Abuse. Does the word conjure up images of bruises and beatings? For me it did. But I've recently learned that abuse can come in many different forms, some far more damaging than these physical outward signs.
Lately someone I love has been going through a very difficult time, and the results of my research and support for this person have educated me a lot about something I never knew anything about before. With her permission I am going to blog about what I have learned.
In the past year, two people I know have shown signs of being victims of emotional, verbal spousal abuse. I was going to write "have been victims," but the sad truth is that abuse in both cases did not just occur in this calendar year – it has been ongoing for many years.
My research into this started when a friend confided the details of her abuse in me. This was not the first time she had given me a glimpse into the turmoil in her home, but it was the first time I realized the severity of the problem, the danger she was in, and the fact that her husband did not appear to want help or even realize what he was doing was so incredibly wrong.
After talking to her and doing some research, I realized that I knew someone else who was the victim of emotional abuse. Sadly, many of the "classic signs" were there, yet none of us recognized it and sought to help her, or if some did it was in the wrong way because she got no help until the unfaithfulness began.
Thankfully, right now both women are separated from their abusers, but that does not change the damage, pain, and scars that come from abuse.
So why am I writing? First, this has been a very emotional experience for me too. I have experienced guilt, anger, pain, and sadness knowing people I love have been hurt in this way and I didn't realize it or step in. I have also been experience feelings of helplessness, wishing there was something I could do to help, but not having many options.
The other reason I am writing is because I think we all, especially those of us in Christian circles, need more education about this issue. I realize that my audience on this blog is small, but I want to do my part to get the word "out" so to speak. Abuse is real and it is damaging, and we need to learn how to help.
Myths About Abuse
These are not highly researched or anything, but these are some "myths" that I have found to be untrue about abuse.
Abuse is obvious – In some cases abuse is obvious – there are signs that you can point to. This was the case with one gal. With my friend that confided in me, however, there were few outward signs. To everyone looking in, they looked like the perfect little family with a wonderful life. In fact, there were things about her life and family that I was jealous of, particularly her excellent house keeping skills and beautiful home.
Physical abuse is the worst kind – While physical abuse may have the most life and death type danger, I honestly believe now that the psychological effects of verbal/emotional abuse are far more damaging.
Abused women provoke the abuse – In my mind I saw abused women as frumpy, cantankerous women who drove their husbands to abuse. My husband would have to be pushed extremely hard if he ever even could resort to this type of behavior. Honestly, I don't think he could behave in this way because it is wrong on so many levels. The women I know who have been abused do not fit this mold and did nothing to provoke the abuse. Somehow, this behavior is a part of the man they married.
She made a mistake by marrying him – In one of the cases there may have been signs prior to marriage about the controlling behavior (I do not know because I did not know them at the time), but in the other there were not many that I saw, although she now says there were signs but she didn't recognize them. Abusers are experts at "winning" the girl, because abuse is all about control. Once they "have" her, the controlling begins.
He wouldn't abuse her if she would be submissive/deferential/more helpful (fill in the blank) – I realize submission is s controversial topic, yet it should be addressed because many religious circles emphasize a wife allowing her husband to lead the family. Those who follow these beliefs often mistakenly assume that the wife somehow deserves the abuse because of a lack of submission or deference to her husband. Both of the women I know were incredibly submissive/deferential to their husbands, even to the point of doing some things they regretted make him happy so the abuse would stop. Lack of submission or deference does not cause abuse and does not excuse it.
Words aren’t that big of a deal, at least he is not hitting her – Again, the effect of words on the emotions is so damaging. Emotional abuse and the terror it brings, never knowing when he is going to blow up, even over the littlest things, and always wondering if today is the day he will follow through on the threats or things will actually turn physical, makes a person insane! That, and the fact that society talks a lot about physical abuse and little about verbal abuse, can make a woman doubt her sanity. Also, in some ways the woman still loves her husband, or the husband she thought she married, and so the conflicting emotions are also extremely damaging. Abusers are experts at being nice and loving when they need to, which makes the woman always feel that there is hope, only to have that hope dashed when the abuse starts back up again.
So what do you think? Do you know someone who has been the victim of abuse, or were you a victim yourself? What myths do you see?