I cannot tell you the number of times women, pastors, family members and friends say, “But there’s no physical abuse…” as if that means a man’s behavior is negligible.
When someone says that, I know
- Most controlling behaviors are not physical. They only become physical when other tactics fail to work or if the individual with power uses violence across the board.
In other words, with or without physical violence, controlling patterns of behavior restrict and confine individuals to a level of isolation and torment.
Physical violence is not an accurate marker for abusive behavior.
- Jesus did not address sin based on “what everyone sees,” but on the heart and intention. Lusting after a woman in one’s heart is adultery, but many fail to address the heart and unseen effects of abuse until they see physical manifestations. That is not Good News.
- Many women fail to remember or acknowledge physical abuse. If they are in an unsafe environment, calling it to mind is either too painful or too dangerous. People helpers must deal with issues as they come to the surface first. In my experience it takes 2 months-1 year of safety before women can accurately describe what their husband/partner did to them.
- People who say, “there was no physical abuse,” don’t wrongly define physical abuse. They picture a woman from the 1970’s After School Special with a battered, bruised face, day after day, week after week.
What counts as physical abuse? According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence:Physical violence may include: hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, strangling, smothering, using or threatening to use weapons, shoving, interrupting your sleep, throwing things, destroying property, hurting or killing pets, and denying medical treatment.
So I ask, has your intimate partner ever thrown something at you?
Has he interrupted your sleep because he wants some, you didn’t do the dishes, he is drunk or feeling feisty?
Has he destroyed your property?
Not allowed you or your children medical care?
Kicked the dog in anger? Poisoned a pet? Thrown the cat?
The other things on the list are physical but if they “just happened once” we write them off as if they never happened at all. Or, the woman at risk doesn’t want to bring that to the table because–because then it’s her fault she’s still there? Then all the emotions, feelings of powerlessness and pain come rushing back in a flood and she knows nothing has changed. And who will believe her? It was just one incident. Maybe 3. Or 5. But you’ll never know.
And then, someday, when the time is right, when someone is willing to listen without judgment or unwanted advice, when she’s absolutely desperate or months into healing she will tilt her head and say, “Oh, that…”
And you’ll both know.