Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #17

Domestic Abuse Misconception #17: Jealousy just means that he loves her. It is harmless and will go away as the relationship develops. The truth is that excessive jealousy is probably one of the first signs that a relationship could turn abusive. 

This is particularly important to keep in mind when you are in the early stages of a relationship. While  possessiveness and insecurity of your new love interest might be flattering at first, take note. If he can't stand the thought of you being friends with other guys, can't stand the idea that you have ever had another boyfriend, has to know where you are and what you are doing at all times of the day and night, something is very, very wrong. You are no longer a person to him. You are a possession. 

Jealousy can get really dangerous really fast. As this article states:
"Statistically, the most obscene homicidal and suicidal effects of Domestic Violence generally occur from pathologically jealous men against female partners." 
I have heard on more than one occasion that the statement, "If I can't have you, nobody can," should be viewed as a death threat. You hear that, you get help. Fast. (In the Asheville area call the Helpmate at (828)254-0516. Nationally, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800)799-SAFE.)

Jealousy isn't love. Jealousy is control. Don't get those confused.

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #16

Domestic Abuse Misconception #16: The abuse seems rather mild right now and I can assume it will stay that way. The reality is that most abuse escalates over time. You cannot assume that the little digs at your dignity, the belittling, the overriding of your decisions, the jealousy that seems kinda cannot assume that these relatively minor means of manipulation and control will indeed stay minor. 

Most abuse starts small. In fact, most abusive relationships start with what is called "love bombing" wherein the abuser showers the victims with so much adoration and affection that she is, in effect, a fish that is hooked and then reeled in. 

The abuse starts gradually as the abuser tests the boundaries and pushes the line bit by bit and the victim might not even notice, much like the proverbial frog in the increasingly hot water. 

Escalation can get severe. It can get dangerous. Abusers who have never been physically violent before can suddenly turn dangerous. As I mentioned in Misconception #7, in 28-33% of domestic abuse murders, there was no prior physical abuse. This is the ultimate escalation. 

I have shared before that abusers don't just get better on their own. In fact, it is rare for them to change at all. But I also need to note that abusers rarely sustain over time the same level of abuse. Most abuse will get worse over time. It is important to learn the signs of escalation as well as seek help from those who are equipped to give it.

Here is an excellent article on escalation. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15: If an abuser apologizes for his behavior then it means that he has changed. The truth is, apologizing for abusive behavior is never a sign of any change and is just one point in what is commonly called the Cycle of Abuse. 

Abusive relationships aren't always overtly or even covertly abusive. In most abusive relationships, the actual abuse is just part and parcel of a cycle. The Cycle of Abuse includes a period of tension building, where the victim feels the need to walk on eggshells and fear is escalating. Then comes the actual abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, financial...some episode or more intense interaction that is set on controlling the victim and breaking her down. Next comes what is often called the "honeymoon phase," with the apology or the promises that it will never happen again. The vow to change. Perhaps the begging for forgiveness. It might include a denial that the abuse ever happened. Often this is followed a period of relative calm and peace before the tension builds again. 

Some victims describe this cycle more as a switch being flipped. He is "up" and nice and caring and then it flips and he is "down" and brooding, manipulative, and threatening. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Over and over and over again. 

Whether it is the cycle or the switch, each period can last minutes or months. It isn't always consistent and that is what is so very hard. This is one of the reasons victims stay, hanging on to the promise that "this time he'll change for good." This is one of the reasons friends and family might minimize the abuse, because right now he is so nice. This cycle is what can drive a victim to question her own sanity. 

This is why a mere apology, a beg for forgiveness, an apparent act of kindness will really tell you nothing about an abuser. This is why trust can only be established after consistent behavior change over a period of time...probably a long period of time. 

True repentance will always bear fruit over time. Promises of change, as discussed in Misconception #12, must always be accompanied with the true fruit of repentance and the very hard work to break the cycle. The reality is that few abusers are willing to break that cycle.

It is important to be aware of this cycle when supporting a victim. She knows this cycle better than anyone. Do not press her to trust him prematurely, without the evidence of true repentance. Trust can only be earned with behavior change over a long period of time, proving that the cycle has been broken. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #14

Domestic Abuse Misconception #14: The church is the safest place for a victim to seek help. The truth is that it is actually one of the least safe places for victims. Here is a sobering statistic. One study showed that 7 out of 10 victims seek help first from their place of worship but of those who have done so, only 4% would recommend doing it.

I don't think that most churches are intentionally cruel and intend to do harm, it is more that they are grossly ill-equipped to care for people in this situation. It is incredibly common for people within the church, especially church leadership, to provide input and guidance in an area where they have no specific training. There is this idea that if you know the Bible, if you know theology, then you are able to address any situation out there and that is, quite frankly, just not true. 

Domestic abuse is a very special situation that requires extensive knowledge in the dynamics of abuse. Training and understanding is essential. A family practice physician should never attempt to do brain surgery except in the most dire of situations (trapped on a desert island, stranded on a ship in the arctic, isolated in the heart of the rain forest...and then only if not doing so means certain death). A wise physician will always refer to a specialist for conditions he or she is not qualified to treat. To do otherwise would be considered malpractice. 

Yet the church commits malpractice all the time when it comes to abuse. Sometimes it is well meaning, but ignorance. Sometimes it is the toxic combination of ignorance plus arrogance. Sometimes it is just a blind spot. But blind spots are dangerous (I know. Our Toyota Tundra has one.) and the only way to operate safely is to be aware of your blind spots. 

Why is this so important? The truth is that abuse handled poorly by anybody does incredible damage to the victim and often further enables the abuser. But abuse handled poorly by the church does exponential damage because the church, in effect, is speaking for God. The spiritual damage done to a victim is horrific when she is destroyed by her abuser and then that abuse is disbelieved, the damage is minimized, she is forced into couples counseling, rebuked for not submitting enough, admonished to try harder, commanded to forgive, and sometimes even threatened with church discipline if she doesn't obey their authority. (This pattern happens more than you've believe.)

This is a horrific tragedy because this kind of spiritual malpractice paints a picture of God that is totally opposite of who he says he is: the God of the oppressed. 

So, what can churches do to be the safe place that victims need? Here are some basic steps:

Believe the victim. 
Support the victim.
Refer the victim to professionals and agencies that are competent to serve them.
Educate and equip the congregation to care for victims in their midst. 

Believe. Support. Refer. Equip. Make victims glad they came to you first.

Here is an excellent article on the matter. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #13

Domestic Abuse Misconception #13: It is important to for someone to take charge and tell the victim what to do. Actually, the opposite is true. A victim needs to be empowered to make the wisest decisions about her own life.

Remember what abuse is. It is the use of power and manipulation to gain and maintain control over the life of another person. This means that the victim of abuse has, for perhaps years, had no voice and no choice in her life. She has been beaten down, told she didn't matter, demeaned, and devalued. She has perhaps lived in constant fear. She has been a prisoner in her own home and even in her own body.

This is why it is so very important to allow her to make her own choices and gradually get back the power to run her own life. This is why so many domestic abuse organizations strongly encourage the empowerment model. 

You can read more about empowerment here

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #12

Domestic Abuse Misconception #12: Anybody can change and an abuser will change if just given a chance. The truth is that yes, anybody can change, but the reality is that very few abusers do change. 

Most victims will hold out hope after hope after hope that their abuser will change. And most victims I know have given their abuser so many chances to do so. And when she does finally break the silence and seek help she is often encouraged to give more chances, hold onto more hope, forgive yet again, and trust the person who has laid her to waste.

And sometimes it looks like the abuser is changing. He is jumping through the hoops. He is acting nice. He may be pouring it on thick. But is it real change?

Lundy Bancroft is one of the most respected experts in working with abusers. (If you want to really understand abusers, read his book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. It is absolutely terrifying.)

Even if others may see some changes (and abusers are master manipulators and excellent actors) Bancroft admits that it really is only the victim who is best able to assess if real change has taken place. Only she can really tell. He wrote this excellent piece that I highly encourage you to read
And remember that anybody can act the part for a certain amount of time. An abuser can play Dr. Jekyll for a good long time before reverting to Mr. Hyde. Encouraging a victim to trust prematurely is incredibly damaging. Trust has to be earned and it can only be earned when she sees the behavior change withstand the test of time.

That said, what would change in an abuser look like?

Here is Lundy Bancroft's  list of of some ways to assess change in an abuser:

  • Admitting fully to what he has done
  • Stopping excuses
  • Stopping all blaming of her
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility (recognizing that abuse is a choice)
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior, admitting their wrongness
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive his abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness will be a decades-long process, not declaring himself cured
  • Not starting to say, “so now it’s your turn to do your work”, not using change as a bargaining chip
  • Not demanding credit for improvements he has made
  • Not treating improvements as chips or vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (e.g. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so why are you making such a big deal about it?”)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying his weight
  • Sharing power
  • Changing how he is in highly heated conflicts
  • Changing how he responds to his partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing his parenting
  • Changing his treatment of her as a parent
  • Changing his attitudes towards females in general
  • Accepting the consequences of his actions (including not feeling sorry for himself about those consequences, and not blaming her or the children for them)

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #11

Domestic Abuse Misconception #11: Reconciliation and the preservation of the marriage should always be the goal. NO! NO! NO! Safety should be the goal. Healing should be the goal. But the truth is that in many cases safety and healing cannot happen within the context and framework of the marriage. 

My husband asked me yesterday if I had gotten any push back from these posts. I replied not yet but then again I think most of the people who would be offended by these topics have long ago unfriended me, unfollowed me, or just made sure not to read my posts. This one may be different.

Some of you the idea that preservation of the marriage is always the goal seems foolish and ridiculous. For many of us, though, we see this all the time. Within conservative Christian circles divorce is considered one of the all-time evils, causing the breakdown of the family and going against the "what God has joined together...." declaration. 

And yet....and yet even God allows divorce.

The problem with the mindset of marriage above all else is that it places the preservation of the institution over the well being of the people the institution was created for. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and was raked over the coals for it he declared that "The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) In the same way, marriage was created for man, not man for marriage.

Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his church, often called "the bride of Christ," a union of gentleness, kindness, self-sacrifice.  A marriage filled with abuse is a gross perversion of that picture, depicting Christ as the controlling, manipulative, self-centered monster bent on destroying the one that he "loves." That isn't a picture of Christ and his church. That is a picture of hell.

People say, 'But didn't they take vows before God?" Yes, they did. And abuse is a blatant and horrific breaking of those vows. If and when a victim moves toward divorce, it isn't that she is the one breaking her vow, she is asking to be free from the one who has already broken his, and is destroying her in the process. 

I'm not a theologian, but I have worked long and hard to try to understand the heart of God. I see a God who is for the oppressed. For the victim. For a proper and honest depiction of love. Who is for healing. Who is for life.

I am not saying that all marriages that include abuse must move to divorce. That may not always be the best or safest option. What I am saying is that safety and healing and genuine wholeness, the overall well being of the victim, must take priority because that is who God is. 

If you question my reasoning on this point, consider these words.

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)