I recently read this:
“Well, I was a friend Megan’s in seminary and she never ONCE told me she was abused.”
She didn’t see it and I never told her. Reading her comment on a recent blog post about my experience (on another person’s blog) led me to realize, once again, that people simply do not understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship. At least, that is my giving her the benefit of the doubt. I would like to believe she simply does not understand and that there is not some sort of desire to “take me down”. I will go with the former and assume the best.
Friends, women hardly ever tell anyone what they are experiencing. And, even if they did tell someone, they probably would not use the term “abuse”. I did not use that term for my marriage until someone else pointed the abuse out to me. This is pretty typical. I left my first marriage because it had become unbearable. And I was so spiritually brainwashed that I believed I was going to hell for it. That’s how bad it had gotten. In talking with an advocate, a few weeks later, she explained to me that I had been abused for years. But, I waited until the abuse got physical before I left because, for some reason, I believed abused women were women who were thrown down staircases or given black eyes. I did not realize that I was (barely) living under spiritual, emotional and mental abuse, as well. Even back then, I said things like, “Well, he only squeezed me too hard once. He only hurt my child once (I am not giving details to protect my child). He only hit me once.” This woman actually put her hands on my shoulders and said, “He should NEVER ONCE hurt you, Megan. One time is one time too many.”
I would like to just pull back the curtain a little bit into the psyche of a victim enmeshed in abuse, to help those who do not seem to get it (keep in mind that this is before she finds freedom). Here is a shortlist:
- Abused women make excuses for their abusers. There is a deep deep shame involved with being a victim. I mean, who wants to be a victim?! I, personally, thought I deserved it. I felt crazy. I did not want anyone to know what happened, in my home, because what if they thought I deserved it, too? And what if they treated me that way, also? Oh, how I covered it up. And it ate away at my sanity: “Loyalty to that which does not work, or worse, to a person who is toxic, exploitive or destructive to you, is a form of insanity.” ― Patrick J. Carnes,
- Abused women are often seeking validation. Again, maybe if I please him, he will love me . . . There really is something to Stockholm syndrome. While it is often associated with those who are kidnapped, think about it: Women in abusive marriage feel like captives. They end up trying to please their abusers. They also end up trying to please those to whom they feel they are supposed to submit (church leaders, professors, etc.). In fact, if you find that a woman at a church or a seminary is overly grateful, it could very well be that she does not feel deserving of anything good she is given. If you find that a woman at a church or seminary is trying her hardest to be super-submissive to church leaders, you might find out that she thinks very little of herself and thinks that her only value is in being a servant/slave. Her esteem is shot. You might want to ask her if she is OK and look for signs of abuse that she probably cannot even articulate.
- Abused women may struggle with depression. Again, she cannot vocalize this well. Listen, when your life becomes nothing but submission and menial tasks, and there is very little by way of creativity or pleasure, getting up each morning gets harder and harder. If you believe it is simply your duty to re-populate the earth (spiritual abuse) and meet every whim of your husband (more spiritual abuse), it will not feel like life is really worth living. But, a godly Christian woman cannot say those things out loud, right? So, why is such dark fruit coming from doing God’s will? (sarcasm)
- Abused women may be living a double life. This cognitive dissonance takes a toll on a woman because she does not want to do this and may not be able to figure out why she is doing it. She tries to appear cheerful, godly and happy and like she is enjoying this miserable existence because submitting to an abusive man is God’s way (not God’s way, in case there is any misunderstanding of my sarcasm here). Believe it or not, she believes she is doing the right thing. Then there is the covering for her husband. Oh, the covering. Re-wording things he says so he doesn’t “leak” his narcissism on the friends you are having for dinner . . . making sure everyone knows how much you respect and admire him because godly women do that . . . praising him . . . pretending. Its exhausting.
Look for these things: Pretending, defending, covering, depression, physical signs of abuse, seeking validation from any man (by way of being subservient and administrative), making excuses and exhaustion.
Listen, most women in the midst of an abusive relationship do not come out and say, “I’m being abused.” They will say it later, after therapy and after advocacy help and after being educated. But, please, do not expect a woman in the swirling mess of abuse to be able to tell you all about it. Furthermore, certainly don’t expect her to if you are an unsafe person. In fact, be a safe person. For the love of Pete . . . be a safe person.
If she never told you about the abuse, maybe you need to look inside yourself and, instead of asking why she did not speak about it, ask yourself why she did not feel like she could.
Megan is a Pastoral Counselor (MAR in Pastoral Counseling), founder of Give Her Wings and President of the Board.