Happily Abused: How to Use a Woman’s Faith and Trust to Make Her a Willing Accomplice to Her Own Abuse


After stumbling across yet another piece of alarmingly dangerous advice for abused women of faith titled, Surviving Emotional Abuse Six Stepsby Christian author, Darcy Ingraham, I am wishing I had more middle fingers with which to express my extreme irritation. Ack!

I will to try to calm down long enough to use my words rather than profane gestures to talk about spiritual abuse.

To begin with the author assumes that only those husbands who abandon their faith become angry, bitter, and abusive — and she offers no help for women whose abusive husbands are fully committed Christians acting in accordance with patriarchal teachings derived from the bible; she quotes random bible verses out of context to convince abused women that they are safe from actual violent abuse so long as they remain close to God; she appears to believe a woman’s display of piety (praying out loud for her abuser and telling him that she is giving him over to the Lord, for example) is the way to truly intimidate her abusive husband and get him to back off; she advises victims not to “make the abuse worse” by reacting to their abusers’ anger (followed by the whiplash-inducing about-face when she admonishes victims to never allow anyone to convince you that the abuse is your fault); and to top it all off, the author encourages abuse victims to take charge of their lives by finding a hobby.

When we write about “surviving” abuse at No Longer Quivering, we mean living through it, getting help, getting away, processing, healing, and moving on with our lives.

To the “Six Steps” writer, “Surviving Emotional Abuse” means living with the abuser and “finding contentment” in a situation which, in fact, should not be tolerated.

If you are constantly exposed to emotional abuse, then you are probably humiliated and and criticized often. You may not be able to change the abuser, but you can make positive changes in and for yourself. Emotional abuse can only hurt you and hold you back if you allow it to. The Lord has a way of using the most difficult times of our lives as the greatest time of growth.

When I was experiencing some struggles of my own, a dear friend reminded me of that truth. She said, “When you have nowhere to turn, but to the Lord, it is then that you experience a great strengthening of your faith and untold spiritual growth.” These words were just what I needed to hear.

“Emotional abuse can only hurt you and hold you back if you allow it to.”

Really?

Really?!?

I understand that not every abused woman is in a position to immediately leave her abuser — however, the advice in this article goes beyond merely offering trapped women coping strategies — it is encouraging women to believe God has a good purpose for their suffering; an idea which often results in confused and desperate women embracing the abuse and even cooperating in their own oppression.

As we share our stories at NLQ, one question that is frequently asked is, What is spiritual abuse? What distinguishes “spiritual” abuse from regular forms of physical, emotional, and mental abuse?

In spiritual abuse, a person’s faith and ideas about God, the supernatural, and the afterlife, get intermingled and entwined with relational and behavioral choices so that the situation is not only about the way a person thinks, acts, and relates - it is primarily about the condition of your soul.

Let me give you an example from the article:

No one wants to be in an abusive marriage, but if you are a Christian woman the decision to leave or stay is not yours alone. The Lord has a plan for you and if you seek His wisdom, He will show you the way. Just know that if He leads you to remain in the marriage, He will be your strength. In “Our Daily Bread” by RBC Ministries, this sentence brings it home. “Assignments from God always include His enablement.”

Here the author maintains that the decision to stay in or leave an abusive marriage should not only take into consideration unhealthy relationships and safety issues, but must also include “the God factor.”

Abusive situations are disconcerting enough—but when an abused woman is also required to figure out what God would have her to do, the result is an overwhelming entanglement of spiritual discernment, hermeneutics, theology, faith, trust, devotion, spiritual discipline, eternal rewards and judgement, divine intervention, hierarchical authority, angels and demons, sacred vows, and spiritual-mindedness which thoroughly complicates and convolutes and radically reorients the perspective of literally every practical consideration.

The question which the victim asks herself is no longer, “He is hurting me—what should I do?” – instead, it becomes, “He is hurting me, but God loves me and He knows what is best for my life – if I take matters into my own hands, am I really trusting the Lord?

Does God have a greater purpose for my suffering? Does God want to use my patient endurance as a witness to draw my husband to Himself? What is more important – my immediate personal safety — or the eternal salvation of my husband’s soul? Is self-preservation godly — or am I seeking instant gratification and the comfort of the flesh? How will I ever be made pure in the refining fires if I remove myself from the heat? Does the clay say to the Potter, what are you doing with me? Is there any biblical justification for leaving my husband when he hasn’t actually hit me or committed adultery? Have I prayed enough? Is my heart right with God? Is Satan deceiving me into destroying my own family?  

Maybe I just need to have more faith and to be long-suffering and try to submit more wholeheartedly and sincerely? What would Jesus do? Would he defend himself? Would he give up and walk away? Would he withhold his love and forgiveness? … and on and on and around and around … until the woman is thoroughly overwhelmed and paralyzed by indecision. She cannot even say for sure whether or not she’s being abused, and she never gets around to addressing the the only truly relevant question: What should I do?”

Of course, the victim is given every assurance that God loves her and wants only the best for her and will supernaturally intervene on her behalf – plus, He will provide the strength she needs to endure the abuse:

God loves you so very much and you are of great worth to Him. You must look to Him who created you as the unique and wonderful person that you are; to Him who has a plan for your life. First, trust Him by claiming the promise of Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV), “ Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Then trust Him to see your through with the words of Philippians 4:13 (KJV), “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

The most insidious spiritual abuse occurs when Believers begin to not only “find contentment” in their abusive circumstances but to find spiritual meaning and divine purpose in their sufferings. This sort of mental gymnastics can easily manifest as a form of Stockholm Syndrome when victims who believe that they have no options – no way out – delude themselves into feeling they do have a certain amount of control when they “choose” to embrace, support and defend their abuser. It is oddly empowering to an abused person to say, “This is what I want—yes, it may be painful, but it is actually beneficial to my spiritual growth. I thank God for this and rejoice in my sufferings because in the end, it all brings glory to my Savior!”

Insert puking smiley here.

It is at this acute degree of absurdity that the spiritual abuse victim will begin to participate in and even facilitate and inflict abuse upon herself. After all, she “reasons” (though in truth, little of this dynamic is consciously understood) that if God wills her suffering, it must be right and ultimately good, and therefore, why would she want to alleviate or prevent it? Rather – she looks heavenward for the strength to endure and her mind seeks the eternal vantage point from which her present trials seem petty and insignificant.

She stops looking for a way to escape the pain, and instead – she learns to live with it, welcome it, and even thank God for it.

Yes, reading this Christian writer’s irresponsible and dangerous advice to abused women made my blood boil. I feel angry  and anxious and re-traumatized. Most disturbingly, I also feel disoriented and flustered because as I read the article—which I could easily imagine myself writing only a few years ago (only, unlike the author, I would have encouraged women to emulate Jesus’ example of martyrdom) – all the old faith-based confusion crept back in to muddle my thinking and I found myself second-guessing everything I’ve discovered about reality, mutuality, boundaries, self-preservation, equality … My brain momentarily reverted to its religiously-conditioned comfort zone of self-abnegation and the abdication of choice and positive action in favor of “spiritual” rationalizations for hand-wringing and overwrought inaction.

Ugh. I hate that.

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  • mrhsmrs

    Thank you for writing about a subject that most people wont touch let alone acknowledge.

     

    As women we are hard on ourselves. We don’t want to fail in a relationship so we adjust and try harder, tell our selves to be content in such things as we have for He will never leave nor forsake us and yet we don’t see at that time that God doesn’t expect us to be hurt in so many different ways…so often we are blamed for everything under the sun by the spouse who is abusive and we begin to believe the shit he spews from his mouth. The constant critism, blame, ridicule, verbal abuse and finally the physical…typically with the guy who is a “christian” to everyone else he appears to be the good guy but behind closed doors he is the farthest thing from being a nice guy or even a “christian”.

     

    It takes stregnth and bravery to get out and away. We sacrifice what we learn were weak friends, even our own children sometimes turn against us, the church turns against us…but in the end we have peace of mind and we learn to live each day well. * Believe it or not the Bishop of the church told me I should just hit him back.What an idiot!!!*

    We move on…we learn what real love and acceptance is…we forgive ourselves.

     

    Thank you again for speaking out.

     

     

  • lick10hour

    The question which the victim asks herself is no longer, “He is hurting me—what should I do?” – instead, it becomes, “He is hurting me, but God loves me and He knows what is best for my life – if I take matters into my own hands, am I really trusting the Lord?

    This is pretty much what my mother went through for 30 years with my father. She cried and cried and talked about leaving, but never would.

    I love her, and she is a strong capable women, but her childhood religious training convinced her that she is nothing without a man. She has been married twice (She is twice a widow. She would never divorce.) since my father died and each time she pretty much abandoned her personality to become a clone of her husband. Her current husband is a very nice man, and I have no reason to belive that he abuses her in any way, so at least there is that.

  • annieka

    Dear Vyckie,

    what a wonderful article.  That so needed to be said.  I work with a lot of abused women, who have strong religious beliefs.  (And I can see how – when life is as bad as it is for women in abusive and violent relationships – they do put their faith in God.  You’ve got to find something to hold on to, when your life is an absolute disaster.)  Quite often these women simultaneously entertain two quite different beliefs:

    1. God wants them to make the relationship work, or something along those lines.
    2. God doesn’t really want them to be in this relationship which is a travesty of the Christian view of marriage.  

    In a lot of cases, their church makes things a lot harder for them.  The church community appears to have a vested interest in keeping the relationship limping on.  

    In the end, that’s not so different to secular society.  Too many people don’t want to be destabilized by taking on board the truth that emotional abuse – and domestic violence – are going on in a nice, middle class home not a thousand feet from where they live.  Or they may just want to tell themselves that what’s going on in their own home is not all that bad… although it may well be.  

    And then there’s the fact that an abuser – especially an ostensibly God-fearing abuser – tends to be far more persuasive than a woman who’s been pushed to the edge of her sanity and her endurance.  

    A big part of emotional abuse is the “crazy-making” vacuum abusers routinely create around their victim.  Religion brings in another very powerful tool for undermining the abused woman’s sanity, and sense of self.  

    Anyone who has ever been through the hell of emotional abuse – as you and I have – knows that getting out and getting healthy require a huge amount of spiritual, as well as personal, growth.  Whereas staying in the relationship simply crushes the life out of you.  

    One final point: how, according to those irresponsible people who say abused women should stay put and pray, is growing up in a toxic environment with terrible role models meant to benefit children?

    Sometimes the profane gesture is a very healthy and appropriate response:-)

  • theclapp

    I’ll never understand why some people seem to think that saying “I do” is magic.  It’s not.  Getting married is not some weird assertion that everything after that was meant to be, and that you can never say “No I fucking don’t” ever again.

  • freetobe

     I married an emotionally abusive man who first was physically abusive but I had the strenthg in the beggining to tell him if he ever hit me again I was done. So he stopped the hitting and started the degrading. I had had self esteem issues growing up and had overcome them until I found my life sliding down the cliff again and then into a sort of dead zone. I was a zombie. One day something happened that I call miraculous. It was July 4 th ironically my ex and I were fighting again as usual but I had reached my breaking point months earlier and found myself praying to God to make some other woman take him away from me since I was brainwashed into thinking I could not divorce because it was a sin. Well lo and behold if God did not answer my prayer on that day July 4th INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!!!. My ex left me for another woman and I was so glad and so relieved I know this came from my prayers.

    All this garbage about women suffering  because God wants it,with abusers is hogwash and God I just proved it.

  • oak-cliff-townie

    Or has really seen abuse or the aftermath as it  happened in real time .

    My Dad was a BIBLE Based Abuser.

    And my Mom heard the same kind of Bull stuff the good  old Darcy is spouting from her church friends.

    And Church folk will invoke the lack of Prayer and Faith Clause  in such situations .

    I bet a weekend of my Dads Quotes taken from the pages of the Bible followed by his Abusive Antics and Behavior would wake her up to the real horrors  being committed in using the  Name of Jesus . And implying the will of God !

    Now what I wonder is how many other women of faith were hiding their own set of Bruises at Church on Sunday Morning ?

     

     

     

     

     

  • jamesseattle

     

    I lived for a time in a household where my Mother was pushed by our local religious community to marry a guy they HAD to know would turn out to be an abuser. 

     

    I remember for years hearing him screaming “where is my belt, and hearing my Mom and little brother crying while I hid in my bedroom with the door barricaded” 

     

    I used to think we were just all in trouble, it took years for me to realize he was just a piece of trash and we didn’t deserve to be treated that way. 

     

    Luckily for me it lasted for maybe a year before my Mom got fed up, left him and moved us far away. 

    All of this happened when I was four.

    30 years later I’m in a relationship with a woman who lived with similar abise until she was 12, TWELVE.

    He was always telling them they were disobeying the bible as he beat them, and god knows what else as she would sort of freeze up and not be able to tell me the whole story.

     

    Eventually, she left and said: “I just can’t allow myself to feel anything for you, the other shoe always drops, I can’t risk trusting anyone, I just can’t” 

     

    I attended a family event at a church with her once, she never went at all (and I don’t attend either) but it was a family thing. After about 30 minutes she basically grabbed my hand and sprinted out, it was pretty clear she was having an anxiety attack just being there. 

     

    Her siblings are all in some form of counseling, or seeking help via self-help groups (another word for religion really).

     

    It pains me to my core that another woman wrote something that basically asks these women to pray the abuse away, because, I wonder if she was abused and this is her way of dealing with it, or maybe there is some other kind of issue where she needs to believe in this naieve viewpoint. 

     

    I think people cling to religion as this sort of ideological superman that can solve all things, a way to give them strength against alll fears, insecurities, et al.  So they encourage people to pray things away instead of being proactive, because if people can do things on thier own, what does that say about them?

     

    They say god helps those that helps themselves, so the first thing these need to do is leave these bastards. It’s arguably the Christian thing to do, surround yourself with good people, don’t let bad ones hurt you.