The Link Between Illness and Abuse

This post was written by a friend of mine and she communicates it so well, I am copying the post in its entirety.

This is such a huge issue, which is still almost completely unnoticed in the church’s ignorance of abuse. And it is affecting many, many people sitting in our pews.

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ILLNESS AND ABUSE: My Doctors Said…

By Sharon Merhalski

I am a survivor of childhood abuse: every kind of abuse from my mother (22% of pedophiles are women) and sexual abuse from my brother. As an abused child I experienced a childhood of illnesses. I now understand illness is an expected scenario given the constant internal and external stress an abused child (and children raised in domestic violence) carries. And I now understand until abuse issues are dealt with and healed, that internal stress cannot be alleviated, resulting in continued illness in the adult years.

I believe the Bible gives plain affirmation on this subject (words inside parenthesis are definitions for the previous word from the Strong’s Concordance).

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire (longing) cometh, it is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

A victim living in an abusive situation constantly hopes the abuse will end. When they are separated from the abuse by age or living situation there is usually an internal longing (especially with child abuse)–hope for a healthy relationship with the abusive parent. When hope longed for doesn’t happen the Bible says it makes their heart (feelings, the will and even the intellect) sick (be weak, sick, afflicted, cause to grieve, diseased, put in pain, be wounded) If our feelings, will and intellect are sick we are under extreme stress and on our way to physical illness.

In spring of 1984 I was 35 years old. I had severe allergies requiring weekly allergy injections and a lot of allergy medication. I was always fatigued, in bed a lot of the time, fought sinus and bronchial infections and yeast infections constantly and was an overall miserable mess.

In September of 1984 I came to a crossroad in my spiritual and emotional life that ended in my allowing God to take my very damaged heart and emotions and heal them with His Word. About six months into this lengthy process my allergies were so minimal that I no longer required allergy shots and I seldom took allergy medications. By mid-1985 the sinus infections and yeast infections were few and far between. The bronchial infections maybe happened once a year.

At this time I began to see a licensed physician who is a dear Christian man. He was the first doctor I asked about the ‘coincidence’ of my emotional healing and healing from allergies and infections. I remember clearly his saying to me it was no ‘coincidence’ and then teaching me about inner stress. He assured me what I experienced was a normal reaction to my internal healing. Since then I have asked two other physicians the same question and received the same answers.

In the last twenty-plus years I have been entrusted by God to both counsel and work with many women who are survivors of abuse…child abuse and/or domestic violence. The pattern I have observed is almost all of the women with unresolved/unhealed issues have been physically ill in some way…from allergies to cancer. And, those women whom I have observed through their personal spiritual and emotional healing process have experienced a lessening, if not total healing of their physical illnesses, i.e. arthritis, allergies, repeated infections, stomach and/or bowel problems, Candida/yeast infections, etc. I have always been very thankful I can share with each woman why their health was improving…using the words of my physicians—my Heavenly physician/Jehovah-Rapha and my earthly physicans–spoken to me. (The Bible has much to say on this subject.)

A few years ago I began to find research on this perceived ‘phenomenon’ of relieved stress and healing. Recently there has been much research done on this subject. I now understand fully the reasons for an increase in health when there is a decrease in stress…internal stress and external stress.

If you are a survivor or victim of abuse, or know a survivor or victim of abuse, I hope you will assimilate this information for yourself and/or pass it along to others.

Links to articles:

Physical Abuse Raises Women’s Health Costs Over 40 Percent The implication of this is that there are all these women suffering long-term health problems as a result of abuse.

possible link between sex abuse and Interstitial Cystitis

Child abuse ‘impacts stress gene’

Facial Fractures Speak Volumes

Childhood Abuse Raises Psychosis Risk in Women

Teenage Stress Has Implications on Adult Health

In this search page there are a couple posts about studies on domestic violence and ill health.

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The Nature of Manipulation

I found this article at rumination2.blogspot.com. Another great post from a great site.

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In relationships, manipulation can be defined as:

any attempt to control, through coercion (overt or covert),another person’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

From this definition, manipulation would seem to have no advantages. However, if you are codependent and defined by others, there can be many advantages. When you allow others to control your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and make decisions for you,

— you do not have to think for yourself;

— you can avoid taking risks and making difficult decision;

— you can avoid taking a stand on controversial issues;

— you can avoid feeling responsible for negative outcomes;

— you get to blame others when things go wrong;

— you can believe, when others tell you how to behave, what to think, how to feel and what to decide, that you are “being loved” because they “want what is best for you”;

— you can avoid feeling separate and alone by avoiding conflict;

— you can avoid the hard work of emotional growth and development.

Appreciating the advantages of not being manipulated is to accept the hard work of living and interacting with others. It is about being willing to grow and develop emotionally.

These advantages can be that,

— you learn to know who you are, what you like, what you think, and how you feel;


— you learn to make difficult decisions;

— you get to take credit for your decisions;

— you learn to handle risks and uncertainty;

— you learn to handle differences and conflicts;

— you get to be in control of your life and know the freedom of personal self-reliance;

— you get to have an increased sense of self worth by feeling competent and capable of taking responsibility for your life and personal happiness.

Manipulation is usually attempted using power, unsolicited helping, rescuing, guilt, weakness, and/or dependence, in order to achieve a desired outcome. For example,

1) Power – physical, verbal, intellectual intimidation or threats, put-downs, belittling, withholding of things needed or wanted. The goal is to be in a “one up, I am right and you are wrong” position;

2) Unsolicited helping/rescuing – doing things for others when they do not request it, want it, or need it; helping others so they become indebted, obligated, and owe you. The goal is to be in the “after all I have done for you, and now you owe me” position;

3) Guilt – shaming, scolding, blaming others, attempting to make others responsible, trying to collect for past favors. The goal is to be in the “it is all your fault,” or “after all I have done for you and now you treat me like this” position;

4) Weakness/dependence – being (or threatening to become) helpless, needy, fearful, sick, depressed, incompetent, suicidal. The goal is to confuse want with need, with the message “if you do not take care of me, something bad is going to happen and it will be all your fault” position.

With manipulation, there is a physical and emotional response, such as a heightened level of anxiety or irritation, although it may not be perceived as such.

This is where boundaries differ from manipulation.

Boundaries (or limits) are statements about our values and where we stand on issues. True boundaries are not threats or about getting the other person to do what we want. True boundaries are not compromised by another’s response.

For example, you discover that your spouse has lied to you and has run up a large gambling debt. You discover the problem by chance, get financial and professional help and are back on track. However, there are new signs of trouble. It is time for some hard decisions.

– What is your bottom line?

– What will you tolerate?

– What manipulative tactics do you use to change your spouse’s behavior – check up on them constantly, bird-dog them, never let them be alone, hide the credit cards, lie to your creditors, parents, and children?

– How much rescuing, guilt, power plays, threats, and protection do you run on the gambler?

– At what point do you stop trying to change their behavior and let them know your bottom line?

You cannot make them do or not do anything. You can only let them know what your position is and what you are willing to do to protect yourself and those you are responsible for.

The problem with loud, threatening bottom lines, is that they keep getting louder, more threatening, and redrawn lower and lower.

We tend to determine what our position and action is by what the other person does, instead of voicing our true position and then responding accordingly. This is the time for tough decisions and actions.

In another example, a friend asks you for a ride to work because she is having car trouble. This is the time to establish ground rules, such as, how long will she need your help, pick up times, expense sharing, days off, etc. A boundary or limit is set when you clearly let your friend know what you are willing to do and not do.

Problems arise – she is frequently not on time morning and evening. Do you wait and be late, or do you leave her? Her car has been in the shop six weeks because she cannot afford to get it out. She has not offered to help with the expense, nor does she seem concerned about the arrangement.

Your friend is using weakness to manipulate and be dependent on you. She has transferred her problem to you and you have accepted it by rescuing and not setting boundaries or limits on your participation in her problem. If you refuse to wait when she is late and she has problems as a result, she will blame you and try to make you feel guilty. What we really want are for others to be responsible and play fair; however, when they do not, we either have to set boundaries, or feel manipulated and victimized with the accompanying advantages and disadvantages.

Lastly, often we confuse UNDERSTANDING with AGREEMENT.

This is when people confuse their decisions with wanting the recipient of a decision to like or agree with it. When we make decisions that oppose the desires of others, there is a cost. We usually attempt to minimize that cost by explaining, in exhaustive detail, our rationale for that decision, somehow thinking if they could just understand our position, they would agree.

Applying that scenario to parent and child – if a parent makes a decision based on the best interest of the child, it needs to be made separate from whether the child is going to like it.

When a child knows it is important to the parent that they be happy with a decision, then it will never be in the child’s personal interest to be happy with an unwanted decision.

If a child knows that their happiness with a parental decision is of equal importance to the decision itself, then all a child has to do is be unhappy in order to make their parent uncomfortable and doubt their decision — after all, it is always worth a try. This same dynamic can apply to interactions among adults also.

How do we manage manipulation? By becoming more aware of our interaction with others.

Is the interaction an attempt to communicate or does it feel like a contest?

Are you beginning to feel anxious or irritated?

Do you want to get out of the conversation?

Does the interaction fit into a manipulative style?

Is there an attempt to use power, service, guilt, or weakness to get your cooperation?

Are you a willing participant in your own manipulation?

Is it easier not taking responsibility?

Are you attempting to manipulate others instead of setting clear boundaries?

Are you making a distinction between a value and a preference?

Preferences can be negotiated, but values should not.

Our society does not deal well with differences in values and preference. We tend to take it as a personal affront and insult when others disagree with us. We will avoid conflicts at all costs, because it feels like rejection. What we need is to communicate to others, clearly and calmly, our values, preferences, and boundaries. We need to be respectful and dedicated to listening, hearing and appreciating, if not understanding, how we all are different.

Mary Treffert, LCSW, ACSW, is a Licensed, Clinical Social Worker, who is an individual, couple, and family therapist in Baton Rouge, LA.

www.marytreffert.com

This is one of a short series of articles from VictimBehavior.com.

You may reprint/reproduce any of these provided you include the entire copy, especially this credit.

You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart


Emotional abuse of children can lead, in adulthood, to addiction, rage, a severely damaged sense of self and an inability to truly bond with others. But—if it happened to you—there is a way out.

by Andrew Vachss

Originally published in Parade Magazine, August 28, 1994

This article is courtesy of The Zero.

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The attorney and author Andrew Vachss has devoted his life to protecting children. We asked Vachss, an expert on the subject of child abuse, to examine perhaps one of its most complex and widespread forms—emotional abuse: What it is, what it does to children, what can be done about it. Vachss’ latest novel, “Down in the Zero,” just published by Knopf, depicts emotional abuse at its most monstrous.

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I’m a lawyer with an unusual specialty. My clients are all children—damaged, hurting children who have been sexually assaulted, physically abused, starved, ignored, abandoned and every other lousy thing one human can do to another. People who know what I do always ask: “What is the worst case you ever handled?” When you’re in a business where a baby who dies early may be the luckiest child in the family, there’s no easy answer. But I have thought about it—I think about it every day. My answer is that, of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: “You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re ugly.”

Emotional abuse can be as random as the fallout from a nuclear explosion. In matrimonial battles, for example, the children all too often become the battlefield. I remember a young boy, barely into his teens, absently rubbing the fresh scars on his wrists. “It was the only way to make them all happy,” he said. His mother and father were locked in a bitter divorce battle, and each was demanding total loyalty and commitment from the child.

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling: “You’ll never be the success your brother was.” Deliberate humiliation: “You’re so stupid. I’m ashamed you’re my son.”

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent’s love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a “failure to thrive” condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

Even the natural solace of siblings is denied to those victims of emotional abuse who have been designated as the family’s “target child.” The other children are quick to imitate their parents. Instead of learning the qualities every child will need as an adult—empathy, nurturing and protectiveness—they learn the viciousness of a pecking order. And so the cycle continues.

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to “explain” the conduct of his abusers—and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self-blame.

Emotional abuse is both the most pervasive and the least understood form of child maltreatment. Its victims are often dismissed simply because their wounds are not visible. In an era in which fresh disclosures of unspeakable child abuse are everyday fare, the pain and torment of those who experience “only” emotional abuse is often trivialized. We understand and accept that victims of physical or sexual abuse need both time and specialized treatment to heal. But when it comes to emotional abuse, we are more likely to believe the victims will “just get over it” when they become adults.

That assumption is dangerously wrong. Emotional abuse scars the heart and damages the soul. Like cancer, it does its most deadly work internally. And, like cancer, it can metastasize if untreated.

When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser’s choice of weapons. I remember a woman, a grandmother whose abusers had long since died, telling me that time had not conquered her pain. “It wasn’t just the incest,” she said quietly. “It was that he didn’t love me. If he loved me, he couldn’t have done that to me.”

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty. Emotional abuse is repetitive and eventually cumulative behavior—very easy to imitate—and some victims later perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Although most victims courageously reject that response, their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others.

We must renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I’ve met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life.

Emotionally abused children grow up with significantly altered perceptions so that they “see” behaviors—their own and others’—through a filter of distortion. Many emotionally abused children engage in a lifelong drive for the approval (which they translate as “love”) of others. So eager are they for love—and so convinced that they don’t deserve it—that they are prime candidates for abuse within intimate relationships.

The emotionally abused child can be heard inside every battered woman who insists: “It was my fault, really. I just seem to provoke him somehow.”

And the almost-inevitable failure of adult relationships reinforces that sense of unworthiness, compounding the felony, reverberating throughout the victim’s life.

Emotional abuse conditions the child to expect abuse in later life. Emotional abuse is a time bomb, but its effects are rarely visible, because the emotionally abused tend to implode, turning the anger against themselves. And when someone is outwardly successful in most areas of life, who looks within to see the hidden wounds?

Members of a therapy group may range widely in age, social class, ethnicity and occupation, but all display some form of self-destructive conduct: obesity, drug addiction, anorexia, bulimia, domestic violence, child abuse, attempted suicide, self-mutilation, depression and fits of rage. What brought them into treatment was their symptoms. But until they address the one thing that they have in common—a childhood of emotional abuse—true recovery is impossible.

One of the goals of any child-protective effort is to “break the cycle” of abuse. We should not delude ourselves that we are winning this battle simply because so few victims of emotional abuse become abusers themselves. Some emotionally abused children are programmed to fail so effectively that a part of their own personality “self-parents” by belittling and humiliating themselves.

The pain does not stop with adulthood. Indeed, for some, it worsens. I remember a young woman, an accomplished professional, charming and friendly, well-liked by all who knew her. She told me she would never have children. “I’d always be afraid I would act like them,” she said.

Unlike other forms of child abuse, emotional abuse is rarely denied by those who practice it. In fact, many actively defend their psychological brutality, asserting that a childhood of emotional abuse helped their children to “toughen up.” It is not enough for us to renounce the perverted notion that beating children produces good citizens—we must also renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I’ve met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life.

The primary weapons of emotional abusers is the deliberate infliction of guilt. They use guilt the same way a loan shark uses money: They don’t want the “debt” paid off, because they live quite happily on the “interest.”

When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers. It’s time to stop playing that role.

Because emotional abuse comes in so many forms (and so many disguises), recognition is the key to effective response. For example, when allegations of child sexual abuse surface, it is a particularly hideous form of emotional abuse to pressure the victim to recant, saying he or she is “hurting the family” by telling the truth. And precisely the same holds true when a child is pressured to sustain a lie by a “loving” parent.

Emotional abuse requires no physical conduct whatsoever. In one extraordinary case, a jury in Florida recognized the lethal potential of emotional abuse by finding a mother guilty of child abuse in connection with the suicide of her 17-year-old daughter, whom she had forced to work as a nude dancer (and had lived off her earnings).

Another rarely understood form of emotional abuse makes victims responsible for their own abuse by demanding that they “understand” the perpetrator. Telling a 12-year-old girl that she was an “enabler” of her own incest is emotional abuse at its most repulsive.

A particularly pernicious myth is that “healing requires forgiveness” of the abuser. For the victim of emotional abuse, the most viable form of help is self-help—and a victim handicapped by the need to “forgive” the abuser is a handicapped helper indeed. The most damaging mistake an emotional-abuse victim can make is to invest in the “rehabilitation” of the abuser. Too often this becomes still another wish that didn’t come true—and emotionally abused children will conclude that they deserve no better result.

The costs of emotional abuse cannot be measured by visible scars, but each victim loses some percentage of capacity. And that capacity remains lost so long as the victim is stuck in the cycle of “understanding” and “forgiveness.” The abuser has no “right” to forgiveness—such blessings can only be earned. And although the damage was done with words, true forgiveness can only be earned with deeds

For those with an idealized notion of “family,” the task of refusing to accept the blame for their own victimization is even more difficult. For such searchers, the key to freedom is always truth—the real truth, not the distorted, self-serving version served by the abuser.

Emotional abuse threatens to become a national illness. The popularity of nasty, mean-spirited, personal-attack cruelty that passes for “entertainment” is but one example. If society is in the midst of moral and spiritual erosion, a “family” bedrocked on the emotional abuse of its children will not hold the line. And the tide shows no immediate signs of turning.

Effective treatment of emotional abusers depends on the motivation for the original conduct, insight into the roots of such conduct and the genuine desire to alter that conduct. For some abusers, seeing what they are doing to their child—or, better yet, feeling what they forced their child to feel—is enough to make them halt. Other abusers need help with strategies to deal with their own stress so that it doesn’t overload onto their children.

But for some emotional abusers, rehabilitation is not possible. For such people, manipulation is a way of life. They coldly and deliberately set up a “family” system in which the child can never manage to “earn” the parent’s love. In such situations, any emphasis on “healing the whole family” is doomed to failure.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self-help until you learn to self-reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what “goodness” really is. Adopting the abuser’s calculated labels—”You’re crazy. You’re ungrateful. It didn’t happen the way you say”—only continues the cycle.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It’s time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to “forgiveness”—forgiveness of yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.

And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

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????

A True Story – Abuse in a Christian Home

 I have posted another article by Marcia, a Christian counselor in my Articles section, under Abuse in the Christian Home.  I have excerpted only a little bit to give you a flavor of the whole…

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…The first thing I noticed about her was that she was a tiny little thing. The next thing I noticed was that she was very young. Perhaps in her late twenties, but with a look of youthful innocence…

She was silent for a moment. Looking down at an invisible object somewhere on the floor, she tightly gripped her small clutch purse with both hands on its corners, centered it smoothly on her lap, and in a soft, almost breathless voice, exhaled, “I killed my husband…”

You can read the whole post here.

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!