Recently MarkQ, one of our commenters, expressed his difficulty and his feeling of conviction for not reaching out to those who have been abused. Barbara responded to his comment with some very good insights. We want to highlight MarkQ’s comment and Barbara’s response for those who may not have seen them in the original post.
… I’ve been struggling with the guilt/conviction of not reaching out to those who have been abused. I have connections to a few people who have been spiritually abused, but I’m aware of two problems. One is that I don’t know how best to approach those people, some of whom have joined new churches that aren’t as abusive, but still have authoritarian views of leadership. The other problem is that, being a victim of spiritual abuse, I don’t necessarily have the energy to stand up against it in any material way.
My last church was not as abusive as the church before. I was on somewhat of a path to healing. About a year after we joined, I learned about a horribly abusive situation at the previous church. I spent a lot of time and energy encouraging my friend and giving him the tools to confront the abuse, but ultimately he lost his appeals. So, I tried to get my church involved, and they refused. I realized, at that point, that I was nowhere near healed, and that I really didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I also lost my respect for my church leaders, who trumpeted the Presbyterian church’s ability to correct these very kinds of abusive situations, and yet, when one came up, they washed their hands of it.
My new church seems to have the same problem, but for opposite reasons, more like mine. I think members recognize that there are a lot of hurting people coming through the doors, and while they are not trying to get those people to put on a holy facade, they aren’t taking the time/energy to reach out, or even put themselves out there (e.g. joining/creating small groups) to encourage each other. I’m still trying to get the feel for how I can encourage change in a way that is gracious and not legalistic.
MarkQ, I hope I can offer you something in response to your comment.
You are not alone in feeling conviction for not doing enough to help abuse victims. I have a similar sense of conviction. I know that I do reach out to abuse victims via this blog, but I feel I often am falling short of what I could do. So I relate to your prickings of conscience.
“I have connections to a few people who have been spiritually abused, but partly, I don’t know how best to approach those people, some of whom have joined new churches that aren’t AS abusive, but still have authoritarian views of leadership. The other problem is that being a victim of spiritual abuse, I don’t necessarily have the energy to stand up against it in any material way.”
I believe that having awareness of one’s own limits — one’s energy, time, triggers, etc. — is a really important capacity for all supporters of abuse victims to have. We are better helpers when we know our limits: when we can recognize our own early warning signs of too much stress, triggering, etc.
Those whom we may be attempting to help will respect us more if we can speak up when we are finding stuff too hard, too personally triggering, etc. By speaking up about our felt limitations, we are in fact modelling things that most survivors can benefit from: self-awareness, self-care, humility, the capacity to live with uncertainty, respect for the individuality and uniqueness of every other person.
I believe that words spoken from this place of experiential humility, this place where we are acutely aware of our own limitations, are indeed often the best balm we can offer to victims of abuse. Victim of abuse are so accustomed to hearing the patronizing know-it-all advice from people who haven’t been there, that the fragrance of truth comes through to them in our offered words —— even if they may not be able to process it for some time.
So I encourage you to let yourself off the hook of having to meet the need of each spiritually-abused believer that you personally know. I encourage you to just let God lead and point you to what you can (and what you can’t) do at this point in time.
If you want help in thinking through how best to open up a potentially helpful conversation with someone who has been abused, these posts may give you some ideas:
Here is Avid Reader’s one-star review of Emerson Eggerichs’ book “Love and Respect.” You can click here to vote it as ‘helpful’ on Amazon.
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On page 282, Dr. Eggerichs admits that his advice isn’t working for many people; that he receives tons of letters from frustrated people who have tried his advice in their marriage only to watch it backfire on them. Then he quotes from a letter where a wife actually “regrets” telling her husband “what I learned from you because he uses it against me each time. I can take the criticism. I feel I deserve it — but his rage . . . makes me want to get away and hide.”
That says it all right there. So what exactly is backfiring on these people?
The Main Focus
First let’s look at the main focus of this book. Dr. Eggerichs writes,
My theory says that the wife has a tendency to react in ways that feel disrespectful to the husband — thus the command to respect — and the husband has a tendency to react in ways that feel unloving to the wife — thus the command to love. (p.319)
A man needs to feel honored for who he is — the image and glory of God — because God made him that way. (p.322)
Of course, husbands need respect, but aren’t wives also made in God’s image and thus deserving of respect, too?
[Dr. Eggerichs insists], I still believe that women want love far more than respect and men want respect far more than love. I’ll illustrate that from the greeting card industry” which is one of the best “examples of women’s deepest values. (p.48)
When women buy greeting cards for their husbands, they want to express love for them; they don’t even think about respect. Sadly, the deepest yearning of husbands goes unmet because wives — and the card publishers — are locked into relaying sentiments of love.
Later Dr. Eggerichs adds,
Women are the ones who have babies and that’s one reason that birthdays are a big deal to them. (p.177)
Wives don’t need a lot of coaching on being loving. It’s something God built into them and they do it naturally. However they do need help with respect” because “this a foreign term to many women. (p.183)
This is not about the husband deserving respect; it’s about the wife being willing to treat her husband respectfully without conditions. (p.18)
A simple application is that a wife is to display a respectful facial expression and tone when he fails to be the man she wants. (p.43)
As I encourage some wives to use unconditional respect, I can tell they suspect that I am a chauvinist in sheep’s clothing trying to set them up for a life of subservience. I remind such a wife to be patient. (p.75)
Joe’s wife was so focused on the needs of others that she took over the family and in the process her husband was once again put down, belittled, overlooked. She is an example of how a woman can be so loving toward her family she doesn’t see her disrespect for her husband. This is why I keep calling on wives to awaken to God’s revelation. (p.213)
Dr. Eggerichs continues,
What I’m about to say may sound hard and judgmental but I’m trying to help you. (p.284)
In recent decades, women have discovered they are quite capable of going out into the workaday world and holding significant positions and making tremendous achievements. (p.198)
Generally speaking our sons will feel they have to work in some field, but our daughters will want the freedom to choose between pregnancies and promotions. (p.199)
Adam doesn’t expect Eve to have a baby and hand the baby back to him so she can go back to work. Those who advocate domestic equality promote this idea. (p.200)
Women don’t see themselves as sinning even though they readily admit bad habits and wrong attitudes. (p.233)
Ask yourself if you may possibly have an attitude of self-righteousness. You love your husband but you see his faults and mistakes. You believe — as many women do — that you are a better person than he is and he needs to change. (p.233)
Next Dr. Eggerichs describes a husband trying to ask his wife to lose weight. He writes,
If the husband is on the trim side — as many men with overweight wives often are — she will bring up some other log that he needs to get out of his own eye — that time she caught him viewing internet porn or overindulging in alcohol. (p.233)
Yes, your spouse may be harsh, unloving or disrespectful a lot of the time but just remembering that your spouse is really a person of goodwill can put you on the road to the reward cycle. (p.290)
How should a wife act if she strongly disagrees with her husband about some issue? 1Timothy 2:12 has some advice. Paul writes, “I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet.” (p.220)
If your quietness is the right kind of quietness — respectful and dignified, not pouty and sour — he will move toward you.
On page 278, he shares a letter he received from a “wife who had suffered physical and verbal abuse from her husband — which I absolutely condemn as wicked and urge a wife to seek protection and help for — she had gone back to him after he repented, realized she hadn’t completely forgiven him and certainly wasn’t showing him respect. After coming across our materials, she began showing him respect — mostly by remaining quiet and dignified instead of arguing. Their relationship improved considerably.”
She writes to Dr. Eggerichs, “I have to mull over some of your teaching but…..the Holy Spirit keeps revealing my rebellion, contempt, disobedience, etc. I keep asking the Lord for strength to implement your suggestions.”
Reading between the lines, you can hear the exhaustion as that lady tries to carry this heavy burden. The heavy burden that Jesus came to deliver her from.
Hard on Women
Why is this book so hard on women, when Jesus is the perfect example of how to preach against sin without blaming women? In fact, Jesus Himself refused to accuse women even when everyone was pressuring Him to. (Luke 7:39-50, John 8:11)
This is the kind of teaching that turns people away from the Lord. Why would anyone want to become a Christian if it requires this kind of craziness?
My heart bleeds for all of the people out there that have given up on Christianity because they couldn’t carry that heavy of a load. This is not the Gospel of Christ that comes to set the captives free (Luke 4:18). This is “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9).
Misogyny will never draw women to Christ. How many more souls will be lost for eternity before the church finally wakes to how far this teaching is from the heart of God?
Why doesn’t Dr. Eggerichs understand how much God cares for women? For example, the chapter on sexual intimacy has absolutely nothing about satisfying the wife’s physical needs. The entire emphasis is on how “he needs sexual release as you need emotional release.” (p.253)
Even the Apostle Paul was nice enough to mention that both husbands and wives have physical needs (1Cor 7:2-5). But Dr. Eggerichs doesn’t mention that while emphasizing that “a man who strays is usually given total blame for his affair but in many cases he is the victim of temptation that his wife helped bring upon him.” (p.253)
That’s just one of the many excuses this book makes for men. There are so many other excuses that I just started writing a list of them. Listen to this list of excuses:
- “I am still only a man and the flesh can be weak.” (p.107)
- “Through the years I have had more pressure than some men.”
- “Stuff from the past.” (p.108)
- “Sins of the fathers.”
- “Men are very sensitive.” (p.209)
- “Men are more vulnerable to criticism.” (p.211)
- “Husbands particularly can come under satanic attack when deprived of sexual release.” (p.252)
- “Being trapped by an adulteress.” (p.254)
- “His need for this was so strong.”
- “He had an extremely intense spiritual battle.”
- “He has a need you don’t have.” (p.257-258)
How Dr. Eggerichs treats his own wife
But none of those excuses are allowed for his own wife. The way that Dr. Eggerichs treats his own wife is difficult to watch. His wife, Sarah, is trying to raise their two sons to be responsible adults by teaching them to clean up after themselves. Pretty basic stuff that roommates will expect of them when they enter the real world. But he describes her attempt to set boundaries as “badgering and criticizing.” Not only does he run roughshod over her boundaries, he teaches his sons to feel entitled to not having to pick up after themselves.
Listen closely to his words,
My wife Sarah has accepted that her disrespect is equal to my lack of love. (p.103)
She had grown very negative trying to change everyone to her standards of neatness. She complained about every crumb on the counter, every shoe on the floor, every wet towel left on a bed, every candy wrapper that missed the wastebasket.” But eventually she gave up and accepted their “sloppiness. (p.242-243)
Maybe that’s why he literally describes seeing “defeat” in Sarah’s eyes as “countless times” she reaches the point of exhaustion and screams at him, “I’m always to blame. You’re always right. You never do wrong.” (p.93)
Then he describes how happy he is that “she says she’s sorry for her disrespect. Best of all she no longer follows me around the house wanting to know how I would advise a husband who was acting like an unloving schmuck!” (p.109)
My heart goes out to Sarah. Would Jesus have ever treated her like that? There’s something to the fact that even while Jesus was in the middle of the most important event of His life (rising from the dead) He still took the time to neatly fold His grave clothes.
Boundaries are Not Allowed
By now you’ve probably figured out that the main problem with this book is not understanding God’s law of sowing and reaping.
Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:8)
That’s where we get the concept of boundaries. Because people have the ability to make good or bad choices, when an enabler keeps rescuing someone from the consequences of their bad choices, they have no motivation to change because they’re not reaping what they’ve sown. Thus, tough love sets boundaries to help people reap the consequences of their decisions to motivate them to change.
But Dr. Eggerichs insists that unconditional respect is required by God. Nope, even God Himself sets boundaries with us. We are following that example when we love others enough to set boundaries with them.
Keep that in mind while you listen to what Eggerichs’ book teaches,
Will a man take advantage of being the head of the family by putting down and even abusing his wife and children? Yes this is possible but because it is possible doesn’t mean a woman should refuse to allow her husband to be the head. If a husband is evil-willed, the abuse will happen anyway no matter what the family structure is. Any hierarchical role given to him has nothing to do with the abuse. (p.207-208)
Does this mean that a wife must submit to something illegal, wrong or evil? Should she go along with being beaten by her husband or watching him beat the children? The clear Scriptural answer is of course not. When a man acts this way he is not a good willed husband and forfeits his right to be head and to be followed. (p.219)
While he makes mention on page 99 that “love must be tough” he spends the rest of the book pressuring wives to show “unconditional respect.”
Even worse, he discourages women from listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. While the Bible commands women to be lead by that still small voice inside of them, Dr. Eggerichs writes on page 231 that women’s intuition can interfere with their “unconditional respect for their husbands.”
Could you be thinking too highly of your natural discernment and intuition? (p.231)
The Bible says in Hebrews 5:14 (ERV) that part of our maturity in the Lord involves having our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Discernment is a gift from God!!! Plus, the Bible makes it clear that “the true children of God are those who let God’s Spirit lead them.” (Romans 8:14) Listening to that still, small voice inside of you is part of our walk with God. Even Jesus Himself was led by the Holy Spirit — our goal as believers is to follow His example.
The bottom line is that unconditional respect doesn’t understand that Jesus gave women the power of “yes” and “no.” (Matthew 5:37) Saying yes and no is how we set boundaries to protect ourselves by developing the fruit of the Spirit which includes self-control.
Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-24)
Because there is no law of God against self-control, how could any genuine Scriptural teaching interfere with self-control — your ability to say yes and no? What Jesus described as “No man takes My life from Me. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it again. This command have I received of My Father.” (John 10:18)
God is glorified when we “bear much fruit” meaning the more self-control we develop the more we glorify God. (John 15:8) Abuse is a sin, we cannot submit to sin when the Bible tells us, “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and do not be entangled again in the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
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We also highly recommend Nate Sparks’ four-part review of “Love and Respect”
Part 2 Love, Respect, and Consent
Part 3 Love, Respect, and Science
Part 4 Love, Respect and Abuse — Part 4 deserves a standing ovation! It exposes Emmerson Eggerich as a die-hard spiritual abuser.
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We DO NOT recommend this post of Emmerson Eggerichs at Love and Respect Inc:
How many of you have had this hurtful question posed to you by a well-meaning but ignorant-to-domestic-abuse person: “Why didn’t you leave?” Barbara has an excellent article that addresses this question and we want to share it with you today. (The article was first published at Barbara’s solo blog notunderbondage.com)
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Why Didn’t You Leave?
“Why didn’t you leave?” (or “Why did you go back?”) is usually a hurtful question to ask victims of domestic abuse. It seems to blame the victim, rather than the perpetrator.
It presumes that the victim was more wrong for staying than the perpetrator was for entrapping and hurting her.
Often the question is asked out of bewilderment; the questioner is not familiar with the dynamics of abuse and simply cannot understand why any person would remain in an abusive relationship. At times this bewilderment comes across to the victim as exasperation (and therefore as judgement) — in which case the victim feels that the questioner has no genuine desire to understand.
If you have ever felt like asking this question, or if you have even been asked it, here are some answers to “Why didn’t you leave?” Of course, not all these reasons will apply to every victim, but many victims will identify with a large number of them.
Lack of identification of the problem
- I was unsure about what “abuse” was.
- I sought help from my doctor but he didn’t identify the problem as domestic violence; he just gave me antidepressants or tranquilizers for my “nerves”.
- My spouse had convinced me that it was all my fault. I felt like I was going crazy. I didn’t know what was right or wrong any more, and had lost my sense of self.
- I don’t think my situation is “domestic violence”. I don’t like that term.
- I thought: “He doesn’t beat me up, so I’m not a victim of domestic violence.”
- I didn’t want to admit that I had been entrapped into the relationship.
- For a long time I was too frightened to admit that it was domestic violence. To admit it would mean I had to do something about leaving.
- I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. Nobody saw that the major problem (the real cause) was abuse.
Illness and lack of energy
- I was too hurt by everything to be able to work out what to do. I didn’t have the energy.
- I was too sick from all the stress of the abuse.
- My kids were sick and I had to put them first.
- I am too old and weak to leave now.
- I was trying to protect my children from all the stresses of a separation and divorce.
- My children were having learning difficulties and I didn’t want to disrupt their schooling.
- I thought the children needed their father. They loved him.
- It always seemed like a bad time to leave – someone’s birthday, Christmas, etc.
- I thought a violent father was better than no father at all.
- He had threatened to have sex with our daughter if I refused him sex. I thought that by staying under the same roof with him I could protect her. (I found out much later he had been violating her anyway.)
- I was frightened because he said he would take the children from me.
- My (adult) children do not want me to break up their inheritance.
I believed in being committed to marriage
- I was committed to my marriage. I took “till death do us part” very seriously.
- I had made an inner vow never to break my marriage vows.
- I am hardworking; I thought, “I can work at this.”
The relationship had some good parts
- I still loved my husband. Sometimes he was really nice to me.
- I didn’t want the marriage to end; I just wanted the abuse to stop.
- I thought, “I’ll never find anyone better.”
- I thought, “A little love is better than no love at all.”
I had compassion for my spouse
- I thought the problem was his drinking, or his mental illness; I felt sorry for him because he was “sick”. I didn’t realise the problem was he was an abuser.
- He needed me to be there so he could manage the rest of his life.
- He said he would kill himself if I left.
- I thought if I stayed I could help him get better.
- I am loyal; I was conscious of the damage it would do to his reputation.
- My own best qualities (like empathy and caring) were used as weapons against me.
- I was going to leave; then he became terminally ill and now I feel trapped. I can’t leave him; I would feel too guilty; so I am his full-time carer now.
- The community I live in is so small that I am frightened of seeking help — the gossip, and my husband hearing about it, is too risky.
- I was ashamed to admit that the man I had married was terrorising me.
- The realisation that it was domestic violence killed me inside; I was still walking but was only a shell.
Disbelief or bad advice from others
- When I told people about the abuse, they didn’t believe me.
- I had concealed my pain and injuries for so long that, when I told people about them, they did not believe me.
- I was told by the church that I shouldn’t divorce.
- My minister told me to go back, pray, and submit more.
Lack of support from others
- I had no support from anyone.
- When I tried to seek help about the abuse, people treated me like I was a leper or something.
- The ladies in my Bible study ignored me when I tried to tell them about my problem, so I felt friendless.
- My family were not helpful; they told me what to do, instead of helping me work it out for myself and supporting me in my decisions.
My family got so sick of me leaving and going back to him that in the end they wiped their hands of me.
My (immigrant) community told me I was picking up ideas from the “Western” way of life that were not appropriate.
- As an older woman, I didn’t want to go to an agency that deals with women who are raising children.
- I thought all the workers at the support agency would be young, so they wouldn’t understand me as an older woman. (I found out later that this was not true.)
Condemnation from others, and myself
- I thought God would condemn me if I left my marriage.
- I knew some Christians would condemn me if I left my marriage.
- I saw how other women were treated when they spoke up about their abusive marriages.
- I left him, but went back because Christians told me I was a “rebellious wife”.
- Christians told me, “A good Christian does not have problems.”
- I didn’t want to live as a single mother.
- I didn’t want to end up in a huddle with other divorced women, where all we did was complain about our ex-husbands and resent life. (That was the image I had of divorcees.)
- Being a widow you get support and sympathy; being divorced you get stigmatised.
- My (adult) children think that I am to blame and that “poor old dad” only drinks because of me and my nerves.
- My priest said, “All you people in the younger generation think about is me, me, me! You are always abandoning your commitments to other people in order to be yourself or find yourself.”
- My minister said, “You must not be a Christian because you obviously don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change a person.”
Fear of how I would cope on my own
- I was worried I might not cope on my own.
The emotional pain I felt when I left seemed worse than the pain I felt when I stayed in the abuse and buried my feelings.
- I was fearful that the addictions I had prior to the relationship would come back if I left my spouse.
- I had no money.
- I didn’t think I could earn enough to support the children on my own.
- I had no job skills.
- My husband prevented me from upgrading my education to improve my job prospects.
- I have no superannuation and would only have a pension, with no house and no other money.
- I didn’t know there were refuges/ help with finances and housing.
- I didn’t know that I could get a residence visa by the special provisions for domestic violence victims. I thought this country would deport me because I didn’t have a valid visa.
- I could not bear to see him wreck everything in the house (and the house itself), which he had started to do last time I left.
- I thought my spouse might kill me if I left.
The housing crisis
- Why should I and the kids leave? It’s our house too, our garden too, the kids are settled at school. It’s him who should leave — he’s the criminal! He’s the one who won’t live like a civilised person.
- Our property is jointly owned (or in his name) and I think I would loose it.
- I had nowhere to go.
- When I phoned the crisis line, all the shelters were full.
- I didn’t dare go to a refuge because I thought they were all run by New Age radical lesbian feminists who would see my Christianity as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. (I found out later this was not true.)
- The refuge had room, but they wouldn’t allow teenage boys.
- I did leave: I went to the shelter, then to a safe house for a short-term tenancy, then they sent me an eviction notice, and I had just had a miscarriage (from the last beating) and felt at the end of my rope, and it was Christmas time . . . so I went back.
Living in hope: the buy-back
- I lived in hope that the next day would be better.
- I did leave, several times, but I went back, because of all the above reasons, and because I was so lonely, poor, homeless, friendless, depressed, and I believed his promises because he was so convincing.
- The pressure he put on me to reconcile was enormous.
- The danger of leaving seemed greater than the danger of staying.
- It was easier living with abuse than finding a way through the maze of safety.
- The cost of resisting his demands appeared more damaging than the costs of capitulating to his demands.
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The victim of domestic violence appears to be a full participant, a consenting adult, a collaborator. So it seems, but in any relationship with a violent person, there can be no such thing as full and equal participation. What the battered woman participates in, as best she can, is an effort to regain the relationship she once had and hopes to have again — Didn’t he promise? — the relationship without the violence. Trying to save a marriage, or save her life, or save her children, a battered woman may submit to violence, just as a rape victim may submit to rape for fear of being killed. But submission is not consent.Anne Jones, Next Time, She’ll be Dead: Battering and How to Stop it, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, pp. 126-127.
We want to draw attention to a training resource for pastors and church leaders: Domestic Abuse Training for (busy) Pastors: An outline for self-directed learners. This resource was created by Barbara Roberts and can be found on our Resources page under the subheading Training Materials. This PDF is an excellent introduction to a biblical response to domestic abuse — a topic that most seminaries fail to address.
The Table of Contents includes
- A word about secular resources
- Understanding abusers
- Be prepared for the ‘yuck factor”
- Understanding and responding to victim/survivors
- Making abusers accountable and behaviour change programs
- Understanding the situation of children
- Understanding Risk and Making Safety Plans
- Couple Counselling?
- Understanding what the Bible says about Domestic Abuse:
- Submission and Headship
- Protection Orders — can you take a brother to court?
- Separation and Divorce
- The Mandate of the Church
- Church Programs and Policies