Recognizing and Dealing with Controllers, Abusers, Manipulators and Users in Relationships

I’ve just posted another great article by Dr. Joe Carver about how to recognize and deal with Controllers, Abusers, Manipulators and Users in Relationships. This another fantastic piece in his insightful series.

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Abuse Visuals

One of those who commented on my “No Bruises” post, Lynn, included a link to duluth-model.org. I am posting the link here because their Wheel Gallery is excellent. These are some powerful tools. I recommend you take a look.

God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages

Spending 20 years in an abusive marriage had a profound affect on my theology.  I believe I learned things I would never have learned were it not for that crucible.  The things I believed, based on years in church, Bible college, academic Bible study, etc. were tested in real life.  This is where theology matters.  Many people spend entire careers becoming experts on theology and stand as “voices of truth,” proclaiming dogmatically their theology is Biblically accurate.  But if it doesn’t stand the test of life, it is worthless.

One thing I believed for many years was that God would answer my prayers for my marriage, my husband and my children.  I believe in God’s sovereignty, I believe He is all-powerful, and I know the abuse in my marriage was not His will since it was totally unrighteous and utterly antithetical to His nature.  Since God answers prayer, and I believe He does, and abuse is a violation of His nature, He would certainly answer my prayers to change my husband’s heart, right?

Wrong.  Actually, right answer, wrong question.  God does answer prayer.  But many times He does so after changing the question.  I have learned He is more interested in turning our erroneous paradigms inside out so we learn the right prayer to pray.  Then He is able to answer our prayers. 

After years on my face with God I realized He would not force my husband to change against his will, no matter how much I prayed for this to happen for the sake of my children and me.  He created man with a free will.  His is able to force man to change his mind, but He limits Himself to the perameters He gave man as a unique creation.  It would not be free will if man could not tell God ‘no.’  (A first strike against my Calvinist theology.)  Rather, God shows His amazing sovereignty and creativity by accomplishing His purposes in, through, and around the choices man makes.

When in a prolonged impossible situation like I was in, I finally got to the point of being willing to ask God to change my understanding, even if it meant completely changing my paradigm of reality.  Because I was willing to get to this point, I am where I am now.  And I hope other people can be helped as a result.  Over the course of the years there were several times when God completely overturned my understanding of reality, with its attendant theology.

Various erroneous theological points have a domino affect on others once they are toppled.  When I understood that God would not violate Gary’s free will and force him to change, then I had to ask the question, “So does God abandon wives and children in abusive homes?”  This one took a LONG time for me to understand. 

There are church leaders who hold so rigidly to the point of not separating marriages they literally teach it must be God’s will for wives and children in abusive homes to stay there and “suffer for righteousness sake.”  This is easy theology for someone who doesn’t have to live in it every day.  But eventually I came to accept this theology cannot be correct because it is a fundamental violation of God’s nature and of Jesus’ stated purpose in coming to earth.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. — Luke 4:18,19

In fact, this is what the Word says is the gospel (the definition of the word “gospel” is a sacred cow I’ll tip another day). It cannot be God’s will to abandon wives and children in abusive homes.

So once I understood it was not God’s will to abandon my children and I in our abusive home and He would not force Gary to change, I was left with the question, “how does God intend to save us from this situation?”

The next understanding was when I realized that legally I would be considered liable if Gary were accused of child abuse and I knew about it and had done nothing. The Word tells us to submit to civil authorities. You can’t pick one part of the Word to obey to the exclusion, or direction violation, of another. The sanctity of marriage is not more important than obedience to civil authorities. Since abuse is a criminal action and we are required to comply with the authorities and not protect, hide or aid abusers. The church has a responsibility to obey the law. When the church tells women and children to remain in an abusive home, they violate both God’s law and the laws of our country.

As a woman in an abusive marriage I had a responsibility to stand against that abuse. But I still wasn’t completely confident that stand went so far as divorce. At the two times I felt there was an imminent chance the children could be taken by DFCS because of the abuse (and the first time I was also afraid for our lives) I took the kids and left him. But I didn’t want to give up on our marriage or on Gary if there was any hope. While I realized his behavior was abusive, I didn’t understand the nature of abuse well enough to grasp its pervasive nature or the significance of non-physical violence. My eyes were completely on the physical violence until I left him for the final time. I tried to remonstrate with him about the verbal abuse and reason with him. I always thought if I could only get him to listen to reason I could get him to see what he was doing because it was so obvious.

Ultimately, I came to understand I had two choices – and the choice was up to me. I could stay in my marriage, allow my daughter to grow up in an abusive home and accept the fact I would physically die. The consequences of violence is murder and death. That’s in the Word.  The Word also says death and life are in the power of the tongue.  It means that literally.  My immune system had shut down due to the constant stress and I got cancer. My body would take no more. 

While I was recovering from chemo I realized every time Gary started yelling or started into one of his tirades I had an automatic, uncontrollable “fight-or-flight” reaction.  God made our bodies that way.  Our bodies release adrenalin in preparation to either fight or run.  When that happens excessively or constantly it will destroy the human immune system, leading to any auto-immune or stress-related disease there is.  These diseases can kill.  God won’t get in the way of the consequences we choose when we fail to obey the rest of His Word.

So, I could leave my daughter with an abusive father and die.  Or I could dare to trust God outside the box. God’s Word says I have a responsibility to obey civil authorities, I have a responsibility to stand up for the afflicted in my own home, including myself. God’s Word even says we are to separate ourselves from people who act the way Gary did – I dared to believe that meant me too. God says more about divorce than “I hate divorce” (subject for another day).

Bottom line, God wanted to answer my prayer to save me and my children from abuse. I merely had to trust Him enough to be proactive in my obedience, instead of passively waiting for a rescue boat when He gave me two feet to walk away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but the fruit has shown it was the right choice.

So yes, God does answer prayer in abusive marriages. But perhaps not the way you are expecting. His answer may be to turn your theology upside down and ask you to step up to the plate and take active responsibility to save yourself and your children.

Is Abuse Caused by Demon Possession?

I just read an op-ed piece where a Christian mentioned in passing the “…demon of abuse…”  This is one of the bits of wrong theology held by some Christians regarding abuse.  If you believe abuse is demonic, then it can be exorcised.  The antidote to abuse is to cast it out and all will be well; the end.

However, the huge hazard in this theology is that it makes the abuser a victim of demonic oppression or possession.  It implies they are helpless in the control of a demonic power.  And, most critically, it relieves them of personal responsibility for their choices and their consequences. 

Abuse may be rooted in any number of “causes.”  But everyone, unless they have had brain trauma that destroyed their capability of impulse control (which is possible and requires permanent institutionalization) has a choice when it comes to abuse.  I understand completely there can be contributing factors.  Any number of mental illnesses, which are completely legitimate, can contribute to uncontrolled behavior.  There are developmental disorders which lend themselves to abusive behavior.  There are psychological disorders that can contribute to abusive behavior.  And people who grew up in abusive homes often automatically repeat behaviors they learned by modeling.  But there is always personal choice involved. 

How is it that several children who grew up in the same abusive home don’t all grow up to be abusers if there is no personal choice?  How do others rise above those circumstances and stop the cycle?  I know it can be done; my parents did it.  Granted there were some other patterns of behavior, particularly victim mentality, that was passed along unknowingly.  But my parents never, not once, resorted to violently abusive behavior.  (One of my husband’s contentions was that my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought; he said anger is healthy because people are being honest about their feelings – of course, he was the only one allowed this luxury.  I got the strong impression that this philosophy was overtly shared by his mother, though I can’t remember her specifically saying so.  She did say my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought.  Yes, our family does tend to submerge emotions and not communicate well and that’s not healthy.  But abuse is not a good balance!) 

When developmental, psychological or mental illness factors are involved there is still personal choice.  There is therapy and treatment to enable a person to exercise self-control.  At one point Gary was diagnosed as manic depressive by a psychiatrist (who saw him for 30 minutes, one time).  He took the meds provided, which ultimately made his violence worse.  A year or so later when I was literally afraid for our lives I asked his nurse (who did all his 10-minute med checks) and another nurse who was also a Christian, whether his behavior could be excused because of his diagnosis.  Was he truly incapable of acting differently, as he claimed?  They both said he was not excused because of his diagnosis – a diagnosis which turned out to be wrong anyway.  The med-check nurse told me there were plenty of people with far more serious issues than him, such as bipolar disorder (which he was not diagnosed with) who participate with therapy and medication and learn how to be responsible for their actions.   She said it is still an issue of personal responsibility.  Perhaps people with these various disorders/conditions would be unable to control their behavior without medication and/or specific training in how to work with the way they are wired, but they can choose to be responsible.

 Yes, I think someone who is abusive may be allowing themselves to be controlled by a spirit of anger, violence, even murder.  But not in the sense of demon possession, to the point they are helpless in its grasp.  Nor will a prayer or a really fantastic exorcism change the behavior.  Only an abuser can change his behavior, starting with acknowledging he is choosing to sin against his family and then by taking responsibility for his actions.  He may need help (he will almost certainly need help) but he has to make a choice to get that help and cooperate with it.

“He Taught Me How to Fly” – How Abuse Affects a Child, Part 2

I’ll never forget how sick I felt the first time I heard my oldest son, J, verbalize his memories of his early childhood.  I had wondered what he remembered and hoped he didn’t remember the specifics.  But when he was a teenager he finally told someone what he remembered.  He was speaking to someone else, I can’t remember who now, and I was listening.  I had never spoken to him about the details because I didn’t want to color his memories, just in case he didn’t remember. 

This is what he said:

I remember being kicked into the closet.

I remember being slammed against the walls.

I remember running down the hall to get away from him and pushing the crib behind the door so he couldn’t get into the bedroom to get me because I was so afraid.

My dad taught me how to fly [spoken with heavy sarcasm].  He threw me across the room when he was angry.

While most of these could have happened at almost any age, the one about the crib occurred before he was 4 years old. 

It was also revealing, and just as heart-breaking, what he didn’t bother to mention. He never mentioned the slaps (open-handed, full-strength strikes to any body part) and punches, or being hit with whatever object was closest to his father’s hand at the time. These went on all his life, though after he was reported to DFCS “Gary” stopped hitting first. Instead he would provoke J until J flinched first. Then Gary could justify bringing out the fists in the name of “defending his manhood.” (So for the last 4 years we were together I couldn’t ever say Gary initiated physical violence – thus he and everyone else, including the judge in our divorce, thought he was a changed man.) J also never mentioned all the times his dad called him “demon child” or some version of that in his frequent rages. These things were so “normal” they didn’t even rate mention.

As I’m writing this my insides are trying to climb out of my skin. Why, why, why would no one ever believe me? Why was the answer always “submit more,” “have faith,” “remain faithful,” etc.? None of those answers even touched the question, “What about the children?”  Both of the first two times I left him it was about his abuse of the children.  When I asked for help I was betrayed, denied and disbelieved. When I left Gary he convinced everyone I was lying or it was my fault. And because those voices were so loud and so unanimous I kept believing them.

 I was afraid of the authorities because the fundamentalist system in which I was raised painted the government, and especially family and children’s services, as evil people who couldn’t wait to take away the children of Christians, abuse them and turn them against their faith. When Gary was finally reported to the authorities I trusted them. The church had failed me; the authorities were supposed to protect us and they were supposed to be able to recognize abuse.

But Gary convinced the DFCS case worker I was teaching J to disrespect him and he was only responding to J’s taunts and rebellious mouth. Everytime I talked to her she threatened to take the kids away from both of us because Gary was violent and I was teaching the children to disrespect him. She scared me to death.

Later our Christian counselor (the one who didn’t believe me and didn’t approve of our separation) also said my actions were teaching our children disrespect.

The accusation of disrespect came because every time Gary became angry I got between him and the kids. I tried to reason with him. In the moment I had two choices. Walk away and let him mistreat the kids or get in the middle and try to reason with him and get him to stop. By necessity, these arguments (because that was always what they became) happened in front of the kids. There was no opportunity to take them out of the room – Gary wouldn’t cooperate with that. But they did serve the purpose of turning his anger onto me and off the kids. That action on my part was “disrespect.” And yes, I was angry in those times. But I never raged and I never got physical. I never screamed and I never used profanity – which was his modus operandi. (To be absolutely honest, I did scream at him twice while I was on chemo – and immediately apologized and took myself out of the room. It was because my meds were out of balance and getting them balanced fixed the problem.)

Two voices both said I was teaching the boys disrespect of their father — I believed them both. I apologized to the boys. And I tried to be even more reasonable. I learned to never engage in anger; to remain calm and reasonable. I still got in the middle because I couldn’t just walk away and let him treat the kids that way. And every time J mouthed off to his dad I also talked to him about his disrespect and his responsibility to do what was right no matter the provocation.  These conversations took place in private.  Gary frequently accused me to “buddying up” with J in these conversations and taking sides with J against him, which was not true at all, but no one believed me. 

Of course, the fact that I didn’t get angry back at him only made him angrier. Previously, when I did get angry, he excused his rage saying it resulted from my anger. When I didn’t get angry anymore he said I was treating him like a child (disrespect again) and it excused his rage. Somehow if I said anything, his rage was my fault. He could get angry about anything and was both entitled and excused; I was not allowed to ever be angry about anything – not his lies, not when he put us in danger with his choices, not when he abused our children.

At that point, J had never initiated physical violence toward his father and didn’t for another couple years after that. Not until he was physically larger than his father. Let me ask the question no one else seemed to be able to see — why was it OK for Gary to punch his son in the abdomen hard enough to leave marks I could still see a couple hours later, no matter what came out of his mouth? On the other hand, why was Gary excused for everything that came out of his mouth because we “provoked” him – by being too loud, or interrupting his TV show (a common offense that resulted in physically violent rage), by doing whatever he found annoying at the time? Why, why, why????

More About Abuse in Christian Marriages

I have added an article to my Articles section, written by Marcia, out of her experience as a Christian counselor. I’ve only excerpted a small “teaser” so follow the link to read the whole piece.

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…The issue that prompted this writing is that once again, I am observing and being asked to pray regarding the divorce proceedings of a couple going to court…once again…today. It is a situation where a lovely and faithful wife of around 20 years is being legally threatened and browbeaten by a husband who has verbally, psychologically and somewhat physically abused her for their whole married life. He is pompous and pious outwardly, and has drug her to several church counselors who admonished HER to be a submissive wife, and in essence, told her she had no legitimate right, in God’s eyes, to separate from him. They have four teenage children, two of which are severely handicapped. He remains in the family home; she and the children were the ones who eventually found another place to live. The children are afraid of being with him. Now he is trying to get her declared an unfit mother, and is placing demands that would rob her of many things that are rightfully hers, including custodial care. Hopefully the court will have wisdom and make right decisions. But the most heartbreaking fact to me, is that she has been counseled to remain in this destructive situation for many years, and felt that God would not approve of her doing otherwise…

The full article is here. Check it out!

Ineffective Sex Offender Legislation

There is a great blog post about this issue at Sex Offender Issues. I am not copying the article here because I want to make a side point. The blog is very much worth the read. One quote from it —

A 1990 meta-study by the Freedom from Religion Foundation documented that 190 clergy convicted of molesting children were found to have abused 847 victims — some abused hundreds, even thousands, of times — before they were caught. Investigators believe these clergy had actually abused at least 4,000 children.

I would venture to guess that the numbers now, nearly 20 years later, would be significantly higher since the reporting of incidents of clergy sex abuse has increased as a result of the publicity of the sex abuse issue in the Catholic Church. Victims at least have some chance of realizing they are not alone with a secret to keep and that the authorities might actually do something about it if they tell.

I am also very certain the incidence of clergy sex abuse perpetration has not noticeably diminished in the past 18 years. The only church that is making serious attempts to address the issue is the Catholic Church. They are lightyears ahead of Protestant churches on this problem — which is ironic since the public image is still that clergy sex abuse is a Catholic issue because of clergy celibacy. And perhaps this stereotype contributes to Protestant churches’ continued belief that it’s “not that big a problem for us” and thereby excusing themselves (collectively) from taking the definitive and painful steps the Catholic church has had to take to address it. Since there is a tendency among Protestant churches to vilify the Catholic church in the first place, it is easy to classify clergy sex abuse as a problem distinctively characteristic of priests required to be celibate against their nature.

The truth is that clergy sex abuse is at least as systemic in Protestant churches as it is in Catholic churches because it’s not about sex or celibacy. It is about power and, unfortunately, church leadership is a classic “power” position. That doesn’t make every pastor a predator by any remote stretch of the imagination. But it does mean that church leadership is a position that will appeal to a predator — not just because it gives him/her access to prey but because it scratches that person’s basic drive for power.

Just pondering here, what might be some effective sex offender legislation that would affect clergy? There’s a limit to what the law can do without overstepping religious boundaries. But civil authorities could perhaps prohibit an authority figure from holding a job where he/she has oversight of children or their parents (since by having authority over parents he can influence and have access to the children). For instance, a convicted sex offender could not be a school principal, a day-care owner, or a pastor. Does that make sense? I’d love to hear some other ideas, too.