Tag Archives: biblical counseling

Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

*Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.

 

Is My Relationship Abusive? Part 2

Part 2 in a Series.

In order to recognize the signs of domestic violence, 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 violence is not merely about physical harm, but about abusers establishing patterns of complete domination over their victims. 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.

A Biblical Account of the Abusive Personality

People often ask me for specific biblical counsel on domestic violence, and though there is not a specific case of blatant spousal abuse in scripture, there are numerous accounts of abuse. The very first example of family violence came very early in the history of mankind when Cain killed Abel. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their wickedness, which apparently included blatant sexual abuse on a regular basis. Joseph was abused by his brothers. The Levite in Judges 19 casually threw his concubine out to a mob to be raped, and when she died as a result of her injuries he cut her into pieces to show Israel how his property had been destroyed. Family violence touched king David’s household when Amnon raped Tamar and later Absalom killed him. If I were a betting woman, I would bet that Abigail’s husband Nabal was abusive towards her. Scripture tells us he “was harsh and evil in his dealings” (1 Sam. 25:3), and as a former victim I can relate to the ways she tried to make up for her husband’s foolishness. The Old Testament is filled with violence, and God’s prophets regularly preached against it. In the New Testament, we see God in the flesh enduring abuse at the hands of his own children. He came to earth and took on the worst abuse imaginable in order to redeem his fallen creation. What amazing love! We have a God who cares about abuse, and we have a bible that is by no means silent on the subject.

Although scripture is filled with examples of violence and abuse, one of my biggest frustrations with churches over the years has been a severe lack of knowledge when it comes to the dynamics of abuse. Scripture indicates that a lack of knowledge causes people to perish, and nothing is truer when it comes to abuse. I have had some limited success in sharing secular resources that describe the characteristics of abuse in church and seminary trainings, and even though they are based on observation I feel sure pastors and counselors would prefer to use scripture as their guide. For decades, each time I have read the story of Saul and David I have recognized the dynamics of abuse in play. Saul seems to be the embodiment of just about every abuser I have ever known. And while this is not an account that deals with intimate partner violence, I believe it is very applicable. Abuse usually just boils down to one person asserting malicious control over another, and that is exactly what we see here. We also see Saul abuse his position of authority over David, which is often the case in spousal abuse, particularly for more conservative Christians.

Recently my yearly bible reading plan brought me to the story of Saul and David in 1 Samuel, so I decided to make a list of the common abusive traits I recognized in Saul. Abusers tend to become attached to their victims very quickly, and we see in the same was true in this account. David was hired to play the harp for Saul, and it said that “Saul loved him greatly” (16:21). Obviously, this love was based on what David could offer Saul. Another trait that is very common with abusive personalities is the tendency to be insecure and jealous. Although the jealousy here is a little different that in an intimate relationship where the abuser fears losing the affection of the victim, the root is still the same. In this story, Saul was afraid of losing the affection of the people to David. Fear and insecurity are very common attributes of abusers. It is what drives them to control, and Saul was often consumed with fear.

Those of us who have lived with abuse know all too well that abusers are prone to sudden mood swings for no apparent reason, and that was certainly true of King Saul. One day, as David was ministering to him with music, Saul suddenly hurled a spear at him. Most people believe that abuse is provoked, but nothing could be further from the truth. During my time at the domestic violence shelter, I met scores of women who shared their stories of unprovoked abuse. It seems that little things could set off their abusers, from folding towels the wrong way to putting something on the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. Sometimes, like Saul, their abusers would be in a good mood and suddenly turn on them.

While many people assume abuse is born out of passion and a lack of self-control, the story of King Saul and David shows is it is far more insidious. Even when Saul was not in a rage, he made efforts to hurt David. His decision to give his daughter to David in marriage was so that she would ‘be a snare for him” (18:21). I have seen this seen this characteristic show up often in counseling situations within the church. Abusers have a talent for making malicious decisions look generous and kind to the outside world, while only their partners know the cruel intentions behind them. In one situation, church counselors told the husband to do something tangible to bless his wife. The action he chose was to offer her something he knew she hated and when she declined his invitation, he went back to the church and reported that she refused him. He made it seem as though he was doing everything in his power to make it work, and she was flatly denying him. He was much more vocal than she was in counseling sessions, so the outcome in this particular case was that the wife was labeled as antagonistic and resistant to her husband’s leadership. It seemed as though he was the victim rather than she.

Most abusers do see themselves as the victim, and Saul was no exception. When the priests at Nob aided David and his men, Saul lamented that everyone seemed to be conspiring against him, and that no one was sorry for him (22:8). When the Ziphites reported David’s whereabouts to Saul, he thanked them for having compassion on him (23:21) as though he was the underdog in the situation. David was hiding out in caves in an effort to preserve his life, yet Saul still saw himself as the victim. This is such a common trait among abusers. They are masters at turning truth upside down and making their victims seem to be the perpetrators. To outsiders it can certainly appear that way. Abusers love to influence the perception of others by causing them to think their victims are equally responsible for the violence.

While public perception often tends to place blame on victims, the vast majority I have known did not incite the violence in their marriages. Many women (like I once did) have strict understanding of biblical headship and submission. They are told in their counseling sessions that they should submit and win him without a word. Then if he does wrong, then God will surely deal with him. However, the case of David and Saul shows us that submission and honor do not necessarily result in stopping the abuse. David never did anything to intentionally provoke Saul—like most victims he was completely baffled by the abuse (20:1). In fact, Saul’s violence often occurred when David was ministering to him (18:10, 19:9). While abusive people seem to truly believe their victims are provoking them, in most instances that simply is not the case.

Those who desire to help families affected by domestic violence must learn to recognize common abusive traits, such as these found in the story of Saul and David, and realize that victims do not cause the abuse. Absolutely, I have seen situations where the victim has learned to be angry (Pr. 22:24-25), and perhaps seems equally violent. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases I have observed within the church, this has not been the case. (And even if it had been, abuse is never justified!) My experience in conservative, bible-believing churches has been that Christian women who tend to be victims also tend to be very passive. I tell people I once subscribed to “doormat theology;” meaning I truly believed if I submitted and showered my abuser with kindness he would certainly change his ways. Unfortunately, somewhere in that process I inadvertently enabled his sin. Of course there were times when I tried to break out and went to the church for help, but most of them failed to recognize the dynamics of abuse. The result was that they too unintentionally enabled him through their counsel. Even those who were wise enough to help me take a stand against the violence missed the boat when it came to reconciliation, because they did not understand the propensity for abusers to feign repentance. In the end, I always reconciled too soon, because I believed he was sorry, and I thought that forgiveness meant I had to trust him again.

In the story of Saul and David, it is clear that Saul never truly repented. Sure he confessed, he cried and he acted broken over his sin (24:16-17, 26:21), but David knew he still could not be trusted. True repentance involves a change in behavior over a course of time. Saul “repented” in chapter 24, but by chapter 26 he was seeking to kill David again. Domestic violence can easily turn deadly, and churches need to wake up to this fact. Too often our counsel is so anti-divorce that it ends up sending women and children back into harmful situations. Encouraging reconciliation without true repentance, and without someone helping the wife hold her husband accountable is just plain dangerous! In the past year alone, in my small county, I have had personal ties to 2 women who were killed as a result of domestic violence. They were both Believers and part of local churches, yet when I reach out to churches to offer training on domestic violence, most pastors indicate that they do not believe it is a problem in their congregations.

Statistics indicate that as many as 1 in 3 women will be physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and these numbers are no better for women within the walls of our churches. Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy, and victims go to great links to protect their abusers from exposure, so whether you are aware or not, it is happening in your church. The question is whether or not you will educate yourself enough to help rather than hurt when someone finally musters up the courage to let you in on their family secret. Recognizing the characteristics is one of the first steps in learning to help rather perpetuate the problem. Scripture is not silent on the subject, and this story of the first two kings of Israel can help you better understand the dynamics of abuse. My prayer is that God’s people will rise up, and decide to be part of the solution when is comes to overcoming this hidden epidemic.

 

When People Hurt Us

I’ve always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis (37-50), because it is a story of redemption. In fact, I often tell his story to children who have witnessed and experienced domestic violence, because Joseph had some rather traumatic experiences and overcame them. While the world tells us that such trauma sets us up for a lifetime of misery, I believe this account shows that, with God, that does not have to be the case. Joseph entrusted himself to God in spite of his circumstances, and recognized that God’s plan for his life included using the trauma he experienced for good purposes. Even though he was abused, betrayed and suffered severe injustice, Joseph recognized and proclaimed faith in God’s good and loving plan.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Gen. 45:8)

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Get. 50:20)

Time and time again Joseph recognized God in his negative circumstances. It is obvious that he was hurt by them, but he still acknowledged God’s hand in them all. He could have easily become bitter and angry with God during this time. After all, many injustices had occurred. He had every right to be upset. His circumstances just weren’t fair, but he continued to entrust himself to God.

We have a choice people hurt us. We can allow it to make us bitter, and give them power over us, or we can let God make us better and realize he is ultimately sovereign over it all. This is not to say that we shouldn’t get out of an abusive relationship when we can! Scripture is filled with godly people who ran from harm. (See Ac. 9:25 and 1 Sam. 19:10).  Jesus himself escaped harm until it was his appointed time to die (Jn. 10:39). However, even when people do us harm; he has the power to use it for good. No life experience is wasted when we belong to him. I think that coming to understand this is one of the keys to healing from abuse. Our feeble minds cannot see the long-term agenda, but he can.

There have been many times that I thought people had control of my life, but in reality God was still on the throne. I assumed people had all the power, but he wanted me to surrender it, and allow him to use it for my good. That is what he has always done. Many times in my life I have questioned why bad things have happened. I have wished I could go back and do something different so the outcome would be different. I have wished that I could control it all. I have lamented that people were hurting me, and yet when I look back, I see very clearly how God used it for good in my life. No, being abused was not good. Being betrayed by loved ones was not good, but as I entrusted myself to God in each situation, he was so faithful to use all the bad for good. I have a relationship with him that I wouldn’t trade for the entire world. He has been completely faithful in it all.

When I look back at the worst of times, they were also the best of times spiritually. Jesus held me and spoke to my wounded heart in the most awful circumstances. My experiences have been amazing tutors that have worked together for good in my life (Rom. 8:28). I have learned to stop asking why these days, and instead ask, “God, what do you want to teach me in this?” He always shows me, and in due time, he always lifts me back up. What an amazing God we serve!

Thank you Lord that you are sovereign over hurtful people. Even when you allow bad to happen, you always have a redemptive agenda in mind for your children. I praise you that nothing is wasted in your economy, and stand amazed that everything can be redeemed and used for good. This life is but a breath, but you have an eternal agenda that surpasses anything this world has to offer. I can rest in your goodness, even when things seem bad and out of control. In reality, they never are. Amen

Answering the Call

Ministry Update

The Vision

I think it is true that when you know God no experience is ever wasted. When I look back on my life, I can see where I knowingly rebelled against his best for my life, and in my mind now it seems a complete waste. Yet, God has managed to use the suffering born out my sinful choices to bring me into a deeper relationship with him. Even my stubborn heart attitudes have become valuable teaching experiences, and I have been able to use those lessons when counseling others. I have lived through a lot: abuse, infidelity, divorce, wayward children, sudden financial ruin, deaths of loved ones, and a host of other painful experiences. In the end, it seems as though each miserable event has resulted in a spiritual triumph as I have learned to cast my cares on Him. That is the key. For years, I tried to force God into yielding to my plan, rather than yielding to Him. True victory comes in complete surrender. How contrary to human thinking! The truth is we are all surrendered to something—whether it be it power, wealth, relationships, addictions, or whatever we seek for satisfaction. The problem is that these other things bring heartache while surrender to God results in freedom, along with satisfaction, peace and joy.

Since it took me so long to surrender all to God, I prolonged the misery in my life. (Still not wasted—I’m just a slow learner.) The result is that I now have a passion to help people move past destructive choices and decisions that leave them in misery. I feel like Harriet Tubman. Now that I am free, I want to start another underground railroad to freedom! There are so many issues that stay underground and unaddressed in our churches. God continues to prick my heart about starting a ministry to help those struggling as the result of destructive lifestyle choices. Sometimes people struggle because of the sinful choices of others, yet I find that even in those situations, victims often make things worse by the way they respond. However, nobody is hopeless when they have God and the freedom He offers through Jesus. Redemption is not a one-time event; it should permeate our lives and our relationships. He offers hope and deliverance!

 Providing Support to Local Churches

Yes, churches do proclaim deliverance through Jesus, but sometimes in order for people to find true freedom they need intensive help that many churches may not be able to provide. When I left my abusive husband 18 years ago, I had no money, no place to stay, and it seemed as though nobody I talked to understood how to help. I didn’t want to go to a secular shelter, because I didn’t think they would support my biblical conviction to try and save my marriage. How I wish there had been a Christian place I could have gone with my two children. I have seen many other women struggle with this over the years, and I have also seen women return to abusive situations, because there were no resources for them. Even the secular shelters only allow them to stay for 3 months. What if there was a place that would provide free or low cost housing, temporary childcare, career training, and other practical needs to help women get on their feet for up to 2 years? What if there was a place that would provide free biblical counseling for families caught in the midst of crisis as the result of sinful choices? What if?

As I write this, I am thinking that this dream is just too big, but for some reason I can’t seem to let it go, and I know that nothing is impossible with God. I know that there are many others out there who have struggled through life crises and have seen the need for such a place. While I envision it being a haven for those coming out of abuse, I also know there are many other situations that could benefit from such a ministry. In addition, I see education as a huge component to this ministry, particularly helping churches learn how to deal with domestic violence more effectively. So here it is. Would you pray that God would make a way, and if you are interested in joining in this ministry, would you please let me know? I am especially looking for folks in the Raleigh, NC area to help establish a local ministry, but would welcome input from anyone. I cannot stress how much I need your prayers, because it is never easy to step out and respond to a call that seems impossible by human standards. Still, I know that all things are possible with God so I am moving forward.

 

2013 Summary

In 2013, things in my personal life seemed to take center stage, so that public ministry was often relegated to the backseat. In December, my mother passed away, and before that she has come to the point for needing lots of extra assistance. God was so merciful, in that she barely suffered. She had bone cancer, but apparently her dementia prevented her from feeling pain up until the end. Not only that, but she never forgot her children, and was cheerful in disposition until she  became too weak to speak about 5 days before she passed. We rejoice that she is now basking in the presence of her Lord.

In December, I also completed my degree in Biblical Counseling  at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) after being a part-time student for 10 years! I cannot tell you the relief I felt in walking across that stage.

In October, I was the keynote speaker for Richland Creek Community Church’s annual women’s retreat in Myrtle Beach, SC. The retreat title was Tracing Roots to Fruits, and I decided to speak on the three topics I see most in counseling: selfishness, bitterness, and fear. We discussed Biblical truths for overcoming all 3 of these “bad” roots that hinder a victorious Christian walk. In the spring, I also taught a class at RCCC entitled “Heart Matters” that dealt with common problems women face, and keys to victorious living. My favorite class is “Knowing God’s Heart.”

Other speaking engagements in 2013 included visiting 2 counseling classes at SEBTS and teaching on domestic violence and emotional abuse. I am passionate about these subjects, and helping the church learn to handle them better, because I have seen far too often the church’s lack of knowledge in this area can make matters worse.  If you are interested in these subjects, I have written several articles and would be happy to share them if you send me your email address.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog, and supporting this ministry.