A Cry For Justice

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

A fundamental misdiagnosis of the abuser’s problem? — an example from Dallas Theological Seminary

Spousal Abuse: A Christian Response to Abusive Relationships is a video podcast made by Dallas Theological Seminary. Readers may remember that John Dyer gave us the link to this video when he was responding to our Review of “Sexual Issues” – A Really Bad Book for Pastoral Training. The video is part one of a two-part series which is meant to be basic intro to the larger topic of abuse for students and alumni, as well any one else who might find it useful. [I will be reviewing the second video in a subsequent post.]

The video has three people on the discussion panel:
Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement;
Gary Barnes, a Professor in the Biblical Counseling Program at DTS who also has a part-time private practitice as a licencsed psychologist specializing in marriage and family;
Debby Wade, a marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional counselor. She has a private practice (Authentic Christian Therapeutic Solutions) where she specializes in working with intimacy issues and couples, and marital work.

The average viewer would expect that these three people (especially the psychologist and counselor) ought to understand domestic abusers well — the mindset of domestic abusers, their character disturbance, their techniques of abuse, and the tactics they use to get away with their evildoing.

Some of the discussion and material presented on the video seems fairly good. But I have to sadly report that the professionals seem to fall short of understanding the domestic abuser’s fundamental problem. And the mistake I think they make is a classic mistake that many people make, professionals and laypeople alike. Here is the pertinent part of the video transcript, picking up from 26:32 in the video:

Debby Wade:

… for most of the [abusers] that I’ve worked with, there’s fear and insecurity that are there, and so the male feels so threatened. Although he’s the intimidating — the mean, grouchy one — on the inside, he’s really the one that struggles with feeling insecure in fear, and that motivates his need to control everything, almost like, “If I’m not controlling it, it won’t happen the way I want.” Or, “If I’m not controlling it, she may get closer to other people. If I don’t control the people she’s around, she may like them better than me.” But such a sense of fear that kinda feeds what he [Darrell Bock] was saying — that need that, “I should be able to control this and it’s my right to control it.” . . .

Darrell Bock:

You know the irony here is that the person who’s controlling is really manifesting incredible weakness and incredible insecurity.

Gary Barnes:

And I think there’s a great sense of being hopeless or helpless themselves, see, that really drives this sense of, “I really need to be in control here, and I’ll —” whatever means is necessary is actually justified.”

Darrell Bock:

So unraveling that, it seems to me, from me from a counseling standpoint has got to be a very complex and long-term operation.

Gary Barnes:

Like I say, this is not just negative emotions of anger that are out of control. This is deep-seated important places for them to get awareness of that aren’t going to be a quick and easy awareness.

Now, I am not a mental health professional, nor do I have the specialized training required for facilitators of men’s behavior change groups. But I read widely enough in the field and have attended enough conferences and training events to know that the DTS panel in this video have a different understanding of the abuser’s mindset than people like Lundy Bancroft, Dr George Simon Jr, and the trained facilitators of men’s behavoir change programs in Australia and New Zealeand (I can’t speak so well for America or the UK).

Bancroft and the others I’ve mentioned with him believe that the fundamental problem of a domestic abuser is his BELIEF SYSTEM, not his emotions. And abusers do not lack awareness: they know what they are doing, they plan it, there is strategy in it. Strategy to hide their wickedness from the public, strategy to maintain control over the victim. They know how they are feeling: and they have well-developed strategies to avoid dealing with their feelings in a responsible manner. The problem with the abuser is his thinking, not his feelings: the abuser believes he is entitled to mistreat his mate because he is superior; he has a deep seated belief that he is the centre of his universe and his mate must meet his needs and whims. This mindset, this attitude, is the fundamental issue which must be tackled first. And because abuser will strongly resist admitting that this attitude of theirs needs changing, tackling that attitude may be all the therapist ever gets to do when working with the abuser.

Side note: George Simon seems to me to be wise in having a policy that if the abuser clearly refuses to change, then Simon will not work with him.  Simon takes the view that, as a practitioner whose skills are much in demand, it is unethical for him to spend his time or be paid for working with clients who staunchly refuse to take responsibility by making any real effort to change. (Note: I am not implying that Simon’s policy should necessarily be adopted by all therapists in all settings. Different agencies will have different guidelines for their employees, and not all professionals are independent operators like Simon.)

While some abusers may have fears, insecurities or traumas from their upbringing or their past, these emotional issues cannot be dealt with therapeutically while the abuser holds to his mindset of superiority and entitlement.

Gary Barnes is right that it’s “not just negative emotions of anger that are out of control.”  That’s for sure. Domestic abuse is not a thing that can be fixed by sending the abuser to an anger management course. But I don’t think Barnes is getting the whole picture when he says, “This is deep-seated important places for abusers to get awareness of that aren’t going to be a quick and easy awareness.” The way Barnes describes it suggests that the counselor’s job is to help this poor abuser come out of denial so he can really feel and face his insecurity and work through it therapeutically. But abusers know that well-intentioned people, especially those in the caring professions and Christianity, are suckers for the sob story, so they give the impression to people-helpers that they are driven by insecurity, fears, helplessness and hopelessness.  This is a grand way of avoiding responsibility for their bad behavior: “I just can’t help it; I’m scared and insecure so I can’t control what comes out of me!”  

Have the DTS panelists fallen into this trap? From what they say on this video, it sounds to me like they have. It seem to me that they would be sitting ducks for even a half-clever abuser who could play them for a fool, making them focus on **his feelings of fear, insecurity, and helplessness** so they did not look at his thinking — his fixed and prideful belief in his superior and special entitlement. This prideful belief may be well disguised with charm, humility, geniality, altruism, do-gooderness, or physical or mental disability. But it will be there if you look under the veneer, and the abuser’s mate will tell you about it if you have the patience to listen to her recount, ever so painfully, as she comes out of the fog, what it is like to live with her mate behind closed doors.

I know a few facilitators of men’s behaviour change groups, and a few expert therapists who work one-on-one with perpetrators, and these people, these rare birds, are able to detect the inauthentic manipulative display of emotion from an abuser (the stuff that is designed to distract the therapist from the abuser’s real problem) and to call it out for the pretense and evasion that it is. And they can also work with an abuser’s real emotions when the abuser’s hard shell of entitlement has cracked open. But it seems to me that there is a world of difference between the decoy emotions and the real emotions. It also seems that far too many counselors are thinking that they ‘get it’ about abusers, when they don’t.

And who suffers most when counselors misdiagnose the abuser’s problem by seeing it as an emotional problem rather than a belief problem? The victim of the abuser. The long-suffering hopeful partner who thinks, “Now he’s finally seeing a therapist! That must mean there is light at the end of the tunnel!” And how often is she disappointed because the ‘expert’ was really not an expert on domestic abuse at all?

It is time that comprehensive domestic abuse training was mandated in all pre-registration counseling and psychology courses, and that such training be consistent with what the real experts know: the Bancrofts, the George Simon Jrs, the other folk who have done the hard work on men’s behavior change programs, so that counselors and marriage therapists do not get led down the garden path by abuser’s manipulation and the misinformation that has been spread out there by people (including many who think they are ‘experts’) who should know better.

* * *

Please see our Resources for books by Lundy Bancroft, George Simon Jr, Martha Stout, and others who really get it about the mindset of abusers. Also, Lundy Bancroft’s website, Lundy’s blog, and  George Simon’s blog. For some good secular resources on men’s behaviour change, see, for example,  NTV (No To Violence, Australia), and the New Zealand Family Violence Council Clearinghouse. The latter two sites would have links to other good resources internationally.

Also see our interview with Catherine DeLoach Lewis, a Christian therapist, in which she emphasizes the immense need for more extensive training in domestic abuse for all Christian counsellors.

21 Comments

  1. Brenda R

    I also watched these videos and was disappointed in what these people had to say and their lack of knowledge. It was like everything else that I have heard and read from DTS–minimize the impact of the victim and minimize what the abuser is doing. They just don’t get it.

    While some abusers may have fears, insecurities or traumas from their upbringing or their past, these emotional issues cannot be dealt with therapeutically while the abuser holds to his mindset of superiority and entitlement.

    This is one thing I do agree with. I have trauma, fears and insecurities from my childhood–I have not abused anyone. I did not think I was superior to anyone. I did not have a sense that I was entitled to controlling or manipulating anyone in my family. The abuser uses these things as an excuse. Once you are grown you have a choice to make–are you going to continue on the insanity you grew up in or are you going to leave it behind and be different from that craziness. All of us must make the choice to take responsibility for our own actions. You cannot use someone who may have sinned against you to follow in that sin. Christ gives us the choice to turn around and move towards Him. We all have the same choice regardless of our childhood. It may not be easy, but we have a choice.

  2. Carmen S.

    I can’t count how many times I emailed Jeff Crippen with a “why did he say this?” I needed things decoded by someone who understood evil. Simply put, the Christian counseling industry does not understand evil.

  3. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  4. IamMyBeloved's

    If their focus were true, then all insecure people would be abusers – so we know their thoughts here are not true. Also, they are not using the Bible to establish their findings, as the Word states that there is no one who ever hated his own flesh, but loves and nourishes it. So, while people who have been victimized may have dealings with self value, etc., from being so heinously put down and abused, the Bible remains clear on how those who have not endured being victimized, see themselves. True, some abusers have been abused, but that is not the reason they abuse. If that were true – that victims of abuse abuse because they were abused – there would be way more female sexual abusers than men, due to women being sexually abused much more than men are, and there are not. So, it just does not add up.

    These abusers love themselves. Who knows an abuser, who is not in love with himself, or who does not love the power and control and abuse they exercise over their victims? Who believes that an abuser is not joy-laden when he wins in Court through setting up his victim? Who believes that he does not think himself “entitled” to such false victories? If the problem were just “self-esteem” in the abuser, then that is an easy fix. Abusers are not easily “fixed”, if ever able to be “fixed”. Just to note, my counselor said that abuse counselors “hate the way psychology deals with the abuser”, exactly because of what you state here, Barb. Simply put – they often miss it.

    I wish someone would tell my abuser, that he just has a self-esteem issue going on, while he continues to bludgeon and assault me and my children with a continual pattern of lies, hate and abuse and exercising the worst psychological terror my counselors have ever seen. He has well thought out and laid plans for his next attack – each time he attacks. There is just something that tells me that these folks at DTS telling him he has a self-esteem issue and that he just needs to think more highly of himself and love himself even more, would be the absolute destruction of me and my children.

    I think this all plays into that distinction between good and evil and Christians behaving stupidly, by embracing evil and saying it is just due to insecurity, “let’s feel sorry for the abuser, instead of facing and opposing this evil he emulates”. DTS needs to pray for discernment and a strong stance against evil so as to be able to withstand the deeds of darkness and call them what they really are. New creations in Christ, do not abuse. Here is a verse that stood out to me yesterday. Acts 10:34-35: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and DOES WHAT IS RIGHT, is welcome to Him.” See that? Since when is abusing doing what is right, whether Jew or Gentile?

    • Brenda R

      Iam,
      Think more highly of himself???? The abusers I have known think very highly of themselves and love it when they are able to get around others who think equally as high of them. X thinks he is a loving, caring wonderful guy and for a moment once in a while he can be, BUT, not when there were no outsiders looking in. The people who were in the house knew exactly who and what he was.
      I love this statement and verse that you used:
      New creations in Christ, do not abuse. Here is a verse that stood out to me yesterday. Acts 10:34-35: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and DOES WHAT IS RIGHT, is welcome to Him.” See that? Since when is abusing doing what is right, whether Jew or Gentile?

  5. granonine

    You know, this is nothing more than the classic and time-honored view of the perpetrator as the victim. Murderers are given the defense of a bad childhood. Rapists are given the defense of dysfunctional relationships with mom or grandmom or sister. . . .excuses, excuses. . . .none of which are acceptable.

    I watched a very funny, but also very poignant, video of Bob Newhart’s “Stop IT!” segment on You Tube the other day. Sometimes we need to take responsibility for our rotten behavior, confess it as sin, and just——Stop It!

  6. Happy2bHere

    This makes a lot of sense, it has to be the belief system. My father is an abuser and experienced great neglect as a child. My stepfather is an abuser and from what I understand experienced neglect and physical abuse as a child. My husband is an abuser and comes from a close-knit decent (though egocentric) family. Obviously something went wrong but he did not have a traumatic childhood. My stepfather and father are both alcoholics that have been in recovery awhile. My husband is well educated and the most covert and irritating. They all think highly of themselves, use the bible to their advantage, they are seldom actually I could almost say never at fault, feel sorry for themselves for conflicts they start, and do the right thing when they want to look good in someone else’s eyes. My father has actually become worse since being in recovery because he now gives godly advice to anyone who will listen. As if everyone has been nasty like him. He was seldom around when i was a child and its the same now that he has grandchildren. When he calls, its only to tell me about his life, insult my mother, and preach or have a political debate (ive actually nodded off several times and hes still talking!). In marriage counseling I became the focus because i was abused as a child and my husband brought it up in a kind way like he was concerned for me. I said thats no longer a problem for me, he is my problem. but of course im now in denial and my husband is doing all this heavy lifting. I’m all for them getting help to deal with past hurtful events, but that doesn’t need to be the focus, they already feel sorry for themselves enough. Counselors need to see that these type of men are con artists and skillful liars.

    • Marah

      Amen! I had a good example of this tonight. My son had a practice baseball game, and my husband showed up (#1: he knows the kids don’t want to see him). My son was pretty upset, and so was I. I set up my lawn chair behind home plate, by myself. My husband immediately approached and said, trying to sound hurt, “weren’t you going to say hi?” (#2: he knows I don’t want to talk to him). When I said no, he asked if I’d give the kids their weekly “poor dad” letters, then asked if he could sit with me. (#3: I hadn’t intended to say hello, so he’s trampling a boundary AGAIN). When I said that I didn’t want to sit together, he said “ok” and promptly went and sat with the other parents, directly behind my son.

      So who looks like to cold-hearted, standoffish shrew? Yep. That would be me. He gets to bathe in the unspoken pity of the other parents, who only know him as an affable, outgoing, funny, level headed guy. While I, a shy, introverted, stressed out female, shaken by yet another round of boundary bulldozing, sit alone and try to look pleasant. And my poor son feels dad’s eyes on him the whole time, and is miserable.

      But dad’s the victim here. Always.

      • Boy, I remember stuff very similar to that, from my ex. They know how to play the crowd, don’t they?

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        Marah, Been there! Such a good example of what they do! No respect for a simple boundary. It is why my son did not have a graduation party because he would have had to invite his dad and the ex-idiot would not have respected simple boundaries like don’t talk to mom!

      • Happy2bHere

        Yep. Always the victim and the hero. Your husband could have watched from a distance, told your son he was proud of him, then left. But like mine probably, he wants to announce himself so everyone sees he’s there (as if others are so interested in his life) and lives in a fantasy world that you might be lonely and want his company. Or just wants to irritate. i guess the good thing with a letter is that maybe you have the option to get rid of them. i feel your pain and remember he isnt fooling everyone. Sadly, there are a lot of us out there and we know youre not what he’s trying to make you look like. Hope he didnt ruin your sons game too much. Mine thinks he’s top dad because he changed & fed our youngest and bought ice cream for my oldest today. Of course my son and I werent overly thankful for the ice cream so there was a bunch of door slamming and lecturing going on today. Then got mad my son’s ball was in the yard and attempted to throw it away. I told him he doesn’t want ice cream, just love and kindness and to not be criticized constantly. I don’t know why I keep trying to reason with him, he never gets it. I’ve told him numerous times to leave us alone, I don’t love him, and I don’t want him to even touch my hand. Yet he’s still here, dutifully trying to keep our family together. I wish my children and I had a fast forward button.

      • Marah

        Yes, it is just all so tiresome. And meanwhile, the kids’ “poor dad” letters (which only one of them reads anyway, and then only so she can write unsent, angry responses for therapeutic reasons) did not contain their monthly allowance. And the credit card AND my debit were turned down at the grocery store this evening. But he cares about us SO much.

  7. Anonymous

    Thank you for this post and the links which provide more insight. I am still pondering why the Lord has not allowed me to have access to this until now and how to wisely maneuver through the “land-mines”.

  8. Brenda R

    Not to get off the subject, but I surely did miss the Sunday devotional.

    • Sorry Brenda and all others who missed it. We were just too busy. . . or something. I didn’t check whether JEff had written one, and he didn’t check whether I had.

      • Brenda R

        Barb, Stuff happens. Life just gets topsy turvy sometimes.

    • Brenda, to make up for the missing Sunday devotional post, you might like to check out Jeff C’s sermon from last Sunday. It was EXCELLENT. That’s my opinion, anyway. He talked about bearing one another’s burdens, but distinguished this from cases where church discipline is in order. You can listen to it, or read it as a PDF.

      http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonID=414141112262

      • Anonymous

        Barbara – I agree The sermon was excellent. I was going to re-listen to it as the live feed was cutting out at times.

      • Brenda R

        Thanks Barb, I will give a listen. Somehow one Sermon on Sunday just isn’t enough anymore. I feel such a need to take Him all in. There was a time when churches had sermons on Sunday morning and evening. It is sad to say they don’t seem to anymore. People quit coming if there wasn’t some “fun” activity to do.

      • Brenda R

        You were right Barb, That was a very good sermon. Thank you Ps Jeff for telling Jesus truth in gentleness.

  9. Jeffrey Ludwig

    The abuser’s problem is his beliefs as you say. He has a bad case of “pride of life.” He believes he has a right and duty to abuse/harrass/belittle/enslave his spouse. Time for everyone to read Lundy Bancroft to find out the true dynamics. Jeff L.

    [note from blog moderator: I changed this commenter’s sign-off to Jeff L, rather than just Jeff, to help distinguish him from Jeff Crippen.]

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