The Temptation to Defend Yourself to Friends and Children

defend yourself (2)“For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.”  Isaiah 25:3

There are days when it feels as though the battle is never-ending, when assaults on your reputation and your credibility are coming at you from every side.  So know this:  No matter what your enemies and detractors say, you have a Defender who knows and sees all.  You can be strengthened by the knowledge that you are never alone as you walk this often lonely journey.

Even clinging to that truth, though, there will be times when you will thirst for a word of compassion and validation from someone with skin on.

When you find yourself desperate for a kind, supportive word, don’t be surprised if the dam of restraint finally breaks. A lot of painful history may pour from you un-sanitized, and your stories could be shocking and difficult for others to receive.  Those who have never lived with abuse may doubt that a relationship could be so horrific.  Furthermore, although your intentions are good and you kept your abuser’s secrets out of a sense of loyalty, the perception of your relationship that you helped create may compel those you might have counted as allies to find your revelations too extraordinary to believe.

Rather than sharing your burden with you, I am sad to say that some in your circle may push back as you bare your soul, and may perhaps even heap more guilt upon you for failing to do enough.  You may be viewed as an embittered woman, a liar or a gossip.  The depth of loneliness and sense of betrayal you might face as a result of your confidantes’ skepticism can be truly devastating.

But such tepid responses do not change what you know to be true.  If you wait for others’ approval to do what you must to reclaim your life, it may never happen.  You know the truth about your history, and that is your ultimate defense, whether or not there are others who are willing to validate you in it.

So what can you do?

First, measure what you share.  Test the waters and see if your audience is receptive.  If not, don’t waste time investing where you cannot anticipate a return.

Second, trust your own experience.  It cuts deeply when friends don’t support you, but their ignorance or insensitivity doesn’t alter the truth.

Third, continue to conduct yourself according to what you believe is right.  Don’t allow others’ skewed perspective to govern the decisions you alone must live with.  This is your life.  Base your decisions on the truth, hold to your convictions, trust your God-given instincts and act in accordance with the peace you have.

Then there is the question of what to tell your kids, knowing that a battle for their hearts and minds could negatively impact all of you.  It is tempting to explain your actions to them in depth or to verbally shred their father when the opportunity presents itself.  Generally speaking, I would say that the priority should be to assure your children of your love and devotion to them while avoiding the details.  They do not need to see all of the dirty laundry that has piled up around you over the years.  Find a friend or a confidante with whom you can process your emotions rather than unloading on your kids.  That is not a role they should be expected to fulfill.

On the other hand, however, your kids should have the freedom to talk about their fears and feelings with you (if you can handle it without becoming toxic) or perhaps giving them the opportunity to meet with a professional child counselor to allow them to process their own wounds.  Listening well and validating their experiences is just as important for them as it is for you.  But if you take every opportunity to criticize your estranged spouse, your kids may soon learn to avoid talking to you about their relationship with him at all.  If you want to keep the lines of communication open, try not to damage them.

I know how difficult it can be to hold your tongue and remember well those days when my kids’ father was working hard to buy them off with pizza and ice cream, movies and outings and gifts.  My job was to hold steady, to make our home a safe place where they knew they would be loved and accepted, even if they were expected to complete their chores and their homework.  I trusted that over time they would see the healthy contrast between the life we shared and the one their father had chosen, and ultimately they did.  The man continued to poison his own well and, over the course of several years, he single-handedly destroyed his relationships with all four of our children.

I did tell my children that they could ask me any questions they had, recognizing that their father might feed them a diet of lies and half-truths about me during their time with him.  Anticipating that, I pre-planned how I wanted to deal with those situations.  So when my kids came home confused and upset by their dad’s accusations, they would ask to talk in private.  They didn’t want to believe the things their father had told them, but neither did they want to believe that he was lying.  I would listen and calmly try to provide a more factual, minimal response, never calling their dad a liar but offering them my perspective and the freedom to decide what to believe.  Even acknowledging some of my failings, I don’t think it was difficult for them to trust me because they saw my values and my priorities lived out every day.

When pressed, though, it can certainly be a challenge to remain silent.  At one point, my angry teenage son confronted me in the presence of a counselor. He asserted that my decision to divorce his father was unbiblical and insisted that we could have a happy family if I just allowed his dad to come home.  I could have pulled back the curtain to reveal all of the bad stuff I had endured during my years with his father.  Doing so might have satisfied a desire in me to expose the man, but it also would have imposed upon my son a burden of knowledge that was not his to carry.  So I explained only that the actions I had taken were based on what I believed was best for our family.  Raising his voice, he attempted to antagonize and shame me into giving in to his demand, expecting me to either offer a worthy defense for my actions or agreeing to take his father back.  Instead I calmly looked him in the eye and refused to reveal anything more.  Over time, to his grief, he discovered the truth about his father’s character without an explanation from me.   Did I handle every situation perfectly?  Heck, no.  Sometimes I said too much, and sometimes I even tried to make their dad look better than he was.  A healthy balance is not always easy to find, so the best we can do is to just keep working at it.

As for those dear friends who are willing to hear and encourage you, receive their validation and encouragement so that you can begin to let go of some of the hurt and anger you carry. Let them help you heal.  Purging is a necessary part of the process, but as time goes on, you don’t want your pain to define you.  The goal is to let go of the past so that you can keep moving toward your new, abuse-free life.

As you slog your way through this sometimes grueling process, remember you are not obligated to defend yourself or prove to anyone what you have been through or what you are trying to do.  Some will graciously come alongside and support you in every possible way while others may never understand or validate you and may even – in their ignorance – judge you.  Remember that God knows the truth about your life, and trust that your children will be able to see who you are by the way you live, even if takes some time for them to get there.  Give them the freedom to choose what they believe and whom they want to emulate.

Ultimately, God is your defender, and the honorable life you live before Him will be the only defense you need.  Do not be ashamed and do not feel obligated to offer a defense where it will not be received.  Then hold your head high as you walk in the light of truth.

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a large place.”  Psalm 31:7-8


Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved

Cindy Burrell






6 thoughts on “The Temptation to Defend Yourself to Friends and Children”

  1. The decision to not tell my youngest two boys about their fathers abuse was taken out of my hands by my older children,we had all agreed to not tell them as we didn’t want them to feel as if they were bad because he was their dad, it eventually came out and when they came to me to ask if it was true, i told them the truth.But like you just gave the bare information,and i tried not to be emotional, or vindictive, and stressed i had forgiven, and we are all sinners.I couldn’t explain his choices!!..I encouraged them to have contact with him, and eventually as he used access in my home to further abuse me he now sees them at his parents house, and this has worked for the past twenty years, but like your children they have seen the worst of his character, on one day he was verbally abusive to both of them, and they have both decided to have no contact with Him, my 24 yr old son is in a relationship and has a child,and the 25 year old lives with me as he is Autistic, and i am his full time carer. The younger one “Joe” has after two months decided his Dad is “not that bad”, which is very painful for me because i don’t know if i have the strength to see him verbally abused again…I know his Dad has a sort of one sided rivalry with me, and hates when i see him, so i don’t know whether to distance myself for his sake also, and for myself too i just feel like i am stepping back twenty years and he is controlling me and everyone again!…I feel i am in the wilderness again,it hard to feel powerless AGAIN…

    1. Hello, Elisa.

      I’m glad you found the website and took the time to share.

      While it is counter-productive to overtly badmouth the abuser, it is absolutely appropriate to validate your sons’ experiences and assure them that they do not have to tolerate or accommodate any abuse. You also have every right to set firm boundaries in terms of your former husband’s contact with your sons and explicitly forbid him from having any entry into your home.

      Also, we are not all sinners equal in the eyes of God. Some of us are Spirit-led but imperfect followers, while others use the appearance of faith to exploit the goodness of others. They are not at all the same, nor should they be afforded the same measure of acceptance.

      “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6

      You and your sons are precious and should not willingly subject yourselves to such treatment.

      I am not sure what you mean by distancing yourself – whether from your son or your husband… perhaps you can clarify.

      You are not powerless. Your life speaks louder than words, and your home should be your refuge where abuse is never allowed to enter and where you and your sons can always be safe.

      Elisa, you are welcome to e-mail me privately from the Contact Cindy link website, so we can converse on these issues further if you would like.

      Again, thank you for writing. I hope to hear from you.


  2. Thank you so much Cindy, i was talking about my Son, i know that was wrong but i was feeling really discouraged!! I know that i need to hold onto my relationship with my son “Joe” with every part of my being!! and not let his Dad drive a wedge between us…he has not stopped trying for twenty years i am not letting him do it now, (with the Lords help).God bless you and your ministry.

  3. This post really hits home with me…well, most of your posts do! LOL

    It is often a long, lonely road we walk when leaving an abusive marriage and when children are involved it becomes even harder. My boys were 17 and 14 when their father walked out on us almost 7 years ago, and oh how my oldest hated me for a while. He perhaps had the hardest time with it all which I always thought was strange since between the two boys he got the brunt of his father’s abuse. But he blamed me and I think still does, but now at the age of 24 we have a better relationship, but still strained.

    I’ve always tried hard not to tell them anything more than necessary but it hasn’t always been easy, and still isn’t to this day. I remember the day several years ago when my oldest son was getting ready to move in with my current husband and I because he couldn’t afford a place of his own and he started spewing all kinds of hateful things at me, telling me how he’d just spent 6 hours with his dad telling him the ‘truth’ about me and how he was going to just pack his stuff up and go live with his dad (who btw was living in a travel trailer)…I’ll never forget the look on his face when I calmly looked him in the eye and simply said, “well, I guess you’ll have to do what you think you need to.” I felt so defeated by that point and was so very tired of being blamed, that this calm just over took me at that moment and I was no longer going to fight it. My son’s jaw dropped open and I thought he was going to cry…my reaction was not what he was expecting but I was no longer willing to put up with his hatefulness towards me.
    He still ended up moving in with us but things were strained. And I made it clear to him that if he ever spoke to me that way again he would be leaving.

    My youngest son who is almost 21 now has cut off all ties with his father when 2 1/2 years ago his father did something which showed his true colors.
    My oldest son still chooses to have a relationship with his father and honestly it baffles me. And my youngest son does not understand it either.

    I have found it important although difficult over the years to stand strong in the truth of what happened in that marriage, but it’s certainly not easy when I’ve lost friends and continue to watch my oldest son interact with his father.
    I want so badly some days to shout from the rooftops the truth about that man, but I know that it would only fall on deaf ears and I’m not willing to risk losing what relationship I have with my oldest son just so I can feel validated.

    I know what I know, God knows what was and He knows my heart. When the opportunity arises to speak the truth I do; and when I know it won’t do any good I remain quiet.

    Thank you Cindy for continuing to provide a wonderful ministry for abuse victims.


  4. I’ve been considering sending books and information about abuser to the church that “sided” with my children and I’s abuser. Just curious if this be acceptable or should I just bite my tongue?

    1. Hello, Michelle. I’m glad to hear from you and happy to know you are discovering the truth about abuse. I can assure you that you are NOT alone. What you have experienced is so common, it’s scary. If you have the courage and conviction to share what you know with those who don’t “get it,” then you should. Just know that the dogma taught in the church is deeply entrenched. It can be very difficult to find a truly receptive pastor/teacher/counselor in the contemporary church. If you can find someone who will receive the truth, you will be one of the lucky few.

      Your timing is interesting, though. I am presently working on a new piece entitled, “Reformulating the Christian Marriage Counseling Model Where Abuse is Involved.” I thought it would just be a blog piece, but the present counseling model is so appalling that the deeper I got, the more horrified I became. The piece will probably be printed as a booklet – hopefully fairly soon. I still need to get some feedback from a few Christian counselors I know, to get their thoughts and feedback before I go to print. It is a powerful piece, and I hope to get it into the hands of pastors and Christian counselors. We’ll see how that goes.

      I’ll post an announcement when I get there. Regardless, I appreciate your desire to educate others on the abuse dynamic.

      Feel free to e-mail me privately if you’d like. You can do so from the About Cindy/Contact Cindy page.

      Thank you for taking the time to write. Let me know if I can help or direct you to other resources… I’m happy to help if I can.

      All the best,


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