In the must-read book, “Captivating,” co-authored with her husband (John Eldredge, the well-known author of “Wild at Heart”), Stasi Eldredge lays bare the deepest cries of a woman’s heart. Mrs. Eldredge betrays with painful vulnerability and sensitivity all of womanhood’s ever-pervasive yearning. A woman wants to know: Do you see me? Am I lovely?
Every young girl and woman longs to be known, to be seen. Her spirit dares to assent to the understanding that she is uniquely wondrous and worthy of love and affection. Her deepest desire and greatest joy is to have that truth affirmed in her life, particularly by a man – first her father and then her mate. We come alive with the telling of a sweet love story and hope that one day we might be at the center of one.
In fact, being convinced that I am not alone in my fantasies, I confess my belief in what might be called fairy-tale love, even a “prince,” an honorable man who singles me out above all other women – his “princess.” He sees me as intrinsically beautiful and special, worthy of pursuit and protection. He hears not just the words that leave my lips, but those that emanate from my heart. He wants me to know that I am loved and for me to feel secure, content and satisfied. He prizes me. He sees me.
So that I might be seen, I strive to be beautiful, not merely on an external level, but from the inside out. It becomes my objective to be all things selfless, to fill the roles of nurturer, encourager and helpmate. From what I can tell, most women naturally seek to fill these roles and find genuine fulfillment as they do. This is the way it should be.
Rather than affirming, honoring and protecting his bride, the abuser misappropriates his size and strength, perverting the male role and exploiting his wife’s inert desire to please. The beautiful balance between the protector and the protected begins to shift, becoming more akin to one of predator and prey.
She Doubts Herself
The abuser demands that his wife be submissive and accepting in the face of his malicious treatment, cold countenance, debilitating words, intimidating posturing and threats to her sense of security – incrementally becoming her ruler rather than her rescuer. And in her confusion and deep desire for affirmation, she commits to a campaign to prove her love and earn his, wholly puzzled as to what offense she has committed to compel him to treat her so poorly, even while receiving his condemnation in her spirit. His abuse is a violation of all that she is and longs to be. He fails to see her.
She Trusts Others
Her friends, family members or other well-meaning acquaintances naively attempt to convince her that her faithfulness will eventually be rewarded. Regardless of any good intentions, most such people do not understand abuse. They believe that the abuser really wants the same kind of closeness and relationship sought by his victim. She wants to believe that her abuser wants to change. And when he does, he will see her.
She Minimizes What She is Experiencing
The abused woman endeavors to rise above her fears and continues to tenderly attempt to reach her husband. She plies for his favorable attention and affection. She strives to meet his demands, downplays the damage he causes, and faithfully keeps his secrets. It is too painful to contemplate that his actions are deliberate, so she convinces herself that what she is experiencing is somehow normal, a passing phase or a tragic misunderstanding. Perhaps my expectations are too high.
She Sees What Once Was
So she clings to the knowledge that he confessed his love at one time. She remains doggedly determined to believe she will one day see the emergence of the man he could be, but isn’t. It is because of her God-given patience and compassion that she refuses to see the world darkly, even while her sense of her own value fades into oblivion. She may come to doubt her beliefs about herself and what love should look and feel like. Maybe this is normal, she thinks. Maybe I deserve it.
She is Convinced of What Could Be
The abused woman believes that she – and perhaps she alone – can eventually win the heart of her husband. Then, perhaps, he will see her. Believing the best, an abused woman entertains a common misconception that her abuser is simply lost. She tells herself, “He just doesn’t understand that I love him; that I am his friend, not his enemy; that I am willing to love him even when he is unlovable.” It is her nurturing, romantic heart that envisions her prince trapped in his own twisted belief system. If her love could free him, he would become the tower of strength and the lover of her soul she is certain he really wants to be. And in his gratitude, he would appreciate, even adore, her. She would be eternally beautiful to him. I will get him to see me.
She Becomes Disillusioned
Sadly, it is only a mirage. What she sees in the distance is a cruel deception. It is improbable that her parched spirits or her thirst for tenderness will be satisfied. As Paul Coughlin writes in his book, “No More Christian Nice Guy,” abuse is one form of “strength gone bad.” The abuser takes charge, all right; however, the abuser’s leadership abilities are exerted, not to ensure security for those under his charge, but to meet his own selfish needs. His family is left unprotected – even emotionally cannibalized under the abuser’s rule. I must be unworthy of love.
She Admits Defeat
Regardless of the consistency or severity of his abuse, it may be years before the enabler-victim shares her secrets or admits that the ongoing assault on her spirit has taken a terrible toll. The abuser has exploited her feminine temperament for his selfish purposes, her strength is waning, and her self-image has been shattered. Her deepest desires remain unfulfilled. I am empty.
She Struggles to Recover
Not only are our innate tendencies used against us in the abusive relationship, we must again violate our feminine nature to stand up against abuse. We who look for ways to comfort, encourage and console find ourselves forced to protect ourselves from the one we imagined to be our protector. Weakened from perhaps years of neglect and emotional mistreatment, it makes it all the more difficult to gather the strength necessary to say ‘no,’ walk away and ask for help.
It feels utterly unnatural to reveal what has been so painstakingly kept hidden or reject the abuser’s strategically nuanced advances or niceties, if we can indeed garner enough conviction to insist upon evidence of legitimate, long-term change. And we cannot help but question the validity of the feminine mystique when we are compelled to forcefully confront the abuse – wondering how a heart that was once so tender could feel so calloused and cold. It is a necessary, temporary means of self-preservation that has been thrust upon us by the one who did not cherish us, did not appreciate all we have to offer. Instead, the abuser leaves us a remnant of our former selves. Only a glowing ember remains where a fire of passion and sweet anticipation once burned brightly. Perhaps I will never know love.
She Acknowledges the Longing
Still the desire lingers, and the spark of hope that remains may indeed be rekindled. For there, deep in the heart of every woman still burns that longing to be seen, to be found lovely. And the One who put the desire there also has the capacity to fulfill it.
The feminine heart is a treasure to God. He has imprinted her name on His heart. He will feed the flame if she allows Him. For the heart of the woman is a precious, beautiful thing.
The abuser’s exploitation of the feminine heart does not alter all that she is and who she has been called to be. The abused woman must resist the temptation to believe that she has been overlooked. The abuser chose not to see her. That does not mean she is not seen. As she begins to emerge from the shadows and rediscovers the inner beauty that is hers alone, her light will shine, and others will surely see it.
You are special. You are loved. You are seen.
… the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit…is precious in the sight of God. I Peter 3:4
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