Hearing about (and seeing photos of) our mamas and their families receiving their Christmas packages to which so many of you contributed. The smiles on their faces have brought bubbling-over, fizzy joy to our team! It is so FUN to give! And all 50+ mamas we are currently serving have been so grateful! One mama told us that she always dreads the mail (bills, bills, bills, people!). So, receiving gifts in the mail is an incredible treat!
Its Advent . . . and a lot of us are celebrating the expectancy of Christ coming to walk this earth, put on human-ness and show us how to love, all-the-while reconciling us to Him. For us to be able to give to our mamas, this month, we are telling them that they are part of this celebration . . . that they are worthy . . . that they are loved. Christmas is coming! Jesus is coming! God with us and God with them!
In the meantime, we are also celebrating the donations that are being matched by Leslie Vernick. Wow! Looking to the future can be stressful for a small non-profit but when financial resources are met, like we hope for this month, we can concentrate on ministering to and helping our mamas. For the entire month, Leslie is matching each monetary, tax-deductible gift given to Give Her Wings. So far, we have been given close to $2000. We are overjoyed!
In the meantime, and if you can believe it, we are still helping mamas. We are busy doing some real ministry, friends. Women and families are being vetted . . . board meetings continue and bills are being paid to help single women who have left abusive marriages survive this incredible, life-altering and crushing escape. I look back, sometimes, over the past seven years and I honestly can say I don’t know how I did it. That is why I started Give Her Wings. I wanted to do for others what I did not have. But, even the emotional turmoil was enough to break any one of us. When feelings of abandonment and judgment from my church, my family, his family and my seminary piled on . . . when my children had great physical and emotional needs . . . my mind felt like it was cracking (and I can describe it no other way). I distinctly remember asking God to fill in those cracks with His healing oil of anointing. My needs were so great, I would not have known where to begin. I was crumbling under financial strain and insecurity, I was physically working hard and caring for my children, I was terrified of the future and I was still being abused. I could not find my footing.
Now and then, when someone did something kind for me, my entire world would change that day. One day without worrying gave me a minute to talk to God about the confusion I felt was threatening to destroy my faith. When my physical needs were met, I had time and wherewithal to read Scripture and listen to Jesus . . . to think about returning to church (or not) and to let others speak into my life.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40 NLT
When Give Her Wings meets the physical needs of these amazing women, we help to save their faith. When we are hungry, stressed, emotionally burdened, dealing with PTSD and our minds and hearts are shattered . . . . how does one climb out of that? One way is through our organization. I talk to so many mamas, almost every day, who need a dose of encouragement . . . who need to know that Jesus loves them . . . who need to know that their next bill could be paid . . . who need to know that we care about them and about their children. What a long way this goes. When you give to Give Her Wings, you free us up from fund-raising so we can get to the good stuff. And, this month, with Leslie’s generosity, your $10 gift will be $20. Your $250 will be $500. Your $1000 will be $2000. Every bit helps and every bit counts.
So, I do not really believe that you attract abusers. You are not the problem. Abusers are. It is on them. But, I wanted to catch our readers with this title because it is a question we hear often. We hear it from our mamas, from friends who are dating and from others in caregiving occupations.
“All we want to do is live and love like Jesus loves and yet we attract people who just want to use us and hurt us.”
Please let me reframe:
“Broken people who have given into sinful lifestyles are hoping they can use you to fix themselves because you live and love like Jesus.”
Your kindness, your caring, your compassion and your sense of empathy is attractive to anyone and everyone. But, an abusive person is so incredibly broken and completely unable to look outside of him/herself that he/she uses surrounding people to give themselves a daily boost, to fill their never-ending emotional bucket and to try to make themselves feel better about themselves. Sometimes, this is quite intentional. And very abusive. Some people believe they are entitled to use people . . . . especially women . . . and especially if these men view pornography and have chosen and conditioned themselves to believe women are to be used.
If a person can no longer be used for this task because she is completely exhausted or she refuses to be abused, anymore, the abuser simply moves onto another person with a lovely spirit (discarding) to try to use him or her. I cannot imagine how miserable this is — but it is not our job to take care of people in this way. Trying to fix people is not actually serving or loving.
After all of my years in this ministry, I have come to understand that abusers think this way:
I ‘love’ her. I want what she has. I want the joy, peace (fill in other fruits of the Spirit here) and I don’t think she should enjoy herself because I cannot. I don’t think she should celebrate who she is because I cannot. I want to enjoy that. I want to take that goodness from her. I want to ruin things for her. I want to live in such a way as to ‘take on’ her beautiful qualities and draw them all in for myself. I want her to fix me. I want to use her. I actually hate her. And if I cannot have who she is for myself, I want to destroy her.
Strong words; true words. Take a moment to let that sink in.
The challenge, beautiful child of God, is not to allow others to perform their soul-sucking, abusive projections onto you. Because of your place in God’s kingdom (part of His Bride), it is wrong and sinful for others to use you for such gain. Your gifts are to be used to glorify God — not to be dominated by another. What you have will never be enough to transform him, dear one. Only Jesus can do such a miracle.
So, we will walk through our lives, shining brightly for Jesus and people will want to dim our light — for the rest of our lives. But God told us this would happen. How will we handle this? How will we battle this?
I have some thoughts:
First, know that this will happen, again and again. As counterintuitive as it is, our desire to rush in and help another person may not always be the best for said person. We cannot be rescuers in that way. If I encounter someone, at my job (as a chaplain), who wants me to affirm him over and over and over, I simply will not do this — even though I know it would make him happy in the moment. Because it will take all of my energy and I will not be able to serve others adequately. He will have to go without that “encouragement” from me. It would be an easy fix for a few hours, but what he needs is Jesus to meet all of His needs — not me.
Boundaries, boundaries and more boundaries. There is absolutely a way to be kind without allowing ourselves to get pulled into an unhealthy situation that will play with our empathetic minds. If we sense a truly unhealthy person, we can give in, we can get over-involved or we can differentiate. Differentiating often means pointing a person to what can actually help him or her — Jesus, therapy . . . well . . . both.
Do not allow the put-downs. The dulling of our light. The trying-to-make-you-into-a-little-girl-so-he-can-be-your-authority-syndrome. Not acceptable. You have the Holy Spirit living in you. You have been given a sound mind. You do not need an abusive person to cause you to doubt yourself, the truth and who you are in Christ. A lot of spiritual abusers love to cut women down in order to build themselves up. As hard as it is, say something. Assert your authority, as a child of God. Here are some examples: “I do not need you to be an authority, in my life.” “I need you to stop putting me down. If you cannot, we will not be friends.” “If you would like to be a part of my life, you will need to see me as your equal.” “I believe you owe me an apology for thus-and-such.”
I could go on and on. Friends, let this be an indelible mark on your soul: You are created in the image of God, dignified as His Child and invaluable to Him. Broken people will want that peace and joy in incredibly unhealthy and abusive ways. Don’t let them have it. You have a job to do, on this earth. A call to love God and others with all your heart. You cannot spend what little breath of life we have . . . what a tiny bit of time we have trying to serve people who will use you and distract you from the goodness God has . . . from the true ministry He has for you. Be wise with your time. Be a good steward of the incredible gifts He has given you. You are growing; you are godly, and you are too precious to be snuffed out!
When our parents died, twenty years ago, we had more flowers and casseroles than we knew what to do with. Our living room looked like a combination of a 1980’s greeting card and a church pot-luck. Since there were only two of us left in the home, we carefully packed all of the casseroles into the freezer and had dinners for months, although everything tasted like cardboard laced with the sadness that only deep pain can bring. The flowers were sent to a nearby assisted living home to bless the inhabitants. There were people in and out of our home. Friends treated us gingerly, holding our hearts as fragile objects. They prayed with us. We were allowed time to be angry, to cry, to mourn and bereave for years to come. It was acceptable, after all. We had lost two family members. Our two parents. Our two anchors. We were not condemned — we were victims of a terrible, terrible accident. We were loved.
Victims of abuse or those who have lost their marriage (either still married or divorced) are not typically “allowed” these important times of mourning. For so many, their sufferings are not believed nor acknowledged. Or, they may be marked as sinful. Within our Christian culture, the deep grief of the loss of a marriage, a child or entire families, due to abusive relationships is not recognized as authentic grief. As a result, survivors carry undealt-with-grief within — often leaking out in the form of depression, anxiety or both. I have witnessed countless women and men who have not been “allowed” to grieve the death of the dream of their marriage . . . the loss of family (especially in-laws whom they came to know and love as their own) . . . the loss of estranged children (young or adult) . . . the loss of possessions, identity, homes, church families and so much more. No one brings casseroles; sympathy cards aren’t sent; no flowers come. In fact, there is more avoidance than anything else. And, if it gets REALLY rough, there is condemnation, harassment and control.
As a result of this toxic recipe of avoidance and aloneness, many women come to our ministry with deep psychological and emotional struggles because, as we all know, when one does not have the time, resources or freedom to grieve, one begins to break down in just about every way. Instead of grief and mourning and support, these brave women experience: loneliness, pain, estrangement, betrayal and so much more. In trying to deal with their normal response (involving anger and pain) over the devastation of their family, they are called bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Oh, my heart . . .
We MUST recognize the grief former targets of abuse are suffering and allow bereavement to take place.
Ideas for grieving are . . .
A ceremony. Have a ceremony that recognizes the loss that you have suffered, dear one. Whatever that is. Name it and weep over it. Light a candle and pray over it. Bring forth the dreams you once had and the hopes you have lost. Name the people who are no longer in your life whom you once loved, trusted and counted as family.
Go to grief counseling. We believe Divorce Care is great but it is not the same. It is shrouded in a little corner of the church where the “divorced people go”. If you are able, invest in books on healing and see a therapist who specializes in domestic violence.
Accept the grief and do not hide it. It is OK to tell people you are grieving right now. In fact, it is preferred. It will protect your experience. They don’t need details. Just an, “I’m grieving right now” will suffice. Say it for as long as you need to.
Embrace the ups and downs. Just like every other form of grief, it will be a rollercoaster. As new hurts come up, each one has to be acknowledged and properly grieved. You may be fine one day and then the next day fall to pieces for no apparent reason. Or, someone else betrays you and you have to deal with that now. Things come up. It is OK. Have another ceremony; have as many as you need.
Take as much time as you need. It could be years, my friend. YEARS. What you are dealing with is like a living nightmare. It is death, in a way, and then not death, in a way. It is a weird, painful limbo. The good news is that I believe Jesus knows all about this. He hung, one time, between life and death, betrayed, battered and bleeding for the entire world to see . . .
And who was there to care? His mother and John. That’s it. Witnesses to His horrific crucifixion. Where was His Father? Jesus felt He was not there. He felt forsaken; He was forsaken. Jesus now sits as a Great High Priest, saying to you and to me, “I understand. I sympathize. I hear you, daughter. I know your pain. I have lived it. You are not alone.” That is our greatest comfort. When we feel alone, betrayed, inconsolable, abandoned . . . we are not, if we know the One-who-calls-us-friend.
Let the tears flow . . . let the grief come. Write about it, paint about it, sing about it, express it in safe places with safe people. But, by all means . . . grieve it. You deserve that.
Megan Cox is the founder of Give Her Wings. She carries an MAR in Pastoral Counseling and is certified in Crisis Response with the AACC.
Abuse is oft referred to as being rooted in entitlement. I could not agree more. And we frequently speak of character disturbances, coined by George Simon, who believes that entitlement is the epidemic of our age. I agree with that, as well. We have statistics on what abuse does to the mind . . . the trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, triggers, anxiety, depression . . . it is all there and it is all very real. All kinds of abuse are especially harmful to the physical body, as well, as it causes tremendous stress, which can cause irreparable damage to the immune system (see this very scholarly article here). But, recently, a friend (who is also an advocate for those suffering from parental alienation) asked me about the damage abuse does to the soul.
I don’t know how to measure that. There are no statistics on what the heart suffers, as a result of abuse. The scars on the soul? They cannot be seen. But we all know that they are there. I have been thinking quite a lot about this lately. Here are some ponderings:
I would like to expand our definition of abuse as rooted in entitlement AND add that abuse is an assault to the dignity of a person as a human being created in the image of God. It is an attempt to remove that dignity and damage the soul. And the overwhelming anguish of such treatment threatens to break the soul into minute pieces — the very core of our being threatens to come undone.
Dr. Donna Hicks, credited with her insightful work in the field of human dignity, describes ten essential elements of dignity in her book simply entitled Dignity:
Acceptance of Identity
Benefit of the Doubt
I can say, without a doubt, that victims of abuse are neglected in every single one of these basic human-soul-needs. Further, violations of victims’ dignity are perpetual and, over time, reduce what is left of the healthy and thriving soul to something very, very diminutive. What I am trying to convey is that abuse attempts to take a person and make her a non-person. Abusers treat victims as though they are not actually people. We know this. But, that right there is the tremendous damage done to the soul. At the heart of abuse, it is a stripping of a person’s dignity as a human.
Someone recently asked me this: What is the worst thing you could say to a person? Without blinking, I said, “The worst thing you can say to someone would be to express apathy and/or invalidation for their existence. Something like, ‘Your words mean nothing; you do not have your own thoughts; you are nothing.'” This idea is deep hatred . . . the opposite of love. It is purposeful unresponsiveness when a person has a clear need. It is abuse.
We all need love, acceptance and safety. To deny a person any of those things, with malevolence, is just . . . its own kind of evil. And breaks a person down in their core — in their souls.
So, what do we do about this?
All of us, at Give Her Wings, strive to help a woman realize her dignity. Because here’s the good news: Dignity can be wounded, but it cannot be removed. We all have inherent dignity that was placed in the core of our being when God breathed the very first breath of life (soul) into our persons. No one . . . nothing can EVER take that away.
Further, we come from a long line of humans created by God and loved by Him. We are part of a legacy. We are connected. We are worthy. No one can take that away, either.
But, sometimes, dignity has been so masked that it takes a lot of effort to find it again. When people sustain an injury to their self-worth (for long periods), the cure is time with people who know how to treat them in a dignified way. Time, sensitivity, kindness, attention and listening may be the best tools to help victims of abuse. We honor their stories and hold them dear. We remind them, as often as possible, how precious they are to God and to us. We listen to their (very good) ideas. We include them. We try to foster independence. I could go on and on . . .
I do not know how to measure the stress, strain and damage done to the soul due to abuse . . . but I know it is massive. I remember all too well. But, here is our hope:
The body can be broken . . . the damage is done. And many of our mamas face debilitating physical pain and losses due to the abuse they have suffered.
The heart can be broken . . . how does one ever trust again? Be intimate with others? The mind can be broken . . . many are on medications for anxiety and depression, due to trauma, and may not ever be relieved of it completely.
But the soul . . . the soul that belongs to Jesus will never, ever be crushed. Pressed down, yes. Shaken, yes. Hit hard, yes. But the dignity that God has given us, as sealed children of His, as marked by our Maker and created in His image will NEVER be taken away. And that’s a fact. It is inherent, indestructible and undeniable.
A person is a person through another person. My humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. We can only be human together. ~ Archbishop Tutu
In the end, we belong to Jesus. That is that and no one and nothing can separate us from His love (see Romans chapter 8). As hurtful as it is that others wound our dignity, our dignity is wrapped up in our soul, which is wrapped up in God’s love and held safely and firmly in His hand. For this . . . above all else, we can be thankful.
You have harmed my body; you have broken my heart; you have done all you can to break my spirit — but you will not destroy my dignity. You cannot. You will not. You never will.
When I first went for therapy a few years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depression, General Anxiety Disorder and PTSD. Whew! That was rough. And I am open . . . people know my story and I am at peace with that. So, I’m fine with sharing. I was overwhelmed with the diagnoses that I had lived with for decades. I spent so much time trying to hold things together in the midst of abuse, pain, babies and stress and it was now (finally) time for my healing. And heal, I did. After much time spent with a few gifted therapists, my depression and anxiety subsided to the point that my only diagnosis, now, is PTSD. It is manageable, most of the time. It will just be something I will have to sustain for the rest of my life (without a divine intervention) and I can handle that. I have a toolbox now. And I can honestly say, at this point, that I am grateful for this thorn. I am grateful because it keeps me connected to those who suffer and I can better minister, if and when God calls me to do so. I haven’t forgotten the very real plight of victims; I still remember the overwhelming chaos of caring for children while trying to fight against my own pain.
With all that being said, here is a letter to those who struggle with anxiety. I have prayed over this. Because I fully grasp my own suffering, I want others to know that there is hope. I am writing it as I would to my own child, only because that is how God sees us — as His own beloved and precious children. Good mamas and daddies know this love but we forget to apply it to ourselves.
So here you are, precious warriors:
When I watch you, throughout the day . . . throughout the seemingly-mundane tasks you must carry out . . . my heart is aching for you. It pains me to see the sometimes angry, sometimes pain-filled, sometimes overwhelmed bursts of tears that come and go. I watch you trying to hold them back for the sake of those around you and to avoid embarrassment. I reach out to touch them, to wipe them away. My hand moves toward your face and my deep love for you is fathomless. I never forget my deep love for you, as a human would. You are my pride and joy. The fullness of all of my love has been laid upon you for all of your life. I see the anxiety you are suffering, now, and I long to heal it. But, I can see through all of it and see you on the other side of suffering, as well. I know that this will change, that it will get better. I know you must go through it. I know you are developing into the bright, shiny star that I created when I formed every tiny atom of you in your mother’s womb. I see the end of this story — and it is beautiful.
Right now, your mind is overburdened. Wires cross as you are triggered. It is all too much. I know that, child. I know that. It can feel like your very life is in danger, even when you know, in your mind, that it is not. It feels out of control. When that happens, I am with you. I just want you to know that I am here . . . You probably don’t really “feel” me, right now. But that does not change the fact that I am intimately aware of every detail of your beautiful life. Of your story. And I care . . . I care so so much.
The ugliness told you about yourself was not true. The pain inflicted on you to try to somehow convince you of your worthlessness cannot and will not prevail. I am WITH YOU — God with you. I was with you in the ugly. I was with you when he hurt you. When she hurt you. When they hurt you. And I was not pleased. It hurt Me. When people hurt you, they are hurting Me because I am your Abba Father. You were never alone and you are not alone now. I am there, in the midst of your suffering; I am there, in your tears; I am there in the betrayal and the confusion. The world does not make sense to you and I understand that. Even when I walked on this earth, in human form, the fully man part of me could not grasp how anyone could betray Me when I loved them so much. I have been there, daughter. It is devastating.
There will be a day when these things are made clear. When you will have clarity and see the entire picture with Me. But, for now, I ask you to trust Me. Because you cannot see it all, yet, and there is so much grace for that. It is OK to not understand it all. I want to be the One you know you are safe with. When it feels like it is too much, try to breathe in my presence. I am your Friend and I am at hand . . . but I am also YHWH . . . the unspeakable, all-powerful Judge and Creator of the universe. Your life is in my hands . . . your eternity is in my hands and no one and nothing can change that.
In those moments where your head hurts and you are drowning, let My love — like a warm blanket — encapsulate you. Take one quick moment to know that I am God. Be still.
In those moments where the anger of what you have been through threatens to take over, cry out to Me. I am waiting and watching . . . just waiting to hear from My girl. My boy. My child. Just hoping that you will reach out to me so I can comfort you with Truth: You are mine, you are redeemed, you are beautiful, you are going to get through this, trust in Me . . .
Listen . . . those who have ears to hear: I love you. I love you and I love you and I love you. Let me quiet your mind for just one minute. Let my peace wash over you. The world tells you that peace is when everything is going your way. My peace is not like that. My peace says that I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. That day will come and you will have been with Me the entire time, taking my light yoke.
Your story is not over, my darling, my treasure. Stay with me, under My wing. There is so much more I want to share with you . . . so much more I want to say. But, for now, just rest, knowing that your future and the entire world is under my sovereign control. You are not lost, my little lamb. You are found.
The term triangulation is most commonly used to express a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, which can lead to the third family member becoming part of the triangle. The concept originated in the study of dysfunctional family systems, but can describe behaviors in other systems as well, including work.
Lights blog writes this:
When functional people have something to say, they say it to you. When dysfunctional people have something to say, they may tell someone else instead. (Lights blog no longer has this article published but I would like to still give credit. It was entitled “Psychological Triangulation”)
We believers would probably classify gossip in the category of Psychological Triangulation. But, there is also more to it. Those who practice triangulation also add manipulation to the pot. If I send one email to Johnny that plants a seed of serious doubt about Sally’s ethics (or something — I am just making this up) . . . then, I send a similar letter to Sally about Johnny’s ethics . . . I have just triangulated. I have, possibly, isolated them from each other. I have rather put myself in charge. At best, I have made myself an authority and dragged others into a game of sorts. At worst, I have managed to isolate both parties from each other, while still holding the power.
This paragraph in Lights blog is highly revealing:
Ill-intentioned triangulation comes from a toxic person who is manipulating. It serves this triangulator best to have others involved in their toxic drama games. In these cases, the triangulation is little more than a tool used to drag the most people possible into the toxic swirl of their schemes as possible. Telling third (and fourth, and fifth) parties brings them more power or more gratification than it does to work toward the resolution of any issues.
How many of us have experienced this?? After I left my abuser, I was getting letters from people I have not heard from in 15 years because abusers were just so very busy in pulling others into their drama games. Do they ever rest? I do not know. I imagine that those who are addicted to drama just move on to something else, eventually. Not one time did I receive a letter showing any amount of love or concern for our welfare (when we left my ex) from the very people who swarmed and buzzed around me, contacting every single person they could find in my circles except me. And, I know that I used to do this, as well, because this was how my family functioned (or dysfunctioned, rather). It was not until God set me free from these methods that I began to see how manipulative it all was. Afraid to speak up or speak out. I must say that it is not easy to break these habits and be direct — but I will also say that it can be done with effort and by the grace of God.
That being said, not all triangulation is bad. Sometimes, it is just life. I used to communicate with David about our (then) five year old because she was only five. She could not really make many decisions about her little life so David and I did isolate her, to a degree. This type of triangulation is healthy and fades as children get older. Sometimes, it is forced upon us. Divorced parents do not always communicate with each other so the children are isolated from unified parents. This is not always a bad thing . . . it is just something that is and has to be for the safety of the children.
However, abusers use triangulation to isolate and stay in control. They need to just stop it. Because of all we went through, when approached by someone who wants to gossip . . . or someone who wants me to somehow relay a message to my husband (who is a pastor), I just say, “Well, you’re talking to the wrong person!” or “I really can’t help you. You will have to approach so and so.” Our children know better, as well. They simply do not take part in triangulation or gossip.
How do we heal from the triangulation suffered at the hands of those who aim to hurt us (whether subconsciously or purposefully)? I love Shahida Arabi’s comprehensive article on healing from this particular type of abuse. She mentions three very important tactics when pulling away from triangulation (shown in quotes):
“Know that you are irreplaceable and know exactly why.” Abusers often want their victims to believe that they can have “another you in a minute” (yes, I just sang the Beyoncé song as I typed that. Sorry not sorry). Friends, we know better than this. Do you know better than this? Do you know that you are created and crafted by a Creator God who loves you more than you can imagine? Do you know that He was smiling as He designed you? Do you know how precious you are to Him? You are irreplaceable. If you were replaceable, He would have replaced you. Instead, He died for you.
“Eradicate subconscious wounding that says you’re not enough and cultivate new seeds of self-worth. “ Yes, I know. Easier said than done. This takes time. Arabi says, “Childhood is where many survivors first learn to dim their own light.” This is heart-breaking. There is nothing like growing up feeling like you don’t belong and are not worth anything and then marrying someone to seal the deal. But, I promise you . . . this can be undone. Truth can be learned. Good, solid hermeneutics can change these lies. Find a way to do this. The hard work is worth it.
“Minimize unnecessary comparisons and reprogram negative self-talk.” A wise woman once said to me, “Comparison is odious”. Oh, how true. Release such a negative self-focus and realize that you are a gem. A true, beautiful princess created by a God who loves you. Who redeemed you permanently. Own that. Again, find a way to do this. And then give that worth to others. Let those waters of life flow freely through you.
All of this is work — I know. Please know that I know this. I have spent the past seven years realizing my worth, in Christ, and I have had to be proactive almost every day, in realizing this. And yet, with each step I take, Jesus pours more grace on my efforts. Like a cleansing, fulfilling, splashy, refreshing and beautiful drink of water. I sense His pride in my baby steps, and His pleasure. I revel in His pleasure over this. I know that I am His and He loves me. Despite any triangulation, gossip, rumors or pain that have been inflicted on me. And despite any I have afflicted on others.
I believe that the damage done by triangulation is why Jesus spoke so definitively on approaching people face to face, rather than the round-about-way (Matthew 18). We go to people — face to face. We look them in the eye and then, in compassion, we speak. And why do we speak? Not because we want to prove others wrong . . . but because we have the best interest at heart of the listener. In fact, we have their ear because they know that we love them.It has been proved over and over. We have earned that right. Otherwise, we need to keep our mouths shut.
Question: What is the likelihood of a narcissistic abuser making an about face? My divorce has been finalized and my ex husband was diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and narcissism. I mean, do you know of any cases where the abuser has truly repented and the relationship was truly restored? I’ve had several friends tell me they are praying that God will change his heart. That’s been my prayer for YEARS until it became too dangerous. Recently I heard of a marriage being restored after infidelity, but when it comes to abuse- verbal, emotional, sexual, and physical, how can one be sure of a true heart change? I know nothing is impossible with God, but I was wondering if in your experience you have seen that?
Answer: I remember asking myself and others this question so many times about several people, in my life, years ago. The reason we hope and pray is because we have heard incredible restoration stories (especially on popular marriage blogs) and because we WANT our marriages to work. For a lot of us, we were raised to believe that divorce is not an option. That further exacerbates our frustration, and even that belief can be used against us. We feel like we have failed because we cannot hold our marriage together. And our strength begins to wane because living with someone who is diagnosed with these disorders can be hell. You never know what to expect; you are always being drained; you are running on empty; you are walking on eggshells. No one can sustain a lifetime of this. I want you to know, friend, that we do not judge you. You did the only thing you COULD do, for your safety and sanity. And we honor that.
The thing is . . . abusers live as abusers. David and I (my wonderful husband) have hurt each other, now and then, as all married couples do. It causes us to ache, feel disconnected and pretty much ruins our day. We do not go long before asking forgiveness and feeling that closeness again because we love each other. Abusers hurt constantly and all the time. In fact, their aim and their goal is to “keep you on your heels”. They remain in a posture of hatred and abuse toward their targets. You know the routine; you’ve seen the patterns, abuse wheels and so on. They live in that place and it does not ruin their day. There is a difference between the occasional selfishness of all human-kind and the perpetual, intentional lifestyle of the abuser.
I will address both personality disorders below.
First, Borderline Personality Disorder (a cluster-B disorder) is hard on everyone — the disordered AND their families. Black and white thinking, crazy-making, angry outbursts, violence, yelling and confusion seem to reign. Personally, I believe that BPD can be overcome. I firmly believe that going through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can help those who suffer with this disorder. In my humble opinion, there is little else that CAN help. The hard truth is that those with BPD usually do not see the need for help. They blame everyone around them for their pain and are not normally self-aware enough to realize that they are the problem — or, that they are contributing to the issues around them. I have exactly one friend who used to suffer from BPD and went through DBT and she is amazing. But, of all the people I hear about or know who are diagnosed with this disorder, very few get the help they need and they wreak havoc on those around them for decades.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder(also a Cluster-B disorder) is related to BPD but is still a different beast. This disorder is marked by grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration beyond everyone’s normal need for esteem. Yoked together with BPD is a recipe for emotional and mental calamity. Many abusers fall in one of two categories: they are either NPD or they are Sociopaths. Both of these character disorders are near-impossible to cure. My limited understanding (I am not a licensed therapist) is that psychodynamic therapy would be needed for an NPD to recover. This is a lengthy and expensive process and, once again, most NPD’s do not even want therapy. They are just fine how they are (in their opinions) and are so entitled that they will take down anyone in their path before admitting they have a problem.
Most abusers have one or both of the above disorders and may be Sociopaths, as well. EVERYONE with these disorders will be surrounded by (and will perpetuate) unhealth. People are there to be used. Period. Indeed, people are not even seen as humans to most abusers but as something from which to draw supply. Having a love-filled, honest, vulnerable, mutual and beautiful marriage is literally impossible with someone with either or both of these disorders.
Being the bearer of bad news is a terrible thing. And I hate having to admit that I have never seen, in my own life, an abuser change. But, if anyone does not believe me, I would hope they would believe Lundy Bancroft, who has spent decades counseling abusive men. He has very few (if any?) success stories. His reason? Because they like how they are. They want to stay how they are. They are feeding that selfish little beast inside of them by using everyone around them and they do not want to give that up!
For an abuser to make lasting changes, he has to work on himself very hard, and he has to completely stop blaming women for his behavior. He has to stay in an abuser program far longer than the minimum time that the program lasts; something more like 18-24 months, not 3-6 months. And it’s very hard to get an abuser to stay in a program that long, because deep down he blames his partners, current and past, for everything he does.
Don’t let too much of your life slip away, hoping that he’ll change. Over the past three decades I’ve heard a hundred or more women say, “I wish I could get back all those years I lost trying to get him to work on himself.” But I’ve never once yet heard a woman say, “I gave up on my abusive partner too soon. I wish I’d given him more of a chance.” ~ Lundy Bancroft
So, from my understanding, readings, education and counseling, an abuser never changes, with one caveat: Jesus can do anything. And a caveat to that caveat is this: an abuser can only change if he wants Jesus to change Him. We who know Jesus have His power in us. But, we don’t have the power to change anyone else around us. Only they have the God-given free will to want that change to happen. It would take a miracle. And then, common sense and the orderliness of this life and world would dictate that it would take several years of hard work for an abuser to become a different person. By then, so much damage to wives and children can happen . . . and worse than that, as we have all seen the horror stories on television and social media describing the death or near-death of victims of abuse.
I have known of many women who have gone back to abuse, only to leave again later, under, heightened and worse circumstances. I wish that were not the case. I know the feeling of grasping to try and find one ounce of compassion and kindness in a man . . . to hope that one thing could come out of his mouth that is not manipulative. It was like constantly digging around in an empty bucket, hoping to come up with something substantial and having your expectations dashed, every time, as you only drew air. Is there simply nothing there?!
These truths are what CS Lewis might call “a severe mercy”. They are severe because they bring a flood of tears. They are merciful because once we realize that our circumstances will not change (IF we realize that), we can make plans and move forward without the toxicity. Remember, Jesus masterfully either avoided or confronted toxicity during His days on this earth, depending on the situation. He did not try to live with toxicity or convince people to change, as His was on an urgent mission and He knew His days on earth were short. We have that same urgency . . . to raise our children in godliness to the best of our ability. We have so few years with them at home. In a blink of an eye, they are grown. Will we stay, in hopes of our abuser changing? Or will we get the children to safety and sanity, get them counseling and teach them that our Loving God is not like an abuser? What makes more sense?
That is your choice, dear reader, and we would never infringe anything upon you or judge you for leaving or staying. But, it is very important to be educated on these things and to be SAFE. My heart aches for the beautiful woman who sent us this question because she still wants her marriage to work or come together. And I get that. She still hopes. And that is beautiful. My advice to her is this: Hope is good . . . but check on what you are hoping for. Are you hoping for a restored marriage? Is that possible? Or are you hoping for health for the father of your children, in the near future? Is that possible? If these things seem to be impossible dreams, than hope that he eventually learns truth and beauty. Hope that you and the children can move forward into health. Hope that he will get the therapy he needs. Hope that you can break any trauma bonds. Hope that you all become beauty from the ashes. Hope for laughter and joy, in the near future. Hope in Jesus. Close the door on what needs to be closed, in your life, and open any doors to new opportunities to grow into the woman God desires you to be. That is my prayer for you today.
Megan is President of Give Her Wings, Inc., and is a Pastoral Counselor (MAR), certified in Crisis Response with the AACC.
Sometimes I wonder if, when people think of my past (which I am not self-centered enough to believe that people are sitting around thinking about my past!), if they think if I was over-reacting when I left my ex husband. Or over-sensitive (that’s the kind of stuff my ex would say when he would kill my soul with his words). The people who were hurting me, once I left (for their own personal reasons or because they believed I was sinning by leaving my husband), may not have been aware of the other people, in my world, who were hurting me at the same time. It was kind of a group effort, unawares. It rather looked like this:
(by the way, you would never know I am an artist . . . or that I can spell)
Several years ago, my sweet uncle was in town and wanted to visit with me. Everything in me froze. My PTSD was completely out of control back then (pre-therapy) and I simply could not. I have not seen my family in many years. A few years ago, we attended church and the music minister was a robust, large man who was very dominating, by nature. I played the keys for him a few times and then I simply could not. When my husband worked at a church, a few years back, where people talked and gossiped and I was in the fish bowl of Pastor’s-wife-ville, I shut down. I could not talk to people. I just could not. There had never been a force, in my life, so strong, so paralyzing, so threatening, so fight-flight-freeze, so powerful, as the fear that accompanied my PTSD.
While trudging through the hard work of therapy and EMDR, we discovered that the PTSD most-likely began when my parents died but morphed into a C-PTSD from the day-to-day emotional, mental and spiritual abuse in my first marriage. What finally tipped the scales, though, was the post-separation abuse that came from leaving my ex husband. See, it was not just one person. It was not even just one church. It was not even just one family. It was the combination of all of those and more. And, as a result, everyone became dangerous. I felt like everyone would betray me. I lived, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was scared . . . so, so scared. I just kept proverbially gripping my children, trying to protect, trying to provide, trying to survive while having finger after finger pointing at me — in Jesus’ name. That does something to a person. I know what it is to be desperate; to do things you would not otherwise do; to fight and fight hard; to accept cans of food; to shop at Goodwill because you actually have to; to sit on the cold floor with your kids and teach them Bible stories on Sunday morning because you are afraid to face God’s people for the hurt they inflicted on you and your family. This should not EVER be so.
Our response to the broken people in the world is to look at those who are enduring it, and we’re saying to them ‘all you have to do . . . if you had just . . . this is partially your fault . . . ‘, instead of sitting with them in the midst of their discontent and hurt and brokenness and loving your neighbor in the manner that you would like to be loved . . . how many of you would allow yourselves to starve to death? How many of you would allow yourself to be homeless? How many of you would allow yourself to endure injustice? Loving your neighbor as yourself presents an ethical imperative for you. — Pastor Brandon Washington, ENGAGE Justice
What are we doing, friends? Church, what in the world? Families? Where are you? Who do we think we are? Is the pride so tremendous, so all-consuming that church people believe that they can play with the lives of those who are hurting? Do you (church people) think that you are exercising “tough love” by accusing? Or by putting your ideas of doctrine above the well-being of the hurting and accuse, belittle, “discipline”, shun and more? Do you, Church, believe that Jesus is proud of this? That He has somehow put His stamp of approval on it? If you believe that, then you do not know Him.
The God-became-man of the Gospels went looking for the very man who was thrown out of the religious group (John 9). Jesus stayed at the home of the one of the most hated men in the city (Luke 19); he crossed a thousand boundaries to give women their dignity (John 4; Mark 14, Luke 8); He came down HARD on the religious leaders who “stuck to the law” (Pharisees) (all throughout the Gospels).
I have healed, tremendously, over the past several years, thanks to really great and knowledgeable counseling, my own Masters’ studies in counseling, a TON of research and a lot of help. In fact, emotion-regulation has become my best friend. I worked hard to master it. My husband’s love, the love from my children and God’s love have carried me through this journey. I “should” have given up my faith altogether, considering what I went through. But, God gripped me. And I was not willing to allow anyone to take one more thing from me. I dug deep, studied original languages in the Bible, re-thought, re-framed and asked God to help me to understand Him deeply. What I see, in the Law, is protection and provision for the vulnerable — not “allowances”. And my faith is stronger than ever.
However, almost every day, I hear about or read about another woman whose decisions are not respected by the Church. Or about a church shunning her or exercising church discipline on her because she chose to do the the bravest thing, in the world, and leave her abusive husband to save herself and her children. When will it end? I know . . . it would take tremendous compassion and a whole lot of repentance (possibly even church-wide or family-wide) for these things to change. And that seems impossible to me. Admitting that you are wrong is hard. I get it. It must seem like there is so much to lose. But consider, what are you protecting? Do you think Jesus needs you to be the “keeper of the law” at the expense of the hurting? Do you think you are saving these women? Because you are not. Many of them leave church and never, ever go back. Or, they lose their families for good. Or (the very worst), they give up on Jesus. Do you think you are upholding the integrity of the Word of God? Ok, REALLY. Does God need YOU to do that or do you think He can handle that all on His own?
Where are the books you are reading on abuse? Do you know that a man will “repent” over and over so he can then garner the church’s support and continue to abuse his wife and further isolate her? Are you prepared to hold this man accountable for the long-haul it will take for him to get the YEARS of counseling he would need? Do you know how easy it is to re-victimize a woman who has been living in abuse for years? Do you know the percentage of abusive men who stop abusing? What research have you done?
It hurts us to know that our ministry at Give Her Wings is still sorely needed because so many churches won’t get it together and just love people. It is ultra-frustrating and painful to watch these ladies suffer and to tell them that Jesus loves them when you all have shown them the opposite. And yet we press on. We say things like, “I know what they said but they are wrong . . . your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. No one can take that from you, beautiful child of God.” Oh, my heart.
When will it end? When will eyes be opened? When will you just love? Repent of the un-love. Repent of the lack of compassion and of the pride. And then . . . Just love them. Please, just love them.
We are absolutely thrilled to be joining Leslie Vernick for an incredible opportunity to raise money for Give Her Wings! This Fall, Leslie Vernick is offering her INCREDIBLE Conquer Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska, October 12-13. We are so honored and blessed that she has decided to offer VIP tickets to this worthwhile gathering, involving keynote speakers Leslie Vernick and Sherri Keffer. Nicole Nordeman will also be there as the main worship leader for the event! Further, our own Megan Cox will be giving a special workshop on Safety Planning!
The special VIP will support Give Her Wings! After you purchased your ticket to the Conquer Conference you will have the option to upgrade your ticket to VIP.
The entire $500 will be donated to Give Her Wings, our non-profit organization that helps women secure housing and pay bills when leaving an abusive marriage.
Your VIP ticket will also give you the following bonuses:
A sterling silver bangle bracelet with the words “Be Brave Grow Strong” hand stamped on it (designed by Lisa Leonard)
A catered box lunch on Saturday during the conference, where you can meet and greet the speakers and ask questions.
Special seating, close to the front for all sessions.
A package of signed books and a CD from all main conference speakers.
Have you ever been knocked down or felt overwhelmed with life? Betrayed, abused or thrown away by someone you thought loved you?
Or just felt too small or too scared to
boldly and freely live your life?
YOU are not alone. And,… you can’t grow into the strong godly woman God made you to be alone. God hardwired you to thrive with connection and grow in community.
At CONQUER 2018 you WILL hear stories from other women who became brave and strong through the most difficult situations. You will gain tools and be given specific strategies to move past your fears and become your best self.
If you’re ready to stop living scared and to start living brave and growing strong, then come gather with other like-minded women October 12-13 for the 2018 CONQUER conference.
Click here to purchase a ticket and then upgrade to the VIP ticket to support Give Her Wings. This is so important, friends! Due to Leslie’s generosity in supporting our ministry, we have the opportunity to help COUNTLESS women who are in need of support after leaving an abusive marriage. So, sign up quickly, as it is already starting to fill up! And be deeply encouraged this fall by attending the Conquer Conference: Be Brave, Grow Strong!
“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, The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships
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.