By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
Many of us were raised with “rules” that have not served us well. We were taught never to complain, to always defer to others, and to always keep family problems within the family.
“What happens in our family is nobody’s business,” many parents have said. This, of course, served their purposes and fears.
Our parents may have meant well, of course, when promoting these rules. They thought they were doing us a favor and that by following these rules we would turn out to be the best possible human beings. However, some of those “rules” were not best for us. Many of us adopted them wholesale and continued obeying them into adulthood without reviewing whether they really fit our situation.
In recent years, I have received countless phone calls and emails from distressed women, victims of domestic violence, and emotional abuse. As if that was not bad enough, most of those women told me they were not speaking out about the abuse.
“I would feel like I’m betraying my husband,” Jacqueline said to me recently. “Besides, I don’t really want to burden my friends and I’m not sure how I would even describe what is happening in my marriage.”
“Most women who have experienced emotional abuse don’t know how to talk about it,” I shared. “Emotional abuse leaves no visible scars and it’s very hard to even define what is happening.”
“Exactly,” she continued. “When I’ve tried to talk to my friends, they have told me that it didn’t sound so bad to them. How can I help anyone see how devastating it is to be treated this way?”
Jacqueline continued, sharing how her husband dismissed her concerns. She shared how he would trivialize her complaints, say that he was being victimized worse than her, and blamed her for all of their marriage problems.
“I just don’t know how to share so that people get it,” she said with exasperation. “I’m ready to separate from my husband and I know my pastors will think I’m crazy. Am I?”
“No Jacqueline,” I said reassuringly. “Most women who are victims of emotional abuse keep it a secret for the very reasons you are giving. They feel unheard and unsupported and are afraid to speak out. They believe they should remain silent and so rarely get the support they desperately need. We have an epidemic of abuse happening with very little awareness. God does not approve of emotional violence any more than He approves of physical violence.”
Jacqueline continued to share example after example of behavior I’ve described as “Crazymaking” in my book, Dealing With the Crazymakers in Your Life. I shared how more and more women, as well as some men, are calling The Marriage Recovery Center asking for help and support for problems not readily identified or acknowledged in our society, but are emotionally deadly and physically debilitating. Keeping silent about them only adds to the devastating impact of emotional abuse.
While Scripture doesn’t mention emotional abuse by name, it is easy to infer that God is not pleased with it. Consider what the Psalmist says:
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:17-20
I offered Jacqueline the following advice and offer it to you as well if you are struggling with an emotionally abusive individual in your life.
First, learn all you can about emotional abuse. There is much written now about emotional abuse. Much more research and good information are available so you can learn about emotional abuse and what can be done about it.
Second, end your silence about it. As the Psalmist says—cry out and the Lord will hear you and aid you in your struggles. Speak out. Know that emotional abuse is wrong and hurtful and can only perpetuate in silence. When you speak out you shine a light on the trauma that it is. When you speak out you claim your truth and refuse to enable something so destructive.
Third, ask for support and encouragement. More and more people are ready to stand with you in ending emotional abuse. More and more people are acknowledging the traumatic impact of reverse blame, stonewalling, scapegoating, trivializing, spiritual abuse, shaming, and more. With support, you will have greater confidence to bring these issues to light so that the perpetrator of emotional abuse must stop the abuse and get appropriate help.
Fourth, speak out against emotional abuse. With support, you will have greater courage to say the abuse is wrong and must stop. With support and strength, you will heighten awareness of this huge problem and spur others to reach out for help as well. You will spur professionals to learn about and take action against this problem.
Finally, hold onto your boundaries. Be clear, courageous, and compelling. You are fighting a fierce but noble battle. Hold firm to your convictions and boundaries and you will increase the likelihood that change can occur.
I would like to hear from you about the issue of emotional abuse. I’d like to hear about your experience of being a Christian and experiencing emotional abuse. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency, and affair-proofing your marriage.
Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.
Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.