In the quiet of the sleepy morning, I find myself, as I often do, on the bottom of the stairs in my home, cuddling my two kids, who are triggering and on high alert. I often am too, in the mornings. The three of us are afraid a lot at that time of day.
My son whispers to me, “Mom, everyone seems upset today.” My daughter’s eyes keep darting around the room, focusing on her step-dad, who is sleepily making their lunches for school. I know what she was doing. Assessing the situation. Everyone stays quiet.
Is he mad? Is he going to yell or be ok today?
My new husband has had to see the three of us like this many mornings. He has lovingly learned to be really gentle and communicate with us, so that there can be fewer presumptions, fewer triggers for us. But they still happen. Just the mere fact that it is morning, aka danger time, is all it takes to trigger one or all of us.
My current husband is a good man, a kind man. So what was it that triggered us today? Silence. It was just the silence. It was silence that wouldn’t reveal if we were safe or not.
I’m no longer technically in the abuse. But thanks to the not-so-judicious judicial system that does not recognize covert aggression as abuse, my kids still have half their time with our abuser. So I guess really, I am still in it too. I am a little farther removed now from the direct assaults, but this is still a very, very raw reality for my kids and so it is still, for me too.
I think they figure that men are all like this. They are still taking awkward baby steps in learning to trust their step-dad and to understand that he is not the same as their bio-dad. Often, so am I.
They never know when their bio-dad will wake up happy or angry. Will they get hugs, a cold silence or yelled at today? That’s anybody’s guess from day to day. Those are the egg shells they walk on.
When you live under a situation like that, you learn ways to cope. Most of them are maladaptive, but they help you to survive, so you do them anyway. Sometimes you do things you are ashamed of, because surviving is more important in that moment, than doing what you know is right.
Hypervigilance means to be keenly watchful of danger. That is probably a victim’s main mode of survival. If you know what is coming, you can sometimes soften the blow, or even (rarely) manage to avoid it. My daughter assessing the room is a perfect example of this technique. The problem is, it doesn’t just turn off, like a faucet when you want the water to stop. Your system gets so used to this constant state of over-awareness, and you can’t stop, even when you are safe.
Lying or omission of truth because the truth will get you seriously hurt. I’ve done it, and my kids have done it and still do it. I am just now learning that it’s safe to tell the truth again. I won’t get beat up for it any more. There will be no more laundry lists of faults, created to rip me to shreds any time I risk admitting I have messed up, or even just telling the truth about what I have done with my day. I won’t be criticized, berated or belittled for spending five dollars over the grocery limit for the week any more. I don’t have to pretend to enjoy him dominating and using my body any more. That’s over. I am safe to be honest again. But I often feel afraid and still have to fight to do so. So do my kids.
My husband and I still often have to weigh what we tell the kid’s bio-dad. Will this information be used to hurt them? Will this information give him ammunition to throw at them the next time they make him mad? Sometimes, we still have to choose omission, just to keep them safe, and I don’t think that’s wrong in these circumstances.
Sometimes tactics designed to actually bring on the abuse are used in the tension building phase, to draw out the abuse and just get it over with. Picking fights is a good example that both my kids use and I have at times, as well. The tension building phase can be so hard to handle, because you know what is coming, and at times, it’s much easier to just get it over with, instead of waiting until the moment your abuser decides to strike. At least then you know when it will happen and how. It gives you the illusion of having a small piece of control in the situation. It speeds up the cycle.
Withdrawal is another common one in my house. We all do it. When I feel attacked, this is my most common go-to. I withdraw into myself, or sometimes outside of myself, via disassociation, because I think that I will be safe if I just hide away somewhere long enough to get through the perceived danger. It has become an automatic response for me, and one I have had and still have a very hard time letting go of. My son hides in books. My daughter disengages and ignores everyone around her.
It is a long and often confusing road to healing we travel. Three scared abuse survivors and a very loving and patient husband and step-dad. We are getting there, and maybe one day, even in the face of silence and unknown, my kids will be running down those stairs, chattering away the morning, free of fear. For now in our every day, there are cuddles and lots reassurances that no one is angry and no one will be hurt today.
O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
In my opinion the book of Jeremiah ought to be the handbook (along with the Pastoral Epistles) of any seminary training for future pastors. Or for that matter, training for any genuine Christian. Jeremiah is my favorite Old Testament character. I identify with him and I suspect that many of you who have suffered for Christ find comfort in his example and experience as well.
There is much we could say about the Scripture quoted above, but this morning I just wanted to point out Jeremiah’s words - I sat alone. In these wicked days we live in, this is the increasing experience of Christ’s people. Aloneness. Why? Let me suggest these reasons drawn from the text:
- Jeremiah found and consumed God’s Word. He loved that Word.
- Jeremiah was alone while the rest of the crowd was partying on in a wicked, sinful manner.
- Jeremiah was indignant when he saw their wickedness.
- And he was indignant because he was filled with and treasured God’s Word – God’s truth.
Now, this was no fun. Jeremiah, like us, suffered. And he even had some doubts. He wondered if God, in the end, was just going to be like a cool brook in a desert which, when the thirsty man is just about to drink from it, it dries up. Jeremiah wrested with his doubt because things weren’t getting any better for him. In fact, the more he spoke for the Lord the more he suffered. He even resolved once to shut his mouth and speak God’s Word no more. But he couldn’t pull it off. The Lord had called him as a spokesman and speak he must. God’s Word in him was like fire and it had to be let out.
The Lord answered Jeremiah and told him that he (Jeremiah) needed to reaffirm his faith in God’s Word, trust Him completely, and not yield to the wicked for a moment. The Lord promised to strengthen His prophet and deliver him out of the hand of the wicked.
If you love God’s Word, obey it and share it, you will inevitably find yourself sitting alone. I have no doubt at all that this is really at the bottom of most all the abuse that Christian abuse victims suffer at the hands of their abuser, especially if that abuser claims to be a Christian themselves. Darkness hates light. Evil hates righteousness. Satan hates Christ.
Here then is encouragement. God’s Word to us is that we keep right on doing what we are doing — taking in His Word, delighting in it, and announcing it to others. We must not yield to the world’s charges that somehow we have gone quite wrong and need to come and join everyone else on Broadway. No. We must not go to them. They must come to us. As we do this, the Lord’s promise is to strengthen us and in His appointed time, he will rescue us.
By ignoring domestic abuse, Christians can stigmatize victims— an example from Dallas Theological Seminary
Raising Children in a Sex-Saturated Society, Part 1 is a video made by Dallas Theological Seminary. It is from their weekly Table Podcast program which “treats key topics related to God, religion, Christianity, and Culture.” It is a public education program that DTS produces for any Christians, not just for DTS seminary students.
As a discussion on how Christians can raise their children in a sex-saturated society — how to help children develop healthy, ethical, biblical attitudes about sex — this video is pretty good for a general audience. However, like many such presentations, it does not even touch on the topic of abuse or mention anything about how abuse might affect the raising of children.
It appears that abuse did not enter the minds of the four people on this panel discussion who are all counselors and/or academics at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the video. I’ve bolded the parts that grated on me.
23:50 Darrell Bock: What do we do when we’re in a situation where we’re dealing with a single parent family, and perhaps, some disfunction in the background that’s impacting what it is that the children see. And who wants to take that [issue up for discussion]? That ball’s on the ground.
Gary Barnes [note – the transcript incorrectly said Darrell Bock was the speaker]: One dimension of that, that I want to start off with is, just the fact that you would be working with a one-parent situation makes it very possible that there’s personal unresolved things for that one parent. And there’s a likelihood for shame and guilt that’s still carried over. And the big message that would be great for kids is to see from your own life how God can redeem any bad situation. . . .
27:28 Debby Wade: And, Darrell, I think so much what keeps us, or keeps someone from sharing is the sexual shame maybe that they still carry. And how important that is to work through that for yourself before introducing the topic to your kids, so you’re not bringing the shame into it.
There are a number of reasons for single parenthood and this panel needed to do a better job of differentiating them. There is domestic abuse, widowhood, and pregnancy outside marriage — which may be intentional or unintentional, and with or without any committed relationship. DTS needed to do a better job of clarifying and classifying the various reasons for single parenthood.
Furthermore, conversion to Christianity can occur before or after a person becomes a parent. People who suffer domestic abuse or widowhood may have been Christians since before they married and started a family. They may never have committed sexual sin.
I think when these panelists were talking about shame, they were only thinking of where a woman became pregnant out of wedlock, and had shame from that. What a narrow and naive focus. They never mentioned or even seemed to be aware of abuse as a reason for single parenthood. Nor did they mention widowhood as a reason for single parenthood. How blinkered. How prejudiced! How hurtful to ignore those who became single parents without having ever engaged in extra-marital sex!
Thankfully the speakers each softened their statements with qualifiers (‘very possible’, ‘likelihood’, ‘maybe’) to show that they were not necessarily sweeping all single parents into the shame bucket. But despite their qualifiers, I find their statements disappointing. And on behalf of all the victims of abuse I advocate for, I am offended that this panel of four so-called experts & counselors would not mention the fact that many single parents are single parents because they have divorced an abusive spouse and that they bear NO SHAME for that.
- Why mention that single parents are likely to have shame and guilt for their past, but not mention the single parents who are survivors of domestic abuse who battle stigma and have to reckon with the false-guilt that Christians lay on them?
- Why no mention of the fact that guilt can be false guilt or real guilt, and that it’s essential to differentiate between the two?
- Why no indication that false guilt needs to be dissolved and washed away with good doctrinal teaching that shows what notions in a person’s conscience are biblical and what notions are sub-bibical, or plain un-biblical.
- Why no mention that when single parenthood is a consequence of abuse, the children might be healthier than they had been in a two-parent household, because if the kids are living with the good (non-abusive) parent, they can recover from the trauma of having lived under the control, deceit and manipulation of the abuser.
It seems to me that his panel discussion casts the grey cloth of shame and guilt over single parents without any thought as to whether or not the single parent may or may not have been responsible for the breakdown of the relationship with the other parent. I believe that the panel’s statements were not sufficiently softened by the few vaguely qualifying words that the speakers have used.
What ought to have been included is an explicit mention of widows and widowers, and an explicit two-part statement about domestic abuse:
- domestic abuse is one of the big causes of single parenthood, and
- the guilt for domestic abuse must be attributed solely to the abuser, rather than being vaguely attributed to both abuser and victim, or left hanging in the ether, unstated.
Widows and widowers get reasonable recognition by the church most of the time (though it could be improved). But Christian survivors of domestic abuse are treated as the unmentionables, as if they did not exist. This hurts! It is so unfair. In this day and age, when society has increasing recognition of the issue of domestic abuse, it is abysmal that so many generalist Christian teachings ignore domestic abuse and act as if the victims are non-existent or at least unmentionable. This needs to change!
Christian single parents who are survivors of domestic abuse need Christian experts who affirm and reaffirm their freedom from guilt for the breakdown of the marriage.
Affirmation and vindication are vital for breaking down all the stigmatizing attitudes against single parents in the Christian community, of which this video by DTS is a mild but nevertheless hurtful example. But the experts at DTS seem to be ignorant of this. And the only reason I’m targeting DTS here is because we’ve had a bit of heat from that seminary because of our Sexual Issues book review post recently. I could probably be writing this kind of post about the generalist teachings from any number of other seminaries and para-church organizations. But DTS caught my attention because of that recent flurry, so I poked around on their website and found this video.
Let us hope that DTS and other organizations will take some lessons from the range of resources and testimonies at this blog. It is time for all counselors, pastors and academics to start including and acknowledging domestic abuse in their generalist presentations. If these people knew they were ignoring a sizable cohort of the church, if they knew they were carelessly or inadvertently besmirching survivors of domestic abuse with inappropriate shame and stigma, would they want to continue doing it?
Some may say that you can’t cover everything in a generalist discussion. Agreed. But that’s not an adequate excuse for the perennial ignoring of domestic abuse victims. I have sat under one pastor who preached exegetically through books of the Bible and whenever his sermon touched on issues that would pertain or have relevance to domestic abuse, he would mention that relevance and cover it adequately, not in a off hand or patronizing manner, nor in a wade-in-up-to-your-thighs manner which would have been off-putting to the rest of the congregation, but with just the right amount of application so that abuse victims in the congregation would feel acknowledged and included and would see how the biblical text applied to their situation. It can be done. It’s not that hard. It’s just that we have seen so few people model it that we can’t imagine what it looks like.
Survivors of domestic abuse need to be recognized, and not in a patronizing way. Although survivors of abuse are unique individuals, they share a great deal in common because of the commonalities in the way abusers behave and the way many churches behave. This means that when a general principle applies to non-abused people, often the inverse of that principle applies to us survivors and our kids. It’s time that the academics and counselors realized this and humbled themselves enough to learn from survivors who have come out of the fog and are able to articulate this well. We can help the so called ‘professional experts’ improve their presentations; we can show them how to not be narrow and naive and inadvertently hurtful — if they would listen and learn from us. Oh Lord, may it be so!
When I first left “Egypt” (as I like to call it), I washed up on my parents’ doorstep in an old minivan with three toddlers, and I’m lucky that I even had parents that could take me in — I know so many of you are abandoned by your own families when trying to escape an abusive marriage. But in my case, I had some family (four states away) that I could drive toward!
In those first few months of survival, I lived in my parents’ loft with my kids. I was moving toward being independent but I wasn’t there yet. I was still in great turmoil. From the outside I looked like I was “making it”: I had enough monthly support to cover the necessities, we were surviving, I was job hunting, my family wouldn’t let us end up living in our van down by the river – all positive things. But my heart and spirit were totally crushed. Looking back, it probably took me 2 years to start feeling like a stable person who could respond to God without screeching about all of the injustice and unmet desires. It took me two years to process the trauma, to make peace with the fact that I had never been loved by my husband, and to cry all of that out. To face the fact that I had to share my children with my ex husband and his mistress, and I had to paste a smile on my face when I handed my babies over for Christmas. Gut wrenching, I tell you. There were days when I wondered if God hated me; if I was truly a cursed woman. (Maybe you are like me, and for years it seemed the only people in the Bible that you could understand were Leah, Job, and Naomi in the opening chapters of Ruth.)
During that time, I found a book that brought me a lot of peace. It stayed on my bedside table next to my Bible. Every time I read it again, I would “hear” a new part of it — some of the chapters I couldn’t process at first. But eventually I would think: oh yeah, I get that part now.
Angela Thomas’s story of her “single mom life” describes her own beginning as the day that she wandered from room to room in her house, sobbing, packing whatever clothing she could find into laundry baskets, and loading her 4 children into her car. She does not go into much detail about what led up to the divorce, but there are clues that she was in an abusive marriage. For example in one of the later chapters she describes being at peace, because she can rest in her house and “no one has said one mean thing to me all day” . . . many of her statements in the book sound exactly like the kind of things we survivors say to each other on this blog, i.e. “Thank God I finally have rest from his constant temper/ violence/ manipulation/ control/ mean words.” Angela also mentions that she is not able to co-parent with her ex-husband, and she gives advice on dealing with this reality.
My take on this book is that she is a survivor of domestic abuse, however it doesn’t appear that she fully recognized it (or was able to put it in these terms). Her masters degree was from Dallas Theological Seminary, and she seems to have a few attitudes poking through which mirror the confusion of the evangelical church regarding abuse & God’s view of divorce. She spends a great deal of time explaining that she was brought up in a Christian home and she knew all about “how not to get divorced.” At times she sounds like she is trying to justify herself to her audience, and given the way that ‘c’hurch people handle abusive marriages, this is understandable. Which is why I say the following:
A caution here (for survivors of abuse) — she encourages us to pray for our ex husbands, a little bit like the oppressive advice many of us have received to pray for blessings on the evil men who have destroyed your lives because that’s what a “good Christian” would do. You may read her thoughts on this and have a triggering moment! I just skipped over that part and reminded myself that “praying good things for my abuser” = praying that he faces some consequences here on earth, in the hope that it might change his heart before he ends up in hell. Because that is the real truth here. And I won’t further burden myself with this “law for divorced mamas”. When your regular prayers involve you begging God to protect your babies from an evil man, you don’t waste that prayer time asking God to “bless” that evil man. Amen? Don’t take on any false guilt for his choices. Let’s move on!
Her description of her life was so close to my own experience that I clung to it. There was hope in that book. Hope that didn’t revolve around finding a new husband — hope that revolved around a happy future whether we raise our kids single-handedly or not. She did spend the last couple of chapters dealing with loneliness and the longing for a partner, but she discusses it in a way that is helpful. For example, she describes how after so many lonely years pass by, we start to believe that we are simply “not worth finding”. The lies that we tell ourselves can lead us to make more mistakes. She uses real-life anecdotes and again: hope.
I will end with a quote from My Single Mom Life [affiliate link*] and then recommend it to every Christian woman who reads this blog and needs this encouragement. :)
I’m just wondering if what you once thought of as awful can become the best thing that ever happened. When life takes a turn you never expected, suddenly you are on a road not marked by any map. It’s the scariest, thorniest, most treacherous road you’ve ever walked. And then, one day, around a corner, it’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been. What if being a single mom is like that? One day the pain is covered over by love, and what has been awful turns into the best life you’ve ever known. . . . That’s the kind of thing God likes to do. He works terrible things out for good. He likes to take circumstances like ours and make breathtaking, God-glorifying good come from it. — My Single Mom Life, pp.191-192.
* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link
I have added a very important video to Deborah’s post The Truth Behind Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). The video is titled Child Custody Justice. Go to Deborah’s post that I’ve linked above, and you’ll find the video and a quote from the video at the bottom of the post. We hope this video gets shared widely as it is extremely useful to help counter the misuse of PAS by abusers and their lawyers. We would simply love it if this video went viral.
I am a deeply flawed man looking for the ideal woman to fix my life. She must be willing to give all of her energy, time, and talent to meeting my needs. She will be my rescuer, savior, and strength. This position is only for a very unique woman . . . is it you? Or maybe you are like all the other needy, vindictive, overly independent, unfeminine ladies I see on the street.
I will either hate you or idealize you. Often both at the same time.
I have been called moody and difficult by some. But this is my nature and I refuse to change it. As soon as you change, gain weight, become tired, sad, or angry, I will attack you or leave. This position will remain open until filled or until you read this job offering by mistake.
Do know that I will deny having written this wanted ad and will call you every name under the sun should you discover it by mistake. I’ll call you paranoid, demanding, needy, crazy, rebellious and unsubmissive. Or I may simply rage, break things, and terrorize you and your children. It is always your fault.
I will never . . . repeat . . . never . . .admit that I wrote this or require this . . . but you will understand on some level, the requirements I have. You will courageously attempt to fulfill the duties of “fantasy wife” for many years. Until you become too exhausted, fearful or traumatized to continue. At that time, you may ask me for a vacation or a leave of absence. Under this contract I am not required to give you vacation — ever. Sickness, disability, and childbirth are no exception.
I am accountable to no one, except my own desire to rule. I know enough scripture to use it as a weapon against you and to support my right to dominate your life. I am a cult leader in your home and marriage. I use many recognized tactics of manipulators and mind control. My methods are highly sophisticated, covert and deceptive. It will be difficult to prove my true character, until after much damage has been done.
You feel pity for me, compassion and hope that I will change. But you do not yet understand or know . . . I am not like you. Connection and intimacy are not of value in my world, as they are in yours. I am not able to love . . . in the way you define it.
You will be the only witness to my misdeeds, cruelty and neglect but I will cause you to doubt what you see, feel and experience. I have been grooming you . . . to meet my abusive needs . . . But there is a truth inside you — that my machinations can not suppress.
But when the truth begins to speak . . . deep in your heart . . . it will be a terrifying time for me. I will be losing my true and most valued love . . . control. As it starts to slip away, bit by bit. I will be angry, fearful and depressed. Please do not believe this is an indication of “my true love for you.” I never knew you . . . I am unable to interact with a woman in that way. I am responding to my loss of position, status, power and control.
The further away from me you get, the more glaring the lies will appear. You will then see that you are not unlovely, incapable, foolish, and rejected . . . as I made you feel by word or action. You will learn that my words were lies and my unceasing demands — an invisible prison.
As your wings slowly unfurl, under the loving strong power of the Holy Spirit . . . you will grieve your time with me, miss an image of a man that never existed except in your hopes, but you will be free.
Whereas you have been forsaken and hated
With no one passing through,
I will make you an everlasting pride,
A joy from generation to generation.
[This post was sent in by April. Many thanks to her, and to our Lord who is guiding and upholding her as her wings unfurl.]