A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Disdaining Mentality of Abuse

Have you ever had an idea that you were really excited about?  So you took it to your boss and laid it out for him.  You know it is a good idea that will improve efficiency and save the company money.  But then…. his response is, “Well, put that in a memo and I’ll look at it later.”  Dismissed.  Not a very good feeling is it?  Disdain or dismissiveness can be defined as:  “reacting to something in a way that shows you do not think it is worth paying attention to.”  

This disdain or dismissiveness is one of the very common tactics of the abuser toward his victim.  Most of our readers know exactly what we are talking about and could give all kinds of examples.  Abusers regularly treat their victim as someone who is not worth even paying attention to.  Someone who has no value.  Whose ideas are worthless and stupid.  Contemptuous.

This is much different than merely disagreeing with someone’s suggestion.  Honest disagreement with an idea still operates with the assumption that the person making the suggestion is worth listening to.  That their ideas have value, because they have value.  But abusers want to instill a sense of worthlessness in their victim.  So, even a very excellent idea or suggestion will be dismissed and even mocked.  Often, this ends up being to the abuser’s own harm, but he is so driven by his desire to demean and thus disempower his victim that he become a fool.  Many of you can tell stories of how your abusive husband undermined your successes, to his own detriment.  You may have established a prospering business, but he saw to it that it failed.  And he would have you believe that it was a stupid and worthless endeavor from the beginning.  It wasn’t.  In fact, it was just the opposite.

Dismissiveness is an evil, devilish sin.  In fact, the Apostle Paul identifies it as the fundamental reason God’s wrath is set against man.  This is what Paul says:

Romans 1:21-23 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

See it?  Man dismisses and disdains God.  He knows God is God, but he refuses to honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.  Man will sooner worship a tree than acknowledge the glory of God which the whole creation testifies to.  And thus, God’s wrath.

I have met many abusers in the setting of the church.  I have worked very hard, for example, in preparing a sermon or class lesson, only to have the entire thing “blown off” by an abusive person who makes it clear – sometimes in front of the whole class – that what I am saying is stupid.  In the past, I have not always recognized their dismissiveness as a tactic.  But I am getting wiser, and quicker to see it.  It is one thing to have someone enter into an honest discussion of a particular point, or Scripture, or suggestion.  It is quite another to have them dismiss your idea or opinion as unworthy of consideration.  Which is really for them to dismiss YOU as unworthy of consideration.  As always in the case of the abuser, the supposed issue is not the issue.  The real issue is that the abuser is always seeking power and control.  To obtain and maintain his power and control, he must necessarily demean his victim as a person.

Watch for this tactic.  An honest discussion will always attribute at least some worth and credibility to the other person’s idea.  It will regard them as a person worth listening to.  An abusive discussion is no discussion.  It is contemptuous of everything its object proposes.  You can feel it.  And it isn’t a good feeling.   Perhaps we can now better understand why Jesus was so hard on anyone who dismisses the humanness of a human being -

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ (22) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

15 Comments

  1. joepote01

    “It is one thing to have someone enter into an honest discussion of a particular point, or Scripture, or suggestion. It is quite another to have them dismiss your idea or opinion as unworthy of consideration.”

    I wonder…is it fair to say that sometimes people act in an abusive manner in a particular situation, although they may not be an habitual abuser?

    This past weekend, someone I respect and love called to tell me how wrong they thought I was about a specific perspective, and how “concerned” they are for me. As my gut tightened, and my defenses kicked in, I prayed for calmness and clarity of thought. I muddled thru the conversation, changed the topic repeatedly, and beat a hasty excuse for a good-bye.

    The crazy thing is that the difference of opinion is actually quite minor…our perspectives are not terribly different on this particular point, and it is not an area that could reasonably be considered critical, anyway. Yet, this person felt the need to try to brow-beat me into accepting their perspective as correct. It was quite clear from the start of the conversation that they had no intention of trying to understand my perspective, but only to convince me that I must agree with their perspective.

    I would not normally think of this person as an abuser. Yet, this particular conversation had a very abusive feel to it…or maybe I was just being hyper-sensitive…

    • Jeff Crippen

      Joe – you are NOT being overly sensitive. That “feeling in your gut” is a valid and accurate response to an act of abuse. Yes, in our sin we can all commit abuse, though we are certainly not all abusers. Abusers do this kind of thing habitually and naturally. It is who they are. Thus, they are unsafe people that we avoid like a porcupine. Inevitably if you get close at all to them, they whack you with their spine-filled tail. The person who called you certainly did effect abuse upon you because they were being disdainful of your position. For whatever reason, they saw it as their mission to set you straight – which means, making you embrace their position.

      To return to that “feeling” again. It can be just how we are wired as human beings that gives us this warning of an unsafe interaction. Or, for the Christian, it may well be the Holy Spirit saying “watch out.” The feeling comes to us when we sense that a person does not truly love us, and who views their opinion on a matter as more important that they value us. I have had this happen to me countless times at the hands of professing Christians. They communicate that their real goal is to squash our independence and make sure that we understand that they are the ones with power and control. And therefore, it is bondage we are faced with. Paul’s words apply -

      Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

      • joepote01

        That “gut feeling” is one I’ve certainly learned not to ignore. It’s not infallible, but it is also seldom far wrong…

        “who views their opinion on a matter as more important than that they value us” sums it up well.

        …and…leaves me contemplating how many times I may have unintentionally communicated a similar message without realizing…

        Thanks, Jeff!

      • Very well put Jeff!!! I recently lost a friend I had known for years due to this attitude which kept being repeated. Friends can and often should be able to agree to disagree on certain opinions, especially when the matter is not of earth shaking impact. When someone literally attacks and won’t let up until you surrender, that is someone you need to stay away from. Took me 30 years to get this through my head, and when I saw it again in my “friend”, I knew it was time to bow out gracefully and just drop them.

    • Hi Jo
      I would say that if a person acts abusively once, and you have that tightening in your gut, then ‘watch this space’ …. see if it is a pattern of conduct, or whether it was just an out of character abberation. Personally I define abuse as a Pattern of Conduct Designed to Obtain and Maintain Ungodly Control Over Another. If there is not the purposeful intention and pattern of exerting control and power, then the conduct may just fall within the domain of how all of us occasionally mistreat one another from time to time. We have all treat others badly, at times. But abusers mistreat their victims using a pattern of conduct that bespeaks intentional and deliberate power and control.

      • joepote01

        Thank you, Barbara, for such a clear definition of abuse. I think this definition also helps explain why it often takes so long to recognize abuse. While we can fairly readily recognize isolated incidents, it takes much longer to recognize established patterns, especially when deceitfully disguised.

      • Oh yes, Joe. The disguised nature of deliberate abuse makes it really hard to recognise.

  2. “To obtain and maintain his power and control, he must necessarily demean his victim as a person.” These words describe the Narcissist/abuser to a “T”. No-one else can have any value because it reduces their own sense of omnipotence. They berate, demean and belittle without even a second thought and certainly without any remorse, then ask for pity because they have been rejected by their victim!!

    • Jeff Crippen

      People who dismiss and demean us are unsafe people and, as you say, they are people we need to drop. And in regard to your observation that abusers demean and belittle, then as for pity when they are called to accounts for it – I read somewhere, perhaps in The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout? – that if we met the devil, we would feel very sorry for him. Poor Satan. How he has been misunderstood. Abuse is a very devilish sin.

  3. Survivor

    What an amazing post.

    So many people, including my ex-abusive spouse, associate abuse with having an uncontrollable temper. As long as they don’t see the anger, or think it has been brought under control, they think it is no longer a problem.

    You rightly nail disdain as the tell-tale sign of abusiveness. Now when I detect it in someone, I don’t bother engaging, explaining or defending myself. I think that’s why Jesus remained silent at his trial – He knew it was a waste of time responding to contemptuous accusers.

    What this has also taught me is to hate such attitudes in myself. Growing up with some very dismissive people, it was easy for me to adopt their attitudes toward certain types of people. – in fact, they made me believe it was right to do so. It was the journey of escaping abuse that made me realize how evil it is to treat our fellow human beings with contempt.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Survivor -What a lesson to learn! Hard, but how profitable to come to realize how wicked it is to treat others with disdain, as if they were less than human. This is a sin that lies behind all abuses of power. Dictatorships. Racial inequality. Men over women. Rich vs poor. And if we aren’t careful, church leadership over the church. Where there is evil power, there is disdain. We should all pray that the Lord would root it totally out of our minds and hearts.

    • Survivor you are spot on. Anger is not the key identifier of abuse as a person can be very abusive without displaying any overt anger. Mind games can be perpetrated with a cool calm demeanour; stonewalling is done in silence but as a tactic of abuse it can be devastating; enlisting of allies is done with great charm and never the merest cirrus cloud of irritability on the horizon ––– and that’s just giving a few examples.

      All too often, ignorant bystanders think that anger management is the cure for abusers, but anger management (leaning to control their anger outbursts) may only lead to the abusers becoming be more cunning and devious in their purposeful evil.

  4. KingsDaughter

    This adds weight to my thinking about finding another church! While I see that my husband wrestles with dismissing and valuing my input, my pastor and his wife are always 100% dismissive! I offered to lead a womens prayer group before worship service, went and found material and presented it to them, it took all of two seconds for them to tell me that they didn’t believe anyone would be interested and then casually changed subjects. Later when I suggested a formal womens ministry committee to help our pastors wife with all that she was already doing, I did get a better reception and was told that although she didn’t think it was a great idea that I could write it out for her to look over. When my husband and I counseled with them about his use of pornography, I was told that “love covers a multitude of sins” and this was not something I should bring to them as it was a private family matter “what did I want to do? ‘church’ him?” While he ran me down during the entire meeting as I kept silent, hoping they would see what was really going on, they said nothing. My one comment that he would not actually seek counseling unless he committed to it in front of them, received chastisement from them for “demeaning him”.
    So, as the “fog” lifts is it normal to suddenly identify ALL of the negative relationships in your life??? I just cut ties with a friend who is scolding me for using scripture as a tool to judge my husband and justify my actions! Are there really THAT many toxic people in the world?

    • Jeff Crippen

      KD- Indeed, there are that many unsafe people. It sounds like you have made some real progress in identifying them!!

    • KD – re: toxic people; it’s not quite accurate or maybe entirely fair to say that those people, the blind enablers who may not be actively abusing but make the situation worse for anyone trying to ask for help – they may be entirely pleasant and decent people overall, but years of living in this rigidly stratified subculture of fear has caused them to fall into the patterns and toxic ways of thinking they are surrounded with, having pounded into them at every opportunity, with a general unspoken rule that you do not apply critical thinking or ask questions or object in anyway to whoever is the ‘authority’ in your life, and it’s a hard, hard, HARD thing to see through if you are not already on guard for it.

      It is difficult enough for us to come out of the fog when we have direct, immediate reason, intolerable hurt and pain driving us to see the lies and find our way out, cutting through the clouds until we see the light of truth; imagine how much more difficult it must be for a person who has not experienced the abuses (or at least, doesn’t think they have, which is another post entirely I suppose!) to shake off the deep indoctrination they have been part of for so many years, or even raised in.

      It is hard, it is so, SO hard, so I am always skeptical of being able to confide or find help from that quarter, most of those people won’t change until some crisis like we went through forces them to question their very foundations. But very often, and something I try to keep in mind, is that it is not the people who are toxic (usually), it is the environment, which is so deeply imbedded and twisted and insidious that it becomes the fog, the whitewashing over our eyes and our ears so we cannot break free, or even hear properly others’ cries for help.

      Once you have come out of it….yeah, it’s very hard to look back and suddenly find how many of you relationships depended on people who are now diametrically opposed to your struggles and your attempts to escape. Those people, old friends and acquaintances, they may not be toxic /people/, but often remaining close to them and trying to ‘maintain relationships’ as my mother puts it, ends up being toxic for you regardless, even if the other person has the best of intentions.

      If they are still mired in to lies to the point where no amount of reasoning and talking can get through to taking off their blinders, then those relationships are ones you would be best off backing away from, leaving them in the hands of God. Pray for that person to have their eyes and their hearts opened, to be able to come to see the truth (if you do wish to still have that person in your life and want to restore the relationship someday). But I’ve had to learn that no matter how well meaning those people are, they can indeed cause serious damage when you are already raw, when you are in the midst of hanging on by your fingernails as you try to sort out which parts are you, which parts are not, what you want to keep, what you want to junk, as the ever present fog churns and swirls madly about you.

      You are vulnerable, you are exposed, barely keeping your balance as you struggle towards the light, and often, especially if there are kids or other dependents involved, you simply can’t afford to let these people who are still steeped in the toxic environment of legalism get that close. You only have so many spoons, and right now, it’s okay to say that it’s about you. Right now, you may not have energy for more than that, for more than continuing to hang on and inch toward the light. But that’s okay; it’s okay to realise that before you can begin to heal and move forward you have to set some boundaries, and to cut off, either temporarily or permanently, any relationships, be they family, friends, neighbour or church, that is hindering you in your search for justice, truth, grace and freedom. It’s hard, and it hurts sometimes, but learning to set those boundaries is a good thing, and it will definitely help to keep you thinking more clearly and give you some breathing room and space to start sorting things out more quickly.

      I guess I just used a thousand words to say – yes, unfortunately, it is fairly normal, that maybe not the people themselves but the relationships will become toxic and harder and harder to maintain as you come further out of the fog, unless you are able to bring them with you, and attempting that is…usually not a very profitable use of your time. Most often, it doesn’t work. *hugs* I’m sorry you’re having to go through something like this. You sound like a strong person, so…keep the faith. There is something better on the other side of this mess – you will find a way through, and this too shall pass. I cling to those little four words sometimes. :)

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