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.