Tells

If you’ve watched detective shows or read crime stories, you know a “tell” is a quirk or mannerism that demonstrates and individual is lying.

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Although abuse is characterized by secrecy, here are some things to look for in a friend or family member that, collectively, may indicate an abusive relationship:

  • The word, “just” is overused: “It was just an argument.” “I just pushed her a little.” “He just does that when he gets angry.” Just is a minimizing, or buzz, word for domestic abuse.
  • An abuser will place more emphasis on his reputation and other’s perception of him than the incident or state of those he’s harmed: “I don’t want you to think….” “It’s not what it looks like.” “Don’t tell….”
  • One individual (the abuser) does most or all of the communicating. He dominates by interrupting, making excuses and speaking for the other, expressing anger, or playing the victim.
  • The relationship moved incredibly quickly from its beginning to a permanent, or serious, commitment.
  • The relationship is clouded by confusion. Something is wrong, but there is little to no obvious evidence of the problem.
  • Over time, the victim has extinguished relationships with friends and family for multiple reasons. She is, both socially and practically, isolated from others.
  • An abuser does not take responsibility for failure in any way, shape or form. It’s always the fault of someone or something else.
  • An abuser is openly disrespectful of the victim, telling embarrassing stories at her expense, laughing at her, or making her the object of criticism and sarcasm. Victims, on the other hand, seldom speak against their abuser publicly or privately. When/If they do, take them seriously.
  • An abuser destroys objects or items of sentimental value to the victim. He may pose it as an “accident” or necessity but it always happens to her stuff, never to his.
  • Physical abuse results in unexplained bruises, cuts, welts, slow physical responses (i.e. due to sore muscles, strain, injury); inappropriate clothing (sunglasses, long sleeves, turtleneck sweater); extreme make-up, sleepiness, fatigue.
  • A victim may grow less active in community or church activities and less gregarious over time. Changes may be due to other circumstances, but it’s worth asking questions and providing an opportunity for her to share.
  • The victim displays anxiety, apprehension, fear or withdrawal in the presence of the abuser.
  • A victim is in almost constant contact with her abuser via text or phone, or she is anxious to meet a deadline.
  • There is limited access to a vehicle (“I don’t drive….) and money (“No, I can’t.”)
  • A loss of personhood and personal choice often results in depression, suicidal tendencies, drug or alcohol use, an inability to make decisions, and/or loss of interest in daily activities or interests.
  • Because of constant coercion and manipulation a victim makes constant apologies, is apprehensive and confused, expresses helplessness and hopelessness.
  • A victim of domestic abuse will often cancel appointments at the last minute, repeatedly, and/or be late for work and other appointments.

The most important part of being a friend or family member that cares is not to fix the problem, but to believe the victim and encourage her safety. You cannot do it for her. Please don’t seek help without her permission–you may put her in harm’s way. Be there. Pray. Intercede. Speak truth. Don’t slander her abuser; be Christ in all ways.

Because it’s so very, very difficult to see past an abusive relationship, the book Sanctuary focuses on a woman’s identity in Christ. He alone is her hope, her confidence, her motivation to love, honor, and choose Him over and above her husband. Christ will keep her. Focusing on Him will also prevent falling back into harmful patterns of thinking and behavior. Jesus is the answer.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

Change

I’ve spent time with women in stinky relationships–and it’s hard. Life is difficult. Unpredictable. Painful. Hopeful. Then heart-breaking, hope-shattering, disappointing.

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Because women in abuse relationships don’t talk to others about the pain, shame, and abuse, they rarely hear what other women in similar situations say. If they did, they’d hear:

  • “When everything is good, he’s a great guy. When he drinks/does drugs/gets in a bad mood, life is ugly.”
  • “I don’t want to live without him.”
  • “He needs me. I help him. I don’t want to think about what could happen if I’m not there for him.”
  • “The kids love him.”
  • “We need him.”

A woman will leave and return seven times before making a final decision not to go back. The truth is, most abusers don’t change. They say they will. They “try.” They manipulate. But they keep returning to the same habits and patterns of power and control.

The Bible calls this type of individual a fool. He despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7), hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22, 29), does not accept counsel (Proverbs 1:30), practices wickedness like sport (Proverbs 10:23),  brings trouble to his house (Proverbs 11:29), is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15), displays anger on impulse (Proverbs 12:16), refuses to turn from evil (Proverbs 13:19), is arrogant, careless and quick-tempered (Proverbs 14:16), and despises his mother (Proverbs 15:20). Sound familiar?

What happens to people who spend time with fools? The Bible says they suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and are unable to discern truth from lies (Proverbs 14:7).  Proverbs suggests leaving his presence (Proverbs 14:7) or hiding one’s self (Proverbs 22:3).

What this means is that you–the woman experiencing the trauma, uncertainty, trickery, and abuse–must change. This does not mean you are responsible for the abuse. He is the fool. If you took a snapshot of his life, you would see victim after victim. You are one individual in a string of others. His behavior will continue until he decides to get help. You cannot be his help; his sin is on his own shoulders. No one can bear it except Jesus,  and that requires absolute surrender and repentance. That obviously hasn’t happened. He has a choice. You have a choice.

On your own, you will struggle to call him out, risk his displeasure, and resist evil. One man who spent years running for his life, hiding and enduring persecution wrote, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). God can give you the strength you need to do what’s right. He is trustworthy. He will deliver and rescue your life from the pit (Job 33:24). Not only that, God has provided a group of individuals, the Church, who are His hands, feet, and body here on earth.

Ask God for help. Look to Jesus. You need His forgiveness for your own sin–and He promises to provide all you need (Philippians 4:19, 2 Peter 1:3-4). Look for a church that teaches from the Bible, whose people love one another. They will love you. They will listen. They will help.

Your abuser will not change. Your circumstances will not change. You must change.

For practical help and information on personal change in an abusive relationship, read Sanctuary: Help and Hope for Victims of Domestic Abuse.

Why Address Sin?

“If a woman is not to blame for her abuse, aren’t you finger-pointing and blaming the victim to talk about her sin?”

When a woman comes to a pastor, biblical counselor, or older woman for help, the last thing that should be addressed is her sin. Literally. The last thing. Her primary need is practical help, hope, and comfort in the face of unjust suffering; mental, emotional, psychological, physical. She is a sufferer. There is no other, better term.  Because Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse had to be written all at once, it addresses every part of a woman’s spiritual life: salvation, suffering, and sanctification. Sanctuary speaks to her position as a child of God, a saint who is fully forgiven. The greater portion of the book acknowledges her suffering as a woman experiencing domestic abuse. Finally, Sanctuary addresses her reality as a sinner. To look at some parts of her life (saint and sufferer) without seeing her as a whole person would be a disservice. Forgiveness, freedom, and and long-term healing are the result of confession and repentance.

As a victim of abuse learns to cry out to and trust God and His people, there will be a time to walk through sinful thought patterns and habits–things that prevent her from addressing her husband, seeking help, or finding the courage to change. According to statistics, a woman will return to an abusive relationship seven times. That reason alone should move us beyond safety, escape and relief to a desire for personal transformation, which is only available by faith in the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The greater element is her relationship with God; her spiritual growth and ability to glorify God as she lives out the beauty of her original design. In that case, the most unloving act is to provide immediate help, help her feel better, and send her out the door, still dependent on her abuser, desiring to change him or fix their marriage, tied to a need for approval, appreciation and affection from someone other than God, who alone is worthy.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Sanctuary shows women, churches, and the people who love them how to apply the power of God and His awe-some love for her to a man acting wickedly and sinfully. By faith, she can transfer blame to the deserving individual, the abuser, placing her burden of sin and shame on Jesus Christ. She is then able to live abundantly: free of guilt, shame, failure, and condemnation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, (Romans 8:1-6)