A Cry For Justice

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

Thursday Thought — Judge Actions, Not Intentions

Never try to “mind-read” or second-guess why somebody is doing something, especially when they’re doing something hurtful.  There’s no way for you to really know, and in the end, it’s irrelevant.  Getting caught up in what might be going on in an aggressor’s mind is a good way to get sidetracked from the really pertinent issue.  Judge the behavior itself.  If what a person does is harmful in some way, pay attention to and deal with that issue.

The importance of this principle can’t be overstated.  Remember, the tactics covert-aggressives use are effective tools of impression-management.  They keep you second-guessing yourself about the true nature of the person you’re dealing with.  So, if you base your opinions on your assumptions about intentions or are swayed by the various tactics, you’re going to be deceived about the character of the person with whom you’re dealing.  Behavior patterns alone provide the information you need to make sound judgments about character.  And past behavior is the single most reliable predictor of future behavior.

(Excerpt from Dr. George’s Simon’s book, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People*, p146)

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.


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  1. Suzanne

    Isn’t this what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:16 and 7: 20? I quote these verses often when discussing abuse with other followers of Jesus because so many of them have been deceived by their pastors and pop psychology into thinking that the thoughts and motivations of abusers matter more than the damage they do. One of the worst things I hear is the adage that “hurting people hurt people”, usually accompanied by exhortations to accept and excuse abuse because, after all, the abusers are only doing what was done to them. Taken to its logical conclusion we all have a license to hurt others because we have all been hurt by someone. And that, of course, is in direct contradiction to what God has said about how we are to treat others. Nowhere in the Bible has Jesus said that we are to excuse sin because we were sinned against.

    • We have a post titled ‘Hurting People Hurt People’ where we unpack that silly phrase and say why it is so flawed.

      • Suzanne

        Thanks! I wasn’t aware of that post. It sounds interesting and I’ll read it.

  2. Honestly

    If they think hurting you so that you are constantly on guard is a game, and a game that you never played, there’s nothing to figure out. That’s who they choose to be.

  3. marriedwithouthusband

    So true! Thank you for this reminder.

  4. marriedwithouthusband

    So true! Thank you for the reminder. My ex-husband, who abandoned me financially, emotionally, and eventually physically, periodically says to me, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me.” But still, he abandoned me….

  5. BreatheAgain

    What a great, succinct post. I needed this, thank you. I have driven myself to distraction so many times by trying to understand or figure out the ‘whys’ of hurtful behaviors. It is especially confusing when I was always told I was wrong to be upset by his actions….ugh!!! Thanks for this post.

    • Honestly

      True the covert aggressive behavior speaks for itself and the underlying issues are simply not acceptable -ever. Sadly long before you find your way to this site, there were others who saw the abuse who could have told you but chose not to. That simple.

  6. Believer

    Could you help me with this more? I understand and agree with what this post says, but elsewhere on the blog it also says that “when it comes to behaviors, context, attitudes and motives are everything!” [Defining domestic abuse by a list of behaviors is never going to capture it], and I also saw a post here that pointed out times when I think it was Paul, and Jesus (though of course He is a different story from us) ascribed motives in the Bible (so we are able to know that it is not necessarily, always, wrong for us to do this).

    It is of course obvious that sometimes an objectively wrong behavior (ex: driving way too fast) is justifiable or not as bad as it initially seems when you know the truth of the context, attitudes, and/or motives (ex: that driver is driving that way because they are trying to get someone who is having a medical emergency to the hospital).

    I am having a hard time because family members are calling a set of wicked behaviors of one of their own just “insensitive” or “thoughtless” –definitely not “evil” — because they are fully convinced his heart is good. I saw and see the evil in his deeds and am horrified and alienated. They do not (or will not) “see” it, and say intentions/motive DO matter, and that they know his heart is not malicious. While I have not been aware of him being malicious in life, I have long known him to be godless (not believing in absolute truth) and tolerant of immorality (and personally, openly engaged in immorality, at least for a time), though he claims to be a Christian. In my time of greatest devastation and need, he said and did things that utterly stunned me; they were not just wrong they were perverse. I know they were slips of evil showing. I am not even unsure of it, but I am alienated from everyone in my family of origin now.

    He has “explained” his shocking deeds in a variety of ways that always portray him as truly meaning well — never having ill intent. But there is simply no innocuous explanation for the things he said and did. He has apologized for hurting me (he had originally, quickly apologized for “failing me”), and after several months of back and forth has said that I am right, his behavior was just wrong, and he’s very sorry. But, this “apology” is still mixed with “but I have only ever meant well, and I love you, and are you going to cancel out a lifetime of love over this?” And I just don’t buy it. I do not see any evidence of this love at all. I can’t say I ever felt loved by him. And I am stuck on the fact that despite the shockingly inappropriate nature of his behaviors in question (not just inhumane, but I think inhuman) he simply is not, and refuses to be, horrified by them. And the other family members simply refuse to be horrified as well. The alienation this has caused is truly profound. I am alone.

    I would love any further insight any might have here. Thank you.

    • Hi Believer, it’s evening for me here in Oz, and I’m too tired to reply to your comment right now, but will do so tomorrow.

      Your question/seeking for clarification is good. 🙂

      Btw, when you comment on this blog (or any blog) it really helps the blog administrators if you put paragraph breaks into your comment. I put paragraph breaks into your comment prior to publishing it, but if commenters do that themselves it saves us a lot of time. To make a paragraph break in the middle of your comment, simply hit the ‘enter’ or ‘return’ key twice while you are composing your comment. Hitting that key will not cause your comment to be submitted — it’s only the Facebook platform which is set up that way.

    • Sorry to take so long to reply, Believer.

      You said

      He has “explained” his shocking deeds in a variety of ways that always portray him as truly meaning well — never having ill intent.

      Let’s call him “A”. A has “explained” his shocking deeds in a variety of ways that always portray him as truly meaning well — never having ill intent. You know without a shadow of a doubt that A’s conduct has been evil. You have observed that A’s been very skilled at passing himself of as ‘well meaning’ to most people, but that his evil has occasionally slipped through and you have witnessed it. And you have also witnessed that A refuses to be horrified about the wicked things he has done.

      Other family members are siding with A by saying, “We know A’s heart and it isn’t malicious!” They are buying into and echoing A’s *plausible* explanations for his evil behavior. But you know A’s explanations are not plausible. You know that A really did evil and he is really undisturbed about the evil he did.

      Those family members are basing their opinions of A on their assumptions about A’s intentions. Also, those family members are most likely being swayed by A’s tactics of impression-management. That is exactly what Dr Simon cautioned about:

      …the tactics covert-aggressives [like A] use are effective tools of impression-management. ….if you [family members of A] base your opinions on your assumptions about intentions or are swayed by the various tactics, you [family of A] are going to be deceived about the character of the person with whom you’re dealing.

      I hope this clarifyies thing for you Believer.

      It’s hard being alone against a barrage of people who all take the same opinion the abuser takes.

      I encourage you to keep resisting A’s impression-management techniques and to keep resisting those who are trying to browbeat you into believing A’s “explanations”. You are seeing through the fog. All those other family members are still befuddled in the fog and walking round in circles being snowed by the abuser.

      • Believer

        Thank you so much for your reply. Your encouragement strengthens me. I understand now that I was raised in error, and then seduced by a wicked man (who used, abused, and then discarded me). When he decided to discard me, it was unbelievably traumatic. On a dime, he dropped his pretense of caring for me, and let it be clear that all he’d ever done was lie to me, from the very beginning, had never loved me, had only used me, and was not only not sorry for all the harm he’d caused (despite all his years of “apologies” and resolutions to do right), but was in fact GLEEFUL over all he’d literally stolen from me. When he revealed all this to me, I felt actually murdered. I was delirious with shock and horror.

        In agony, I fled to my parents. They seemed not too surprised nor upset by these revelations, nor by his parting acts of treachery–he did a breathtaking level of harm to the children and me on his way out, slandering me to all our church “friends” and elders, destroying all the children’s closest friendships, friendships they’d enjoyed from birth.

        I felt like I witnessed my parents’ reactions to my own murder, and the murder of my children, and they didn’t really mind it. I was psychologically shattered. The specific words and actions that I refer to, happened in this context. Even if their general lack of demonstrated concern can be “plausibly” denied, several specific words and deeds cannot be.

        Thank you, for caring about me. May God bless you.

      • 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Bj

      Believer, I am sorry for what you have gone through. After about a dozen years of being in the dark, under traumatic verbal and psychological abuse, etc. some people were saying it wasn’t real or it was a joke; always denying.

      I recently watched the movie Stanford Prison. It was an experiment where men were chosen to playrole prisoners or guards. In this case the prisoners knew it wasn’t real. However, the guards took advantage of their roles and the prisoners were mistreated, eventually believing they were really incarcerated. Problem is the behaviour was Godless. Where in the Bible does it say abusing woman serves God?
      I divorced two years later.

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