A Cry For Justice

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

Over-Apologizing of Victims

There was an interesting discussion behind the scenes here at ACFJ that stemmed from one of us over-apologizing (OK, it was me). Jeff Crippen pointed out that victims of abuse quite often apologize incessantly and for everything, even when we have really done nothing wrong. I have been one of those people. From there sparked a discussion as to why, in the world, we do this.

I think the habit of apologizing all the time comes from two things in my life: fear and esteem. Growing up, I was always “in trouble” with certain family members. It seemed I could offend just by being in the same room with them. Or breathing. They chastised me constantly for “hurting their feelings” by my “insensitivity”. Over time, I came to believe I was insensitive but just really didn’t know why. I guessed that I was more insensitive than others and just couldn’t see it. I no longer trusted any word that came out of my mouth. It has also made me somewhat mousy (which I hate). My voice is small and super soft now . .. and people regularly tell me to speak up, which intimidates me more. I am fearful that I will offend. It is a fearfulness that comes from mis-trusting myself. A friend of mine recently told me that she always said the wrong thing to her first husband (which I cannot imagine because she is so careful with her sweet words). After a while, she told her ex, “I’m so sick of apologizing for everything.” But, my friend had the esteem to know that she was apologizing for things she didn’t really do wrong. So, she simply stopped. It wasn’t this easy for me because of the esteem issues I had.

I really did not believe my opinion was worth anything. I have overcome this now. I’m not sure how — just little successes along the way leading up to bigger successes, encouragement from others, etc. I also have a healthy group of family and friends around me who are not at all offended by my words. I speak out of my heart — which is filled with the Spirit — and don’t obsess (as much) over my words. There is an ease and a naturalness about our communication.

When Paul speaks of “preferring others above ourselves” or “considering others as better” (Philippians 2:3), it does not mean that we aren’t to consider ourselves at all! Deferring to another person’s idea or need does not make my idea or need invalid. I think that is where we go wrong. We can consider another or prefer another without believing that our “right” or “idea” is trash. There is a difference between saying, “I prefer Applebee’s to Ruby Tuesdays” and saying, “Applebees is garbage and Ruby Tuesday’s is all that and a bucket of chicken.”  Understanding this difference has helped me a great deal. I also try to self-talk . . .

Your opinion is valuable because you are created in Christ’s image.

He shut you down, they shut you down but God was not pleased with this.

God has given you a sound mind.

Do not apologize, Meg. You have done nothing wrong.

A lot of the problem is habitual but there is definitely a part of me that was very wounded from the abuse. A great part of my esteem.

Thankfully, God is in the business of restoring that wounded part in me and in you. Our opinions matter, friends. Our thoughts are important. Why? Because we are His people.

88 Comments

  1. I needed to read this so desperately today! I literally just got finished writing a poem about how I have let myself live in a different kind of abuse because I don’t believe I can do it on my own… I am afraid to leave, not because the person will hurt me physically but because they will be hurt and offended by my leaving and I feel guilty for that. I apologize every day all day to this person just for being myself and that is not right. So six months after leaving a 7yr long abusive relationship I am once again developing a safety/ escape plan from a different abuser.

    • MeganC

      Bethany — It makes me so sad that you went from the frying pan into the fire (is that how you say it?). You are right, though. If you are apologizing every single day just for being who you are, something is terribly wrong. I am praying that you are able to move safely and worry-free.

      • Thank you Megan :) your and everyone else’s prayers are much needed! I feel like I am starting all over again, but at least this time I know more and have better understanding of what to do and not do.

  2. Oh wow, I so relate to this. I also just read an article though about confrontation that says we should apologies just to make peace. Uh…no. Doing that leads to nothing but guilt and always trying to be the peacemaker, and then it becomes expected by the other spouse. I got caught up in that and it did more damage to my marriage than help it.

    • MeganC

      Lynette — I did the same thing once. I read (somewhere — Ken Sande’s “Peacemaker”??) that I should ask for forgiveness, even if it was silly or something I didn’t really do. I tried it. I doesn’t work that way! That just made the abuser think I was very easily manipulated! And things got worse. :(

      • ” I read (somewhere — Ken Sande’s “Peacemaker”??) that I should ask for forgiveness, even if it was silly or something I didn’t really do.”

        Doesn’t that kind of strip genuine repentance of it’s value?

        Great post, Megan!

    • AJ

      So insightful Megan. Thank you. I find besides just apologizing constantly I ask people if what I am saying is making any sense. In conversation I constantly check that I’m communicating well, because I was told so many times that I wasn’t making sense and I was crazy. I just assumed other people would see the same thing and was surprised when they didn’t. I find now in recovering I sometimes rant to overcompensate but it will all balance out as I continue to heal I believe.

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        I ask that often too…weird!! I am always asking “Does this make sense?” And i over apologize. My oldest also apologizes for everything.

      • MeganC

        I do that, too. Even in emails: “Does this make sense?” I hadn’t thought of that one . . . but it all stems from the same insecurities, I think.

      • I say “make sense?” after almost every sentence when I am trying to explain something to someone. I didn’t even think about it being connected to my insecurities until now.

      • AJ and Still Scared- that is really strange because I have a friend who is always saying that “does that make sense?” I couldn’t decide if she was being condescending or insecure. Now, I wonder…….

  3. It flies in the face of Romans 12:18—If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Note it says ‘if possible’ and ‘as far as it depends on you’. Love when people use half a scripture.

  4. Heather

    So often when my name is said, my response is, “What did I do?” Talk about conditioning from my childhood…..My fears have so much power in my life….

  5. Katy

    I have been told over and over again that I am a terrible communicator. So much that I believe it still. I seem to only convey an idea correctly when I am writing it down – I can’t be understood when I am talking.
    I am not sure how true this is, but I still believe it…

    • MeganC

      Katy — I was told this, as well. And, after a while, I really DID become a bad communicator. :( Because I didn’t believe in myself and I didn’t trust my own thoughts or decisions. When I first left, I found a voice in writing. Now, I have been able to communicate more freely and easily but I am still working on this. It is so hard when we believe lies about ourselves.

      • I get really nervous when I sense that people are paying very close attention to what I am saying- I start getting “stage fright”.

  6. Healinginprocess

    Megan I really enjoyed your post as I can relate. I was always apologizing even if I had not done anything. I believe I learned to apologoze in my first marriage which was more mentally abusive. I was teased and told I was not smart…the college I went to was not a good college. You do begin to second quess yourself after hearing things for years. I was also not confrontational which made my ex think I was not good at settling differences because I did not want to yell and belittle people. After I divorced him I realized God created me the way I am so I must be ok. I also had the revelation that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. People are more willing to listen and help you when you are calm and not screaming at them and belittling them. I also gained Godly wisdom as my relationship grew with him.

    My second marriage ended up being abusive also…worse and I began apologizing again all the time and began to not trust my judgement. I struggled in my relationship with the Lord and so I felt I’d lost wisdom I had had. My self esteem, my parenting, even friendships I felt inferior, sometimes worthless and hopeless. The confidence and comfort in who I was was gone. I did finally find the strength and felt God was telling me to leave. He could not deal with my now current ex with me in the picture…and I could not have a free relationship with the Lord being married to my ex.

    Now that I am divorced and free the healing is beginning. This blog has been such a help along with Jeff C’s book. I am not apologizing all the time anymore. Although, I still struggle at times with feeling that I am not being clear and I over explain myself, talking way too much or writing and rewiting things. Another area I realize now I need to give to God to help me heal through this. I don’t feel so alone anymore as read blogs and others comments as I am not the only one going through or feeling the way I do. That is healing in its self. Thanks Megan as your post have brought more healing along with everyone elses replies.

  7. When we’re told that you’re crazy and worthless for years and years, we feel that other people don’t understand us. Normal people usually understand us quite well. It’s the pathological personalities we don’t make sense to because they are twisted and evil. When we are with them we are reminded over and over and over that we are nuts and poor communicators when in fact the very opposite is true. Thanks for sharing this– and you are definitely not alone.

  8. I think that we survivors tend to ask ourselves “Am I making sense?” for a couple of major reasons. One is the thing that commenters have mentioned here: our abusers got us to think we were crazy / poor communicators / senseless and silly.
    Another reason is related to the thing I wrote about at a previous post, about how when we wake up to the deliberate covert-aggressive mindset of abusers, we enter a new universe. Most people don’t understand abuse; most people we talk to are still in that old universe where they don’t see the abuser for what he really is and don’t realize his (or her) deliberate intent to be abusive. So when we talk to people who are in that old universe, we don’t necessarily make much sense to them. They think we’re a weird (or worse). So we accurately pick up that we are not making sense to them – but that doesn’t mean we are not making sense period. It just means those people don’t get it about abuse.

    • Now Free

      Barbara, that is so true about abusers wanting to make us the crazy, silly people in their lives. I also had a lot of problems trying to communicate to others in my old and also new universe after leaving him. Thank God I can now feel free to voice my feelings and actually be heard. I also apologized profusely over trivial things and even in my fog I would sometimes question myself afterwards: “Why did I do this?” Over a year ago, after apologizing to a Christmas tree after bumping into it, I felt a need to really do something about this over-apologizing thing.
      Great post Megan.

      • MeganC

        Now Free — That made me smile this morning. :) Apologizing to a Christmas tree. :)

      • Now Free

        I’m glad that made you smile Megan. :)

      • ditto here. lol

      • LOL apologizing to a Christmas tree!
        That reminds me of my old piano teacher. She was once burgled and was in the house when the burglar came in. Iit was night time and she got up to go to the bathroom and bumped into the burglar on the landing – and she automatically apologized for bumping into him. Then she realised that he was a burglar!

  9. Anonymous

    “When Paul speaks of “preferring others above ourselves” or “considering others as better” (Philippians 2:3), it does not mean that we aren’t to consider ourselves at all!”

    This is why Paul said, “No man ever hated his own body”, because we are not supposed to “hate” ourselves. So hard though, when you’ve been trained your whole life, that there is something wrong with you, by all those who have misused and abused you!

    Timely message, Megan. Thank you for sharing and for sharing the self-talk portion. I am learning to focus on what I know God has given me, such as a sound mind and that I have the mind of Christ, etc., in order to help me come out of the fog. I still fall into it easily, but am trying to make bigger strides.

  10. i don’t know how many times I was told ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’. I think that’s part of the reason I became a stuffer. My thoughts and feelings didn’t matter to people. Then I became an alcoholic because I didn’t know what to do with all my stuffed stuff! Or someone taking what I said and twisting it around. It’s true, it does make you crazy. Even today when someone say “I need to talk to you.” The first thing I say is “Did I do something wrong?”

    • Even today when someone say “I need to talk to you.” The first thing I say is “Did I do something wrong?”

      Me too! My heart jumps up in my throat everytime. But I am getting better! The wife of an elder at my church once told me that I needed to stop being so hard on myself. I realized at that moment that I had a problem, and that it wasn’t the will of God for me to be so negative about myself. Then I went home and beat myself up for being so hard on myself. =D

  11. Memphis Rayne

    I do not apologize much these days, and I am REALLY sorry for that! lol

    Does that make any sense? Well I certainly cannot deny that I have asked that question in writing alot on this blog. Sorry for that too! = )

    When I hear my name, or even when the kids say “Mom somebody is on the phone for you!” I go into panic mode, and seriously feel like I am for sure in trouble! I wanst allowed to talk on the phone in my own house, if I was caught on the phone, the MIW woul run down the hall and attack my children just to get me off as quick as he saw fit!!! Also when you are blamed for EVERYTHING under the sun even if you were NOT there, I can see now how that has truly changed the way I am able to physically respond to just normal everyday occourances.

    I am eternally sorry that my spelling will never improve also. I promise to never apologize for that again.

    • MeganC

      Oh my word. Memphis? Do you know how much I enjoy you? :)

    • Memphis, if your spelling changed, I’d be worried that Big Brother had captured you and jiggered with your brain. I like it the way it is. :)

      • Jeff Crippen

        Something has happened to Memphis! Her spelling is perfect. That cannot be her! Send help! (that would be our response)

  12. Now Free

    “LOL apologizing to a Christmas tree!
    That reminds me of my old piano teacher. She was once burgled and was in the house when the burglar came in. Iit was night time and she got up to go to the bathroom and bumped into the burglar on the landing – and she automatically apologized for bumping into him. Then she realised that he was a burglar!”

    I hope she said “sorry but I’m calling the police.” lol.

  13. Now Free

    Jodi, never feel self-coinscious if some one is paying close attention to what you have to say. Consider it a compliment that they are listening to you. I know how you feel though because I had the same problem when I found it hard to express myself and felt self-conscious when speaking to others.

    Try and keep in mind that normal people really are interested in what we have to say. I often used to speak too quickly at times, so I slowed down and really thought about what I needed to say. I found that helped me to calm down and better express myself . ((Hugs)).

  14. Now Free

    First I want to apologize for posting so often in this thread. lol. I just wanted to add that I just realized that Christmas trees really taught me something. On Christmas Eve 2 years ago, I have a picture of my to be ex “husband” wearing a very annoyed look because I wanted him to pose in front of the tree. That was one of the last photos I ever took of him…the last close-up for sure! Then the next year I apologized to the Christmas tree after bumping into it. This was at a group meeting for abused women. I told the women there I must really be a doormat for apologizing to a Christmas tree. SO I learned a couple of things…

    1. I will never, ever ask my abusive to be ex husband to pose in front of a Christmas tree again.

    2. Never apologize to a Christmas tree.

    • Memphis Rayne

      Now Free. Its okay to apologize to a Christmas tree!!! You should not ever apologize for that apology!!! I am certain the christmas tree was grateful!

      Speaking of Christmas trees. My MIW, and this is my first experience with him at Christmas time.(usually he just disapear and leave us alone and wondering why?) He came home from work, without a word stomped through the house, pushed us all aside, grabbed our christmas tree yanked it down and dragged it out into the street!!! My kids were crying, I was crying, just one big terrorist he was. So my thoughts on Christmas trees from that day forward were-

      A. What does this guy got against christmas trees?
      B. What did the tree ever do to him?
      C Never decorate your tree while living with an abuser
      D Christmas trees should NEVER be left unattended, with puppies, small children or abusive spouses.
      E To this day I wish I would of apologized to that christmas tree, its a regret I will always live with.
      F. I need to officially apologize to Christmas trees all over the world, especially the tree that met a brutal fate that christmas night, I offiicially apologize I am sorry you were treated like trash = * (

      ….and yes of course, that first Christmas was just a mere shadow of the things he would do to all our christmas trees. Seriously though, he ruined EVERY christmas for all of us, like clockwork regardless of what part of his cycle he was in Christmas was his favorite thing to destroy!!

      • Memphis Rayne

        I WOULD of never asked him to pose with a Christmas tree!! I get goosies at the thought of him being in the same room with one.

        So weird? Now that I think about it, its true he was like not ever in any of our kids birthday pictures or christmas pictures, I had photo albums of every month and year of them growing up and he is like nowhere to be found in any of them. (yes I did say “Photo albums”)
        …and no he was not taking the pictures, he could care less, unless he was mad then they became very important for him to destroy, he liked burning them?

      • Memphis, I’ve heard or read many stories of abusers who amped up their abuse at Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and holidays. I know one family in which every member of that family gets triggered by their own birthday — because dad always ruined their birthday.

  15. Now Free

    After we married, he didn’t wish me a happy birthday the first time it came around and I was crushed. After that, I bought my own birthday cake. The lady at the counter asked if I wanted a message on it. So I had her write “Happy Birthday Beautiful” on the cake. How pathetic is that?
    Of course I didn’t tell her that I was the one the cake was for!

    • Memphis Rayne

      ya I never celebrated mine. The kids I had to do in secret. sometime though he would by me a gift but he planned the attack on me the day before so then his gift seemed meaningful and then I would have to show people, or he would tell people of what he got me for my birthday. The kids birthdays amazingly enough I pulled off for them, but it was heartbreaking haviing him be the grim weeper on every holiday, I remember feeling heart broke alot because he was always in the background somewhere making sure his presence was known.

      He manage to ruin them all. He would get invited, pull a no show, then abuse me either by text or stalking, then tell everyone I excluded him from this or that. He rather play “poor me” than show up to his kids partys or christmas. Christmas was THE worst, it would be a book trying to explain how he could ruin this holiday, wether he attended or not!

      • Now Free

        Memphis, maybe your ex and mine should get together, Mine would show your ex how to be more covert and sneakily abusive and your ex would show mine how to be more openly blatantly abusive. Ugh.

        Yes, I think I will apologize to my other Christmas tree…the one I had him pose beside. Poor tree!

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Yup! The only birthday cakes I had through my marriage were ones my parent’s got me when they would occasionally visit near my birthday. The first year we were separated they made a surprise visit and brought a cake and gifts. Now I realize they were thinking no one else would do that for me. They didn’t know no one ever had except them during my marriage. I don’t know if I am sad or just realistic.

      • I wouldn’t say my STBE would ruin my birthday- but he never would get me a cake unless there was a crowd there to see it. I hinted and hinted about the kind of cake I would like, and never got it. Once he knew how much it meant to me, he was determined not to do it.
        He would buy me clothes that were too big, shoes that were too big, or the cheapest version of whatever- sometimes he would go all out-but for effect and when we couldn’t afford it.. Christmas was a different story- he would just go crazy buying everything for me, to the point is completely overboard and I finally had to tell him to stop it. It was always feast or famine with him.
        The last family photo we took together was 2 Easters ago and my son (a budding photographer) was working on setting up the photo, while my girls and I were just having so much fun, cutting up and laughing.He got photos of all this and when we saw them, there is my STBE in the back ground-stiff as a board with a stoneyface. He was just staring at the camera the whole time with a halfway hostile look.

      • MeganC

        Such a weird thing . . . all the similarities. Did he ruin Valentine’s Day, too? My ex insisted that birthday cards or Valentine’s Day were all made up by greedy capitalists who just wanted to make money. So, we just didn’t celebrate. I can only remember one gift he gave me for Christmas one year — a cheese grater. That’s right. You heard me. (what in the world?) Anyway, holidays were so so sad. :( I am in the process of celebrating holidays like crazy this year. And giving gifts (even if they are homemade) and just celebrating LIFE. I wonder, sometimes, if abusers are so empty inside and so miserable that they just cannot celebrate anything that points toward LIFE (Christmas and birthdays). And they have to ruin it for everyone else, as well?

      • For my first Mother’s day- I got a baby bathtub ring. He never did that again because I mentioned it to so many people. He kept saying “but you said you wanted one.” -well, not for ME, dummy!

      • Katy

        LOL @Valentine’s Day
        the last V Day he had been giving me the silent treatment for a couple of weeks, and on that holiday weekend he finally launched a screaming tirade at me, threatening me, just another nasty vicious attack. I finally broke down and said if he would just let me have the kids and move to be near my family, he could finally be rid of me since he hated me sooo much. He said fine, take them and go. He was sick of me.

        Then the next day, I saw him post on facebook “just had the worst Valentine’s Day ever.” – he made himself out to be a victim, and all of his clueless female friends were on there supporting him, telling him how awful they felt for him, poor poor man. He just ate it up.

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        He never got me anything for Christmas or Valentine’s day. I had to make a big deal of his birthday and got in trouble if I got the wrong gifts for him on Christmas or wrong kind of cake for his birthday. Even when there was no money for gifts of any kind I was supposed to be able to somehow buy the most expensive, newest technology toy out there. Sigh! The one gift he ever got me was an expensive camera for an anniversary, guess what he wanted in the divorce settlement…that camera!!

      • jodi

        Mine never liked anyhing any of us gave him. He would out on a big fake show and then stickit in a drawer,shove in the trash in his truck or lose it. We always knew he didn’t care so it just made us hate buying him things.

  16. Reading about how abusers treat victims on holidays reminded me of a blog I read yesterday. In the blog she states ‘if your husband forgets Valentine’s or holidays, just look to God to fill your emotional needs.” But according to the same blogger, it’s my job to meet my husband’s needs. WHAT????? Sometimes reading stuff like that makes me want to vomit.

    • You are not alone. I want to blow chunks reading that. Is it not OK for a wife to tell her husband she is disappointed and doesn’t feel loved by his memory lapses? I always thought communication was key to a good marriage. When you constantly push every down you start to get bitter after a while. I wonder if these people realize how many marriages they are destroying with their foolish advice.

    • Memphis Rayne

      God does fulfull needs yep for sure BUT God also is not an excuse to let abusers off the hook! I get so sick listening to how they use GOD to shield ANY bad behavior, all they are really saying is “”It doesnt matter how he treats you, its your problem for not looking to God first” “or if they want to be more honest they would just say “”Look lady everything is your fault, you married him, deal with it” I wonder what alter universe these people live in? They are completely crackers!

      Desley, …”I want to blow chunks..” I laughed so hard!!!! aah! Its the little things like that …..makes my day! See! I am not so hard to please!!!

  17. Katy

    @ Meg

    yes they have to ruin holidays. You are not permitted to be happy, EVER. My ex would give me a present, but he would do it in such a hateful manner that I never said thank you. There was no point. He gave gifts just for the appearance of it. Imagine it. “Here you go, here’s an expensive purse for Christmas, I hate you %#*&%” – it was totally bizarre.

    That may be why I hate to receive gifts. There’s no joy in it. I don’t celebrate my birthday or anything. But I make sure that my kids have fun on holidays.

    • Katy, I pray that you will find healing after all of that. You are definitely worth celebrating.

    • MeganC

      That IS bizarre. And just gross. What a sick sick man. I agree with Desley. You are definitely worth celebrating. To your Heavenly Father and to all those who know you and just because you are God’s beautiful girl. I bet your kids would LOVE to celebrate your birthday for/with you.

      • Memphis Rayne

        Wow I just reading all these brings back memories. The slippery slope of any holiday with an abuser, the intensity of the abuse around birthdays and christmas especially was just insane. Mine was like Megs on Valentines he liked to throw out the whole commercialism and how it cheapens his love for me (just threw up a little in my mouth)…..

        The MIW was an extravegent gift giver, the more extravegent the more abuse we faced for it. The more determined he would be to destroy it, take it away as punishment, like he did with my wedding rings, yes everytime he bought me a new one that was the first thing he would hide or hauck, or act as if he did not know where it was, then blame me for losing it. EVERYTHING THIS GUY EVER DID FOR ANY OF US WAS ATTACHED TO A VERY HIGH PAYBACK. but boy he HATED holidays as much as he hated us. When we bought him gifts it just enraged him because, well I dont know exactly? I guess he got his panities in a bunch over it because we spent money without his knowledge, or it was an afront to his vision of us being evils sponging parasites? Who freakin knows? At the same time he expected all my money to go to his needs, all his money to go to his needs, because he was just so paranoid over me having any freedom he couldnt stand the thought of me having anything for myself, and of course the kids just magically should provide for their own needs.

        I became very unattached to anything material, I made it out with one stuffed dog I had since I was a small baby, although I did come home one day and found a kitchen knife stabbed straight through my stuffed dogs head!!! The kids and I were all so attached to this old stuffed dog, we sent him underground after that!! (well he stayed in Granmas attic)

        How about MOTHERS DAY? He refuse to acknowledge that day, except one time he leaned in and called me a very bad word I cannot say here…..then he smuggley snarled and said happy mothers day. One time when we were not living together he bought me like, well some stuff, then took it to church, moped around with it, asking everyone if they knew where we lived so he could “”at least give me my mothers day present”” yeeeeya??? Because we all know what a loving concerned hopeless romantic he was. BARF!!

  18. “In the past everything I touched turned to gold. I was president of the student body, won athletic awards, and succeeded in business. As a result, I over promised to Jona and expected her to trust me. Jona was the one person I wanted approval from and the one person from whom I was not getting it. She grew frustrated, angry and bitter towards me. She also withdrew physically, which was the crowning blow to my manhood.”

    Jona said things like, “If you cared about us, you wouldn’t make all these bad decisions, you’re a loser, you’re worthless.”

    “I’m not putting all the blame of our past marriage problems on Jona. I was shooting for the moon instead of a ten yard gain. I was trying to hit a homerun instead of a base hit. But honestly, once I realized Jona had lost respect for me, I felt the marriage was over. Her words cut too deep and no bandage could stop the bleeding.”
    This is a quote from a devotional today. Can someone tell me why, as a wife, I need to go to God for my needs, but as a husband, if his aren’t being met, the marriage is over??? (This actually might be a good topic for a post.)

    • Katy

      Can someone tell me why, as a wife, I need to go to God for my needs, but as a husband, if his aren’t being met, the marriage is over?

      I agree this is a good topic. The underlying belief is that men are animals with very little self control, and simultaneously ultra-fragile egos.

      In contrast, women are expected to be the Energizer Bunny. Keep going, take those beatings, and take all your pain in secret to God – but don’t you dare stop ticking.

      • We’ll discuss it and may put it on our ‘Posts To Write’ list. Thanks for the suggestion.
        (when I say ‘we’ I mean the CFJ team: Jeff C, myself, Megan and Jeff S.)

    • Jeff S

      Lynette,
      I can tell you from personal experience I got the same “get your needs met in God” speech.

      Maybe there are some places where men get a pass, but I wasn’t in one of them.

      • Katy

        That is interesting – I hadn’t heard of a man receiving that same admonishment (about getting all your needs met in God) – more evidence that I need to be more careful making blanket statements.
        Jeff I think I have a blind spot toward men in abusive situations. Although I know that they exist, I can’t seem to recognize it like I can with women.
        Case in point: just today I had a blinding realization that really knocked the wind out of me. An older man I work with (66 years old, married for several decades) has been repeatedly coming to me, sharing his miseries over coffee every morning as I try to work. I have felt irritated with him on weekly basis.
        For the last few months I’ve brushed him off as a strange, needy, clingy man with no backbone. His wife has him under her thumb and he is clearly suffering, but all this time I thought “well he just needs to man up and stop doing every silly thing she says”. EVEN THOUGH I KNOW BETTER.
        I need to read some examples of financial abuse – can someone point me to some posts/links on that? Every story he tells me reveal the deeper insanity of his home life. His wife rules – and forces him to take on massive debts in his name only. He can never retire. He will never be able to pay off all the debt. He is literally her financial slave. He is poor. I thought he was just cheap – but no – I was wrong. And they have a 34 year old daughter who has never been able to leave their home. She went to college (at his wife’s direction) but never got a career. She still lives at home, as a slave/24 hour nurse to the wife’s 94 year old mother.

        I am suddenly faced with the ugly realization that I may have been silently ridiculing this man for being pathetic and weak, and interrupting my work….when he really may just be starved for attention? He literally goes around the office to any woman who will listen to him and repeats the same woes many times a day. The men have long since stopped listening to him. I don’t know what to do… !! You’d think I’d be better at this!?

      • jodi

        Or maybe he’s an abuser.

      • Jeff S

        Katy, we all have our “blind spots”, an I think a lot of that is a need to protect ourselves. If that man is truly in a bad spot I wouldn’t beat yourself up. We have all learned not to trust and we’ve all seen how abusers can lie and trick people into believing they are the victim. Please do not guilt yourself- you have walls up and guarded thoughts for a reason. When you are ready to empathize, God will make a way.

        I can also tell you some differences in my story from a lot of others I’ve heard. Now how much of this is gender based, I don’t know.

        -I’m fairly certain my ex was not a narcissist as most women here have dealt with. I have my suspicions about what her problem was, but I don’t want to speculate publicly on the web. Like a narcissist she was incapable of behaving in a safe way within the marriage, but some of her actions were different that what I’ve read here.

        -My story was never doubted. Partly this was because I had very credible witnesses to her behavior; I don’t know how different it would have been were I a woman. Unfortunately, it didn’t really matter that I was believed, I was still told that my calling was to suffer and persevere and not find joy in my marriage, but in God

        -I was never subjected to Nouthetic counseling, though some of the thinking was certainly in the conversations as the elders advised me. They did subject my ex to Nouthetic counseling. In some ways, I think my independence as a man made it a little more difficult for the elders to push me into an unhealthy counseling situation. They gave a lot of advice and expressed a lot of displeasure, but they were not able to control me. I suspect this has a lot to do with being brought up as a man in the church as opposed to a woman.

        -I was told that I did not love my ex with “agape love”. I was told that my job was to love her as Christ loved the church. I was to sacrifice everything for her (strangely, I identify with all of calls to “submission” that women have received, as “submission” and “sacrificial love” seem very similar, and both are assumed to be able to change a spouse).

        -When I left I had financial resources and a job that most women do not have. I did have a lot of debt to work through and a lot of alimony to pay (the elders at my church told her to ask for more, fully knowing and believing my story). The good thing is that I get child support as I got custody (which is very unique for a man, at least in my state- she did not fight for custody and my lawyers were pretty sure she’d have lost if she’d tried). It’s not a lot, but it helps.

        -Because I am a single father with custody, I get a lot of instant credibility post divorce- more than a single mother would.

        So that’s a limited peek into my world. I think the inherent patriarchy in the evangelical church and our American culture makes it different for a man in a lot of ways. I also know that the behavior is different a lot of times between men and women and if you think in terms of personality disorders, some are more common in men and others more common in women. Ultimately, though, it all stems from a place of entitlement even if some of the behavior and effects are different.

  19. I apologize Jeff. I sometimes forget that men can be victims of abuse also.

    • Jeff S

      Lynette, no problem- but I DO identify with your frustration. And I also recognize that there are some trials in this that tend to belong only to women.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for sharing that with us, Jeff. It is interesting to see the differences.

        Your point about being a single father is worth noting. Single mothers are mostly seen in a bad light. Pitiful, damaged souls at best, welfare-sucking trash at worst. But single fathers are conferred hero status. Fancy a man being able to father his kid(s) solo – what a man. And the ex must have been a b**** for betraying him! Or at least that’s been my observation with the single fathers in church. I later found out in three cases, which drew a lot of sympathy, attention and prayers, that they were the abuse perpetrators. One of them loves hanging around the single mothers and venting about his ex on them. I don’t think real victims (male or female) are that comfortable dumping on anyone who will listen.

        Thanks for all your contribution to this community, though, Jeff. I think we do need to be educated on abuse dynamics when males are the victims because we will come across them and it is just as much an injustice that they are not believed or supported just because we don’t know what to look out for.

  20. Katy

    I don’t think real victims (male or female) are that comfortable dumping on anyone who will listen.

    Ok is that generally the case? Because maybe this older guy constantly doing the “woe is me” routine is really just looking for attention and not being abused? His misery does not seem at all faked – and yet I find him extremely annoying.
    It’s so hard to tell…

    • Jeff S

      I think people do want sympathy, especially if it seems no one understand their pain. We all want to be understood and loved.

      But I think there’s a difference between wanting sympathy and wanting to make yourself look good by putting down your ex. In fact, I know there are a lot of strong words of women appearing to “trash” their ex’s even in the comments on this blog, but it’s clear the “trashing” isn’t done for the purpose of make themselves look better. They want people to understand what they’ve been through- we all want our stories told.

      I know that I actually do desire people to know I’ve gone through a painful situation and to encourage me, but I don’t feel like they need to see my ex in a bad light for that to happen.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, I think that’s it. I, too, do want for people to see the reality of the abuse, but I feel bad saying anything that makes the ex look bad. Certainly when we were still together, this feeling of loyalty and protection was much stronger. Even after we split, I would be very careful about how much I shared because I didn’t like to be the cause of his reputation being tarnished. I wanted people to know the truth, but I didn’t want anyone thinking badly of him. Since once can’t happen without the other, I often sacrificed the telling of truth.

        Katy, this is exactly what some friends of mine are struggling with – men at church who are continuously dumping on them about their ex’s. At first, they felt sympathetic, but now they are aware that the foremost psychopathic trait is the ability to elicit sympathy. Secondly, they are beginning to observe if the agenda is simply to discredit the ex. Victims normally carry a lot of self-blame and would not assign all the responsibility for wrong on their spouses.

        In fact, in keeping with the topic, you could almost generalize and say that victims over-apologize, and perpetrators under-apologize!

      • Katy

        That was true back when I was married – now, however, I don’t want to take any blame for the divorce because I know it was totally the result of his abuse. I do let people know the truth if they ask but I absolutely never go “on and on” about it, I don’t give details, and I don’t even feel the need to discuss it amongst other people at church. I’m always mindful that my children attend this church and I don’t want to humiliate them…
        on the other hand, there is one woman in my church with a whole bunch of children who is going through a terrible divorce. I know from firsthand knowledge that her husband is very very abusive. But this particular woman talks incessantly about the ex – all the abuse- every detail – everything. She never stops. Even in front of her children. Since she she won’t stop “dumping” it on everyone around her, her older kids are abandoning her even though the father is worse.

        So I still feel confused about who is the victim and who is the abuser? yeesh

      • Jeff S

        I think different people may process things differently, too.

        It’s really hard to hold people coming out of the fog accountable for much- abuse does not lead to well adjusted people who know the best ways to handle things.

        The central question ti would ask is “does this person sound like he or she feels entitled”. But really, Barbara and Jeff C are much better at that kind of thing than I am.

      • FreeToGo

        Jeff, whether they are male or female, It’s kind of hard to see abusers in a good light:( And this is there doing.

    • Katy, I think it can be hard to tell whether a person is playing the victim or is really a victim. I think I have developed a pretty good radar for it, but only when I hear or read the person’s own words. I’m not necessarily able to discern if I’m only hearing the case second hand, as you’ve recounted it to us.

      Jeff S, thanks for handling this discussion so well. And thanks for everyone’s graciousness and willingness to learn. This gender thing (what are the differences, if any?) has come up from time to time on the blog. I think we keep chewing it over and getting more refined and nuanced in our understanding (and more willing to say we don’t know for sure). And I love the way we are all on this journey together, and no-one is saying they have the last word.

      • My husband claims to be the victim in my home. I will admit that I am too often verbally abusive to him – I have grown bitter against him because of what he has done to my son and after years of blaming myself and abandoning my son, I have now gone to the other extreme. I am not at all minimizing my sinful behaviour here…I realized a while back that if I say I love God but hate my brother I am a liar and the truth is not in me. So now I repent for my abusiveness and apologize when I do it.
        This is where I think it can get complicated. I even get confused over who is the real abuser here sometimes, but then I remember that my behaviour – as bad as it is – is not a way to control him and it is not stemming from a sense of entitlement. In fact, where I used to “keep tabs” on him and monitor his internet activity after he cheated on me and I found him repeatedly looking at porn, I stopped caring altogether now. I guess I have nothing left invested in the relationship. I feel like this is self protection. I can’t afford to get emotionally involved or I will get confused again. So in this sense, I guess I have turned into an abuser myself. How sad is that?
        But him – he really thinks that he is the victim here. When I tell him “there are conditions you have to abide by if you want to be here,” he tells me he is sick of me controlling him. Then he goes on about how all these “woman’s rights” are victimizing men.

        He seems really to champion the cause of the domestic abuse victim (as long as it is a woman getting abused by her husband). This was really throwing me off for a while (“Maybe he really isn’t an abuser; surely an abuser wouldn’t defend victims of abuse!”). I have been getting increasingly angry about this and finally spoke up last night about his hypocrisy. I was very respectful, and asked him why he thinks it’s wrong to abuse a woman and not a child. He just got mad and gave me the silent treatment. Not sure what that means. Now he’s acting like I never even asked him.

        I suppose now I might easily be perceived as an abuser. I am not afraid of him (though I am afraid for my son when I leave him again), I speak up for my son now, I assert my boundaries now (no sex – although he will still grope me and then tell me “I’ll take what I can get” when I get mad), It’s not like I’m witholding for the purpose of being mean, but for self-protection. I just can’t bring myself to have sex with a man who I am not staying with, and nothing ever changes with him. His default setting is still negativity and cruelty towards my son even if I can (kind of) keep in in check right now.

        I guess I understand how it can be confusing sometimes to try and ascertain who is the victim and who is the abuser. Especially for cases on the lower end of the abuse spectrum where the victims are not afraid for their lives. There sometimes comes a point where the victim grows enough to see what has been done, gets angry, and starts dishing it back. At least, that’s what’s happening with me.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Desley – I think you will get some other comments here to help you out because I know several others readers here found themselves having the same thing happen to them. Never feel sorry for your boundaries though. And even when you do dish bad treatment back to him, notice that the mere fact that you just wrote this comment and said what you said shows that you don’t want to do that, that you have a functional conscience, and that you are capable of repenting. Not the abuser. Nope. Never. Never.

      • Desley, I understand what you are saying and I think you are right that when the victim dishes back some verbal venom, and particularly if the abuser isn’t physically threatening the victim’s life or doing major physical damage, it can be much harder to tell who is the real abuser.

        I have heard of victims using verbal anger and denigration towards the perpetrator, and even (in a few cases) using physical violence to fight back. I do not recommend this, but I think some kind of retaliation is understandable.

        With my first husband, during the early part of the relationship before I was walking and living as a Christian, I did initiate hitting him once, when he had not used physical violence against me but had only been verbally abusive. I soon realised how wrong my use of violence had been, and I did not repeat it, never being the one to initiate physical violence again.
        In that early part of the marriage, I quite often shouted and yelled at my husband in reaction to him having abused me (though I didn’t define his conduct as ‘abuse’ at that stage). On a very few occasions I also tried to fight back physically –– if trying to wrestle out of his iron grip on my arms, or trying to hit him with my weak arms while he was assaulting me with his muscular powerful arms is ‘fighting back’. I think I tried those retaliatory tactics after most other tactics had failed, just to see if it would make any difference. But, like all the other tactics I tried, nothing really made a difference to his abuse. He would abuse at his own whim and in his own covert, overt, change the rules all the time fashion, so I never knew where I was with him.

        I have never lived with an abuser under the same roof after having decided that the marriage was O.V.E.R., so I don’t know that situation from personal experience. But I can imagine that it would have its own special qualities and because you have dis-invested from the relationship, you might feel more free to say what you really think.

        It is also important to try to maintain one’s own evaluation of one’s behavior, and not be overcome by the abuser’s evaluation of it. The abuser will always claim that when the victim draws boundaries, the victim is being ‘abusive and controlling’. That is the abuser’s version of ‘reality’. It is not real reality, however.

        I used to try to build and keep a mental shell round myself, to maintain my own perspective on my conduct. I sought to maintain my dignity by doing what was right before God – maintaining boundaries while remaining morally principled in the way I responded to his tactics and not letting myself sink to his level. I did not always succeed in this, but that approach helped me maintain an inner sense of dignity and self-respect, in the face of his constant attempts to corrode and erode my self-respect.

      • Desley, I know exactly what you are talking about. I still live in fear that people will see me as the abuser. If you missed my post “The Wall”, I think you might find it encouraging.

        http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/the-wall/

  21. “You could almost generalize and say that victims over-apologize, and perpetrators under-apologize.”

    In my endlessly qualifying fashion, I think that I’d rephrase that as:
    Victims who are living in the abuse or have left the abuser but are early in recovery, tend to over-apologize. As they progress down the road of recovery, this tendency to over-apologizing fades, and they become deft at not taking on false guilt and attributing blame where it rightly belongs: with the abuser.
    In contrast, perpetrators under-apologize, deceitfully apologize with a hidden agenda to manipulate others, and attribute blame away from themselves as much as they can get away with.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, of course! I do apologize… :D

  22. Now Free

    I tend to underestimate and keep my mouth shut about his physical, emotional and verbal abuse. I was quiet about all of his abuse for decades. After 40 years, I left him. This is it in a nutshell. Oh, I will add that this new church that I am attending..of the many people I had known for 30, 40 years (but lost contact with decades ago)…I have told only 2 people about his abuse so far, and that includes a pastor, that I had known 30 years ago. So yeah, I am hesitant and sometimes even apologetic about his abuse still.

    This blog is where I can feel safe and vent. Hopefully to help others.

  23. Robin

    Thanks for this post Megan. After 14 years of marriage, and two years being free, I now realize that after YEARS of him telling me what a terrible communicator I was (we even dealt with him stating this in our pre-marital counseling!) this was just another abuse tactic he used! He always blamed me for my poor communication skills! And I accepted it. Never questioned it. Funny, at my jobs, I always got the best reviews for my communication skills!

    Oh, and ruining holidays, birthdays, yep, been there too – they were all “too commercialized”, or “an excuse to make money.” I rarely received gifts – and he didn’t want any gifts either. One year, my daughter gave him a cupcake with a candle on it for his birthday – he BLEW UP, crushed the cupcake into pieces, and screamed at her about how she was so selfish to give it to him – he said she did it just to make herself feel good about giving him a birthday gift (????). She was seven at the time. And I remember thinking, I should have never let her give it to him, I should have known it was the wrong thing to do…I think I apologized too. Crazy, just crazy.

  24. Now Free

    In the 3-4 months before leaving my abuser, I asked him to apologize and seek help. He swore and became very angry and did not apologize, did not seek help, did not show remorse. I was just searching for “characteristics of a foolish person”. The following descriptions suit the abuser very well. The introduction describes some of the attributes of a wise person.

    CHARACTERISTICS OF A FOOL
    Proverbs 1:1-2
    “The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction: to perceive the words of understanding.”
    INTRODUCTION:

    1. Proverbs 1:1-2.

    2. To know wisdom.

    a) Know – become intimately familiar with.

    b) Wisdom – the right use of one’s knowledge, insight, and skill to the glory of God. Wisdom involves more than intellectual excellence, it implies a spiritual and moral quality of heart, will, and life; and is the practical application of knowledge to its best ends.

    3. We can better understand what it means to be a wise person by considering what is means to be the opposite kind of person, a fool.

    4. What are some of the characteristics of a fool?

    DISCUSSION: * Proverbs

    I. Places his trust in himself (28:26). *

    A. The way of a fool is right in his own eyes (12:15).*

    B. In contrast, we are to place our trust in God (3:5-6).*

    II. Despises wisdom and instruction (1:7).*

    A. He doesn’t want anyone to “preach to him,” although this is to his own disadvantage (10:21).*

    B. He acts like a “know it all” (18:13).* He has an answer ready for others even before they are finished speaking. Consequently, he does not always understand the full meaning of what is being said.

    III. He rejects discipline (17:10).*

    A. A person who hates reproof is brutish (12:1).*

    B. A person who despises correction deprives himself of happiness, peace, and real prosperity (16:22).*

    IV. He is “hot-headed” (14:29).*

    A. A person who quickly becomes angry will cause strife within his family, the church, and his community.

    B. Contrasted with the foolish, a wise person is slow to wrath (James 1:19).

    V. Will be meddling, ASV translates this “quarreling” (20:3).*

    A. The fool frequently brings harm to himself and his family by becoming involved in controversy with others, often in matters that are none of his concern.

    B. We are to do all that is in our power to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).

    VI. Speaks his mind (29:11).*

    A. A fool often speaks and later reflects on what he has said. In contrast, a wise man considers his words before he speaks (Colossians 4:6).

    B. A wise man guards his tongue (James 1:19).

    CONCLUSION:

    1. What are some of the characteristics of a foolish person?

    a) Places his trust in himself.

    b) Despises wisdom and instruction.

    c) Rejects discipline.

    d) Is “hot-headed.”

    e) Is a meddler (quarreler).

    • Katy

      Didn’t Abigail tell David straight out that her husband was a “fool” ?

      • Jeff Crippen

        David didn’t do a very good job of trying to preserve that marriage, did he!

  25. Now Free

    It doesn’t appear that David loved his wives. He was sexually attracted to them (especially Bathsheba).

    I asked my to be ex “husband” more than once if he would apologize for his decades of abuse. One heart-felt apology would have gone far in preserving our marriage, I thought. But I know the Lord wanted me to leave him, so I’m very thankful that He didn’t grant me that apology and permit the misery to last longer…like another decade!

  26. Now Free

    It meant sound as if I’m complaining that the Lord permitted me to tolerate the abuse, and for so long. This could not be further from the truth.

    I’ve learned so much about God’s tremendous grace and guidance through all of this. I’ve never felt closer to God since separating from my abuser. My priorities were wrong… many times I think I placed my “husband” before God. I’m just so glad to know the Lord has forgiven me for this sin.

  27. Isaiah40:31

    I just found this article from a link in the comment section of the “drama triangle” post. In the months since I have left the abuser, I have found myself constantly apologizing to other people for his behavior to them. And more than once the person I am apologizing to has said that I don’t need to be apologizing for him! This follows after years of apologizing to him for anything and everything.

    This is a real conversation I had with the abuser a year or two ago, taken from my journal.

    ———-

    He was being verbally rough with our toddler, saying she needed to give him hugs and kisses and say good bye. I suggested that he be more gentle, because she is like an older brother who pulls back from rough speech.

    His response: the only thing she pulls back from is your bull**** because she always does it when you’re not around. You need to back off. You are so overbearing.

    Him: Now come walk me to the door and say good bye.
    Me: Apologize.
    Him: Your sorry – a sorry person.

    This is a typical conversation with him. This is not the light-hearted banter that might play between to people friendly with each other. His tone and his words were both mean spirited.

    Within 10 minutes of leaving he was already calling. The first words out of his mouth, “are you ready to apologize?” After which he went on to say that he always apologizes and I never ever apologize. After which he said good bye and hung up – without apologizing.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Isaiah 40:31
      What a hurtful barrage of words and actions described from your journal entry! It made my heart hurt and brought back memories of how terrible it is to live in such a cruel environment. It is triggering for me becaue he sounds exactly like my ex. My ex said such things with a condesending tone and sneer that I could hear in this conversation you journaled, too. I think that when my ex spewed his hatred out the evil could actually be felt, as strange as that sounds. My children said they felt it surrounding us, also. So sorry you lived with this and I hope you have found peace away from the abuse.

      • Isaiah40:31

        Thank you. I agree, the hatred can be felt. The children are doing so much better now that they don’t live with that on a daily basis, and I am finding peace as well.

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  1. The language of abusers who portray themselves as victims — Pt 1: Vagueness & Contraditions | A Cry For Justice

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