable is also a first step.

Another way is to refer the suffering woman to Suzanna’s Sisters, a secure Facebook group where women can communicate with licensed counselors who understand  religious domestic abuse or survivors who have been where they are for support. Contact the author for access or to schedule a presentation or training.

Those Who Hate Those Who Love

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Most of us have noticed that Mother’s Day has widely different meanings for everyone. I am grateful that mothers are acknowledged, but the vast differences in how we experience our mothers or being a mother elude the composers of greeting cards.

Each sibling will experience a different mother. My two sisters and I would laugh that there was always a favorite who wasn’t one of us. That, we realized, was existentially impossible. My older sister and I were not our mother’s favorites and our sister finally admitted it but didn’t know why. At least our experience was validated after our mother’s death.

Mothers cannot satisfy all their children’s needs. They are not allowed to have their own needs. On the other hand, there are women who did not choose to be mothers or can be harmful to their children’s development. Such is the lost cause of one-role meaning for a person.

Because there are so many differences in the way that one woman’s version of mothering plays out, Mother’s Day seeks to at least say it was good she allowed us to be born. But even that comes under attack.

Recently a remarkable young woman, Rachel Held Evans, unexpectedly passed away from a reaction to antiobiotics she was given to treat flu-like symptoms. Such a random and senseless cause of death has those who appreciated her reeling. Even worse, she leaves a 3 year old and a baby less than 1 year old with her grieving husband.

What has made her death even harder to bear is the harsh words used by some in the faith community of which she as a part. Rachel had increasingly sought to uphold Jesus’ gospel of love rather than legalism. A skillful writer, researcher and journalist, she reached out to those who had been hurt by the judgmentalism and rejection of some in that faith tradition. With discoveries of wide-spread abuses in some churches, large and small, those who felt outcast and in despair had in Rachel a voice that encouraged them to believe in their own worth and in God’s love for them.

But, just as in some families, while one sibling adores mother, another sibling feels animosity toward her. For some reason, Rachel’s emphasis on love angered some who believed her doctrine was not correct. They felt compelled to mar the grief many felt with their criticism and name-calling.

Why are some offended by a gospel of love? They were in Jesus’ day and they are now. Why is love so threatening to some people? Is it fear? Fear they won’t be the chosen, the favorite child? Comedian John Stewart recently said that the entire Jewish religion, in his view, was the search for the father’s approval.

The elder brother felt it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Martha seemed to feel it, the producers, the ones who do all the right things, the compliant ones, the performers, often feel slighted if love is extended to those who don’t conform as they think they should out of duty if not love.

As the saying goes, we can be happy or we can be right.

So why do some hate those who love? What makes us resistant to the experience of what we crave and need so badly? Love often does not play by the rules and that can feel scary. Is it the need for power to control?

 I suggest widening our emotional economy. There is not a scarcity of love. When one person is loved, it doesn’t mean the other person is not loved. But each love is different because each person is different. As in the idea of five different love languages, it is not always easy to find out what way each person experiences feeling loved.

But for those who are threatened by love’s freedom, I hope you will forgive those who love for not measuring up to your definition of law as more important. It doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. I am sorry if you don’t feel loved. But please save the mean-spirited remarks and let us mourn this lost mother peacefully.

Your “Self” on a Shelf

Credit: Wise Counselor
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During this season parents have fun moving an elf to different places during the night so that the children get up excited to see where the elf has moved. The elf has powers of observing children to make sure they are qualifying for the delights of Santa on Christmas .

In some unequal relationships, however, one partner only moves with permission,  like an elf on the shelf. There is no joy and a lot of pain since a partner cannot be the same person who has no power in the relationship.

Here’s how your “self” gets put on a shelf.

Do you feel that you are always prevented from free movement in your relationship?

Is any idea you have always explained away?

Is any desire you have for your needs respected met with shame, criticism or even an angry outburst?

Are you free to pursue your talents or skills outside your home?

Are you able to use any money you earn as you see fit?

Is any question you ask challenged as disrespectful?

Are you called insulting names if you don’t follow exactly what your partner wants?

Are you blamed for problems but never appreciated for handling responsibilities?

Do you find you do the giving but don’t receive in the relationship?  Emotionally? Communicating? Workload? Physically?

If any of these are what you are experiencing, you have been put on a shelf. You are being held in a small space and moved around only to fill another’s needs. Your partner believes they are entitled to your service but have little if any responsibility to serve you.

Their idea of a godly partner is “don’t need”, “don’t ask”, “don’t feel”. They believe a partner should only be taken off the shelf when they need her or him.

What is even more disturbing is that some partners enforce this position by appeals to religion. The idea that your full, mature and free self is displeasing to God is a very high and hard shelf indeed.

We dishonor God who created us when we allow someone to keep us on a shelf. We are created in the image of God, which means we share the power of mind, speech and spirit with our Creator.

God empowers us to be more, not less. Some toxic man-made doctrines seek to keep partners limited, easy to control, for the gratification of the other person’s ego and freedom from mutual consideration and respect in a relationship.

This view of another reveals a departure from God’s desire for humans and relationships.

These two pictures are of a woman who was trying to obey a false doctrine that God wanted her to be compliant and limited in order to be pleasing to God but matured in her faith.

On the left is her “before” under the false doctrine. On the right is her “after”, an image of reclaiming her full personhood  in God, free to flourish as her true self.

On the left, her “self” was on the shelf. She’s smiling because she is a person who enjoys helping others. She’s part of a group that downplays her “self” to earn acceptance. She has accepted the false view that her only worth comes from serving others. Her acceptable role is child care.

On the right, she accepts herself and knows she is pleasing to God because of the way she is made. She’s smiling because she no longer has to deny her own needs to serve others.

Which one looks more fully herself?  Which one looks like she’s been on a shelf?

May you be glad, free in Christ this Christmas.

Do You Know When to Call Foul?

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Your abuser uses fouls of double standards and double binds without being called on them.

Recently the Kansas City Chiefs unexpectedly lost to the Las Vegas Raiders, who broke the Chiefs streak of 13 wins. The Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, said the Raiders were making plays that no one had seen before.

Business leaders are also on the look out for “curve balls”, to take a phrase from baseball. Sports is a perennial training ground for boys growing up and men in their professions and relationships.

Many women are not conditioned to think in terms of strategy in relationships. While love may be called a game, women stake their lives on them and sometimes lose them.

Looking at what the men in our lives do rather than say can help women understand  when the relationship is a game rather than an authentic sharing. While romantic games can add to a partnership, some games can be deadly.

Survivors have explained how they believed that their abusers meant what they said. They learned through pain that an abuser can switch words and feelings off and on at will, as part of a strategy to keep a victim off balance and controlled. They can play hard ball with threats and intimidating actions. This is not a relationship you want.

For example, when a husband becomes very upset over some minor detail in their relationship, the wife may think he is genuinely upset. However, if she notices and pays attention to her inner voice, she will see whether this outburst is meant to upset her or is an issue of that magnitude. Comparing his behavior with others and in other situations can shed light on whether this is a control tactic or genuine emotion.

When church doctrine or Bible study is added into this game, it is very hard for a woman to detach and see the plays. We are not used to thinking of God as a premier coach helping a believer be MVP.

Two of the most frequent game moves are the double standard and  the double bind.

In a double standard, what applies to the abuser does not apply to the victim.

In some churches, this is based on patriarchy or misogyny, the belief that men by virtue of being men have the right to control women and not be held accountable for how they treat them.

So if a victim confronts the abuser by applying the same expectations for behavior, she will be chided as being unsubmissive, disobedient, faithless or called names such as Jezebel, harlot, whore of worse. These insults are levied at any woman who dares to express herself or pursue her own individuality, which challenges control by a man.

If your partner defines being a man as controlling a woman, the game can be dangerous.

When a church leader contaminates faith to support male domination, he will enforce marriage over safety, peace, and any move that removes the wife from the control of a man. Countless women who have escaped this misuse of faith to ban divorce can attest to how the church closes ranks around the husband.  This model of relationships is adversarial, upholding the boys’ team at all costs.

 Unfortunately church women go along, whether because of fear or mistaken beliefs, and thus cut off one avenue of support for a victim seeking rescue. Perhaps they don’t realize that cheerleaders make minimum wage instead of the millions the players receive.

The second way men use game strategy in relationships is the double bind. In these statements, the victim is in a no-win. No matter which way she turns or what she tries to do, she will be wrong. Often called “Catch-22s”, these are contradictory conditions, instructions or situations set up by the abuser to keep the victim defeated.

Women are creatures who thrive on love and on giving love. Love is an absolute in our world. We resonate with the gospel for this reason. The church teaches it as an absolute. I Cor. 13 sets a very high standard for loving behavior.

If our partners  are not loving, we don’t think that removes the expectation for us to be loving. If anything, the desire to be Christ- like intensifies our demand to meet evil with good, hatred with love. We believe the myth that it is our responsibility to save our partners through love.

This belief becomes the basis for impossible demands made by an abuser. For example, if we comply with abuse, we lose. If we try to escape abuse, the church condemns us. To escape these traps, we have to mature our understanding of  love. It is not loving to allow someone to abuse us. It is not loving to them. They are not where they need to be to grow in faith. Only when I realized that I was not loving my husband by allowing him to abuse me could I see a higher standard of love.

Our abusers are not trying to live I Cor 13. Patience does not mean collusion. We can bear all things spiritually but not be unequally yoked. What does it mean to bear all things?

We who desire peace and the good are distressed when people are mistreated. We live in a world where we cannot get rid of all the evil that is done. We have to bear with it and work for justice in faith. We can avoid anger. Subjecting ourselves to mistreatment which naturally creates anger is not bearing with all things. It is cooperating with evil.

The next time you question whether you are doing enough, loving enough, or being a good Christian, remember the traits apply to everyone. A relationship is by definition a joint task. No one person can make it work by itself.

The game has rules. You were probably kept from knowing them or told you were crazy or evil if you begin to catch on.

Does your partner play by them or just expect you to? If so, the game should  be called and forfeited.

FOUR MENTAL HABITS ESSENTIAL TO GET FREE OF AN ABUSER

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The tirades, accusations, and other mental and verbal assaults of the abuser are meant to keep you confusion, off-balance and tormented. How can a victim do anything else but just endure?

You have to take control of your mind in order to get out from under these assaults. That is where windows can open and you can start to reclaim your life. You can use standard destress practices like deep breathing, mantras and meditation. I found the presence of mind to even realize I was only shallow breathing or think to do these destressors had to come after I reclaimed my mind.

Here are the four steps I took that were beyond the reach of the abuser. Just like a steamboat uses the water it’s on to power itself, learning to convert the slanders of the abuser turns his weapons to your advantage.

  1. Deny every negative statement from the abuser.

Since a religiously abused victim is taught not to trust her inner voice, intuition or gut feelings, this is the hardest but first and necessary step. That is because the abuser deals in lies. What is true of the abuser will be projected onto the victim. When he accused me of cheating, which devastated me and was totally against my character, I found out later he was cheating. When he accused me of being wrong to use the money I earned on something I wanted, it was because he wanted to use- not just some of my money – but everything I earned. When he negatively compared me to another woman, he was grooming her to be his next mistress.

            When using Bible verses, I had an encouraging or counter verse in my mind to offset the verbal abuse he justified by hurling a condemning or accusatory verse at me. After all, we know who accuses us to God night and day and it’s not God.

  1. Affirm the power of good as prevailing.

Next I learned to use my mind to look for the good. This was not the same as excusing or denying the evil that my husband was inflicting on me. But I sought out what would uplift my mind, “think on these things” as Paul is reported to have written. I did not allow myself to get caught up in focusing exclusively on what my tormentor would have me focus on.

Since his goal was to dominate me in every aspect – mind, heart, body and spirit – I began to listen to or read counter messages in every area. I began taking small steps to get a walk in. I began accessing strengthening reading and speakers. I began to seek out supportive people. The reason it is important not to stay exclusively in the Bible for these influences is because you know the Bible and you need more positive resources beyond or in addition to the Bible to affirm that you are good and you have power within you that is not within the same source that he is using against you. There will always be a verse he can hurl at you to object to any strength or solace you are getting from the Bible or prayer. By seeing evidence of God’s love for you in the wider world, you will free yourself from only one stream of comfort or strength that is being challenged by him with other verses used against  you.

  1. Act on guidance with confidence, not fear.

I found that the decisions I would make under anxiety, fear or panic rarely turned out well. After I left three times and was forced back, I determined that when I left the last time, it would not be under emergency or crisis conditions because I didn’t have my resources lined up. So even though when we left, he was chasing us across the street screaming he would cut me up into little pieces before the police came, I was running to a neighbor who had already agreed to take us in and loan me a car to get to work (he did take the car).. I had already alerted my sympathetic supervisor to have security ready if he came threatening at my work (he did). I had already arranged for a second safe place to stay if he broke into our home (he did).

After the divorce, this principle stayed me in good stead. He had already cleaned out my private bank account in May. My new job didn’t start until the fall.  I knew God would provide for us. I got a minimum wage job, lived on food donations, and took a bus until the new job started. Neighbors helped with babysitting without charging me, although I gave them what I could. After I sold the house, we were on our way.

  1. Express specific gratitudes daily, which increases the good in your life

Part of looking for the good is finding 5 things every day to be grateful for. It is good if you have a group or someone else you can share them with. I did not listen to any critical voices that tried to blame me, condemn me, or chide me with their lack of understanding or caring. Looking for the good is a way of affirming that God is with me, evidence of constant and manifested Divine Love, and the idea that I am being supported every day.

It builds up in me a fortification of confidence and strength that helps me ignore or push aside the negativity that wants me to believe it is stronger than God’s love for me.

I recommend these proven mental steps that can overcome the lies, distortions, accusations, or hatred that the accuser and those who don’t understand will hurl at you.

We got this!

A Conversation for DV advocates during COVID

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COVID has been widely discussed for creating challenges in helping domestic abuse victims now immobilized with the abuser. However, many of the same methods can actually be increased to help victims.

Awareness of what being isolated involves is now more widespread as more people experience it. The abuser is also isolated. And the advocates can get more people to understand the dimensions of this injustice.

Recently I spoke with three advocates about what they have found to be effective for both victims and those who would help them during times of social distancing. Gretchen Baskerville is author of The Life-Saving Divorce; Ashley Easter is a coach, writer, speaker, and founder of The Courage Conference; and Lori Anne Thompson is an Accountability Advocate, helping to demand abusers be held responsible for their actions.

Please comment on this discussion.

A Conversation for DV Advocates during COVID

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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!

CLARITY: CONCEPTS AND ASSUMPTIONS

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How Journaling Helps You to Get Free

When I was in an abusive marriage to a minister, I was challenged to work my way through the reality of how my faith was used against me.

Studying communication as well as counseling helped me see the fallacies that my husband was using, both with and without Bible verses.

As women we want to be fair. We want to be responsible. And faith concepts, like all abstractions, are open to a wide variety of interpretations. Our right to challenge someone else’s idea of what they mean is often forbidden.

But both the meaning and the assumptions behind the meanings hold the keys to mental and emotional freedom.

Let’s begin with one often confused: humility.

When I was growing up, stories of the saints being glad to bleed or inflict themselves with pain were glorified. The ideal of not asking anything for yourself was held up as an ideal to strive for.

I had to learn the difference in humility and humiliation.

Our accusers often encourage us to accept humiliation with Bible exhortations to be humble. This wrongful use of these ideas is damaging to us on several levels.

A humble person is not arrogant. He or she accepts their place in the human race. They are equals, neither above nor below others.

One of my favorite sayings is, “The ego is easily offended.”

When around an arrogant person, you often see that they are easily offended. In fact they may look for excuses to feel offended where no slight was intended.

Your abuser may behave like this with you.

Humiliation on the other hand has its purpose in making you less than. It desires to take your strength from you and keep you in bondage to another’s wll.

God did not command us to be humiliated. We are made in the divine image. God desires our well-being.

Any treatment which says  you must accept insults or harm in order to be godly is wrongheaded. You will notice that the one telling you to accept this does not accept it for themselves.

The assumption means unequal power in the relationship. You are not worthy to be treated with the same respect as the one telling you to be humble when what they mean is humiliation. They will make you feel guilty or ashamed for resisting mistreatment. Reject this accusation for the false faith concept that it is.

Other misused concepts are faith, sacrifice, God’s will, and forgiveness.

Which one gives you the most trouble?  Let me know and I will examine it in the next post.