All posts by Joy Forrest

Joy Forrest is an experienced bible study teacher, writer and speaker. She has spoken in many venues: from women's bible studies and retreats, to prisons, radio and television. As former Community Educator of a domestic violence shelter, Joy is equipped to speak to serious issues like physical and emotional abuse, but her message is relevant to women from all walks of life. Believing that too many fail to walk in the abundant life God offers His children, she focuses her lessons on practical steps to victory. Joy's passion is to help women overcome thoughts, choices, and strongholds that prevent them from realizing God’s best for their lives. Joy holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has served in the counseling ministry of 2 local churches since 2004. She helped establish Called to Peace Ministries in 2015 to help families transitioning out of crises such as domestic violence. She and her husband Nathan ("Rusty") have 5 grown children, 10 grandchildren. Visit www.joyfulsurrender.com for more information.

IS THIS REALLY A MESSAGE FROM GOD?

(Please read to the end. The intention of this post is not self-defense).

From time to time on this blog, I write posts that are written from ”God’s voice” as I imagine he would speak to my heart. I’ve had a few people unfollow and tell me that this is apostasy, and dabbling in new age practices. So, I’d like to set the record straight. I am a writer. In poetry and prose we often write from another person’s perspective. I am in no way asserting that these writings are equivalent to or authoritative like scripture. However, I believe that God gives us imaginations for a reason, and not all imagining is evil as some seem to think. I am sure God is pleased when we stop to meditate on his goodness, and even when we imagine how he might respond to the struggles we are facing.

We are to set our minds on things above and I’d say that is exactly what this is. Sadly, most of us tend to imagine things like “What am I going to do? This situation is impossible! “I don’t see a way out of this.” “What if God doesn’t come through?” Or even— “If I be still and open my mind to His Spirit, I am opening myself up to the demonic.” I find it very sad that children of God worry that when they ask their Father for a fish, he will give them a snake. (Luke 11:11) In my opinion, imaginations like these are far more damaging than imagining that he is on our side or that he keeps his promises.

Scripture tells us that God has given us his Holy Spirit, and that he speaks to his people in a still small voice. Jesus said his sheep know his voice (John 10:27). There have been several occasions when thoughts came into my mind to pray for or call someone, or even go do something for them. Many of these times I found that they were facing serious issues at that exact time. A few times listening to that still small voice has made a HUGE difference in my life, and the lives of those I love, as I acted on those promptings. We need to be sensitive to his voice. He gave us his Spirit to help us through this life, and even to help us understand scripture. The Word without the Spirit is lifeless and powerless. In our work with victims of abuse we find that those who deny his work in our lives are the very ones who use scripture as a weapon. For them it is no longer the living, active, God-breathed word of God, but instead a set of rules. The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:6)

So if you’re following this blog and find these posts offensive, please feel free to stop following. It grieves my heart– not because we’ve lost a follower, but because your view of God is so small, and that you are missing all he has for his children. He offers us intimate fellowship, and that includes two way communication with Him. Yes, scripture is the ultimate authority, and the vast majority of the time he will speak through his word (and quicken it to our minds as we meditate on Him– maybe even as we imagine). He will never say anything to contradict it, but I believe it pleases him when we take time to dwell on his promises and his goodness. What would he say to you about that awful situation you’re facing? I believe if you get quiet and meditate on his word, you will find he has a beautiful message for you. 💗Joy

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Is it Abuse? Minimizing, Denial & BLame… Part 5

This is the 5th and final post in a series on recognizing abusive patterns in relationships from my book Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace & Healing After Domestic Abuse. Most people believe that physical abuse stems from heated arguments, but generally speaking, that is not the case. Most often abusers becomes violent when the techniques  described on the Power and Control Wheel fail to achieve the desired control. Today we look at the last 3 tactics found on the Wheel.

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

Grace had been married to Charlie for over 10 years, and was a stay-at-home mom. Although, she went to extreme measures to please Charlie, he criticized her constantly. The house was never clean enough, the kids were never good enough, and meals never seemed to meet his approval. Grace tried very hard to please him, so one day she decided to cook 2 meals in an attempt to find something Charlie would like. Instead, he walked in late and went straight upstairs, ignoring both meals. Soon after, Grace discovered Charlie was seeing another woman, and he’d had dinner with her that evening. When she confronted Charlie, he turned the situation all back on Grace. First of all, he explained, he had done nothing wrong, and she was being ridiculous. He criticized her for even bringing it up, and when she pressed him on the subject, he started blaming her for his actions. Maybe if she had been more attentive to his needs or managed to do something right from time to time, he wouldn’t have needed to find outside companionship. Basically, he told her she had no right to question his actions, and if she wanted to see things improve in the marriage, she needed to try harder.

Grace also learned that Charlie was slapping their 10-year-old son on a regular basis, and the same thing happened when she tried to talk to him about her concerns. At first he denied it was even happening, but when she caught him doing it one day, he simply acted like it was no big deal. When she expressed her concern that it was contributing to their son’s anger issues, he turned it back on Grace. “Of course, he’s angry! He has to live with you!” No matter what she said and did to confront the wrongs against the children and herself, Charlie always either denied wrongdoing, minimized it or blamed someone else. He never accepted responsibility for his actions.

Economic Abuse

Jan’s husband John put her on a very strict allowance, and it usually fell far short of meeting the basic needs for their family of six. When she went to the grocery store, Jan had to bring back her receipt so that John could analyze every item she bought. He ridiculed half of her purchases and called them wasteful. On the other hand, she had to make sure she bought him special (and somewhat expensive) snacks that nobody else was allowed to touch. When extra expenses popped up, such as prescription co-pays or extracurricular fees for the kids, Jan didn’t have enough left for necessities. She had two little ones in diapers, and one on formula, but the budget barely allowed for these items. If she ran out of money, John ridiculed her for being frivolous. Eventually, Jan decided it might help to take on a part time job in the evenings to help out, but John refused to let her work. Although he constantly claimed to be broke, he often bought high-dollar items for the kids and himself. The older kids were given the latest smart phones, and he bought a boat. Jan was still using an old flip phone her sister had given her several years back.

John made sure that Jan did not have access to his income, or bank information. She only had access to the joint account he set up for her allowance. Even at tax time, John simply had her sign their tax returns without looking at them, but one day she caught a glimpse at his annual income, and found that, in spite of his claims of being broke, John was earning well over six figures. She was barely surviving on what he gave her, but he wasn’t struggling at all. He simply enjoyed wielding power over Jan.

Using Male Privilege

When Jan finally got up enough courage to ask the church for help, John discredited everything she said. Since she had struggled with postpartum depression, he used that to convince the church she was completely unstable. John was considered a leader in the church, and his outstanding service gave people little reason to doubt him. On the other hand, Jan was usually pretty frazzled. She had been in a bible study I had taught a few years prior. At the time, John approached me to say he hoped I could help her with her issues. He acted like she was very troubled, but didn’t give me details. He seemed like such a good guy, I even fell for his portrayal of her.

When she approached me in tears two years later, we set up a meeting and even then, I’m ashamed to say, I doubted her more than him. Eventually, as we met, I did begin to recognize the abusive pattern, and I approached our pastor to say I felt the situation was potentially dangerous. His response was that I was only hearing one side of the story, and that he believed Jan was making up lies “to destroy her husband.” When I asked why she would do such a thing he referred me to years of joint counseling sessions in which John was able to get her to admit she was wrong for accusing him. John had also shown him a video of Jan “freaking out” and yelling. Of course, there was nothing on the videos showing what led up to that, but his efforts to discredit her were hugely successful. The consensus among church leaders was that John was a great guy with a very troubled wife. The worst part of it was that he was able to use his role as head of the house to keep Jan subdued. At home, he reminded her that she was to submit to him, and did not involve her in any family decisions. He basically dictated how things would be. In counseling sessions, he often complained that Jan was not submissive. In addition to exercising male privilege, I would say John used spiritual abuse by distorting his biblical role as head to force his self-seeking agenda, which is ultimately the goal of all of the tactics found on the Power and Control Wheel.

Anyone who truly wishes to help families living with domestic violence must understand these patterns of control and manipulation. A lack of knowledge truly causes people to perish. If counselors and pastors are unfamiliar with these patterns, they will easily be fooled by the abuser, and see the victim as the cause of the problem. In fact, churches really need to enlist the help of those who have expertise in domestic abuse to help them discern the patterns and make an effective plan to help. At Called to Peace Ministries, we believe DV advocates can help serve in this capacity, and have partnered with House of Peace Publications to help train faith-based advocates across the nation and elsewhere.

I have seen far too many victims come under church discipline, or told to submit to the abuser and let God handle him, when in fact abusers need accountability, and victims need practical solutions rather than weak advice that doesn’t work. Domestic violence is an epidemic in our world and our churches! Until people of faith learn how to help, they simply perpetuate the destructive cycle.

Is it Abuse? Part 4: Emotional Abuse & Isolation

Emotional Abuse 

Women who live with domestic violence often tell me they prefer hitting to the emotional torture their abusers put them through. The Power and Control Wheel calls it emotional abuse, and while some may not agree with the terminology, there is definitely an emotionally destructive element to these relationships. “Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.”[i] Tactics include: putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, name calling, mind games, making her think she’s crazy, humiliation, and making her feel guilty. Several years ago, I watched a woman in a store ask her husband if she could purchase a three-dollar item. Rather than saying yes or no, her husband began to put her down in front of everyone present. He asked her how she could be so foolish as to want to buy something that cheap, and indicated that she probably wouldn’t even use it. As he was criticizing her for her stupidity, he looked over at us and chuckled. It was clear he enjoyed taunting his wife, and that he saw her as inferior. Her face turned red as she tried to mumble out answers to his questions, and finally she put the item back to avoid further humiliation. It seems silly that something so small could ignite such a fury, but that’s the nature of domestic violence. Molehills become mountains on a regular basis when you live with an abuser.

One woman at the shelter told me that sometimes she would purposely do something to get her husband to hit her, just because she knew that once the abuse was over there would be a break in the verbal assaults for a while. Victims are made to feel they are constantly wrong, incompetent and worthless. No matter what the issue, and no matter who is right or wrong, everything gets turned around and the victim ends up getting blamed for everything. The sad thing is that abusers are often skilled enough to convince counselors and pastors that their wives really are to blame for most of the problems in the marriage. They’re so skilled at these mind games that often their partners even start to blame themselves. Abusers go to great lengths to portray themselves as morally superior and intellectually more reasonable than their victims, and by the time they get to counseling many victims are so overwhelmed, and insecure about themselves, that they do seem unstable.

Isolation

Abusers love to isolate their victims from people and situations that might provide them with support. I have had women tell me that, after getting married, they eventually lost every single friend. My friend Kathy was rarely allowed to see her family- even on holidays. On several occasions, her husband reached out to her friends and family and told them it was her decision to cut off the relationships. He led them to believe that she was mentally unstable, and he was doing his best to make things easier on her. However, he was the one controlling her contact with others. She was basically allowed to go to church (with him), and to the grocery store as long as she wasn’t gone too long, and came home with a receipt to prove her whereabouts.

      Abusers use isolation to try and make sure their victims have nowhere to turn when things get tough. Most controlling people live in fear of losing control, so they go to great lengths to maintain it. Linda’s husband, Dave, bought a 17-acre farm 20 minutes from the nearest town, and he had the only car in the family. He was retired, so Linda had him as her constant companion. Dave controlled what she ate, what she read, and even her opinions. She was not allowed to disagree with him in any way. When I met her, they had been married over 30 years, and up until just before she came to the shelter, he had never laid a hand on her. Although Dave did not allow Linda to have friends, he had several, and when he invited his friend Carl out to visit, he brought his wife, Lucy. This was the first friend Linda had been allowed in years, and she was grateful. One day when the men were out hunting, Lucy told Linda she needed to stand up to Dave’s bullying, and let him know she had a right to her opinion. Shortly afterwards, she did just that, and Dave went ballistic. He beat her so badly she nearly died, and he ended up in prison. For all the years they had been married isolation had achieved its goal. When she completely isolated, Linda was too afraid to refuse any of Dave’s demands, but as soon as she found some external support she found courage to challenge him. Unfortunately, by the time she did, it nearly cost her life.

This article is part 4 in a 5 part series on recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship. Many victims do not even realize their relationships are abusive. The intent of these articles is to show that domestic violence is far more than physical abuse.

 

[i] Vernick, Leslie, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2013), Kindle Version Location 256.

Is it Abuse? Part 3: Coercion, Threats, Using the Children & Intimidation

One of the most common ways abusers control their victims is through coercion and threats. In the years I have worked with victims of domestic violence, nearly all of them have confirmed that these behaviors were used regularly in their homes. Some abusers threatened to leave their families and not provide for their basic needs, some threatened suicide in order to make sure they got their way, some threatened physical harm, and others just threatened to humiliate their partners somehow. In several cases, I’ve seen abusers go out of their way to make their wives look incompetent.

After years of living with control and manipulation, my friend Jill became seriously depressed, and ended up taking antidepressants. Her husband made sure he let the pastor know how concerned he was about his wife’s erratic behavior, her “inability to parent properly,” and her “dependence on medication.” Of course, the church had no idea of what really went on behind closed doors, and Jill knew better than try to tell them. At the same time, Jill’s husband made sure she knew that if she decided to leave the marriage, he would have no trouble having her declared incompetent and getting full custody of the children. For Jill this threat was far more powerful than bodily injury ever could have been. Her husband’s threats were highly effective in promoting his selfish interests. Even though none of his claims were true, they were powerful enough to keep her in a miserable situation far longer than most people would have  stayed.

Using the Children

Abusive people generally aim their threats directly at whatever their victims value most, so that means threats involving children are very common in these situations. In fact, many women stay in horrible relationships far too long, because they know if they leave their spouses may hurt the children somehow if they leave. Such was the case with my friend Bethany. She had endured unending criticism and relentless threats from the beginning of her marriage. Her husband was well educated and powerful, and had won full custody of his children after divorcing his first two wives.  He was quick let Bethany know that if she ever tried to leave him he would have no problem doing the same again.

He constantly bullied and belittled her, and unfortunately  she sometimes lost her temper. During these times he secretly recorded her outbursts to use as evidence if he ever needed it for court. One day she got up the nerve to threaten divorce, but he merely laughed at her and assured her he had enough evidence to make sure she never saw the children again. In the meantime, his cruelty was also aimed at the children. In fact, I ended up reporting it to Child Protective Services, but even then he ended up coming out their investigation looking good. In the long run, Bethany is still in a terrible situation, because she believes that at least if she stays she can serve as a buffer between her husband and her children. Sadly the older son has become abusive to his mother just like his dad is, but the fear of losing him keeps Bethany paralyzed and afraid to leave.

Unfortunately, Bethany’s story is not an exception when it comes to domestic violence. In my own limited exposure, I have seen abusers intentionally use and misuse their children multiple times in order to punish their mothers. It is not unusual for them to attempt to turn the children against their mothers. Basically abusers will do whatever they consider necessary to maintain control, regardless of the consequences to the children. I have seen women frozen in fear, because of these types of threats, but those who decide to leave usually tell me they made the right decision. Living in fear of a man will never lead to the life God intends for you. Ask Him to help you devise a plan to leave, and be sure to utilize all the resources available to you. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you devise a safety plan, and connect you to legal resources to help you with custody issues. Be sure to find a way to document the abuse that is occuring, and keep a copy of your documentation with a trusted friend or advocate.

Intimidation

Besides using their children to hurt their wives, abusers make regular use of intimidation techniques to instill fear and attain unfettered power in their families. Intimidation can range from a harsh look to extreme physical violence. Most abusive people have conditioned their victims to know when they are about to snap. As a result, a single angry glance can cause wives and children to freeze up or change their course of action. If a nasty look doesn’t get the desired result, or if the abuser is feeling particularly grumpy, he may resort to more physical tactics such as throwing and smashing things, destroying her property, or even abusing the household pets. When I was working in our local domestic violence program, one of the clients told me that her husband killed her dog in front of her and the children, and countless other victims told me that their family pets often received the brunt of the abuser’s wrath. One lady told me that her husband filled her car with poisonous snakes to make sure she didn’t go anywhere. These were more extreme cases, but less dramatic measures are still highly effective.

Intimidation usually escalates in intensity over time, and if the abuser does not feel his demands are being met. Some of the behaviors often seen in the progression of violence include: blocking her exit from a room, punching walls and throwing things, screaming, and raising a fist. If an abuser still feels he is not in control, he may resort to more physical measures like grabbing, shoving, kicking, hitting and worse. An interesting thing to note here is that, even when hitting occurs, many abusers, in an effort to keep the abuse hidden, maintain enough control over themselves to make sure they hurt their victims in way that doesn’t leave obvious bruises. Most of us who live with severe intimidation convince ourselves that our partners are out of control when they use anger to intimidate us, but that is most often not the case. For the overwhelming majority of those who use control and violence, it is a choice. We’ll talk about that more in future posts.

Part 3 in a Series. Today’s post covered three of the 8 tactics abusers use as listed on the Power and Control Wheel. For more on the Wheel, see my previous posts.

Could God Ever Use Me?

There are days when I still have to remind myself of the truths he’s taught me, and this particular lesson is one I have to revisit often. It never ceases to amaze me that God can show up so mightily in the midst of human frailty.

JoyfulSurrender.com

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:13-15

I love that scripture is filled with weak and reluctant heroes of the faith. I love it, because I know how feeble and hesitant I am. People often tell me they think I am so strong for…

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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? Part 2: 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.