The “B” Word (bitterness) — part of the language of abusers
This post is written by Megan with some help from Barbara. The words “I” and “me” refer to Megan.
For quite a while, I have noticed that victims of abuse are regularly accused of being “bitter”. In fact, it seems to be a catch-all method for striking out the validity of a victim, as one would draw a thick black line through an error with a Sharpie. “Oh her? She’s just bitter . . . ” Or, “He’s SO bitter . . . ” Once a person/victim has been marked as bitter, he or she ceases to be viable. Isn’t that convenient? So I suppose one should not be surprised when one is attempting to stand up for the truth and people accuse one of being bitter. I wonder if they said that when Jesus was turning over the tables at the sanctuary. Can you imagine? “Look at Him . . . so angry . .. turning over those tables . . . He seems so . . . . BITTER.”
Occasionally people criticize blogs like ACFJ by saying that since there is no way we can know the truth behind stories from folk we’ve only met in cyberspace, it is wrong to publish any stories from people who say they are victims of abuse, and that publishing such stories is giving a platform for people to encourage one another in their bitterness .
Most of us have heard this before. People like us are all just a bunch of bitter folk. Trying to change the world, one bitter step at a time.
What’s more, there is a double standard here: critics like this are usually happy to believe (and publish) comments from strangers — folk they’ve only had cyber-contact with but never met in real life — when those folk disparage victims and discrediting victims’ accounts, but they criticize people like ours for publishing comments from people we have never met. Hmm.
At A Cry For Justice, we do not automatically believe all accounts we hear, but we think we have developed pretty reasonable discernment for the differences between the language of genuine victims versus the language of abusers who are faking victim-hood. We feel we have learned this ‘on the job’ so to speak, but the principles and red flags we have learned are very similar to those which are being taught by professionals in the field of domestic violence (see links at the end of this post). And even if we should happen to credit an account by a person who claimed to be a victim but was actually a perpetrator, it would still be up to the authorities and influential people in that person’s life to discern the truth for themselves, not just follow suit with how a blog like ours has treated that individual.
In churches, many victims who disclose the abuse are disbelieved — or not believed and supported wholeheartedly. Relatively few Christians are standing up for these victims. This injustice is part of what we seek to right on this blog. And the injustice is being compounded by folk who readily and undiscerningly believe those who discredit victim’s stories, especially when such folk are not willing to learn the markers of the language of abusers (in both their Jekyll and Hyde presentations) versus the language of genuine victims.
I want to nip this in the bud for any person who wants to point their (well-meaning?) blog-writing finger at us and accuse us of fostering bitterness. The truth is, there are a lot of victims who ARE bitter. I mean, wouldn’t you be? If your husband abused you over and over . . . would you possibly lean a little on the bitter side? I know that I did. I felt tricked, betrayed, lied to, hurt, scared . . . life was not what it was supposed to be . . . for all I was “doing” to try to be “godly” . . . there was no more joy in my life. It had all been sucked out. In fact, I suppose that is how Naomi felt when she announced to the entire Bible-reading community for countless generations that she was, indeed, a bitter woman for a while. Look here:
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 ESV)
Wow. I get that. I felt like God had turned His back on me for YEARS. Long, miserable years. I love Naomi’s honesty here. Things happen. And we get bitter . . . or angry. Now, as a Believer in Christ and one indwelled by the Holy Spirit, I could not stay in that place of bitterness forever. There was a time, four years ago, where I confessed all my bitterness to the Lord. I changed so drastically that even my countenance was transformed. God was working out my salvation with me in His time. If we know God, we cannot stay in a place of perpetual hatred or bitterness. Sometimes things just happen. And we experience the anger and the bitterness. And then we put it behind us and press on.
A Cry For Justice never condemns the men and women who are a part of this blogging family. That is not our place. We do not and would never look at a woman and dismiss her by calling her bitter. How degrading. How shameful. How accusatory. We know, full well, that abused men and women have been accused enough. We want to listen. We want to enter into the pain of the readers and friends and help them heal. Or grow. Or fight, if they have to. By the way, forgiveness and freedom and peace do not mean that we stop fighting for our lives and the lives of our children.
Critics who glibly sling the ‘B’ word around show a lack of grace and mercy. It is part of the “flat-affect theology” that insists we Christians do not experience any “negative” emotions like anger or bitterness. Paul writes that we are to put off bitterness and anger. But, that does not mean that I do not experience bitterness or anger sometimes. And, when I confessed my feelings of hatred for those who have slandered me to my dear husband, David, he looked at me, put his arms around me and said, “I understand why you feel that way. Look at what they did to you. Look how they tried to isolate you. Look how they left you to struggle and suffer alone.” That is mercy, right there. My hidden feelings of hatred melted away in the presence of Christlike love. I was able to forgive, confess my hatred to Christ and move forward (again, not forward with those who had hurt me . . . forward into life and life-giving relationships). What a different story than those who would accuse me of being bitter. And, again, because I am in Christ, I do not want to sin in that anger or bitterness or hatred. Emotions are experienced . . . but tempered to the best of our ability. ‘Cause we’re human.
Sometimes, we need to feel the pain. We experience the bitterness and/or anger. . . if not, how could we ever experience the washing of peace and exhale in the presence of God’s forgiveness? Some things are worth being angry over. To this day, I am convinced that “non-emotion theology” only stifles a person and keeps them from fully experiencing the full spectrum of the emotions God has created. All of them.
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Here is a similar post about The Dreaded B Word from the blog Recovering Grace — for survivors of Gothardism.
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To explore the issue of discerning the difference between language of phoney victims from the language of genuine victims, see:
The conference workshop which Barb attended, where the things she had learned at the coal face were confirmed by the professionals.
And ***NEW*** the document from that workshop which has now been put online: Assessing men who present as victims of family violence but who may actually be the primary aggressors (PDF). We are adding this link to our Resources page.
And our tag Language of Abusers which has quite a few posts in it.