A Cry For Justice

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

Car Problems (an analogy): Problem Solving in Abusive Relationships

With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, with the manual’s help, they work.

So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the windshield wipers turn on. Cool! Push it again, they turn off. Push it again, they turn on. You notice a slight squeak.

You: “Hey, car, there is a slight squeak on the downside.”

Car: “What does the manual say?”

You: “It says there are a couple of things I can do and a couple of things you can do. I can put earplugs in if it bothers me. Or I can push the button a bit softer. It says you can stop squeegeeing before you get to the squeaky part or shave off a bit of the wiper blade.”

Car: “Ok, how’s that?”

You: “Wait, let me take my earplugs out. Yeah, that’s a lot better. Thanks!”

Car: “You’re my favorite passenger. No problem.”

Some problems are bigger than a squeaky wiper blade. Some aren’t worth discussing by either of you, by mutual consent, just a part of the imperfections of being human. Sometimes you are the one doing the “two things” and it works fine. Sometimes the car does and it works out ok. Problem solved. Sometimes you need an outside opinion because the manual doesn’t seem clear. Maybe the mechanic will tell you, “Hey, you know on these models, if you just push the button nearer the top part, it will work better. People come in all the time for this and it seems to work.” So you don’t just absently push the button now. You take the time to push it at the right angle, which takes some patience and can be quite inconvenient, but lo and behold, the wiper turns on and no squeak. Problem solved.

This scenario plays out over and over, several times a week, maybe several times a day, different buttons, different problems, different solutions and you keep moving on down the road, year after year.

In a relationship with an abusive person, the “problem-solving” is very different.

With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, they work.

So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the radio comes on. You recheck the manual, push button A and the radio comes on. Wow. That’s odd. It says right here that if I push button A, the windshield wiper should come on.

You: “Hey, car, I’m pushing button A for the windshield wipers but the radio comes on instead.”

Car: “So, what are you doing wrong?”

You: “I’m not sure. I’m doing what the manual says to do but the radio comes on.”

Car: “Well, its obviously something you are doing wrong. Try it again.”

You: “I HAVE been trying it again. It’s simply not doing what the manual says will get the result I am looking for.”

Car: “What do you want ME to do about it? I am working hard to get us down the road and all you can do is criticize me? Do something different.”

So, you try pushing the button softer. Radio.

Car: “That’s not right. Try harder.”

So, you try pushing the button with your pinky finger. Radio.

Car: “No, no, no! Why can’t you figure this out? Do I have to do everything?!”

You see that the car is getting more and more upset and it must be YOUR FAULT BECAUSE THE CAR SAYS IT’S YOUR FAULT so you keep trying.  You are so confused because the manual clearly says if you push button A, the wiper blades will come on but the radio keeps coming on instead.

So, you try pushing button A  v-e-r-r-y patiently. Radio.

Car: “Oh, my gosh, its not that difficult. Just push the button like it says!”

Now, you’re clearly afraid to push the button at all. Confused and afraid. But, you made a promise, so you keep trying.

Push the button and pray. Radio. Push the button and tilt my head. Radio. Push the button and sing a song. Radio.

Car: “Get it right! Get with the program! You are not doing it right!!!”

You: “I’m doing the best I can.”

Car: “You don’t need to be pushing that button anyway. That doesn’t need to be done.”

You: “But I need the wiper blades because its raining. That’s dangerous.”

Car: “I said you don’t need to push that button!”

But you DO need the wiper blades to work. So what do you do? Then you begin to question your own reality. Perhaps the manual DOESN’T say “Push button A and the wiper blades come on. Perhaps I am misreading it. (Or) Perhaps it is selfish to want the wiper blades to come on. I should just be happy with pushing button A and getting the radio. Yes, that will solve the problem.

So button A, which is supposed to move the wiper blades according to the manual, now, in the topsy-turvy world of abuse, becomes the radio button. So now you know how to make the radio come on. You better keep that in mind. But it IS still raining and you DO need those wiper blades to come on.

Let’s see. Chapter 4: Lights. Push button B and the lights will come on. So you push button B and the horn starts to honk. This creates a loud, scary noise that is drawing attention. You feel dumb. You are following the directions but the car is not responding in the way the manual says it will.

Car: “What are you DOING? Turn that thing off! Do you want the neighbors to hear?! What is wrong with you?!”

You are flustered and accidentally push button A, so now the radio is blasting and the horn is honking but no lights or wipers, which is what you need and what is supposed to be happening. But it’s all your fault. You MUST be doing something wrong because the car says you are. You think you might need some outside help.

Person Clueless About Abuse: “So, did you read the manual?”

You: “Yes, it says to push button B and the lights will come on, but when I do, the horn starts to honk. I have tried everything. I am so confused. I want the car to be happy. I don’t want the car to be angry. What can I do?”

PCAA: “Are you pushing it with the right attitude?”

You: “Ummm, I THINK so. I am just trying to solve the problem.”

PCAA: “Well, it seems like you are blaming the car. You keep pointing to the car. You can’t change the car. You can only change you.”

You: “So, what do you suggest?”

PCAA: “To humble yourself. Take your share of the blame. Ask the car’s forgiveness for being so judgmental. Be patient, like Jesus was patient. And, you might want to wear something a bit more…exciting perhaps? That should get the results you want. Happy car!”

You: “So, if I do all those things you just mentioned, the lights will come on when I push button B? Ok, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”

Do all the suggested actions. Push button B. The horn honks.

Now you are getting frustrated. A small idea begins to pop into your head. “Maybe the wiring is not correct. “Hey, PCAA, maybe the wiring isn’t right.” And you feel inside yourself that this, at last, could be the answer. That no matter HOW you push the button, the horn will honk and the lights will NOT come on because the wiring is messed up.

PCAA: “I don’t think you should be bad-mouthing your car. There are lots of people who would be happy to have the car you have. That is not being very respectful. Remember, the Bible says love is patient and kind. You don’t seem to be patient and kind toward your car. Are you sure you have tried EVERYTHING?”

You: (half-serious) “Well, I haven’t pushed the button while holding my breath and standing on my head.”

PCAA: (brightening considerably) “OH! Well, yes! Try that! I’m sure that will work.”

And you are thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone ever look at the CAR and ask, “Hey, car, how come you are not doing what you are supposed to do according to the manual? You made a promise to your passenger. How do you expect your passenger to function if you aren’t doing what the manual says?” But, oddly, nobody does. They keep telling you “Try harder.” So you do. But there is that thought again, that maybe the wiring of the car is off somehow. Seems worth a look at least. If that is the problem, no amount of pushing the button will work.

You: “Car, do you think its possible that maybe your wiring is not correct? I mean, your family does have some wiring that seems to be faulty at times. I love your family, but you have admitted yourself that when you or your mom pushed button A and B, you never got what you expected to get. Maybe you need to check your wiring.”

Car: “WHAT?! So now you are blaming ME?! My wiring is nothing LIKE my family’s wiring! The Bible says I am not under any condemnation because I am a new creature in Christ. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are perfect?! You can’t figure out what button to push but it is MY fault?!”

So you quickly squash that thought because it is too…costly. So what now? You have been at this “trying to figure this car’s system out” for years now. You have kids in the back seat depending on you to figure the car out, but every time you push a button, something unexpected happens and it’s YOUR FAULT because the car says it is and the PCAA says it is.

Years go by. The buttons don’t match up to the manual. Sometimes they change from day to day so you have to constantly be on the alert. You begin to second-guess your own intelligence, your own skills, your own gifts, your own opinions, your own ideas. You become…the car. You learn what buttons will make the wipers come on and the radio to work and the oil gauge to move, all by memory because they are NOT in the manual. If you are tired or having a bad day and you forget and push the wrong button, watch out! That was the brake! How could you be so stupid as to push the wrong pedal?!  You learn where to place your feet and your hands and exactly how to close the car door, not too hard, not too soft, but just right so as not to make the car mad. You keep the kids quiet, and try to play games with them to keep them distracted and oblivious to the car’s “oddities” while keeping up with the car maintenance, of course. In effect, you are exhausted and confused and not at all sure what the whole purpose is. The car becomes a stress-filled place that nobody wants to be in anymore.

So a few times over the years, you step out of the car. You slam the door (a real no-no) and stand there panting by the roadside. You just can’t take the pressure any more. The problems don’t get solved, but you are expected to continue on every day, trying harder, pushing buttons, getting nowhere, knowing you will make mistakes but trying your best to follow the manual and knowing there will be anger and disapproval thrust at you at every turn. But you made a promise. And there are kids in the back seat, depending on you, so you get back in, determined to “try harder,” and head down the road.

Then one day, you are no longer asking anyone’s advice. You are the one in the car every day. You are the only one who has seen your efforts and seen the responses. You have no more answers, no more ideas, no more options no more hope. And finally, you begin to seek out and talk with others who have been trying to get their cars to do what the manual says, to no avail, people who were frustrated and confused just like you and they tell you about a section they were given by some very nice, helpful people.

This section is in THE Manual and it says right there in Proverbs 22:24 “If you are following the manual and the car does not respond to the correct button being pushed, and the car will not take any responsibility for its own responses, get out of the car. It’s not safe. No amount of button pushing on your part will have the desired effect. The car needs to be rewired.”

Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.  Proverbs 22:24-25

*****

Many many thanks to debby for sending us this post. And a special thanks from Barb because absolutely no editing was required: it was fully proof read and ready-to-go!  🙂 

38 Comments

  1. Yes, to all this. I had this same lemon of a car.

    I have to go to work now, and I am having to hold back my tears or my makeup will be a mess. I need to read this again when I get home later so I can release them freely. This has been exactly my life for over 25 years. I still think it is me at times, though. I still feel like I could have pushed the button differently. Or maybe because I was trying too hard, I didn’t know I could have driven the car easily without all the effort. If only I had been able to “feel” what the car needed by becoming one with it.

    Why do I still feel I could have done something differently…maybe there was a hidden button I didn’t know about under the seat? Maybe I really am not as competent at managing a vehicle as I thought I was? After all, I do stupid things sometimes, and maybe it was my ignorance or blindsightedness that caused me to miss something.

    Oh to get passed the questions and wonderments and ponderings of how I could have been more successful with that car!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I left the car in the driveway and walked away from it, but whenever it drives past me it puffs fumes of heavy exhaust and smoke my way. It shows me it still thinks I am a fool for giving up on it. The car seems to run well in the presence of my children and it tells the kids I am the one with the problem.

    I wonder if it’s okay to consider a new car. But with all the problems on the old one, I am consumed with doubt that any car would be any different. I see other women with cars that seem to run very well for them. Sometimes the buttons in their cars need adjustments but their manuals are more helpful and usually work in conjunction with their vehicle. Or else their mechanic helps get car and driver happily on the road again. Now that I have had such a poor experience, I even doubt any car would be accommodating of all my fears/anxieties. A new car might not accommodate my family and all my baggage. Not that I am looking. Just thinking about my future.

    Big sigh.

  2. Gary W

    If the car stood for an abusive wife (however unlikely that might tend to be), with the driver being the husband, they would blame the car.

    And, if I may somewhat revise the saying attributed to Albert Einstein, receiving advice to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, will make you feel crazy.

  3. Suzanne

    Brilliant illustration.

  4. Round*Two

    I had a car just like this! How frustrating! I can honestly say, I am so thankful to the Lord for getting me out of that car!!!!!!!!

    • Brenda R

      Amen, Round*Two, Amen.

      I know of no one who needs a car like that and perfectly willing to take the bus if necessary.

  5. celestebella

    “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
    or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.” Proverbs 22:24-25

    What is the snare?

    • Brenda R

      Learning his evil ways and behaving as he does is the snare. You don’t want to become like him. It is easy to take on another’s traits when you have been around them for a long time. Almost like an owner that begins to look like his dog. Scary pictures.

    • Good question. I think you can look at it 2 ways. One is “not to hang out with a chronically angry person” as you will become like him (or her). The other, which I related to more, is that sometimes we MARRY a chronically angry person (and are taught we HAVE to “hang out with him”) and then “learning his ways” means appeasement or losing ourselves or becoming so used to that as being the normal, that we ensnare ourselves and stay trapped in a situation that destroys us. From this website, I have learned a new meaning for “learn his ways” however, and that is to become wise in the ways of an abuser, the manipulative tricks they use and be able to recognize and combat them (or remove yourself from them).

  6. Round*Two

    Freeatlast8,
    Your thoughts and feelings are perfectly normal! I still question myself wondering if I could have or should have done something differently. (yes, I know I shouldn’t! 🙂 ) I realize I can only change me and that is what I have been striving for, and with the Lord’s help I will move beyond pushing that button!
    Have a blessed day at work! and I will do that same!! 🙂

  7. Brenda R

    This was so true and I could feel my body stressing and the tension mounting as I was reading. The build up of frustration and confusion was just as you put it with seemingly faster and faster occurrences as more problems arose.

    I don’t live with this car anymore, but I remember being told by a woman while in a stint at the Underground RR that all I needed to do was get some lingerie and go home. That was her cure all. Even those who are suppose to have some knowledge of abuse don’t have a clue.

    This was so well written. It does remind me of the movie, “Christine” about a car with an unholy presence within.

  8. Annie

    that was incredible

    masterful illustration of the of an abused wife’s life….always trying to make the car work when it’s not her fault that the car doesn’t work–she didn’t make the car!

  9. Anonymous

    Powerful analogy! Spot on! Thank you.

  10. Off topic for a moment (though I loved this post!), but I wanted to pop in and say that I’m signing my final divorce papers today. I feel like I never would have gotten to the place I am without this site; you all lent me strength when I was weak, clarity when I was confused, truth when I’d been believing lies for so many years.

    The divorce hasn’t been a fair process, but at least it’s over. I’ll try to write more later.

    • Brenda R

      Marah,
      That’s really not off topic. It is good news. The car is driving away, with more than probably fits in the trunk, but at least it is goin’ on down the road. I will pray for your children. They should never be put in these positions. Children need to be protected.

    • Barnabasintraining

      Congratulations, Marah!

  11. Moving Forward

    It gets really confusing when the car knows how to use The Manual in a manipulative way to keep you buckled in. There are solutions for passenger and car, but somehow, the sections that deal with crossed wiring and car maintenance are bypassed. The only maintenance the car cares about is that the outside is polished and looking good, no matter what the condition of the interior. Oh happy day when my car drove away without me. Unfortunately, it now insists on being able to take vulnerable children with it unsupervised, and the government aids and abets at every turn.

  12. Barnabasintraining

    You become…the car. You learn what buttons will make the wipers come on and the radio to work and the oil gauge to move

    And then there are the manuals such as those put out by Michael and Debbi Pearl and other patriarchal sorts that say this is exactly what you are supposed to do. You need to find out what kind of man you are married to and adjust accordingly. You must find out what his plan is and that is THE plan. “And the two become One, and the One is him.” 😦

    • freeatlast8

      Yes, Barnabasintraining. The one is him. Wow. Much revelation there. My pastor once said something to the effect that what my spouse seemed to want was a mirror image of himself in me. That was also revelation. I am learning it’s okay to be an individual even in a marriage (no thanks to Debi Pearl…although I tried, Debi, I really did). I was so busy trying to be what my husband wanted that I totally lost sight of who I am. It is a challenge now trying to define myself. I don’t really know where to begin. I feel like a child starting over. But it will be better this time with God as my teacher.

      • SeeClearerNow (prev NotHeard)

        Freeatlast8, I can so relate to you feeling like a child and struggling to define yourself!! Such a strong surreal feeling that I was totally unprepared for!! Maybe it’s part of the grief process.. Of course I know that I’m an adult with __kids, but there it is.. Probably others can relate too. And similarly to your wise words: with God as my point of reference, Im gaining encouragement to try.

    • Gretchen

      BIT,
      Right there with you on the Pearl stuff. It always rubbed me the wrong way how they present these “men types” as if they’re presenting Scripture itself. That last sentence is BRILLANT!

  13. Remedy

    The ‘mechanics’ at the garage told me, “You CHOSE and BOUGHT that car……now live with your decision. This is God’s will for you to sanctify your faulty parts.”

    (editor’s note: Comment edited for clarity. If I didn’t interpret what you meant to say, Remedy, let me know and I will change it.)

    • Gretchen

      …”now live with your decision.”

      We would never tell a person who walked into a building where a fire broke out to stay in there and live with their decision.

      • SeeClearerNow (prev NotHeard)

        Brilliant, Gretchen!

      • Brenda R

        We would never tell a person who walked into a building where a fire broke out to stay in there and live with their decision.

        Gretchen, that’s a fact. Wouldn’t we say get out of there and in a hurry? People need to get in the reality of their comments.

      • I think part of the issue is that everyone knows that fire is destructive and dangerous, but most people have no clue what it is like, how destructive (and for some, dangerous) it is living with an abuser, particularly one who looks and smells so “Christian.” They can’t fathom (and therefore it can’t BE) that anyone WOULD live in such destruction, so “it must not be THAT bad.” Unfortunately, for those of us that DO understand it, we often “perish for lack of knowledge” as well as “for listening to others’ lack of knowledge…” Thank our loving Father for ACFJ. I am no longer ignorant nor listen to the “advice” of the ignorant (even the well-meaning ones).

      • Jeff Crippen

        Thank you Debby. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
        (James 1:5). He has given you wisdom.

    • Bingo, Remedy!

      Just imagine this being transposed to the allies in WW2.

      “Britain, you chose to try to keep peace with Hitler, and then you chose to go to war against him. Now live with your decision. All this bombing of England is God’s will for you to santify your faulty parts.”

    • Innoscent

      Like my N mother-in-law who once told me about her N son: “You made your bed, now you lie in it!” Aarghh!

  14. Valerie

    Wow, spot on! What I was thinking of when I read this is explaining this to a PCAA. Without telling them the analogy I would have them visualize being in a car like this. Then I would give them a few instructions (when you move the seat ahead the left turn signal turns on, your side mirrors are opposite so if you want to know what’s behind you then you look in the passenger mirror, etc). Then I would ask the PCAA to tell me what happens when you move the seat ahead. With her good memory she would say it turns the signal on. Then I would say no, it turns the radio on. She might insist that is what I told her and I would say she heard me wrong and tell her the instructions all over again but with different results than first time. Now imagine trying to drive and function in this car without hurting yourself in an accident by having to remember all of this, while knowing that any button you push may yield different results so you have to be ready to adjust at a second’s notice…while going down the freeway.

    You know, it would be even more telling if you described this to a PCAA without telling them anything about abuse and I envision them responding in frustration with, “Oh, for pete’s sake, just get a different car already! Why would you want to drive a car like that?” Hmmm….

  15. Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

    this was amazing! Such an excellent analogy and I like Valerie’s comment to tell a counselor this without mentioning abuse.

  16. StandsWithAFist

    Excellent metaphor! This shed new light on Romans 16:17:

    “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”

    Whether it’s the NIV, NASV, New Living or even King James, the translation is the same: avoid them, stay away from them, keep away from them, turn away from them.

    Not one “manual” says to try harder, pray more, humble yourself, take the blame, or change your own attitude. It says, “Get out of the car and stay away from it”. The car IS the obstacle!!

    Amen, Debby!

    • “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”

      Readers here may not be all that surprised to know that I have been a whistleblower in quite a few churches over the years. The first time I was a whistleblower — which was about the pastor’s teaching on the doctrine of faith (Word of Faith type teaching) — the church leadership published that verse in the bulletin the week after I’d spoken up publicly during the church’s AGM expressing my concerns.

      But quoting that verse, it was clear that they were implicitly pointing the finger at me and encouraging the flock to shun me. I had already decided to stop attending the church, so it didn’t bother me much. But it sickened me that they would use the verse that way . . .

      • Yes, they should replace “those who cause divisions” to “those who don’t agree with us, our interpretations, who don’t walk lock-step with our pharisaical/controlling/manipulative belief system.” But then, that wouldn’t sound very Christian, would it?

  17. StandsWithAFist

    I’m sorry, Barbara, if I triggered a painful reminder for you! I certainly did not mean to, and I feel sad that scripture twisting results in such memories. I hope that I did not misinterpret this passage? I do not want to be guilty of the doing the same (scripture twisting).

    I wonder how many others here have been triggered by certain verses or passages that were misapplied? Perhaps it might make an enlightening post, with correct application of verses rather than “making crooked the straight paths of the Lord” (Acts 13;10)?

    I wonder if there are common verses oft-used to silence the sheep?

    Again, I am so sorry!! 😦

    • Hey, no need to be sorry, SWIF! It is not a painful memory for me 🙂

      and I think you interpreted the passage correctly — whereas that church I was in did not interpret it correctly.

    • At our post Untouchable Scriptures Part 2, readers have shared which scriptures trigger them.

      • StandsWithAFist

        Wow–thanks for your graciousness, & for this link, Barbara.
        Somehow I missed this post, and it is exactly what I envisioned.
        I am so grateful for the clarity and wisdom found here–grateful beyond words.

  18. Continuing as Bob

    It’s insane how accurate this is… Especially when it hit that “alone” paragraph… I was so used to it, that it didn’t dawn on me until I heard it said one day, by a close friend, the word “alone” spoken out loud. To me, I can only explain it like waking up next, and going sleep each night next to a total stranger, but I was hoping every morning I’d wake up, and there would be my wife again, like it was all a bad dream, and she was never really gone. Confusing was putting it mildly. You just don’t want to give up though… You hope so much that it’ll all work out. I felt like I’d be giving up on her, and that she wouldn’t me, and I’d feel so miserable to do that to her, so I couldn’t…

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