Tag Archives: domestic abuse

It’s the Little Things

What I Wasn’t Prepared for When Leaving My Abuser

Guest Post by “Julie”

It’s the little things that caught me off guard. As a victim trying to escape the anguish my children and I were living in, I was encouraged to watch other victims of domestic abuse leave their abusers. But then they’d go back. It seemed to me that they would always return is because of money. My abuser controlled all my income, so I got a very part-time second job without telling him. I saved up for six months to finally be able to afford to leave. It was a huge amount to me at the time, what I thought would cover the children and me until child support and other assistance would kick in.

There would be no going back for me. I’d already done that once with his promises to change. He seemingly transformed overnight into a repentant man who’d rediscovered Jesus. The abuse was worse after that and was even more hidden as he played up his newfound role of living a life of holiness. I saved enough to budget for two months’ worth of rent, bills, gas, groceries. The child support agent told me it took 4-6 weeks for that process and I knew food stamps would be similar. I thought if I could make it until then, I’d be okay and could work on building my income. It was as solid of a plan as I could make and I didn’t have any more time. I never knew what would cause the next explosion and if he would target me or the children.

I stepped out bravely into what I thought would be rebuilding my new life. I wasn’t expecting a gazillion trips to my attorney’s office, the domestic abuse center, and court, including parking fees each day I had to go. I wasn’t expecting medical appointments for the children and the expenses that my husband refused to reimburse. Child support took six months to get settled. None of that was in my plan.  I ran out of money after one and a half months. My bills were starting to hit past due dates. I opened a few credit cards and mostly maxed them out with attorney fees and living expenses.  I fed my children by going to food banks twice a week.  I often went without myself because there just wasn’t enough food to go around.

Luckily for me, Called to Peace was there. They helped me catch up on past due bills and gave me gift cards for gas. I felt like I could breathe a little.  In a few months, my income increased because I was able to work more.  Some months I was still short, and those gas cards were what I remember because I carried it with me.  For me, a gas card is not just another bill, but someone telling me they think I’m valuable enough to be able to get out in the world and take care of business.  The gas cards represented someone believing I deserved a better life so much that they were willing to invest in it. They meant someone trusted me to use gas wisely.

In my marriage, I’d been given a strict gas budget for my vehicle and was out of luck if it was used and I still had places to go, including work and church- even if it had been used up because my husband had driven the vehicle, even if it was used because of extra medical appointments.  I was harshly criticized if I ran out because “You should have budgeted better.”

Called to Peace understood the financial valley I was trying to climb out of because it’s so common for a woman in an abusive household to have these same challenges.  I’ve watched fellow survivors climb out of the same valleys.  At one time, I was working for five companies. I still work for more than one company, but I only made it this far because Called to Peace helped me. Since then, I’ve gotten a promotion at work. I can pay all my bills. I’m working to pay off the massive debts, but I know I’ll make it. My confidence has a lot to do with Called to Peace believing in me, which they demonstrated to me with gas cards, advocacy, counseling, and a lot of prayer and love.

 

If you would like to help other women like “Julie” who are facing economic hardship, please prayerfully consider donating to Called to Peace Ministries’ Emergency Fund by visiting www.calledtopeace.org— 100% of contributions to this fund go directly to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

Stuck in the Muck!

Ten Signs You Haven’t Healed After Domestic Abuse

I lived 23 years of my life as a victim. Well no, that’s not exactly true. I left my abusive husband after 23 years, but my victim status didn’t go away until several years after that. Becoming a victim was not my choice, and it was never my fault, but eventually I learned that moving out of the victim mindset was my responsibility. In the years after I got out of the abuse, my misery and God’s providence graciously led me to truths that enabled me to overcome and move from victim to victor. It was not a quick or easy process, but it was an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. God lifted me out of a pit despair and taught me how to walk in complete dependence on him in the midst of incredible turmoil. He grounded me in truth and made me a better person than I ever was before the abuse.

Even as I was working through my own healing process, I began working with victims of domestic abuse. I still had so much to learn, but I was willing to share the truths God was teaching me. In the beginning it was really hard for me to hear survivor’s stories without experiencing strong feelings of outrage and anger. I am sure that my support during those early years was iffy at times, but nothing could stop me from pursuing my passion to help. Over the past 23 years of doing this work I have learned many valuable lessons from hundreds of survivors. One of the hardest lessons has been seeing what happens to victims of abuse who never take the time to heal, or try to fast track the process by skipping the hard work it usually takes. Here’s what I’ve come to believe:

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. *

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these outcomes. I’ve seen scores and scores of women move from one abusive relationship to another, because they were still operating out of trauma from previous relationships, and because they never became healthy enough to recognize what to look for in a new relationship. The hardest part of overcoming abuse is overcoming the warped thinking that comes with it. I often tell people that it took a lot longer to get the abuse out of me than it did for me to get out of the abuse (and getting out wasn’t easy or quick). I had come to believe so many lies, which were aggravated by the physical impacts of post traumatic stress. These lies were so deep-seated in me that took years to recognize and replace them with truth. Meditation on His Word was powerful, but even after attaining the major healing milestone of forgiving my ex husband, I had a long way to go. Forgiveness did help alleviate the anger that almost destroyed me, but it did not stop the fear and anxiety that continued to rule me. Healing was a process that required honest self- appraisal along with sheer determination not to allow lies to control me any longer.

Where are you in the healing process? Have you determined to work through the impacts of abuse, or are you too afraid to face the truth of what happened? Sadly, that response is the quickest way to stay stuck or end up repeating destructive patterns. Many times people start the work towards recovery, but then try to skip over important steps like forgiveness, grief or self-examination. Are you willing to take an honest look at yourself? If so, below are some signs you have still some work to do.

Ten signs that you’re stuck in the trauma of your past.

Health Illustrative

  1. You feel a strong desire or need to be in another relationship— or maybe even back in the destructive one you left. You may find yourself longing for your abuser. You may have no idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, but that doesn’t stop you from trying again.
  2. You still see yourself as a victim. While you were victimized by someone, allowing it to become your identity is very dangerous. You may find yourself unable to trust even those who have good intentions towards you, and assume their motives are evil even when they are not.
  3. You find yourself easily triggered by anything that reminds you of the abuse you experienced. A sound, smell or even a word can thrust you into a state of panic or dissociation.
  4. You struggle with depression or anxiety. While there are chemical and hormone imbalances that can contribute to these conditions, it’s important to recognize that trauma also changes brain chemistry. Recovery work with a trauma informed counselor, and meditating on truths to counter warped thinking, can help rewire the brain so that it may be possible to overcome long term depression and anxiety.
  5. You can’t move past the anger. Anger, in and of itself, is not wrong. We are made in God’s image, and there are things that anger him. The problem comes when we become consumed with anger and are unable to let it go. Anger like this becomes destructive, and compels us to want to control things rather than releasing control to God. It is self-focused versus righteous anger which is God-focused.
  6. You are easily offended and overly defensive. When we haven’t healed we tend to take things too personally. We often read into the motives of others and make faulty assumptions based on our past experience rather than reality. This can cause problems in most of our relationships. 
  7. You are critical and controlling of others. Part of healing after abuse involves learning to let go the need to control things that are beyond our control, particularly other people. When we become hyper aware of others’ faults and feel it’s our job to correct them, we are in danger of treating others the way our abusers’ treated us.
  8. You struggle to make decisions. When we’ve been controlled and criticized for years, it is hard to move forward and feel confident about our choices. Most of us were told we couldn’t do anything right, so the simple act of making a decision can become paralyzing. 
  9. You can’t get past grief and regret. There’s hardly anything more traumatic than being maliciously betrayed by someone we love. It’s hard to get over the shock that their intentions were so evil, especially when we loved them so much. Many times we struggle to get past the guilt and regret we have for failing to recognize the abuse sooner. Grief is a normal part of the healing process that we can’t avoid, but it becomes a problem when it turns to self-pity.
  10. You feel hopeless and have lost your faith. Living with abuse can make us feel like our abusers are even more powerful than God. It’s especially difficult when they use scripture as a weapon to convince us that God is on their side. Nearly every victim of abuse I’ve ever met found their faith was damaged in some way, and most struggle with hopelessness at some point.

Has abuse left you angry, fearful or distrusting of people in general? Do you find yourself having difficulty with relationships in general? Are you easily offended or do you assume evil motives on the part of people who are truly trying to help you? Are you stuck in regret over the past? If so, you are not alone. These are normal responses to trauma and betrayal. The abuse was not your fault, but finding healing after abuse is your responsibility. Are you willing to do an honest self- appraisal and determine to do the work it takes to heal?** If not, you will miss out of the hope and healing our God offers. My prayer for you today is that you will encounter His life-changing truth, and that He will give you the grace and wisdom needed to walk the path to freedom. 💗

 

*Forrest, Joy, Called to Peace Companion Workbook, Blue Ink Press, p. 141.

**If you don’t know where to begin your healing process, Called to Peace Ministries’ offers a scripture based curriculum and support groups that can help. Visit http://www.calledtopeace.org to learn more

    Recognizing Bad Fruit Isn’t Judging

    So many times when victims of coercive control and abuse try to tell people about what their partners are doing, they are told they shouldn’t judge. Yet, in the same chapter that starts with “Do not judge,” Jesus spent a lot of time talking about false disciples and wolves in sheep’s clothing (7:15-23).

    When we judge we are assessing* others based on our opinions and preferences. However, recognizing bad fruit doesn’t require judgment. It’s obvious. The fruit is either good or bad. I’d say when someone curses you again and again or spits in your face and utters hateful words, that is bad fruit. If someone oppresses you, or restricts your freedom to even think or act independently, that’s bad fruit– and God hates it.

    Reading further in chapter 7, you will see that many will stand before Him on that final day professing to know Him and He will cast them out, because their actions did not match their profession. It’s a serious thing to claim His name and then treat people with contempt, or to ignore their needs (“I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat Mt. 25:42).

    While we are saved by grace through faith alone, that experience should change us, and it should become evident in our actions. Micah 6:8 tells us what God requires of us– “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” Those who abuse do the exact opposite. They may get away for it temporarily, but one day they will be called to account, and required to answer the only One worthy to judge. “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:30-31.

    As survivors that should not make us happy (Pr. 24:17), but we should leave justice to God and release our offenders to Him. If we harbor bitterness and anger we may find ourselves becoming like them. So until He comes, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” (Lk. 6:28) and leave the judgment to Him. 💗 Joy

    “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” Jame 3:9-12

    * The original word used here can also mean to condemn Greek based on our assessment more than facts.

    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 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.

    Is it Really Abuse?

    This is part one in a series.  

    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 hairbrush 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.

     

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

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

    “I felt so damaged & broken hearted”

    In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the second in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily.

    Looking back over the past 5 years I can see many things that I wished I had responded to differently.  I experienced the first physical attack when I was 6 months pregnant. I was horrified and frightened, and my husband was taken away by ambulance due to a “drug reaction” that they said caused the physical violence.  I believed the doctors and  believed his lies. He convinced me to believe that he would never do anything to harm me or our baby again.

    The second brutal attack happened when the baby was 3 months old.  He attempted to kill me in a rage.  Once again, the psychologist reiterated that it was a combination of medications he was taking, and after detoxing from these prescriptions he was “fine.”  However, this attack resulted in a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS).  This time was different. We were investigated, but the case was closed. After a 4-month separation I gave into his pressure and allowed him to move back home.  The abuse began again soon after, but this time he would remind that CPS would take our baby if I called the law during altercations. So, I endured and kept my mouth shut– until I reached the end.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided that, even if it resulted in CPS taking away my baby, the so be it.  I knew I would get her back because I was a good mom, so I put it in the Lord’s hands.

    Some of the challenges I faced coming out of an abusive relationship were:

    1. I struggled with trusting myself to make decisions.
    2. I isolated myself and realized I had become afraid to commit to outings with friends and family.
    3. I thought God had abandoned me when I had abandoned Him.
    4. The sheriff’s department got tired of responding to my calls, and said coming out so often was nonsense.  They suggested that if we couldn’t get along together we needed to separate.
    5. When I finally reached the end of my rope, I almost got arrested for my rage when I was told I should pack up my kids and leave the house since he refused to go.  Meanwhile, he sat there smirking at me saying “honey, you need to calm down.”
    6. It takes a long time to heal from the mind from abuse, and it does not take much for me to find my thoughts returning to the negative beliefs I had when I was with him– things like “I am less of a person.” This still happens, even after 18 months of “detoxing” from him.
    7. Not everyone understands domestic violence.  People are quick to say “I would never accept that behavior,” but they have never experienced the subtle mind games they play. They keep you so confused you don’t even realize what is happening until after you’ve been sucked in.  I kept making excuses for him, thinking he was not that smart to know what he was doing, but I finally learned he chose his behavior.

    I’ve been free of him for 18 months now, and I am so happy I made that final call.  I had to allow myself to see that he wouldn’t ever change.  I had endured his abuse, sarcastic comments from deputies who came out, and belittlement from a judge when I asked for the final (3rd or 4th) protective order. I felt so damaged & broken hearted. Every night I sat awake crying– terrified of each noise I heard, and longing for security.  That is when I Googled Christian support groups for domestic violence and found a video of Joy discussing the purpose of Called to Peace.  Called to Peace restored my faith, gave me hope and allowed me to see my feelings were normal for victims of abuse.  I wasn’t crazy!   I thank God for showing me Called to Peace and helping begin the healing process.

    With an Abuser, Nothing is Off Limits

    In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the first in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily. 
    Living in abuse presents many difficulties. As a Christian, of course you want peace in your home. You want your husband to love you. You want a good marriage. You read all the books you can find and they usually say “don’t look at your spouse, when you change, everything will get better”. So, you go to God over and over and pray that he will show you all your sin and failure so you can change. They say things like “men need respect.” What does respect look like? Well, you don’t yell, you don’t call names, you don’t roll your eyes, you don’t disregard his feelings, and you do what is important to him. You do these things, but shouldn’t he also respect you?
    We hear from the pulpit things like “wives, you control the atmosphere in your home.”
    That basically puts the behavior of both the husband and wife on the wife. Truly the abused wife has to bear the weight of everything. We not only have to constantly walk on eggshells (watch his eyes, the corner of his mouth, hands, posture, tone etc.) for our safety, but we have to endure being put down over and over and over. Our bodies are shamed, our abilities are not just criticized, but SLAMMED. We get called horrible names over and over– screamed at, yelled at, things thrown at us, spit at, and physically hurt and so much more. We are worn out and hurting.
    We do such a great job of covering our husbands’ sins that people tell us often how amazing our husbands are, and because we have anxiety they feel bad for him. The church says our husbands behavior is our fault. Our husband says his behavior is our fault. Our job is to protect our abuser, protect our kids, and have a good testimony which means “don’t make your husband look bad.”
    With an abuser, nothing is off limits. They have one goal and its to destroy you as a human being. No one can really understand the weight that is on us unless you have been through it. In my situation I am just about 50 years old. I have been a full time homemaker for all of our 30 year marriage. When I got sick and was not as useful any more, he became a monster. He would do terrible things, play horrible mind games and then stand there screaming, “Why cant I break you?” He used to threaten to get me locked up in a mental hospital and he would laugh at how funny it would be. He also wanted me dead, but for whatever reason, God not only kept my mind sound he also kept me alive.
    In regards to difficulties, I am 49, I have no education, I now have health issues that would keep me from working, but I don’t collect disability. My husband decided now would be a great time to divorce me. He says since I am old now and no one would ever want me, I will be forced to live on the street and beg for food, which apparently would bring him pleasure. I deal with shame on a daily basis. Shame because I have loved God and loved my husband, but I have nothing to show for it– look at my life. Shame because I am not healthy, so I am forced to ask others for help. My faith has been tested greatly because when you have a husband who is abusive and neglectful and throws you away like trash, and then you have a church support him and act like you must be the problem, you can start to feel like God’s against you. I pray for God to do a miracle and change my husband entirely. I pray for him to heal me from all the abuse and heal our marriage, because it’s what I believe God promised me and I know God is more than able, but it would be miracle. Even in that I am judged.  The whole thing is exhausting, and I’m weary beyond words.

    Repentant Abusers & Hard Hearted Victims?

    We don’t often post our videos on this blog, but we’ve received so much feedback on this one, we decided to do it. It’s long but worth your time if you’re a people helper and want to know the common pitfalls helpers (counselors, friends, pastors) often face when dealing with domestic violence and destructive relationships.

    Often pastors and counselors who work with victims of domestic violence tell us that even when they see evidence of repentance by abusers, their victims become “hard-hearted” and refuse to consider reconciliation. In many cases this leads to the victims undergoing church discipline, even when there has been a clear pattern of domestic violence. This conversation between Chris Moles (PeaceWorks) and Joy Forrest (Called to Peace Ministries) discusses the faulty assumptions and dangers behind this sort of counsel. WATCH NOW!

    Deadly Counseling

    A few weeks ago I posted a simple question to survivors of domestic violence in a few online forums. The question was, ” Could you share examples of bad counsel you’ve received from churches and counselors?” In less than an hour I had over 50 responses. Below are just some the answers I received.

    • Pray more, have more sex, ask God to show you what you’re doing to make him so angry.
    • “Read this book on how to be a better wife.” “Just stop pushing his buttons; you know what they are.”
    • You need to treat your husband like he has special needs. Step back from things so you can give him your full attention.
    • “He never meant you any harm. Just trust God- don’t fight for anything in the divorce settlement. You are bitter- you need to forgive him.
    • ” Well, I don’t think he was TRYING to kill you all.”
    • “You need to work on being more submissive.”
    • “You married him for better or for worse.”
    • ” Try doing things for him, pay more attention to him, be willing to sacrifice to make him happy.” They didn’t realize that trying to keep him happy was ALL that I was doing. Nothing for myself. And still, the abuse continued.
    • I was given a book on respecting my spouse. It was perfect ammunition for my abuser.
    • It doesn’t matter if he kills you– Jesus was killed too and you’ll go to Heaven too.”
    • “Love covers a multitude of sins”; “Forgive and forget”; YOU sin too.”
    • “It’s an anger issue– if there’s a fire, you can either throw a bucket of water on it or a can of petrol/gasoline.”
    • “Let God handle him; suffer for Jesus.”
    • “You are definitely suffering….we need to help you learn how to suffer well.”
    • “Keep telling yourself “the glass is half-full”.
    • “Forgive him and reconcile, he didn’t mean to hit you.”
    • “Just have more sex with your husband and everything in your marriage will be fixed.”
    • “There are only two biblically sanctioned reasons for divorce so you can’t leave and be in God’s will.”

    I wish I could say that counsel like this is the exception, but in my 20 years of working with Christian victims of domestic abuse it has been the rule. Victims are dismissed, told to minimize the severity of what happened, or to try to change their abusers’ behavior by placating them. But it doesn’t work! One dear lady wrote the following:

    Honestly, I think the most damaging thing is that pastors place ALL the responsibility on the wife’s shoulders to do things to “change him.” It never works. What’s really needed is swift and strong action against him- if just one person had looked at my ex and said “You are NOT going to treat her this way or there will be consequences” and then did exactly that—he wouldn’t have continued, then and now. His arrogance was fed in my former church—he still attends because it’s safe for him. He’s still abusive, and unrepentant.

    This statement is loaded with truth. Studies show that abusers do not spontaneously change without strong intervention. In fact, every survivor I’ve ever met told me that the more they tried to appease their abusers, the worse things got. I know it was true for me when I was in it. The few times I’ve seen lasting reconciliation after domestic abuse, there was a long period of separation with lots of individual counseling and accountability for the abuser. Counsel that puts the burden of change on the victim not only kills any chance of overcoming abuse, but it could also get someone killed. At an advocacy training I attended this past summer, one of the other advocates shared a story that happened in her hometown. A local pastor told a victim in his congregation that she had to reconcile with her abusive husband, and shortly after her return her husband killed her. Why are counselors and pastors willing to take such risks with their counsel?

    I have to conclude that most just lack the knowledge to provide effective intervention, because they operate under several faulty assumptions. 1) They believe that abuse is provoked or that it’s just the result of heated tempers on the part of both parties– rather than a pattern of coercive control on the part of the abusive partner. 2) They believe domestic violence is a marital problem– rather than the responsibility of the one choosing the violence. 3) They don’t consider a destructive relationship abusive unless there is physical abuse– even though domestic violence experts have identified a pattern of “nonphysical” behaviors that can clearly indicate lethality. None of these flawed conclusions are grounded in truth or empirical evidence, but are unfounded notions based on outward appearances.

    The truth is that abusive people usually have two personas– one that is seen in public and another that is only seen in private. Abusers are very often charming and likable to outsiders, but cruel and demanding at home. Sadly they are able to instill so much fear in their victims that they help hide the truth. In fact, often they hide it so well that when they come forward people automatically doubt their stories. It is difficult to discern the truth without specific training in the dynamics of abuse.

    Victims may also fear telling the truth about what goes on at home to their religious leaders because of their beliefs. Many times pastors and Christian counselors make marriage the priority in their counseling, rather than the safety and welfare of victims and their children. It seems the modern church has learned to elevate marriage over people, even as the religious leaders in Jesus’ time elevated the Sabbath. In our zeal we forget that marriage was made for people and not people for marriage, as Jesus reminded the Pharisees about the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27).

    Recently I heard an ultimate example of such religious zeal when I spoke to a dear woman who fled to a local shelter for safety after her husband brutally attacked her. The shelter did a lethality assessment, and she was told the chances of her husband killing her was very high. Less than six months out, her church is telling her that she must reconcile with her husband, even though there have been no signs of true repentance or heart change. They’re focusing their counsel with her on how to stop provoking him.  Anyone who understands the dynamics of domestic abuse understands that domestic abuse is an oppression problem– it is not provoked. I’ve tried to help this dear woman know that the counseling she is receiving from her church does not reflect God’s heart, but she continues to follow it. All I can do is pray that she will break free before their foolish and deadly counsel does irreparable harm.*

    Won’t you join me in prayer for her and the thousands of victims who receive this sort of counsel each year? Better yet, join me in raising your voices to help increase awareness by sharing this post.

    * Update February 2020:The situation finally became more intolerable for this woman and a serious crisis ended up leading her to separate from her husband again. She has moved to another church that has a better grasp on domestic abuse, and seems to be well on her way to healing.

    Raising our Voices Against Abuse

    Twenty two years ago domestic violence drove my children and me out of our home. We got out with only the clothes on our backs and bounced from one friend’s house to another, as my husband went on the warpath threatening everyone who tried to help. When I called the police, they reluctantly went over to the house and “tried to calm him down,” but told me there was nothing they could do to stop him from destroying the antiques and other precious items I had inherited from my grandmother. They explained that once I married, my property became his, and he could do whatever he wanted with it.

    Since he could not find us, my husband’s rage increased. He began chopping up and burning all the wooden antique furniture in the house. He also bagged up all my personal belongings and carried them to the town dump, making sure to ruin my most expensive clothes by pouring ink all over them. Several hours each day he was on the phone relaying threats against me to friends and family members. He also went to great lengths to convince them I was to blame for everything that was happening. After his own father called to tell me he was afraid for my life, I called the police again. I believed if he found us, I would be killed. The police asked me if he owned weapons, and when I told them he did, they became reluctant to respond and basically told me there was nothing they could do about the threats. In the weeks that followed, I called them several times. Once or twice they went over to try to calm him down. One of those times he told them I was going to “end up in a body bag,” but apparently that was not enough to warrant an arrest.

    A friend of mine was married to a deputy, so I called and asked him for advice. He suggested I go take out a warrant against him, and get a protective order. I did it the very same day, and laid low praying that they would get him before he got us. After two days, when I still hadn’t heard anything, I called to find out what happened. They told me he had been served, but they weren’t sure he’d seen it yet. While I was actually naive enough to think they might put him in jail, I soon found that serving him only meant that a pink piece of paper was taped the the door of his house ordering him to court in 30 days . When he got home from a long shift as a staff physician, that piece of paper merely served to enrage him more. The threats through friends and family intensified.

    I reached out to my pastor, and he went by to see my husband. Although he had only been a nominal member of the church, while I served faithfully, my pastor seemed to believe my husband’s story over mine. He seemed to think that I had done something to set him off, because nobody would go that crazy without reason. I tried to explain that I’d spent our entire marriage trying to avoid setting him off, but I never knew what might do it. One time, he tore the house up because he was mad at the cat. Another time, he became furious and started breaking things, because our daughter used his hairbrush and forgot to put it back. My solution to that was to go out and buy 17 brushes so that would never happen again. I always tried to smooth the way for him, but nothing was ever enough. We never knew what might set him off. The most stressful time of the day was when he walked in the door from work. Would he be in a good mood or a bad mood? If it was good, nothing would bother him, but if it was bad everything would anger him and all we could do was try to avoid him.

    I explained all of this to my pastor, and he suggested we come in for a counseling session. As afraid as I was, I wanted our marriage to work so I went. I arrived 20 minutes early to avoid meeting my husband in the parking lot. When he arrived, he seemed calm and cool. We sat and listened as our pastor told us how he thought we could repair our marriage, but inside I knew none of it would work. In our 13 years of marriage, we had seen at least a dozen counselors or pastors, and nothing anyone had suggested had worked. Somehow they all put the burden for his behavior on me. I was told to boost his self-esteem, to keep a cleaner house, to pray more and ask God to show me my contribution to the problem. Most of the time, I was way ahead of the counselors and already doing what they prescribed. We had learned to tip toe around my husband quite well, except on those rare occasions when something unexpected came up. It didn’t seem anything we did could help us in those situations.

    Even though he had been prone to fits of rage of the years, he had only been physically abusive towards me about 4 or 5 times in the entire length of our marriage, so I didn’t really consider myself abused. I just thought he lost control because of his troubled upbringing and long hours at work. I never thought he was intentionally trying to hurt me, so I made every effort to bring healing to our marriage. For a year and a half after that initial separation I reached out to anyone I thought might be able to help. After all, I didn’t believe in divorce! Yet, nobody had the answers I longed to find. Every earthly resource failed us–  from the legal system to law enforcement, from counselors to the church. The violence simply became more frequent and more deadly.

    One day my twelve-year-old daughter asked me why I didn’t just leave and give up the idea of reconciliation. My response was that God hates divorce. Immediately she said, “God hates divorce, but he’s going to hate it a lot more when my mom is dead.” Even after hearing that, I refused to give up. It took nearly losing my life to decide I needed to leave, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, because everything in me wanted to save that marriage. Even after I left, I waited on God hoping he would change my husband’s heart. Not until he remarried five years later did I feel released from that marriage.

    During that five year separation I struggled and grieved over the loss of the marriage. I was also overwhelmed with guilt and condemnation because I couldn’t make it work. Still, I knew I had no other choice. Even though I couldn’t find the right help, I felt I had failed somehow. One day as I was reading 1 Corinthians 7 regarding separation from an unbeliever, God gave me peace about leaving. Since my husband claimed to be a Believer, and since he kept saying he wanted to stay in the marriage, I didn’t think the passage applied to us. However, that day I saw that the reason Paul released believing spouses from such marriages was that “God has called us to peace” (7:15). That passage leapt off the page into my heart as I realized I had not had peace in the entire 23 years I had been with my husband (8 years of dating and 15 of marriage). Suddenly I saw God’s kind intention towards me. He wasn’t condemning me for getting out, I was condemning myself and many in the church did too.

    In the years since I left my marriage I have reached back to help others in similar situations, and have seen plenty of victims face condemnation from the very people they approached for help. Like me, most have been made to feel responsible for their abusers’ actions. I’ve seen them struggle with the same unbelievable lack of resources I faced. It wasn’t that people didn’t try to help– they didn’t know how!  People perish for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6), and when helpers don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, they very often make things worse. They minimize or deny the problem and fail to believe victims who finally get up the courage to come forward. They elevate marriages over lives, and fail to recognize the deadly nature of domestic violence.

    Recently a woman I know fled to the local domestic violence shelter for help. When they did a lethality index, it indicated she has a very high chance of becoming a victim of domestic homicide. Yet, a month later, her pastor was encouraging her to come in for couples counseling. I wish I could say it’s an exception to see domestic violence mishandled by the church, but sadly my experience with hundreds of women has shown me it is the rule. Every time I hear a story like this, I become more determined to make a difference.

    The bottom line is that abusers continue to abuse, because we close our eyes to it. We try to pretend it’s not all that common– even though the American Medical Association says one in three American women will experience it– even though statistics are no better in the church– and even though it “is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.”

    Not only do we ignore the problem, we actually make it easier for abusers when none of the systems in place are able to effectively protect victims, including the church. When I look at scripture, I see God’s heart for the oppressed and his mandate for us to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and.. break every yoke” (Is. 58:6).  That is our calling as his people, and we need many voices if we are ever to overcome this awful plight.