Why Churches Can’t Help Women Who Have Been Abused

OK . . . Not all churches. But so so so so many. Our church, where David pastors, is amazing with our precious mamas. But we hear, over and over and over and over (big breath) and over and over about churches that re-traumatize victims on a regular basis. And yet these precious former victims keep trying. They keep going back. Why? Because Church should be a place of healing. It should be the haven where we find respite after the storm. It should be. And we want it to be.

There are many reasons why church is (sadly) the last place a victim of abuse finds healing. Women who have been traumatized by abuse and whose husbands consider themselves to be believers in Christ, have most likely been abused spiritually, meaning that Scripture has been used against them to keep them oppressed. (I have mentioned, often, that I consider spiritual abuse to be the most wicked perversion of our Heavenly Father and a perversion that He does not take lightly.) Furthermore, in my experience, most women who have left an abusive relationship and sought healing, find that their core families of origin are dysfunctional, at best, and abusive, at worst. Many of these women have been objectified and de-personalized. She was not seen as a person, growing up, but as something to use to prop up an adult, older sibling or any combination, thereof. Then, she married someone who only wished to dominate her. These precious ladies were not seen as the amazing persons that they are. In short, they have been subjugated. And they are over being subjugated.

One mistake a trauma therapist could easily make is continuing to allow her to feel subjugated. She might believe that subjugating herself is the only way for her to be “loved”. This leads her to trying to please men by being a  “trite assistant”, a term I like to use for ladies who are still stuck in man-pleasing. They always offer to do little tasks, watching to see his pleasure in her. (this makes me want to weep) Writes Daniel Shaw, in his academic work, “Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation”,

The trauma of unrecognition could lead one to desperately seek connection through subjugation, and self-objectification. Loc. 518

Further, he writes:

A relationship in which one member is expected to change and grow, and the other considers himself exempt from those processes, is a relationship in which the one expected to change is being subjugated, to one degree or another, by the one claiming exemption. Loc. 1198

This means that, if you have a therapist who seems to “know it all”, has swallowed some sort of a magic pill and has arrived and resides in pristine and perfect emotional health, you do not have a good therapist.

But, that is not my main point. My main point is that women who have been victims of abuse and are believers in Christ are seeking and searching for healing. So, where do they go? To church. And they are told that women are to be submissive and that women cannot be in leadership positions and that women need to subject themselves to the authority of church leaders. Re-traumatization, at its finest. So, what do these precious daughters of the King do? Run away. And I don’t blame them. Not one bit. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. 

This just won’t do, Church. It won’t do because it is bad theology, in many many respects. But, it also won’t do because these ladies need healing and, instead of finding compassion, they find re-victimization. And they are afraid to challenge anything because . . . well, where has that ever gotten them, in the past?

So, what is the answer? Mutuality. Being honest. Not acting like a guru to these ladies. Acknowledging fallibility on all of our parts.  Not being frustrated when she struggles. Being a safe place where she can say the difficult things that need to be said. These reparative strategies (and, let’s be honest, just being real) can instill hope. I don’t know how many times I have heard something like, “Megan, it is so wonderful to hear that you still struggle with thus and such. You’ve come such a long way. You make me feel like I can get there, too.” We need to create a culture where people can be human. So, super-beautiful in their humanity. A place of healing. A place of recognition.

I recognize you, beautiful daughter of the King, as a person. A person created in the image of God. A person who was knit together in her mother’s womb. A person who has gifts and talents that are unique to you; a person who has a personality and character that is like no one else, in this world. We are not here to use you or to make you subject to us. You are on equal footing with everyone else here — a firstborn in Christ, privy to all of the gifts and inheritance of a firstborn child. You are valuable and you will receive love here . . . not because of what you do, but simply because you ARE. 

THAT is where we should be . . . . where I wish we could be. A haven; a home. If Jesus collects our tears in a bottle, should her tears not be precious to us? If Jesus is going to wipe every tear from our eyes, why would we not do the same for our sisters? Lord, make us this. Please.




3 Replies to “Why Churches Can’t Help Women Who Have Been Abused”

  1. I was told by the church where I attended when the narcissist I was married to died, that the projections would not have hit me if I had my shield of faith on (ie…it was my fault)… I told the pastor he had no idea what it was like to have been married to an NPD for 27 years and what it does to someone, esp when the NPD person is dying and doesn’t want anyone left who would believe me. (About a whole big range of stuff). As a widow I had to walk away from the church we had attended. But, God told me where I could go to church. But, I was all alone in a new church as a new widow. Knowing no one, making no new connections, going to church all alone. This came at a time when 2 of 4 kids had just left the home, one had been gone awhile, 1 was still here and connected to the old church. I was astonished that pastor had the gall to speak down to me and tell me it was my ‘fault’ and offer no assistance to me as a widow. I have had lots of counseling and have finally accomplished getting my house on the market. I am okay financially and am moving to a happier place.

  2. It took me years to finally get to the point where I could approach a counselor to discuss my marriage. After hearing my story he goes on to make two inappropriate suggestive comments and that was the end of the session. When I got up the courage, months later, to see if I could switch to a female counselor the assistant pastor was very cut and dry and said no that I would have to stay with the one I started with, who happened to be the head of their counseling ministry. During a marriage conference I spoke to the speaker and his response was for me to get in touch with the women who are successfully making their marriages work because they have decided to live submit to God and live with meek and gentle spirits in the hopes of winning their husbands over. Those verses are directed to a Christian woman with an unsaved husband. The church doesn’t deal with the sins of the Christian husbands as they should. To instruct a woman to “try harder/do more/pray more/ be more loving/patient etc. is unbiblical as it gives the impression that because we fall short in these areas we have created the toxic environment we are in. I was counseled to be more thankful and things would improve. It also implies that if I do enough right things I can control my husband’s behavior, which again is unbiblical. Christ showed the full extent of his love to Judas and Judas still had to choose (free will) to accept that love and be changed or reject it and crawl further into his selfishness, and he chose to betray the strongest display of love you could ever experience. So, it isn’t about a wife doing more, it is a matter of the heart and is between the man and God. I have unsuccessfully sought help and counsel from the church. If a Christian woman can’t find hope and help from the church the world sure won’t find it there. It is indeed a great offense to the image of Christ.

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