After stumbling across yet another piece of alarmingly dangerous advice for abused women of faith titled, Surviving Emotional Abuse Six Steps, by 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.”
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.