Tag Archives: church

Is it Really Okay for a Christian to Say “No, I Cannot Help You”? (Part 2)

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   (c)2019 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

adult blur close up cold
Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

As Christians, we are often taught to give of oneself, to share, and to help where we can. “Love your neighbor” is a call many of us take seriously.

However, boundaries are wise. In the last post, this one and the next, I tell you why.

1. How can boundaries be loving? Boundaries are godly because they free us to love our neighbor . Have you helped until you were over your head? Were you tempted to shut yourself in and never again say yes to anyone? Contrary to what we often assume, love sets boundaries.

Individuals who actually make a difference in positive, meaningful, and effective ways, are careful not to make easy promises. By this they avoid failing to deliver on impulsively offered ones. When we learn healthy boundaries, we remain a steadfast friend, as supposed to walking away in frustration.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even the Good Samaritan did not stick around to serve the beaten man hand and foot. After doing what he could, he went on to live his own life.

2. What about Christian duty?  Boundaries are godly because they prevent resentment and allow us to give with joy. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul the Apostle is thanking the Corinthian church for offering a generous gift to struggling believers in Macedonia. He wrote, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

This concept is not only about money. We give of our time and energy best if we know when to say no.

3.  I say yes if a church leader needs me. That’s godly submission, right?  Boundaries are godly because saying no is often self-control. We said yes to certain responsibilities when we married, had children, accepted a job, or built up debt. It is God’s will for us to mind the promises we have made. Potential good deeds that stop us from obeying him in these matters must be rejected, however noble they are. This takes self-control. The result is freedom. In Proverbs 15:28 we read, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers.”

Today’s Helpful Word  

Galatians 5: 22-23a, 25

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. …Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

 

***** COMMENTS ALWAYS WELCOME

NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental and behavioral health challenges.  In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders, You Matter Too

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness, addiction, or abuse   (c) 2018  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

Pastors and other church leaders, here’s an announcement.

You cannot do it all.

You do not read minds, know the will of God for each person, comprehend all marriages or families, or see through walls.  You do not understand all things. So, give yourself a break. 

You are only human

Some people treat you like you are superhuman. Don’t believe that lie or accede to every demand. Hoops they want you to jump through will cost your peace of mind, and drive a wedge in your family. Don’t respond to every need. 

Some will treat you as less than human.  Don’t believe that lie, either. Grant yourself permission to make mistakes and be forgiven. Allow God to redeem the day without you begging for mercy from those who would dehumanize you.

You have a teacher

Take a breath. Take a break. Sit with God, and listen. Put down study for a while; it will not be forever. Let the Holy Spirit wash you with grace.  We never learn much from God when our focus is on stress, deadlines, pleasing people, holding on to our jobs, satisfying the board, anxiety, or panic.  

Focus on him. He sees you.

Practice what you preach about trusting God when times are tough. Read about his provision, sovereignty, mercy, and grace. This is the God who promises to lead you down the best path for your life. Listen.

Take care 

I was going to write about how much the church-at-large needs to change in its general approach to mental illness and abuse. You may not want to hear that now. Maybe you need to know that you matter too.

Leaders of churches also have trauma, abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health challenges. You need self-care, and perhaps professional care as much as anyone.  Do not be afraid to pursue what is best for you.  You matter too. 

Dear Pastor, you are called to a high purpose, not as God’s right-hand assistant.  Church leaders, you are servants, not gods.  I know you know this intellectually and in your spirit, but is your mind at rest?  You matter too.

Take care of yourself first. That includes vacations, time-outs, and days off.  Nurture family  relationships.  If this seems impossible, maybe you have forgotten that you matter too. 

So very much.

 Today’s Helpful Word

Psalm 27:13, 14

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

 

******COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.

NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness, abuse, and addiction. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

 

Joy Is In the Making: How Stress and Poor Health Led to Positive Change in 2017

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness, Addiction, and Abuse   (c)2018  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

One year ago, I was struggling with severe stress, doing what I knew to do to cope, and having some rather good days despite inner turmoil. I was in pain emotionally, however the drive to push forward and change how I feel had become somewhat automatic in recent years. 

Familiar depression and darker thoughts visited in January, February, and March. I was never in danger of self-harm, yet wondered dozens of times each day why I was trying so hard.  Grief over personal loss, a terrible sense of rejection, and a loss of focus ministry-wise held me in mental chains. 

In trying to express this to a few carefully selected confidants, I watched as they reacted by  backing-off.  Honestly I cannot blame them because they feared for me, and in the past I have unfortunately given reason to their concern. It was disappointing though, mostly that the work I’ve done to combat stigma did not seem to have had an impact. I felt very alone.  

What no one knew is what all this was doing to my physical health. Severe anemia due to stress-induced gastric blood loss landed me in the hospital twice. Complications to one of those admissions caused harm to an ankle that has still not healed. July to September were spent in a wheelchair, and a cane has accompanied me since.  

Eventually, Always The Fight Ministries changed, as instead of giving up (the biggest temptation), it was rearranged to require less of my focus. The details to all this are many. Those decisions took months and in some ways continue still. 

Change is good much of the time. A direct result of my health problems led me to switch to an accessible church where I discovered my gifts are needed and desired. The care ministry there provides opportunity to use my art as gifts to the sick. I’m excited to be teaching a scripture memory class beginning this Sunday.  Old friends attend this church, and chances to meet many  new ones abound.

The personal loss and grief that hurt so much pushed me to find solutions and healthy ways to cope. Feeling alone inspired weekly dinners with family, saying yes to social events more regularly,  and inviting people to my home.  I learned to proactively combat isolation.

It took awhile for the overwhelming emotions to dissipate completely. By September,  joy was filling my hopes and dreams once again. That is when the best part of 2017 occurred. 

On a warm afternoon, I wheeled to the homes of several neighbors and invited them to a weekly neighborhood Bible study at my house.  The result so far is six women besides myself, studying the Word of God.  It’s been a blast introducing these new friends to Bible stories, and to the God those stories prove. 

This past year was one of great challenges. It ended with renewed sense of purpose, and satisfaction in doing what I enjoy.  Learning to accept and nurture my emotional needs has been a little like being set free. 

Here’s to 2018 and whatever it may hold. I’m stronger than I was 12 months ago, and of course, my Lord has not changed. He walked me through it all and I know he will never let me go.  

Today’s Helpful Word 

 

 

Is it True? Do Fundamentalist Women Blame Wives for Everything?

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle With Mental Illness   (c)2015 Nancy Virden

photo-24710174-neon-pink-girl-pointsThis past week, a loaded question in a Google search landed someone on my site. “Why do fundamentalist women always blame wives for everything?” led the inquirer to my 5-part series on Emotional Abuse in Christian Marriages (12, 3, 4, 5).  Her reference to wives causes me to assume that “everything” means whatever is troubling a marriage or family.

Is her claim factual?

Women in fundamentalist religious circles in general, do struggle with gender roles due to various and often opposing teachings on submission and church leadership.

Some people equate fundamentalist with abuser

The modern accepted meaning of fundamentalist is changing. Originally, the word referred to a Christian who believes the Bible is literal and faultless in truth. Now, it more likely conjures up ideas of  a power-hungry religious fanatic who harms others physically and psychologically through spiritual abuse.*

An online answer to “what is fundamentalism?” reads, “…when people watch the news and see [expletive] [fundamentalists] parading around with their “THANK GOD FOR AIDS – FAGS GO TO HELL” signs and calling themselves Christians, it tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth.”**

If coming from the vantage point of “fundamentalists are harmful,” it is easy to see how the orignal Google searcher’s claim could seem factual. All observations, skewed or not, tell us something.

 I’ve experienced being blamed for “everything”

I have personally experienced blame from fundamentalists for what was wrong in my marriage. When it became known that my husband and I were separating, I received two angry phone calls from such women. Neither asked me how I was feeling or even what were the reasons for the separation. No one asked if they could help. They assumed I lacked character and was rebellious against scriptures. My husband received no such phone calls.

These two women represented less than 1/2 of 1% of people in that social circle. Clearly, not every fundamentalist woman blames wives for everything. Yet the fact those who do exist and are vocal about it sends a message of negativity not only to the world, but to abused women inside the church.

photo-24751599-vector-of-businesswoman-with-question-mark-board.My theory

Because men are usually in the highest ranks of leadership in fundamentalist churches, and their visibility in such roles is front and center, young girls and women naturally have to ponder where they fit in God’s spiritual kingdom.

In abusive marriages, these same women lose sight of their unique value. Whether the church teaches it or not, it can reinforce the concept. 

My theory is that in such scenarios, some (not most) fundamentalist women will blame everything on wives because in their view, women are incapable of being as valuable, useful, capable, and logical as men.

In other words, it is the women who doubt their own worth who lash out at other wives. That is not a report card on fundamentalist faith. It is a mark against men and women who abuse others in the name of religion.

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Comments are always welcome.  NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

**by Matrexius March 03, 2005,  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Fundamentalist

– pictures from Kozzi.com

 

Spiritual Abuse May Be Happening in Your Church (or to You)

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness  (c)2015 Nancy Virden

photo-24800475-businesswoman-covering-her-earsAbusers do not listen. They argue or twist your words so eventually whatever problem they are experiencing is your fault. Maybe they badger, or roll their eyes, or repeat the same thing over and over until you respond with what they want to hear.

A spiritually abusive church leader can accuse you of horrible things because you disagree with him on a matter and he cannot stand to be challenged. Share with a spiritual abuser a differing point of view, and you will find yourself suddenly not good enough.  You are willingly blind to the truth, your feelings are sinful, you are disobedient toward God, and no, you cannot sing in the choir anymore.photo-24757830-an-angry-businessman

From my experience with these types, it seems they will argue a point with nothing to back it except for some form of “I know.” An abuser will not be willing to hear you out. They will claim to have heard from God or be quoting scripture, but it’s like they are wielding a hammer on your head. They may “talk over” you in person, on Facebook, in texts, etc. Their responses to you will be as if they never listened. Well, they didn’t.

We are all sinners, and often carry opinions or act out in ways contrary to scripture or love. Any one of us may screw-up and fail to approach others in ways that are satisfactory. Normal, mixed-bag, imperfect people still can wound each other. We have to learn and change our ways, that’s why we need a Savior and church in the first place.

However, a spiritual abuser will, over time, create an atmosphere where you begin to question your right to be you, and whether you will ever be good enough for God. They will tear you down with oppressive speech, attitude, or behaviors, and by yielding to them you lose yourself, no longer knowing who God created you to be.

I am not all-knowing, nonetheless it seems to me God wants his creations to fulfill the purposes for which he created them. By standing by and making excuses for someone’s (or your own) abusive behavior, you give the abuser room to repeat his or her sin. By submitting to the abuse, you withdraw your own gifts and potential to change the world.photo-24751599-vector-of-businesswoman-with-question-mark-board.

It’s all so unnecessary. Your loyalty to an abuser cannot trump your loyalty to your Creator. Willingly submitting to abuse comes from a misunderstanding of duty.

Jesus suffered and submitted to his abusers, yes. He only did so in his time, avoiding beatings and arrest until the chosen day he would fulfill his mission. If you are no longer certain who you are or whether you have any value, you are not fulfilling your godly mission. You may be enabling a sinner to beat you down.

A spiritual abuser is at fault. Not you. It’s okay to walk away and say, “no more.” It’s not selfish to be who God designed you to be. You matter too.

*****

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

My Depression is Sinful?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2015 Nancy Virden

Last year, a list of sins was handed to me. I glanced at it and immediately saw three words, depression, hopelessness, and helplessness. Sure enouphoto-24748219-downcast-mangh, these emotions were listed right along with truly dastardly deeds.

Never mind the questionable necessity to create a list of sins that is supposed to fit every Christian while taking no circumstances into account; including negative emotions was unfair and quite possibly deadly.

A despairing individual who has come to hopelessness and helplessness already doubts his value and whether he has options. A severely depressed church goer is likely in a quagmire of feeling spiritually lost and struggling to be in any social atmosphere. To tell these people (or anyone) that their emotions are wrong is to invalidate legitimate experiences and needs, and to discourage openness.

It was explained to me that the author of that list didn’t mean the kind of depression that is clinical; it is the sort of depression people choose that is proof of a lack of faith, hence sin.

I’ve been there. In all honesty, sometimes sulking seems more fun than getting work done. I have entertained self-pity. Complaining or refusing to get over a past hurt are some of my not-so-great decisions. 

“Depression” has multiple definitions. Most people never feel anything worse than the blues. Pity-parties, grudges, and negativity can all play a role in a bad mood day.

There is depression that exceeds choice, and becomes the very existence and reality of one who suffers. It is far deeper than sadness and more overwhelming than grief. It is a whirlpool-like drainage of hope. It is a shroud of dread slowing each movement.

Like darkness in a cave can almost snuff out a light, a cavern of emptiness can swallow up truth despite powerful faith. Maybe the believer’s agonized whispered prayer is, “Help me,” or maybe it is, “God, please take me now.”

This level of depression cannot be described in a way that those who have not experienced it can understand. It can take months to years to overcome and can recur throughout a lifetime.

This is the danger of writing lists of sins- we cannot write about every mitigating circumstance. We cannot know another’s motives. Onclose up of a beautiful young woman looking upwardsly God gets to see our honest effort versus apparent lack of faith. 

I don’t recall seeing sulking or self-pity on the list – only depression was named a sin. That is a misuse of the word, I hope. I’d like to believe no church would dismiss people who experience the number one commonality between all human suffering.

Unfortunately though, I’ve seen all too many people of faith who are quick to judge and misinterpret symptoms of depression. I was greatly disturbed by that list of sins. If I’d seen it three years earlier, my reaction would have been greater despair, and frankly it would have played a part in my downward spiral toward suicide.

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

-pictures from Qualitystockphotos.com

Afraid to Be Me. James’ Story

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

Stigma is a chosen ignorance. Stigma doesn’t only affect people with mental illness. 

James is a young adult who came out aphoto-24765824-two-young-men-having-a-conversations gay a few years ago. In some circles, James is not welcome. 

I met a young woman in rehab trying to break the cycle of self-sabotage. She cried as she described the LGBT community. “They accept me, and support me when I’m sick or out of a job.”

I asked about church and she scoffed. “Yeah, no.”

I’ve been to conventions, on radio programs, in churches, and in schools. In each venue I witness some form of prejudice, judgment, and hypocrisy. I’ve seen far fewer people in church settings willing to be vulnerable in public than in other places.

There is a reason so many of the LGBT community are angry at so-called Christians who throw around the word “abomination” so freely. In the same scripture  slander and gossip and abuse are listed as abominations in the eyes of God. Some Bible readers glance over their own blatant hatred to focus on someone else’s issues. (Can we say “plank in the eye?”)

This is the one reason we won’t see James in church very soon. This is why the young woman will not visit our church outreach programs.

James said, “I didn’t realize what was happening until I started thinking about me and my life. The assistant pastor has been a father figure and I want him to be proud of me. I think I let him down by being gay. I’m afraid to acknowledge my homosexuality among  people who actually care about me. I’m not afraid of being rejected because I know my friends are going to stick by me no matter what –  they’ve all proved that in their own way. I just don’t know how much of me they accept. Mostly I’ve just held it all in, afraid to be me.”

Whether in hospitals or support groups, we who live with mental illness understand that the reason we are receiving treatment is to save our skin.  There is an unspoken bond between people who have fought the same battles. I venture to guess James’ vulnerability in a support group, or maybe even in a hospital would be met with empathy. There, no one boos. No one throws rocks. No one judges.  

However, in a church he will likely be met with an agenda. We can save this man. James needs people who will love him because he is James. James exists = James deserves acceptance and love.

______

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

 – pictures from qualitystockphotos.com

 

Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage. Part 5

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

Physical (including sexual) abuse involves emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can also occur without physical assault.

In this series, emotional abuse is described and put in context. A special focus on what it can look like in a Christian marriage, leads naturally to this last discussion, can the church sanction divorce on grounds of emotional abuse alone?

Attitudes

Clearly, a woman needs to leave a situation where she is beaten, threatened, or assaulted. Divorce ia appropriate in cases of sexual activity outside the marriage. I think those are popular opinions.

What I’ve noticed however,  is that when women from widely considered “christian” marriages, try to describe their husbands’ non-physical maltreatment,  a limited and judgmental viewpoint from the church may not recognize emotional abuse.

A friend of mine was reprimanded by her pastor for making her husband “look bad.”  Another pastor told a wife, “Everyone says nasty things once in a while.” Emotional abuse is often confused with disappointment in a marriage. 

Recently, I met a young pastor who proactively sent a woman to counseling for the emotional abuse she endured. Domestic abuse is less and less taboo, yet in the United States we are a long way from knowledgable with regard to emotional abuse.

Results of emotional abuse

The best write-up I have seen about domestic abuse both physical and emotional, is found on HelpGuide.org.  One line reads, “There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner.”*

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)** is not limited to extreme trauma or war. An emotionally abused wife feared entering her home, and spent much of a frozen night in her car. Eventually, her husband moved out. She felt trapped in bed, tense, and scared that the noises she heard were him coming back.

Some women are jumpy, suddenly angry, or suffer bad dreams. 

Wives say their husbands treat them like prostitutes, ignore them and choose porn, express unspoken yet very real threats, practice gross neglect, or use back-handed put-downs disguised as jokes. Love is withdrawn as punishment, and promised as reward for cooperation. Gaslighting is frequent; this happens when a person purposely tries to make another question their own judgement.

Survivors of emotional abuse have to overcome the brainwashing that systematic blame, belittling, disrespect, dishonesty, lovelessness, and gross neglect cause. Negative beliefs about herself  can become a pervasive issue and undermine her ability to function.

God’s calling on her life often is replaced with a mutated rationalization, that by keeping the peace she is doing God’s will. 

Social interaction

A posting on a survivors-related facebook page reads, “Many [women]blame themselves for the abuse and continue to feel responsible and guilty for anything bad that happens to them or to other people they know. Survivors often feel bad about themselves and different from other people. They therefore isolate themselves from other people and avoid making close friendships.” ***

We need interaction.  Kind, nurturing photo-24779100-frowning-womanrelationships are God-given needs for fulfillment, productivity, and health.

I would argue that emotional abuse is life-threatening because in many cases it leads chronic loneliness which is diectly related to poor physical health, substance use, and suicidal thinking.  One woman I met, who remained in her emotionally abusive marriage,  eventually existed in a constant state of defeat and despair. 

Religiously unaware

It is convenient for abusers of any type, to use and count on a Christian victim’s 70 x 7 forgiveness obligation, and honest desire for relationship.  Misuse of scripture while cherry-picking verses to support power and control, is a common thread in abusive “Christian” marriages. Wives taught to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord, are not reminded that the Lord does not abuse his bride. 

In The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages, author Amy White writes:

Unless pastors and counselors can recognize the often subtle and always complex dynamics of emotional abuse, women will continue to be victimized first by their husbands and then by the church or the community. An abusive man who is not held accountable is indirectly supported and given license to continue his destructive patterns, and those around him become enablers. Women are not treated with dignity and respect, as God intended, and so God is not honored.****

If you still do not understand the dangers of emotional abuse, consider this: it is used as a torure device to extract information from prisoners of war. When a woman is emotionally abused, her life as intended by God is dead or dying.

Of course separation or divorce are appropriate!  Escaping the control of an abuser is a holy action. We are not showing the love of Jesus to victims, or abusers for that matter, by continuing to enable grave sin. 

Love is to be the most telling sign of our faith in Jesus. We believers are to treat others as we want to be treated. Leaders are to be servants. Justice and freeing the oppressed are tenets of our faith. 

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See  Is Watching Porn Emotional Abuse  and More on Is Watching Porn Emotional Abuse

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Today’s Helpful Word : 

Proverbs 10:10 

 Winking at sin leads to sorrow; bold reproof leads to peace.

**http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-easy-to-read/index.shtml  

***https://www.facebook.com/wearesurvivors1

****”The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages” by Amy Wildman White  http://christiancounsellingcentre.ca/sitecontent/ur3P9wM1inxspbnup9fYhQ–/mfiles/the-silent-killer-of-christian-marriages.pdf

******COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.

NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness, abuse, and addiction. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

-pictures from qualitystockphotos.com

 

 

Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage. Part 4

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

photo-24769212-man-and-woman-fightingAbuse of any kind generally follows a recognizable cyclical pattern: the abuse, a honeymoon or reconciliation period, calm, tension building, abuse, etc.*  This cycle can happen within a few moments or even over a year. Many abuse tactics are found repeatedly in a variety of abusive situations. Abuse is about power and control.

Emotional abuse in a “Christian” home can look the same as anywhere else, only a dimension I’ve observed is different, and that is spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse can come from within a marriage or from a religious organization. My experience with Christian churches has been more with the evangelical stream; I cannot speak to Catholic or fundamentalist environments except by what I have heard from people in those realms. Evangelical churches tend to have some commonalities in social atmosphere, expectations of congregants, and leadership qualities.

Let me be clear, please. This is a series on emotional abuse and not a report card on churches. The Christian faith and most marriages within that faith are not to be defined by the examples I use. I have met many wives over the years in Bible studies, Sunday School classes, and supporting prayer groups. Women tend to talk about marriage, although as anywhere else, abused women do not open up about the truth very often. Most christian wives share positive experiences mixed with normal disappointments.

Some of the following stories are about people I know well or have heard about in church settings. A few of the husbands and wives I describe here have died, others I haven’t seen in decades. Some situations I have observed from afar and others closer-up.

Separating the woman from support systems. From a pastor, “No one needs to know our business,” and “I am called to go to another church.”  These spiritualized comments were not made in discussion, they were imperatives supported by attitude, tone, or behavior. “Your role is to follow me” was another implied or stated idea used to make sure the church leader’s wife would keep family secrets. One wife I met felt guilty if she did not include her husband in each of her activities and social circles. Yet when he was reluctant to join her, she stayed home with him.

Preventing her from achieving her educational or occupational goals.  “Just stay home and be a godly wife” is one comment I have overheard  in a church setting. What is “godly” apparently was to be decided by the husband.

Possessive.  In one family,  a husband falsely accused his wife of unfaithful behavior by expressing doubt their baby was his. His unfounded rationale? She wasn’t acting “like a christian” toward him.

Direct and indirect criticism. Snide remarks, sarcasm, and “oops” excuses for insulting a wife can be abusive. One husband used to complain about his wife in church, publicly humiliating her and writing it off as jokes. No leader at church ever called him on it, making church seem an unsafe place for his wife. One preacher spoke against the “sin” of getting fat, while his overweight wife sat in the front row. Another husband told his wife who was trying to start a ministry that what she had to offer wasn’t good enough. He mocked her privately by making negative comments about women who shared her ambitions. Achievements she did make were met with jealousy or put-downs. Publicly he praised the Lord for his “wonderful” wife. In a situation where the victim can never please her mate, she forgets her own value and worth.

Using a woman’s physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental challenges against her. “You need to settle down,” one husband said in front of his wife and her friends. She had been adamant about something that upset her. She was humiliated and embarrassed and remained quiet for the rest of the night. She told me later in her heart she felt guilty for not having a “quiet and gentle spirit.”  False guilt is a manipulative tool that may come rather easily to the abusive man in a “christian” marriage due to misrepresented scriptures or false teachings in the church. A wife may learn to doubt her thoughts and feelings.

Punishing “bad” behavior. A husband who uses religion to control his wife suggested she deserves his maltreatment due to something she said or did or failed to say or do. His favorite scriptures were misquotes or conveniently out of context. One husband refused to talk to his wife until she would eventually give in to whatever he wanted due to the weight of emotional torture. I asked a therapist once if one person could break another’s spirit. The answer was, “Not unless the second person allows it and stays around for more.”  Theoretically he is right. In a christian marriage context a wife is often taught not to leave, and that to love as Jesus did means to take whatever comes. I’ve seen broken wives- and the church often has nothing to say on the matter.

Intimidating. Banging around cupboard doors and dishes, punching walls, yelling at the children in a nonsensical manner – all these behaviors exposed a husband’s anger and ability to break things which was intimidating to his wife. Threats of spiritual failure may also be intimidating. Another church attending husband would talk non-stop about religious rules of conduct until he had apologies from his family just to shut him up.

Blaming. Pornography is one real problem that breaks up a lot of marriages. I have heard both men and women ignorantly blame wives in these circumstances with accusations of being prudish, not understanding men’s issues, or being unattractive. “Christian” husbands who engage in such lust find easy excuses for their behavior, after all, aren’t christian women supposed to meet their husbands’ needs with compassion and forgiveness? A wife in this or any circumstance in which she dares to confront her abusive husband, will hear the story shift to everything being her fault.

Undermining or ignoring a wife’s input. In some churches, men are often raised to superhuman heights by sheer implication due to the lack of females in leadership. When women are told to not be in positions of power in church settings, children grow up seeing that as normal. Wives learn “their place” and abusive husbands can feel cocky. An atmosphere of female inferiority is a breeding ground for abuse. While many christians I know would argue with me, many others would agree. It shows up in how husbands confront their wives in front of children, in who makes all the decisions for the family via verbal command or attitudinal demand, who withholds information and refuses to communicate, who decides where they attend church, who will be her friends, and how she lives her life.

Gaslighting.  If the christian wife should take the matter to him or to the church, the abuser will lie or deny attempting to make the victim doubt her experience – the abuse never happened, she perceived it wrong, she is making assumptions that are not true, etc. She questions her memory and begins to lose the fight against helplessness.

Controlling the money. I have heard in christian circles (among women!) that men are supposed to be the leaders in their homes and that means doing the bills and taxes. Really? Sorry, I’ve seen no scripture that even implies men are mandated to be in charge of family money matters. Yet somehow in abusive christian homes the men find ways to make all the money “belong” to them, and to expect their wives to be and act constantly grateful for the men’s willingness to provide housing. Christian women sometimes choose to stay home to raise the children. In one such family, the husband asked her to do this, and she creates no income. The abusive husband demands her submission if she wants a little cash.

Demanding she stroke his ego. This is an umbrella statement over all abusive behavior as abuse is always about control and power. In one church a husband asked me if his wife wasn’t supposed to be more grateful for his gift of a tennis bracelet. I answered if he gave it to her to make her happy then her response would indicate what he needed to do next. If she didn’t like it, perhaps he ought to exchange it. This made the husband angry (he was well-known as a control-freak) and he mumbled she ought be more appreciative. I told him it sounded like he bought the bracelet for himself, and he walked away. His wife laughed; she’d loved the whole scene. Another husband said his wife was sinning by leaving him even though he admitted being abusive to her. In his mind, she owed him for being her husband.

Compassionate love may keep a woman in an abusive marriage, but there is nothing unloving about leaving. In the next of this series I will take a look at how the church can best help an emotionally battered wife.

More about the above tactics can be read at:

http://socialjugg.com/2013/01/27/emotional-abuse-identifying-the-signs-breaking-the-cycle/

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/abuse-and-addiction/understanding-emotional-abuse/faqs-about-emotional-abuse

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

-pictures from qualitystockphotos.com

*http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/cycle_of_abuse.html

 

Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage. Part 3

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

She stood staring at the door moments after her husband left, slamming it behind him. Beside her stood her 12 year-old daughter, watching with wide eyes.

The woman turned and silently walked back to the table where she had done paperwork. She resumed her duty as if nothing had occurred. The girl understood photo-24803258-residential-houseshe was on her own again to process what she had just witnessed.

Emotional abuse can make victims retreat into shamed silence. Not only did the husband in the above scenario hurt his wife’s feelings, but he humiliated her in front of her daughter. The mother did not know what to do.

She was overwhelmed with emotion and had no more room for empathy for her girl. She had rationalized long ago that silence was the safe way to protect her children. In silence, repercussions from her husband would be deferred, she could tell herself she was sheltering her children, and could focus on urgent chores. Discussion meant more pain caused by the emotions of others, so she shut herself off and out of the family dynamic.

We know that other victims were present. The daughter for instance, learned and relearned to keep her mouth shut. She had observed her father kissing her mother on the cheek- the only “affection” she had ever seen between her parents. The kiss was followed by hatred, and a slammed door.

This was a mean man treating a woman like dirt. Since no one discussed it, the girl did know any other relationship between a husband and wife was possible. Emotional abuse kept her family segregated to an extent; her mother’s lack of friendships was reaction to fear of her situation being discovered. Both mother and daughter believed themselves to be nothings.

Sometimes we want to ask, “why didn’t the mother just leave?” Think about it financially. She had a roof over her head, food to eat, and clothes to wear. So did her children. While she may have been willing to risk her financial circumstances, she did not want her children to pay such a price.

Her work history was meager because she and her husband had agreed she would stay home with their son and daughter. He discouraged her from working because in his opinion her job was to tend to him. She earned her college degree later in life and was emotionally unfit to use it.

As she fought to promote the image of “all is well” in public, he shamed her and undermined her efforts with the children. He told them their mother was crazy and would be leaving them soon. He said he was going to die young. He told his children why he hated their mother. Eventually he divorced her declaring her an unfit parent.

Now picture this family in church. She wears a pasted smile, he acts like a peacock, the children do not behave normally. Against all the false advertising about her attitude and family life, the woman was seriously angry.

There could be no confronting her husband as he would find a way to make everything her fault. She had shut herself off from church fellowship and extended family by wearing her fake smile and never opening up. Her pent-up emotions overflowed until she was hitting her children, and there was little warmth between them.photo-24710349-church-entrance

Think about the dynamics here. The father emotionally abused his wife in her face and behind her back. He corrupted her relationship with her children and caused everyone in the household to feel unsafe. The mother retained a solitary lifestyle after he and then the grown children left because she felt worthless. The son and daughter married people like their parents and the legacy of the “Christian” home continued.

The wife had felt trapped in her situation. She lashed out at the kids. Image became her god because she couldn’t risk losing her standing in the church. Truth never made its way into the open. Imagine then if she had (and she did not but many women do) decided to leave him? The outside world would have been shocked at this poor, normal husband dumped by his senselessly angry wife.

These are some of the reasons women in emotionally abusive marriages do not leave.

Please read more at:

http://cryingoutforjustice.com.

https://dannimoss.wordpress.com/articles/abuse-in-the-christian-home/does-god-want-me-to-stay-in-an-abusive-marriage/

******

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

-pictures from qualitystockphotos.com