A Cry For Justice

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

The Explaining Trap

When having a conversation with an abuser, the abuser often tries to get you to fall into the explaining trap. It is a trap because no matter how much you explain things to the abuser, the abuser will pretend to not understand or not accept your explanations. And he will keep challenging and criticizing your explanations, to get you to give more explanations.

The important thing to bear in mind is that this a trap. The abuser doesn’t really need explanations. The abuser doesn’t really WANT explanations. The abuser pretends to want explanations, but what the abuser really wants is to bamboozle you, put you on the back foot, and keep you interacting with him.

The longer the abuser can keep you interacting with him, the more chances he has to reshape the things you said into bullets he can fire back at you pretty soon… or in the months and years to come. The abuser retains a very clear memory of all you said and stores it up in case it becomes useful ammo in his arsenal.

For example, if you are setting a boundary of not speaking to your abuser and the abuser says, “Why don’t you talk to me?” and you respond by pointing out the abuse he has done to you, and he says, “How is that abuse?” thus enticing you to fall in the explaining trap, what do you do? How might you wisely respond?

You could answer his question by saying something like: “It is abuse because it disrespects my personhood, my legitimate rights as an image-bearer of God and my human dignity. You know that very well. Stop pretending that you don’t know it!

And if the abuser persists in asking another curve ball question, or telling you that you are wrong, you can simply say “Stop it!” And then walk away.

Or you could choose to not respond verbally to the abuser’s question, but eyeball the abuser with your spine strong and you neck like brass and show him through your eyes that you will not put up with his cr##. And then walk away.

But of course, you know your abuser and your situation better than I do. In many situations it is not safe to say or do the above. As a victim you have become highly attuned at knowing what will be likely to put you at higher risk from the abuser. So I honor each and every victim for all the creative and prudent ways they resist the abuse. And many of the ways victims resist are hidden in the privacy of their own mind and heart, which may be the only safe place to keep them at the moment.

… but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor 4:5)

Here are some posts about the Explaining Trap:

The frustration of explaining things to an abuser

Trying to explain and trying and trying and trying

***

For further reading

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People

Don’t Get Sucked in by the “Hoovering” Vacuum of the Abuser

Do victims have a problem with setting boundaries?

Victims invariably resist violence and other forms of abuse

Honouring Victim’s Resistance

Honouring Resistance, by Dr. Allan Wade

On Violence, Resistance, and Power in Language by Dr. Allan Wade

Respecting and Listening to Victims of Violence

What is the best way to interact with an abuser when you have to? Shared parenting with an abuser.

25 Comments

  1. Thank you Barb for this. It reminds me of how gullible and naive I was thinking my husband just wanted a good relationship like I did.

    He wanted ‘power over’ instead of mutuality and we were not even remotely on the same page or of the same heart.

    We go into relationships naively thinking our spouse is like us and he wants what we want, not imagining the evil that lurks within them as they lie, exploit and string us along like we are their little pawns that only want to serve them in their grandiose selfish & evil schemes!

    Really it comes down to the inability to mix oil and water, light and dark, good and evil. They cannot and should not be mixed!!

    • I cannot unsee what I see now

      So true. I have never spent the kind of time in any other relationship that I did in the 30+ year marriage explaining things, defining words, trying to say it “right” or “different ” so he wasn’t so “confused or bewildered.” Absolutely emotionally and mentally exhausting and utterly fruitless.

  2. Moving Forward

    I fell into this trap way too many times. After explaining how I saw a situation, so many times he would respond that how I took it was not how he meant it. I had an incredible knack for not understanding how he really meant things! I really got my eyes opened, however, when he started redefining words with meanings that weren’t in the dictionary. So thankful that I now see and do not fall for it any more.

  3. Trueworthy

    Oh my goodness, this describes exactly what I lived under for years. And yes, until I (finally) realized that his goal was NOT to better understand each other in order to have a better relationship, I fell right into this trap over, and over, and over. He would twist my words and throw things back at me no matter what.

    If I managed to defend myself in a way he could not counter, he would simple fall back on how many people in my life “didn’t like me” (basically anyone with whom I had ever had a difficult relationship, including my siblings), as if that somehow justified whatever he’d been saying, but by then it was all so twisted I didn’t even know what the issue was that started it! 😦 I also got reminded frequently that I am simply not a very interesting or fun person. Yesterday would have been my 25th wedding anniversary. I’ve been divorced for seven months. I know I still have a lot of healing to do, but I Thank God for being set free from what was.

    • Welcome to the blog, Trueworthy!

      Very thankful you are free! We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

    • I Cannot Unsee What I See Now

      Welcome to the ranks of Christ loving women who are “gratefully divorced.” After praying for me at a conference, a stranger looked me in the eye and said,”Welcome back from the dead.” With tears in my eyes I smiled and said, “It’s good to be back.” And it is! Last night I danced in my kitchen on New Year’s Eve so grateful that I can feel like dancing after such an emotionally gutting relationship. The LORD is a rescuing restorer!

    • Seeing Clearly

      ‘Being set free’ is very true. Freedom to wake up happy, looking forward to the day. Yes, there is now hard work to do, but nothing compared to the hard work of simply getting through each day in an abusive marriage.

  4. Helovesme

    My favorite part: “And many of the ways victims resist are hidden in the privacy of their own mind and heart, which may be the only safe place to keep them at the moment.”

    Thank you for understanding that each situation is different. Engaging an abuser might make things so much worse, but so can silent treatment. Some abusers “live” for a good fight and are just looking for one to start, so speaking up just starts a very bad situation. Other times they cannot stand a silent victim and start pushing buttons and needling them, trying to provoke them. The goal is the same: they are looking for ways to hurt you. They won’t be happy until you cry, or become a puddle of shame or simply regret ever trying to talk to you.

    It’s like running around a racetrack at high speed, or sometimes a slow crawl, trying to converse with an abuser. It just keeps going and going and there’s no finish line in sight, and never any real accomplishment. They always to have to be right, or feel validated or have the last word. They’ll punish you for bringing up certain topics. They’ll blame you or find ways to make life worse for you. They’ll try to outsmart you or gaslight you, or bring up your areas of weakness so that you are reminded of how flawed and hopeless YOU are. And how you’re barely tolerated because you’re just such a mess. And “messy” people should be glad they’re so tolerated, Setting healthy boundaries or saying “no” or speaking up are what real people do. You’re not enough of a person to assert such rights.

    Your abuser supposedly knows your so well, so much better than others that you’re lucky he/she doesn’t “out” you to everyone. All your flaws, your personality issues, your weak areas and your sinful past. Or your present struggles with sin, not to mention your temptations and areas of stumbling and bumbling.

    If you try to talk to your abuser, they’ll make you feel so bad and so awful about yourself—you’ll never want to open your mouth again. And Christians will blame you for that. Now it’s all your fault for not communicating. How are they to know how badly they hurt you if you don’t speak up? How will you witness to them? Don’t you know you must forgive them right away, since God forgave you so quickly?

    I’m sorry for such a long comment. Recently I’ve been so sick and tired of lies within the church/Christians. Why does anyone want to become a believer if you choose to live your life, mired in lies—living a fake life and a life full of pretending and hypocrisy? These are things I wanted to escape from, as an unbeliever. These are things I wanted to be set free FROM, not be imprisoned by them anymore. Why would anyone want to live their lives like that, and say they are Christians?

    • I cannot unsee what I see now

      Wow! You nailed it. We somehow were married to the same man because it is too scary to think there are a bunch of these “husbands” around.

    • romans818

      OH YES. All of that. Especially the part about other Christians.

  5. T

    Amen

  6. Seeing Clearly

    When I announced to my now ex that I had filed for divorce, I also made a ground rule. I told him that he should never plan to talk with me without a 3rd person present through the divorce process. I knew that he would not pull me into “explaining” nearly as much with that 3rd person present. However, manipulators will stoop quite low in desperation.

    Thank you for reminding us that the “explaining trap” is ever present, in an amazing array of trappings.

  7. I eventually learned to stop giving ammunition to someone who only has evil intentions in his heart toward me!

    We make the mistake of thinking other people are like us or that they are well meaning or have honourable intentions the way we expect them to but in reality they sit in haughtiness playing us for the fool and using us to further their own ends, which may be to have a slave or a chef/house keeper or possibly to have someone to raise/pay for their children or to con financially/or scam us … or just to have power over or ‘prove’ their superiority! Just know that when you come away you have been messed with and played with, a little like a cat plays with a mouse before it stops and begins to dine on the same mouse that it has been chasing and flinging around!

  8. Seeing Clearly

    My ex used the explaining trap to “explain” me to our children. He gave his interpretation on a situation, twisted, so that he came out on top. Being a minister gave him leverage to speak to them in teachable moments. He would also explain me, to me. He gave mental diagnosis that no professional ever gave.

    Now, 10 yrs past 30+ yr marriage/divorce, it is coming to me how groomed my son was to see me as his father did. Of course he was! His entire childhood was a running dialogue about his mother, subtle teachings.

    For the last year, I finally hear what my son is believing about me, the subtle disrespect, devalueing, disregarding….. It has been going on all along, I am just finally hearing it, coming out if this fog. Now I am beginning to respect myself in my relationship with my son.

    Sins of fathers are far reaching.

    • Song of Joy

      My heart goes out to you…this very thing also happened to my dear mom. My brother (and a sister) were deeply brainwashed by my father to disrespect our mother and treat her badly. All through these years (we are all older middle-aged now) I tried everything to help them see what they were doing, but it never really helped. So painful to watch my mom suffer additional abuse from her own children that she loved and cared for. My father was very evil, but at least he didn’t pretend to be a Christian and a minister…that is horrible. May the Lord give you back everything that the locusts (of abuse) have eaten.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Thank you, Song of Joy.
        God definitely returns beyond imagination in ways we never expect, but must see with eyes of faith. Son’s marriage occurred shortly after divorce. By default and convenience to schedules, I began adapting to work schedules to care for their first child. When the 2nd arrive, I continued, going into their home 3-4 days/wk. I am able to impart to my grandchildren what I consider to be the important teachings of life. The marriage is rough, and ironically, I am the constant for the girls. In the midst of my son’s poor ways of treating me, he desires that I be his children’s primary caregiver.

        For children raised in abusive, religious homes, as my son was, life is conflicted, a struggle to figure out. They can be very successful in some areas and extreme failures in others, i.e. close relationships.

        I am able to give this time to family because mental, emotional, etc abuse in marriage caused me to lose my career and am on disability. I see with eyes of faith that God supplies my needs for life and I impart life long truths to another generation. So unbelievable.

    • C

      This is along the lines of most abusers’ impression management. The subtle workings. Always controlling the dialogue and inserting an ongoing narrative into others’ minds. Turning the children against abused mom is almost a given for any abuser – then these guys have the audacity to claim the made-up/bunk Parental Alienation Syndrome if the kids resist becoming allies to their moms abuser!

      Ugh! I loathe abusers with such a passion. Slithering snakes.

      • I Cannot Unsee What I See Now

        I had no idea this was going on in my home. Adult daughter recently said, “I’m glad you homeschooled us and Dad worked so much. He undermined, devalued and invalidated you so much you probably would have had no credibility with us otherwise.” Sleeping with the enemy stinks. He still is negatively infuencing their perception of me while seeking support as the victim. Painful that they still have so many misperceptions still. Hard to understand how it is possible if you haven’t seen it up close. Any self advocacy is further proof that I am ” an angry, bitter woman” as ex contends.

  9. C

    The explaining trap is such an awful time suck. Depletes the victim. So wicked and so crafty. Just reading this all and recalling so much time, energy, effort, and sanity wasted because of abusers makes me ill and enraged.

    • Seeing Clearly

      C, Only we who have experienced it can really grasp what you have just expressed. It is so true.

  10. Liz

    This has been my experience. I have explained and explained and explained and given examples of the kind of behaviour I am talking about and objecting to. I’ve used “I” messages and told him how his behaviour hurts me. And still, even though he has been forced to move out by the intervention of child protective services, he still doesn’t seem to get what he has done. He’ll say that he knows he’s hurt me, but when I try to talk specifics, and discuss what he needs to do to change his abusive behaviour, he just gets angry, or tries to justify himself, or blames me because of course I’m exaggerating and bitter and I just need to get over it!

    In a way, I’m glad, because it shows me that he has not repented. But it drains me. When we met for the first time since he moved out, just that hour of being with him left me sobbing and with my head in such a muddle. I can’t think straight when I try to talk to him. And so I think (I hope!) I’m done with explaining. He’s had enough chances and he’s a smart guy. If he doesn’t get it by now then I guess he never will, unless God reveals it to him.

    • What a good example of how the best thing is to go ‘no contact’ with the abuser if one can. But so often the authorities force the victim to continue having some contact with the abuser… especially when there are children.

      With my first husband, I slowly learned (after many painful experiences) to be very firm and blunt with him as soon as he starting saying things that messed with my head. I used expressions like —
      “Stop It!”
      “Cut it out!”
      “I will hang up the phone if you continue to try to discuss anything that is not about practical matters to do with our daughter!”
      “Stop denigrating me!”
      “That’s none of your business!”

      And wherever possible I avoided eye contact with him during handover. When dropping our daughter off at his place for visitation, I mentally prepared for the encounter by making my skin and spine and eyes as hard as steel. Without saying much, I projected that steely exterior to him during the few minutes when I had to be in his presence. That made me strong so if he tried to verbally knife me I was mentally deflecting the knife before it got under my skin. I wrote him a note to explain if she was on medication at the time, putting the note into his hand along with the bottle of medication so I didn’t have to convey the details to him verbally. So… think ‘ice queen’ or something like that. That’s what worked for me. 🙂

      But of course, it did’t stop all the abuse. It only reduced the risk somewhat.

      • Seeing Clearly

        You express avoiding eye contact in this situation. It is a great communicator, developed with experience, to know when eye contact is important and when avoiding eye contact is a powerful communicators.

        Are abusers more aware of eye contact or avoiding eye contact than a victim is?

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