An Open Letter to the Ignorant (and the Abusive)

“…the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  James 4:17

abuser

A commenter on my blog (who identifies himself as “CR”) recently submitted a response to a woman whose comments appeared on a previous article of mine entitled, “If Only He Would Hit Me?”  I am posting his comments and my response here.

CR’s post was a reply to “Morgan” whose stepfather is abusive. CR wrote, “have you ever put yourself in his [the abuser’s] shoes (empathy) ? Do you know if he finds you difficult too, or have you only considered yourself and how you feel, and not how you behave as we can often be catalyst….you already know your step father’s (sic) behavior is a catalyst in your negative feelings, so perhaps it is a vicious cycle. You can’t change others but you can work on yourself.”

CR’s message is loaded with abuser-ese, so he is either grossly unfamiliar with the abuse dynamic and the abuser mindset or he is an abuser seeking to validate a twisted, self-serving agenda. Regardless, let us take a closer look at CR’s comments and shed light on what he is really saying.

He begins, “Have you ever put yourself in the abuser’s* shoes (empathy)…” CR wastes no time foisting upon a victim a dose of guilt and a sense of obligation to  demonstrate compassion (empathy) toward her abuser while offering her no empathy whatsoever.  CR’s cock-eyed premise is designed to invoke pity for the abuser and shift the focus from the abuser’s attitudes and actions to the victim’s, to invoke doubt as to the identity of the real offender.  Perhaps the roles are reversed, and the oppressor is really just a victim, and the victim is the root cause of his abuse.  If that is true, then we must conclude that the abuser is somehow powerless to exert any self-control when confronted with another’s “negative feelings.”  The target of the abuse is therefore responsible for the abuser’s behavior, and it is up to her to break the “vicious cycle.”

The truth is that the abuser is the aggressor here, and it is his responsibility to address whatever issues he has that prevent him from treating others with an appropriate measure of respect and dignity.  No one else holds the power to compel him to do anything. The abuser is a big boy, and he must be willing to own up to his own attitudes and actions.

“…do you know if he [the abuser] finds you difficult, too?” Ah.  This is known as “equalizing” which once again asks the victim to consider whether she is equally responsible for the abuse.  Surely, the victim is not perfect  and has faults of her own that must somehow contribute to the abuser’s cruel behaviors toward her.  This logic first implies that the abuser’s actions are not out of the realm of normal, healthy behavior.   Abuse is not abuse at all, but just the way the abuser expresses a difference of opinion.  That is absolutely incorrect.

Being an imperfect person does not equate to being difficult, and even being disagreeable or difficult at times does not legitimize abuse.  My children certainly had moments where I found them difficult, yet I did not abuse them or feel any compulsion to do so, nor could I for one minute blame them if I did.

“…we can often be catalysts…”   Here again, the writer bolsters his “share-the-blame” defense.   We must consider whether the abuser was provoked – compelled to abuse.   So it becomes the victim’s job to tip-toe around her abuser and endeavor to be perfect and not carry any “negative” emotions so that he will not attack her.  This view supports the purest form of dysfunction:  The abuser is presumed innocent while his victim is presumed guilty.  The abuser is not responsible; the victim is.

 “…or have you only considered yourself and how you feel and how you behave…”  Let’s just pack on another thick layer of guilt and shame here.  In essence, the writer is saying, “What about the abuser’s feelings?  By drawing attention to the pain he is causing you, you are only thinking of yourself.  If you really were a caring person, you would ignore your wounds and put his feelings and needs above your own.” 

No abuse victim is under an obligation to stand back and say, “Gee, the wretched man is treating me like garbage.  I must dry my tears and consider how he is feeling and what he needs instead of tending to my bleeding, broken heart.”  Such reasoning is absolute nonsense, completely unbalanced and self-serving – yet wholly consistent with the abuser mindset.  The priority should never be to coddle an abuser but to ensure that the victim is taken out of harm’s way.

The truth is that abusers are not tender-hearted, misunderstood individuals, but narcissistic taskmasters, manipulators, bullies and users.  They are in-house extortionists.  Their unspoken message to those under them is: “If you are in pain, you are to blame.”

It is time to place the responsibility for the offender’s actions squarely where it belongs – on him.  It is he who needs to put himself in the shoes of those whom he is abusing and see with clear eyes the depth of destruction he is imposing on the innocent.  It is he who needs to stop looking out for himself and learn what it means to be a protector rather than a predator, to acknowledge that he alone is responsible for his behavior.  If those around him have negative feelings toward him, he is the likely source and instigator.  Those whom he torments owe him nothing.

CR, you are correct only to the extent that the woman you addressed cannot change her abusive stepfather.  But your conclusion is patently incorrect.  An abuse victim is under no obligation to change herself, presumably by overriding her “negative feelings” with the hope of reducing the incidence of abuse.  On the contrary, those emotions speak truth about her situation and should not be diminished but validated, and such victims should be empowered to remove themselves from the violence whether physical or emotional.  The only change she should make should be with regard to her proximity to her abuser – to get away (and stay away) from him.

Sadly, the majority of abusers prefer their dominating, power-hungry ways to relationships that are grounded in mutuality, selflessness, respect and legitimate forms of intimacy, because such relationships make them feel weak and vulnerable.  When called out, most abusers  will generally choose to forfeit relationships and seek out new victims rather than addressing their toxic behaviors.  If such men are ever going to change, we must refuse to enable them or protect them from the natural consequences of their actions, but instead allow them to soberly reap what they have sown.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  Galatians 6:7-8

*The overwhelming majority of abusers are male; therefore, the abuser is referred to in the masculine.

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9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Ignorant (and the Abusive)”

  1. Great clarification, Cindy.

    Perhaps CR is caught, like so many “outsiders” in the usual cognitive dissonance of disbelieving that there are those who actually prey upon others.

    Narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths…bullies, meanies, controllers, demon possessed or oppressed…whatever their label or proclivity, they are manifestations of the very real presence of evil that would destroy good–completely destroy good, if not checked or if the victims are not rescued or cannot escape.

    CR, if you have never been victimized by an abuser, thank God.

    In the meantime, think it through, friend.

    Take your belief system to its logical conclusions.

    For example, how old does a child have to be (3? 4? 10?) when she or he begins to be culpable, in your thinking, for physical, sexual, emotional, and/or mental abuse perpetrated by an adult? Or is this young victim always culpable to some extent? Therefore, in your thinking, must do something to change herself (or himself)?

    For how long does an adult victim of such abuse have to stay in a relationship, CR, in your thinking, where nothing she (or he) tries, does, prays, and/or sacrifices, seems to do any good; meanwhile, depression and other consequences set in that crush the soul, if not the body?

    For those murdered at the hands of their abusers, at what point, do you think, they should have switched their thinking from “I have to change myself some more,” to “NOW it’s time to go–just before he pulls the trigger, plunges the knife, or chokes ALL the air off.”

    Worse, how much depression, autoimmune disease, heart conditions, nervous conditions, PTSD, and so on, should victims endure before it’s okay, in your thinking, CR, for them to say, “Okay, NOW I have tried hard enough (or prayed or sacrificed or walked on eggshells enough) and it’s okay for me to leave and start my recovery.”

    And, CR, what do you think is worse? The sudden death (perhaps literally) of physical abuse, or the thousand cuts of continual put-downs, mocking, derision, contempt, and so on? Often, both forms of abuse are present.

    And, please remember, CR, abusers are very often very charming to outsiders. “But he’s such a nice guy!” “She’s so sweet!” Perhaps it will help dispel some of the cognitive dissonance if you do a bit of research on the topic of personality disorders and how others are easily fooled, duped, or manipulated by the disordered while, behind closed doors, the abusers continue to abuse.

    And what about the children living in that toxic environment? How long, do you think, they need to be exposed to this?

    How long would YOU stay, CR? How long would YOU permit YOUR children to be damaged by life with an abuser?

    I could go on, but I hope you get my point, CR.

    You see, it’s real easy on the outside of such relationships to make all kinds of judgements and offer all kinds of quick fixes because, after all, nobody is perfect. Maybe the victim DID burn the meatloaf. Maybe she DOES cook/clean/dress/think/believe wrong, in her abuser’s (apparently better) view. (sarcasm off)

    Or, maybe she does, in fact, have some flaws… And so, in your thinking, she “deserves”…..what? continued abuse?

    However, until you really comprehend the vicious nature of the dynamics of abuse, I would ask that you have compassion for the victims, or targets, and call evil, evil.

    Maybe donate to a domestic abuse shelter if you really want to help. That way, you won’t be in harm’s way of the abuser if he is violent, but you can still help his (her) victims, particularly the children involved if it is still hard for you to believe the adult victim didn’t do something to deserve the abuse and therefore deserves what she gets…or whatever it is you believe should happen to her…

    Please, just think about this a little more.

  2. This article really hit home. Thank you, Cindy, for addressing the issue of victim-blaming, equalizing, and shaming–how detrimental this is to those of us trying to leave.

    I’ve heard similar claims as the ones CR has made over and over again, from parents and siblings to friends and neighbors who feel like they need to teach me how to be compassionate.

    It is especially hard when, after ten years of abuse, the abuser makes what seem to be significant changes over a long period of time fully expecting you to “get over” the abuse. Deep down you know that the only changes that have happened are surface-level, that his inner wiring will never change, but he’s managed to learn how to parrot good behavior. He’s great at displaying this behavior in public and he’s even learned to show it in private too, most of the time. Naturally, his changes have been noticed by his family and neighbors. They want you to see what a good man he is and how much he has changed for you. They encourage you to have compassion on him, be kind, stop complaining about the past, be grateful for the man he is today.

    Then you feel selfish if your heart is still bleeding from ten years of abuse. You feel like if you don’t accept who he is and love the man he is trying to be on the surface, you are making a huge mistake. You find yourself feel guilt and shame for even harboring negative thoughts toward him, now that he’s no longer abusing you. And yet, you still see pieces of his abuse leak out here and there, reminding you that he’s still the same person. He’s simply learned to adapt and disguise in order to appear like a normal, loving human being.

    Sorry for writing so much, but I think this article really hit a tender heartstring in me. One that has been minimized, suppressed and unvoiced. I feel like I have a duty to forgive and stay with my abuser because he’s no longer abusing me. Never mind that he cannot connect in any deep way, he still rages on the road and at his own children at times when his buttons are pushed, and yet he manages to do and say all the right things to me to make me feel like I can’t leave someone who is being kind to me.

    Thank you for helping me “wake up” from some FOG today.

    1. Hello, Bellabee.

      I’m glad you took the time to write and share what you are going through. I get it. So allow me to validate your feelings and experiences here. Those other people don’t live with your husband; you do. You are the one who has to pretend that everything is okay and try to emotionally prepare for the next time – when you can see through the cracks in your husband’s carefully crafted facade and know the truth.

      I know how very hard it is to walk away when everything seems healthy and normal but isn’t, when others remind us of how hard he is trying and of our obligations to forgive and forget and “get over it.”

      You have to live this life, together with your children, and you know the truth and whether your husband has truly changed or not. Perception is not the same thing as reality.

      If you have not yet read, “Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change,” that piece might provide you with some additional clarity, too.

      Thank you for taking the time to share, and feel free to write anytime.

      Cindy

    2. I, too, am in the “he really does seem to have made some major changes” phase. He has been very consistent with none of his old abusive behaviors. But I have found that after 25+ yrs of abuse, I am not very interested in his attention. I will be fine for awhile and then, something he says or the way he says it (not even directed at ME) and it triggers me and I just get this “ugh” feeling in my stomach. The fear is completely gone but I have no idea how to FEEL emotional love for him. I am giving myself time and as much time as I need. The MOMENT he sounds or looks or makes any noise that even sounds remotely like I “owe” him ANYTHING, it is such a turn off and it takes me several days to start to feel comfortable around him. I know I am still angry but I don’t want to BE angry for the rest of my life. I am willing to let time take its course, but right now, I dont see how I will ever really feel close this person. And I’m angry about THAT. I try to see the good side of my situation, that I dont have to deal with all the fallout from a divorce. I dont want to minimize what all happens in that situation. I know from listening to stories that it is devastating (yet necessary) but I’m not sure what to do with “now he’s nice and not pushing me or asking anything of me but I dont really feel anything for him” place I am right now. Every other day I feel like walking out just so I dont have to deal with dealing with it. Yet, in my case (and I am not saying this is yours, only you can, Im just letting you know you are not alone) he does seem for several months now to be very sincere and remorseful and acts differently toward me and our kids, so I don’t feel like there is anything else he can do except give me time which he seems willing to do.

  3. I’m reading this when I’m exhausted so I have so much to say but will keep it short and sweet. Both these last articles, Cindy, have been right on the money. It wasnt TOO long ago that in some ways, what CR says, would have “seemed” to make sense, even LIVING with abuse for 20+ years! That is how dense the fog of abuse is and how twisted our idea of what “pleases God” is (based in part on what we have been TAUGHT by our “spiritual authorities.” Now I read it and what I see is a completely ignorant person who, like the Pharisees of old, want to ignore the spirit of the law, the true heart of God, in preference of his own, “narrow is the way” abuser supporting, victim blaming opinion. This is so prevalent, it is difficult to imagine how anyone ever escapes abuse and comes to a full understanding of what they are experiencing. It’s almost a miracle. Sad and so wrong that the information we need to get out from under tyranny, we rarely find in a church, a place of “hope and refuge” but rather on the internet! I thank God for you every single day.

    1. Hello, Debby.

      All of us here understand the societal and religious pressures put upon victims to be good, hold on and keep up appearances. With this in mind, though, we must always go back to truth, for we serve a God of truth, the bedrock of our reality and our relationships. He is always there, and His truth speaks if we are willing to hear it and sink our roots into it and live by it regardless of what others think, even in the church.

      If you haven’t read, “I Know How The Blind Man Felt,” I think you might appreciate its message. It’s one of my longer pieces, but it offers a powerful reminder with regard to these kinds of battles we will face, the heart of God and the beauty of our personal relationship with Him. There are times when we will feel all alone for all the wrong reasons, but our Lord stands with us.

      Blessings to you,

      Cindy

  4. Debby and Bellabee,

    I know exactly what your two are going through.

    In the middle of my ex marriage (at the twenty-year mark, we were married over forty) I insisted we get counseling. We saw a fine Christian counselor for several months. We went together, and each, on our own. Our, then teen-aged, children were also invited to see the counselor. The oldest went, the other, chose not to.

    And, halleluiah, it all seemed to work. My ex seemed to soften (and he seemed to have overcome the mean and controlling spirit that had almost reached physical abuse, again, at year twenty, as had happened on several occasions in the earliest years.)

    I just KNEW my prayers had been answered!

    I just KNEW all the hard changes I had prayed to make on myself, due to my own immaturity and selfishness (married in my teens,) were resolving. I just KNEW the prayer, “God, give me YOUR heart for him because mine is gone” that I had prayed on several occasions, were reaping amazing and unexpected benefits!

    And EVERYBODY noticed how NICE he was becoming! Even the children! Whoa! Prayers do get answered! Abusive, controlling people can and do change! I changed! We changed! What a testimony!

    And yet….something in my gut kept me on alert.

    He was going to church with me, even, but seemed bored and empty about it. Pretty soon, he stopped.

    He would do something like give me a hug in public and say, “There, a public display of love.” It had an odd little feel of checking off an item on a list.

    He still flirted with waitresses and made comments about how some random woman in public or on television was “a girly girl.” Of course I had long ago learned that to question that comment, or any other “back-handed, critical comment” was what he wanted in order to open up a blaming session against me for this or that…

    And then, when we were in our fifties, he was contacted by an old flame and resumed at least an emotional affair with her. I expressed my feelings about it, and he got very mad. For the next several years, although he claimed to have stopped the emotional affair, there were the passive aggressive comments in public…you all know the drill, I am sure. Just enough plausible deniability to make anybody in hearing wonder why I might possibly be upset….he made his “digs” about something seemingly unrelated, but he knew I knew…covert stuff–with a smile/smirk on his face…”gaslighting”…

    So I kept to myself. Withdrew in self-protection while at the same time fighting against it as it seemed like I was giving the dreaded Silent Treatment. I would FORCE myself to resume “normalcy.”

    I now know that I was protecting myself mentally and emotionally. You might wish to research the concept called “gray rock”.

    At any rate, then, quite by accident, I found out the emotional affair was still going on. Maybe more, as they had occasion to get together when he traveled…

    But, I still prayed, “God give me YOUR heart for him….” as my heart sank lower and lower and I found myself, at length, sort of giving up. My health was beginning to suffer, too, under the stress.

    I was also under the influences of certain teachings that if you left a marriage, abusive or not, a wife would be “outside of God’s provision” and God would abandon me, too…

    Well, the ex’s rage finally came to a head over a period of several frightening weeks to the night of the last, highly insulting, screaming rage (alcohol-fueled) he perpetrated against me when, in the middle of it, a quiet, calm thought bubbled up in my spirit, “You need to leave, now,” and I did.

    I knew at that moment that the man’s abusive gig was up. I was free.True, I was in shell shock for several weeks and having to screw up every bit of courage I could to manage the difficult times ahead (as there were other, extended-family crises happening at the same time), but with God’s help and affirmations, I did.

    I could relate many confirmations and miracles that happened to affirm that this was the right thing to do, but the point is, I look back now, and I realize what my counselor said about me leaving in the middle of the tirade was likely true: “He would have killed you.”

    But I understand completely how it truly does seem sometimes like they have changed, when you really believe maybe they have, maybe this time it’s true, it’s real, you will be safe (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically). You will be genuinely loved, or even just respected, which would be enough. Your efforts to do all you can will have born good fruit. Maybe….maybe.,…maybe….but then again, maybe not…

    What I now know to be true, after the divorce, finalized 3 years ago this month, is that God HAS NOT ABANDONED ME, that I am NOT “outside of God’s provision,” and from what I hear from time to time from a mutual friend, my ex has been ensconced in another relationship for over two years, he is still drinking, and she has witnessed him being snarky to the new one (she lives near him)…

    Oh. One other thing.

    I was also under the impression that divorce was somehow the “unforgiveable sin.”

    It’s not.

    So, ladies, I get it. I don’t know, of course, how God is leading you. But He will speak loudly and clearly if/when it’s time for you to be delivered from your abusive situations. It just could be that your husbands have really changed. The statistics don’t bear this out for abusive people, but God does do the occasional miracle and people respond to it.

    And God has also given each of us a free will.

    In the meantime, however, stay situationally aware. Train yourself to “listen” to the voice of the Holy Spirit, if you haven’t already been able to do that. And I know how hard it is when abusive people seem to bait you into arguments…it is sooooooo hard to overcome that…

    All those years, when I was NEVER seriously entertaining leaving him (see the above influences on me to keep me in the marriage, along with all the other usual reasons) I used to say to myself, just to have some measure of sanity, “Even if I am worthy of his criticisms and disrespect, even if I am the awful person he seems to think I am when he gets in one of his controlling, angry moods, one day I will remember two things: I prayed and asked God to give me HIS heart for the man, and God did that, and I MUST remember that several times every week, if not per day, he criticized or disrespected me for something.”

    I literally used to tell myself that, so that I would remember and to offset the natural inclination/desperation to just want to forget the bad times because there ARE “good times.” (My ex could be very generous and was always a good provider.)

    Believe it or not, those two reminders have helped me come through a lot of very dense, thick cognitive dissonance when, after he forced me out of our marriage, the “shoulda woulda coulda’s” and guilt and self-recrimination plagued me.

    (I still pray for God’s “heart” for him, by the way, although now I do it in safety and peace–and far away from him.)

    I am happy to tell you, however, that by following Jesus Christ, Who is still in the business of setting captives free, I am nearly done with my recovery. This Scripture has been one of the most helpful: “Therefore there is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus.” along with the Proverb about how if you rescue an angry man you will only have to do it again.

    You, too, will come to the clarity you need. Note, however, that because abusive people often seem like “such nice” guys and gals to everyone on the outside of the relationship, others will likely not understand what you have done, if you leave the relationship, so surround yourself with good support and counsel.

    And immerse yourself in Gods’ Word. You might be amazed at how many times the pattern of deliverance from evil comes up in both Testaments…. and in your own life, as well.

    1. Thank you for sharing your very powerful testimony, P. A couple of points I would like to add: first, God is our witness and our defender, and second, divorce is not a sin.

      In Malachi 2, God reminds the men who had abandoned their wives to take other wives that He hates “putting away.” This text is often wrongly translated to read “God hates divorce.” What God hates was the act of sending away a wife without cause and without a writ of divorce which would free her to remarry. God refused the offerings and sacrifices, of the priests of the households “…because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Malachi 2:14

      That is powerful: God is a witness for one and against the other.

      Furthermore, divorce is not a sin unless there is no cause, where the heart and motives are selfish. We know divorce is not a sin because there is only one divorce in the Bible. We find it in Jeremiah 3:8, where God divorced Israel for her unfaithfulness. God does not sin. Clearly, not every Israelite had committed physical adultery, but their hearts had abandoned their devotion to God, and God allowed His people to reap the judgment they had sown.

      This subject is explained in greater detail in my book, “God Is My Witness: Making a Case for Biblical Divorce,” for those who might be interested. This is an important topic that has been misrepresented for far too long.

      I extend my gratitude to all who took the time to share here. Thank you.

      Cindy

  5. Thank you, Cindy, for the reminders and the instruction, and for putting the verses squarely back into their context. Your articles and posts have helped me immensely in my recovery.

    It’s amazing how by cherry-picking a verse here, a half-verse there, people can come up with all kinds of errant thinking to support their own agendas, e.g., you stay married no matter what abuse might be taking place.

    Fortunately, Jesus is still in the business of setting captives free.

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