When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I see this so often. People who are consumed with self-pity hurt others and destroy relationships. In this life it’s almost impossible to avoid suffering, but the way we respond is everything, I’ll end this with a quote from my recent workbook. “There’s no subtle way to say it. If you don’t find healing after your abusive relationship, there’s a good chance you could end up with some negative repercussions. You may find yourself moving on to another abusive relationship. You could end up suffering from severe depression or anxiety, or worst of all, you might find yourself chronically angry—perhaps even abusive yourself. ”

JoyfulSurrender.com

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his…

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Is it Abuse? A Proven Screening Tool

Part 2 in a Series.

In order to recognize the signs of domestic abuse, most experts rely on a tool called the Power and Control Wheel. This resource was created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota in 1984,[i] and is based on observation of several focus groups of women who had been physically abused. When project personnel began to interview these women, they discovered several patterns of control and manipulation that seemed to exist almost universally within the groups. As they began to document these common behaviors or tactics, the result was a tool that has been used by victims’ advocates for over three decades. The first time I laid eyes on a Power and Control Wheel I cried, as have numerous victims I have shared it with over the years. It’s pretty easy to deny a relationship is abusive until someone puts a detailed description of your life right in front of your eyes!  For years I suffered in silence, thinking that nobody knew what I was going through, but when I picked up the “Wheel,” it seemed as though somebody had been a silent observer in my house over the years. I was also amazed to find that I was not alone, and that an estimated one in four women experience physical abuse from an intimate partner within their lifetimes.[ii]

One thing that stands out to most observers is that the majority of behaviors listed on the Power and Control Wheel do not involve physical harm. I had denied that my relationship qualified as domestic violence simply because physical altercations were somewhat infrequent. However, the tactics described on this chart happened on a daily basis. According to this tool, bodily harm is simply a last resort when all other tactics fail to achieve the desired power and control. Domestic abuse is not merely about physical harm, but about abusers establishing patterns of complete domination over their victims. This is one of the reasons that in recent years experts have begun to refer to coercive control rather than domestic violence. Basically, the motivation is far more telling than the behavior. In his book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse, Pastor and biblical counselor Chris Moles states that abusive behavior “is driven by a heart of pride and self-worship.”[iii] True domestic violence is not merely a reactive pattern of behavior, but one that is intentionally self-serving. A look at the behaviors listed on the Power and Control wheel show just how self-seeking abusive conduct really is.

As we continue this series, my upcoming posts will describe each of the eight characteristics found on the wheel. Stay tuned!

power_and_control_wheel

[i] “Wheel Gallery” http://www.theduluthmodel.org/training/wheels.html. Accessed January 17, 2016.

[ii] Please note that the focus of this work is to highlight the more prevalent issue of male against female violence; however, we do recognize that women can also be abusive.

[iii] Moles, Chris, The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home (Bemidji, MN, Focus Publishing, 2015), 43.

Is it Really Abuse?

Step one in becoming free from the impact of living with a destructive spouse or partner is admitting the truth. Oddly enough, we find that many times victims of domestic abuse do not even recognize that they are being abused. Rather they make excuses for their partners and almost justify the mistreatment– especially if they have never experienced a physical assault. This post is the first in a series that explains the various tactics abusive people use. If you’re unsure about your own relationship, I pray you find this helpful. 

One fine day, in the spring of 1995, I lied to a judge. This happened shortly after taking an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt, because at the time, I didn’t believe I was lying. I testified to the judge that my marriage of 14 years had not been abusive at all. Rather, some recent stress had caused my husband to snap, and act completely out of character. It was a story I wholeheartedly embraced, because I had been telling it to myself for so many years. Up until that point, there had been numerous incidences of physical violence, but it didn’t happen on a regular basis. In fact, a few years were completely violence-free. Perhaps another reason I did not think I was abused was the image that I had conjured up in my mind about abuse victims. When I thought about domestic violence, the term that came to my mind was “battered,”, and I was certainly not battered. In the entire length of our relationship, he had never once punched me with his fists. Our rare physical altercations usually began with something like a shove or being jerked by the arm. Once I had my fingers slammed into a drawer and once I was kicked. Oh yes, and there was that time when he held a knife to my throat, but no I wasn’t battered.

Perhaps believing lies was my way of trying to convince myself that things really weren’t that bad, so when I finally did have to admit I had been in abusive relationship, I felt like a complete fool. I had always considered myself pretty bright, and facing the truth seemed to challenge that belief. Another thing the truth challenged was my idealistic concept of my husband’s opinion of me. I thought that my ability to elicit such great emotion from him meant that he truly loved me. It didn’t matter that his actions towards me were the exact opposite of the biblical description of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres[i]

Whenever I came across this passage in my quiet times, I couldn’t help but notice that my husband’s actions towards me were most often the reverse. It didn’t take much for him to lose his patience with me, and within my first month of knowing him, jealousy reared its ugly head several times. I can’t tell you how many times he embarrassed me in public by making rude comments towards others, the kids or me. I felt so vulnerable and unsure when I was with him—certainly not protected. It was his way or no way, and lies were the foundation of our relationship. However, the most blatant contrast between godly love and my relationship was found in verse 5, which states that “love is not easily angered.” There were times when I couldn’t believe how seemingly insignificant details could enrage my husband, and over the years I’ve heard countless stories from other victims of abuse who suddenly found themselves the object of wrath when a small detail in the course of the day set off a reaction of atomic proportions.

One dear lady told me that her husband beat her simply because she left hamburger meat in the sink to thaw, another was belittled to the point of tears in front of her children because she failed to fold and stack her towels in the “correct” manner. Another relayed that her husband tore apart the entire house (throwing things against the walls, and clearing counters of their contents as he went through each room) after one of the children moved his ink pen from its prescribed resting place. In recent years, a counselee told me that just leaving one cup in the kitchen sink would send her husband into a rage. I would call that being “easily angered,” and it took me years to realize that true love does not act that way.

Perhaps one reason victims tend to lie to themselves is because admitting the truth is almost more painful than the abuse. It means admitting that their partners’ actions do not equate to love at all. So most convince themselves that wounds from the past (or mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, etc.)  just make it harder for their husbands to deal with life, and that they don’t really choose those angry actions. I truly thought my husband was out of control when he blew up, and that I needed to try to hold things together so that he wouldn’t have a reason to lose it. I thought he needed me, and so I built my life around making things go as smoothly as possible for him. I realize this is probably contrary to the average stereotype about domestic violence. People who are unfamiliar with it, including many pastors and counselors, believe that domestic abuse is the result of heated arguments that could have been started by either party. Certainly no man would harm his wife unless she had done something to provoke him, right? It seems to be a logical conclusion, but the problem is, that in the vast majority of cases, it’s a faulty one.

Most abusive people are self-seeking, easily angered, impatient, along with all the other contradictions to God’s love listed in 1 Corinthians 13, and most victims have a hard time facing the fact that their abusers are choosing to treat them with contempt rather than love. In his book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft states that “An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside.”[ii] After working with victims and abusers for over two decades, I’d have to say that this assessment is spot-on. Unfortunately, it is not something that most victims would like to admit. It was so much easier for me to believe my husband was abusing me because he was wounded inside, or that he lacked coping skills, than to admit he was making a choice to hurt me. Coming to terms with the truth was almost too much to bear, so I lied to myself until the day somebody placed a tool called the Power and Control Wheel into my hands.

This is part one in a series.  

[i] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, New International Version

[ii] Bancroft, Lundy, Why Does He do That? (New York, Berkley, 2002), 31.

How Twisting Words Destroys Relationships

Anyone who’s lived with abuse knows what it’s like to have their words distorted, to be accused of thinking things they weren’t even thinking. In counseling we call it assigning motives. This happens when one partner starts judging the other’s intentions. So many times my abuser accused me of having evil intentions towards him when nothing could have been further from the truth. Generally, I put his interests far above my own, but he always saw my intentions as evil. This twisting of words and distortion of intentions kills relationships, and those who face it have little power to change things.

Uniformed people helpers tell us that if we would just win them over with a quiet and gentle spirit or bless them enough, they’ll come around. Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, but apparently the writer of this psalm did, and Jesus certainly did.

No matter what people tell you, dear friend, He understands what you’re going through. In fact, He’s been through it too. He loves you and sees your heart. Entrust it to Him.

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” MATTHEW‬ ‭22:15‬ ‭

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” HEBREWS‬ ‭4:14-16‬ ‭

From Hopeless to Hope Filled: A Survivor’s Story

For every survivor, there’s usually a moment of clarity where they fully realize the abusive nightmare they’re living in is a choice he’s making.  They know they need help, but those difficult steps to freedom are filled with trials of their own.  Here’s one survivor’s journey from clarity to freedom.

The day I finally knew no more excuses would do, and I had to leave, was the day he threw a glass of milk in my face and then yelled at me because there was a milky mess.  I kept thinking maybe he would change, or maybe I was the problem, or maybe he’d stop drinking. But that day, I knew I couldn’t take any more. I was losing weight fast and could barely eat. My 3 year old son was watching horrible things happen in his home. So I left and found a temporary solution. He wouldn’t let me take our son with me. But if I couldn’t get better, I couldn’t take care of him or fight for custody.

When the day came that I had to go back to live with him, I couldn’t do it.*  I was going to die in that house. I attempted suicide. For six weeks I lived in a hospital and had a wheelchair. I slowly learned to walk and eat again. But God used that time, my most hopeless situation, to give me renewed hope. My nurses and therapists encouraged me to get well, get help, and get a divorce. Where many people in the church had told me super unhelpful things like “God hates divorce,” or “You need to respect your husband when he’s not beating you,” (I’m sorry, doesn’t God hate seeing abuse?) my angels in that hospital told me I was loved and beautiful and I deserved so much better. I went through years of hearings and finally my divorce was final.

Had I not had that horrifying experience, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today. I still have 2 bullets in my brain, but I am happily remarried to my best friend, and there is sunshine coming through the window of my little house on my little brick street, tea in my mug and flowers on my table. Yes, there are several nasty emails I’m currently refusing to read from my ex-husband, but I never imagined on those awful nights that I’d be in this place of peace someday. I want other women to know they don’t deserve abuse, they are beloved and treasured and I will spend the rest of my life and my second chance being the kindness I needed during the worst days of my life.

The best part of my story is the word “was.”

I was abused.
I was afraid.
I was suicidal.
I was hopeless.
I was sick.
I was desperate.
I was heartbroken.

And today,
I am alive.
I am full of hope.
I am healed.
I am bursting with the good news that God can take women like me and make something beautiful.

I will put beautiful crowns on their heads
in place of ashes.
I will anoint them with olive oil to give them joy
instead of sorrow.
I will give them a spirit of praise
in place of a spirit of sadness.
They will be like oak trees that are strong and straight.
The Lord himself will plant them in the land.
That will show how glorious he is.
Isaiah 61:3

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

* This story was sent to us anonymously and we do not know where her temporary solution was or why she couldn’t stay there.  It could have been a friend or family member who could only house her for so long.  It could have been that she was able to get a space in a shelter, but even those have time limits. It could be that she was being pressured to return by someone who thought they were helping.  We don’t know, but those are some of the most common scenarios.

(Comments in italics were made by one of our ministry helpers.) 💗

Faith for the Impossible

After working with victims of abuse for over twenty two years, one thing has become clear to me. Those with faith do so much better on the road to recovery than those without it. Perhaps you’re thinking there’s no way to have faith after you’ve been beaten down and told how worthless you are, or when you’ve been in an impossible situation with no power to change anything. Yet, scripture is filled with stories of impossible situations that turned around.

This morning 2 of those stories came to my mind. Actually, this verse came to mind:
“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” Luke‬ ‭4:25-27

Do you remember these stories? Neither of the people Jesus mentioned had great faith— they just acted on what little faith they did have. The widow shared what she thought would be her last meal with the prophet, and Naaman reluctantly dipped himself in the muddy Jordan River seven times. The actions alone would not have resulted in miracles, but they both acted on the tiny bit of faith they had. They weren’t anything special. In fact, as Jesus pointed out, neither of them were Israelites (God’s chosen people), but as they matched their hope in God with action, God met them and overcame the impossible.

Are you facing an impossible situation today? Is there a glimmer of hope somewhere deep inside that God could work if you took a step in the right direction? If so, I encourage you to act on that hope. Don’t be foolish— make a plan (Prov. 15:22)— seek out wise and informed counsel (Prov. 19:20), but don’t let fear keep you stuck. God shows up for who act in spite of fear— the ones who choose to walk ahead holding on to that tiny mustard seed of faith. Faith isn’t a lack of fear, it’s moving ahead in spite of it, and putting your hope in the One who is bigger than the impossible.

💗Joy

Surviving Domestic Abuse is Like Being a Refugee

F6DD681D0-7356-4970-8272-7D9E027AD8EAAnonymous Guest Post

Surviving domestic abuse is like being a refugee.  You miss your home, but know the danger is too great to ever go back.  It’s the hardest choice I ever had to make.  I knew fleeing my homeland was a one-way trip.  Any chance of the turmoil within the country being restored and the terrorist miraculously transforming into a loving husband would be lost.  I knew in my heart there was no reason to stay because the home I’d built with my husband, expecting to grow old there, was now a daily battlefield.  The house even bore scars to bear witness.  Like a refugee, I sought help.  First from my church, who assured me if I prayed enough and dodged enough bullets in the meantime, that the terrorist I was living with would surely improve slowly over time, if only my faith were strong enough.  The responsibility of the terrorist changing was placed on me.  

After all, the terrorist had spoken with the church and convinced them I was irrational.  It made sense even to me.  I would mention something he said and he would adamantly deny he ever said that, getting angry if I insisted my memory was fine.  Eventually I took to writing things down because I stopped trusting my own memory, but even with it written down, he would still say I was mistaken. By that, I mean speaking to me in such a derogatory manner that I– and the children listening– would be sure to know just how stupid I was.  I prayed— a lot.  My pastor even told me that if things weren’t getting better, that it was basically an indication I wasn’t praying hard enough or wasn’t being true enough to the faith I claimed.  Heartbroken by the home I only recognized as a prison, and once again by the pastor who couldn’t see how bad it truly was, I was blessed to find Called to Peace Ministries.

Before I joined the support group, I already knew a lot of jargon about how the terrorism manifested.  Previous research had helped me identify many of the behaviors like gaslighting, emotional manipulation, and veiled threats. What became more clear to me is how I had been attempting to control the severity by working hard to manage my abuser’s emotions. Called to Peace showed me how I’d allowed my terrorist to become my lord by filtering all my thoughts through what he would want instead of asking what would please God most.  I would distract the kids from annoying him, make his favorite meal, or give him sex in hopes he would be happier and therefore our shattered house might temporarily be a little safer— because it was always temporary. The temporary changes were always the most difficult as it perpetuated a cycle of hope followed by more heartbreak. Setting some healthy boundaries and learning to respond appropriately were invaluable tools.  I was learning how to let God have the control instead of thinking I could manipulate my living conditions into something safer on my own.  

I made the same mistake again, however, only this time I set my pastor on the Lord’s throne.  I invested a lot of time and energy reasoning with the pastor because I knew he could be my biggest support if he would hold my abuser accountable.  Joy advocated for me, trying to help the pastor see the patterns of abuse.  I thought he was going to hold my terrorist accountable and agreed to counseling.  Instead, he gave us communication exercises.  Sit with your terrorist and have uninterrupted time to talk about your day.  So then the terrorist would get mad if I didn’t want to share anything, and used that to show the pastor I wasn’t really trying.  Poor heartbroken abuser with the bitter wife. Think about the kids.

Yeah, let’s talk about the kids, because it was like watching a train wreck you can’t stop.  You try watching them cower under beds, hide in closets, or even start to act like miniature little abusive versions of the man they called father, repeating his irrational arguments against you.  Overhear the campaign made against you by this terrorist hiding in plain sight, telling your kids that Mom can’t do anything right, and much more.  Try having them beg you with tears running down their faces to live somewhere without the monster that was living amongst us.  I could see it was getting worse.  Things were escalating.  I couldn’t protect them anymore.  I had to escape, for their sakes.

I knew it would be dangerous, even with my safety plan in place.  There would be no going back.  I had to hope that a judge would grant me protection, but if not, risk being homeless with my kids.  On that note, when it is bad enough that a mother will risk homelessness, stop yourself before you ask her if she tried hard enough to make it work.  No woman wants to be a refugee.  No woman wants her marriage to end and to let go of the dream that one day he might change.  It’s not the easy way out.  It’s the only way out.  Ask her if she is safe.  Connect her with a resource like Called to Peace.  This might be a good time to point out a woman’s risk of homicide increases exponentially when she tries to escape or shortly thereafter.  As it turns out, a judge granted us temporary asylum, but it wasn’t accompanied by a sense of safety.  

We returned to the same place we’d lived with the terrorist for years– him having been removed– and thus started a new level of hypervigilance I didn’t know existed.  Before, the daily barrages were expected, and their terrifying source was easily identifiable as he stomped through the house.  Afterwards, every sound outside, every sound inside, every car’s headlights driving past, every time a child woke up from a nightmare crying– my body was on high alert, constantly watching, barely sleeping.  I shut all the blinds, barricaded the doors, and checked the perimeter every time before opening the door to the outside world.  I visited different stores than usual and took different routes.  It has a name: Complex-PTSD.  Years of living under the terrorist’s reign left their mark.  My body was on defense mode, ready to protect myself or my children.  Insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, flashbacks.  

During this time, we had court hearings where the terrorist put on his church clothes and started having visitation.  I lost friends who thought I was making it up, who then felt sorry for the terrorist.  In reality, I had made up a story so convincing- I had made up this story of redemption through the years, how the terrorist was always showing a glimmer of hope, or how the terrorist was just troubled because of his own poor upbringing, or how he was such an excellent provider he didn’t have the energy for church.  Amazingly now he was incredibly dedicated to church attendance.  I found it ironic that people were willing to believe the lies I’d invented but not the awful truth I’d hidden over the years.  I was isolated and marveled as I watched the terrorist waltz in and take over the friendships I thought I had.  I remember being envious of a friend sharing about her husband’s cancer diagnosis because that was a respectable, allowable prayer request and I wanted to be surrounded with support like she was.  Instead, my prayer requests stayed silent because sharing them in that atmosphere usually had me labeled gossipy or bitter.  One time at church I made the mistake of talking about how overwhelming it all was and my “friend” said, “You had to know it was going to be difficult.”  I had “friends” be offended I hadn’t reached out to them.  I had a “friend” tell me I was ruining my children’s lives and should call up that terrorist and not give up “so easily.”  Many weren’t interested in taking “sides,” which is another way of taking the abuser’s side.  At the risk of being labeled bitter- a favorite label of the “righteous,” I could go on about the heart-wrenching judgment and isolation I experienced with my church, but I won’t.  

I’ll talk about the blessing of isolation and losing my community instead.  How else do you ask for prayer that your terrorist lessens the continued child abuse?  I don’t blame people for not being able to comprehend the depths of my despair.  Rather, I’m grateful that at Called to Peace, I had a safe place to share those requests where everyone understands and there’s no judgment.  They stayed a constant support in my life, as I struggled and grieved as I lost friends and church community.  When my church failed to protect me, I learned so personally that God still would.  When attending the service felt like an exercise in worshipping rightly as I felt watched by the leadership and the friends I’d lost, I learned worshipping God was more than simply being surrounded by your friends while singing wonderful music.  When listening to the same pastor preach about the sinfulness of abuse after he’d been unwilling to identify the terrorist as nothing more than a wayward sheep, I learned I couldn’t rely on any one person to be God’s authority for me other than Jesus himself.  I released the desire for my pastor’s approval or my friends’ acceptance.  


I sought the Lord instead and found him more satisfying and healing than I ever thought possible.  I put the Lord on the throne and started asking him what would bring glory to him.  Not how I could serve my church, not how I could present my case to reluctant friends, not how I could improve my isolation in my present situation by getting a better response from the church.  Then, I did something that could only be described as reckless and ungodly.  I attended a different church’s worship service, secretly.  It was as if I had been walking through the desert and had stumbled upon an oasis.  The first Sunday there, I wept in that church, because I was free to worship.  Complete healing will take a long time- it’s to be expected when the abuse has taken a long time, but even with the turmoil of the courts and church, my worship can be free.  I don’t know what all my future holds, but I see domestic abuse advocacy as part of it. I want to help others as Called to Peace has helped me and is still helping me along the way.  I want them to know they can be free.  Free Indeed!

Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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