A lady tells her pastor’s wife Lauren, “I wish I could talk to you about problems that I’m having in my marriage but I don’t think you’d understand. Your marriage is so perfect and your husband is so gentle.” Lauren says something about how the Bible has all the answers.

However… deep in her subconscious, something made Lauren feel like screaming, but she squelched it with, “Every marriage has some problems.”

Horrifyingly, the hidden facts about Lauren’s “perfect marriage” is that her pastor-husband intimidates, belittles, insults, and orders her around just to control her and test her submission. He uses physical restraining, pushing, following her, locking her in the same room for hours while he rants on accusing her of false motives and actions, rapes her, and even threatens her with a loaded gun. That, along with child abuse atrocities, has gone on for 34 years…

What?! Can’t she see he’s abusing her?!

Denial is the God-given ability to avoid feeling psychological pain—a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real. The abused wife is in denial.

A lie would make no sense unless the truth were felt to be dangerous.

–Alfred Adler

She may lie when her child, her parents, his boss, or someone at church asks about a situation to save face or avoid his consequences or protect her family’s reputation. She may blame others, including herself. She may minimise the seriousness, rationalise, or ignore the abuse. She honestly thinks that suffering is what God asks her to do. Michael and Debi Pearl teach this, as well as Bill Gothard.

This denial morphs into delusion, crossing the line in the abused’s ability to see what is happening to her. Her heart denies what she sees, how she feels, how weary she is, and all that her children endure. She is “exchanging the truth for a lie” (Romans 1:25).

Delusion is the most significant factor in keeping an abuse victim in her situation; or in even acknowledging that she is being abused. InFocus has several posts explaining this phenomenon further in the series Why the Abused Stay.

Here is part of Cindy’s story:

There were several things I was able to do for my children to help them get from that place of brokenness to a place of emotional health and stability.

First: I had to admit to the harm…

Our tendency is to overlook, minimize or blatantly deny the abuse. We rationalize . . . We remind our children that their father really loves them or we attempt to diminish their anguish by using pathetic excuses like, He doesn’t mean it,” or He’s just going through a hard time right now.” What we are really saying is that our children’s feelings are not as important as their father’s right to treat them badly.

Once we finally break out and acknowledge to ourselves the depth of the harm that has been done, it is vital to affirm the truth to our kids.

She believes the main reason a victim stays is, “She believes tomorrow will be different.” She has an undying hope that her magical moment is imminent when her relationship and her life will be restored and if not today, then tomorrow… not realizing that there is, in fact, a chasm of extraordinary proportions that separates her from her imagined destination. Surely, the slightest change in her manner, his nature, or their circumstances will bring an end to this season, and these dark days will be remembered no more. It is only a matter of time.

She is in denial.

Stockholm syndrome

Stockholm syndrome was given its name following a hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden when hostages identified with and supported their bank robber captors.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph Carver describes emotionally bonding with an abuser as a subconscious and involuntary survival strategy for victims in a threatening and controlling environment.

Stages of progression:

  • The victim dissociates from her pain, helplessness, or terror by subconsciously beginning to see the situation/world from the abuser’s perspective… aspects of her own personality, opinions, and views will fade into the background.
  • The victim learns how to appease and please the abuser, which may keep her from being hurt or worse. Similarly this tactic can be used to manipulate the abuser into being less dangerous.
  • After a while the victim realises that her abuser portrays the same human characteristics as anyone else… begins to see the abuser as less of a threat. Some abusers may even share personal information in an effort to bond with the victim and to promote pity rather than anger.
  • This bonding, in turn, leads to conflicting feelings (e.g. rage and pity) and illogical concern for the abuser. The victim may even ignore his or her own needs.

Four conditions that serve as a foundation for the development of Stockholm Syndrome:

  • Belief that the abuser will carry out his threats.
  • Small kindnesses. Allowing a bathroom visit, providing food/water or a gift (usually after a period of abuse) are enough to alter the victim’s perception of the abuser. She will “mistake a lack of abuse from her captors for an act of kindness.”
  • Isolation from other perspectives; the sense of always being watched. The survival technique of taking on his perspective can become so intense that the victim develops anger toward those trying to help. In severe cases, she feels the abusive situation is her fault.
  • Perceived or real inability to escape from the situation; cannot survive on her own; the abuser’s threats will happen.

Her paradigm of what is normal is far removed from actual normal. It’s delusion.

What if I suspect that someone I know is abused?

How can we know what goes on behind closed doors? Truth is, there are some telltale signs of abuse/violence and they should be taken very seriously.

The NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence stresses that if you suspect that someone you know is being abused, ask. In private.

If you’re hesitating, telling yourself that it’s none of your business or you might be wrong or the person might not want to talk about it, keep in mind that expressing your concern will let her know that you care and may even save her life. I can’t stress how important it is to read the NYS article about how to do it right before you approach her.

How can I help if she can’t acknowledge her abuse?

  • The victim fears adverse consequences, so don’t pressure her. Pray.
  • Remain in contact including phone calls, letters, cards, emails, etc., especially at holidays. But keep it brief.
  • If she opens up and gives subtle hints about her abuser, listen and let her know that you are behind any decision she needs to make. She may be exploring what support is available but may not be ready to ask for help just yet.

How can I help after she acknowledges her abuse?

If an abused wife can be brought to the place where she can begin to accept the truth, the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse helps the counsellor/friend know to:

1) Educate her about abusive behaviour and help her to name the abuse for what it is. Urge her to talk about her experiences and validate them. Assuming that she has been totally alone, she will be shocked—and feel some of her sanity return—just to discover that other women’s stories match her story perfectly.

2) Renew her mind by immersion in the truth about who God really is and what he has lovingly done to confirm her value and acceptance. Also, she needs to believe the truth about her abuse and learn not to dissociate from her emotions and to not focus on the abuser.

3) Give her safe relationships in which to heal from her emotional and spiritual wounds. She has been depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused.

4) Help her establish her own identity as a gift from God. Confirm her need to rest in God’s grace, instead of perform. Give her time.

If there has been physical violence, one of the first steps, of course, is to help her find safe shelter, to notify the police, and to get a restraining order.

Domestic violence hotlines provide support, information, safety planning, and resources.

You can access domestic violence resources here.

this is part 2 of 10 in the series
Help For the Abused

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About Joy Harris

Joy studied elementary education before going on to teach at the primary school level as well as homeschooling for twenty-six years. Joy has touched the lives of thousands through her ministry in state Religious Education, Sunday Schools, and Holiday Bible Clubs as well as through her speaking at various seminars and retreats. Joy is also a gifted musician and has collaborated on multiple recording projects as well as maintaining a private teaching studio for over thirty years. Joy is retired and lives in Cairns, Australia. Joy has seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. You can contact Joy at joy@jasonharris.com.au.

One Comment

  1. Lou Ann Keiser 10 August, 2014 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Joy, for tackling this sad and necessary subject. I really liked your steps for helping people open up. Asking doesn’t usually work. Good stuff here! God bless!

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