Yes, and probably not.
Okay, maybe we need to talk about this a little more, because these two questions are persistently flitting around in circles in the back of almost every abuse survivor’s mind. These two questions are why many women stay stuck.
Because, you never know. God can do anything. (God can blow up the world, make blue trees, and turn mud pies into French Silk, too.)
Here’s the thing. You do know. Don’t you? Deep down in your gut, you know. You also know if you pick up this dark Truth you’ve been living with for years and examine it up close, you might fall apart and never be able to put yourself back together again.
It’s easier to shove it down under and pretend it’s not really there. Or, okay, maybe it is, but way down in the abyss of your guts, it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, you made it this far, right? And life hasn’t been all that bad. There were good times. Surely that’s a sign that things are pretty good underneath, and the bad stuff is just an anomaly that surfaces now and again?
Everyone has a bad day. (But not everyone spends their life seeing how many nice ways they can tear apart the people around them without being detected.)
So here’s another thing. Emotional abuse isn’t usually large and obvious and in your face. In fact, if it’s hard for the actual victims to “get it,” how easy is it for outsiders who don’t have to live under its murky waters to see it?
So problem number one is you can’t see it.
It’s like carbon monoxide that way.
And here’s another, other thing. Emotional abuse kills you one nibble at a time. It’s not like physical abuse where a big shark comes up behind you and chomps off your leg. No, emotional abuse is more like a gnat bite. You can barely see the little bugger until you feel the bite. Just a tiny bite. No big deal.
But when you live, day in and day out, getting bitten numerous times with no end in sight, you begin to feel hopeless and crazy.
But then sometimes the gnat backs off and you have a good go of it for a while. It’s such a relief, and you feel so overwhelmed with gratitude and hope that your suffering may be over, that you let your guard down. You forget how awful all the tiny bites were.
You start to wonder if they were even real.
There is no evidence they happened. Just the subtle, nagging feeling of being on eggshells, worried the bites may begin again, but you don’t want to worry about it, because that’s uncomfortable, and you just want so badly to enjoy this peaceful moment.
Say hello to the abuse cycle, my friends.
The cycle is a circle. It goes around and around and around. I used to sing that song, actually, when I was in the middle of a crazy moment with Mine. “Round and round and round we go, where we stop, nobody knows!” And then I’d cackle like a lunatic. Because that’s exactly how I felt.
Totally cray cray.
And by George, if that isn’t what Mine used to tell me, too! I’d get all wound up, pointing out the invisible elephant in our home, and he’d tsk tsk about how I was making stuff up in my head again. So I’d wave my hands and get louder and more animated, because, that always worked, right? Pretty soon I’d be swearing like a pirate on rum, and of course, that wasn’t very Christian of me.
Yeah, it was really that bad, back when I thought I had to make gold out of straw and just couldn’t do it. In my desperation to be seen and heard and believed, I disrespected myself. I behaved like a child. And then I felt ashamed, and the cycle continued this way for over two decades.
When I began to read about emotional and spiritual abuse, everything was describing my home life. My default was to assume the problem must always be me. After all, my partner and the Good but Clueless Church Folks kept telling me I needed to do more. Be more. Save my husband without a word. Just make him happy. Trust and obey. Suffer for Jesus.
But I couldn’t hold it together when he went into gnat attack mode. The more I read and learned about the techniques abusers use to control their targets, the more I realized I was the target.
I learned through therapy that the outward actions I was exhibiting were actually complex-PTSD symptoms after two decades of covert abuse. (By the way, after getting away from the wacky environment I lived in and going through EMDR therapy, I’m back to who I was before I got married. I just couldn’t live in the smoke and breathe at the same time.)
The motivation behind your willingness to go berzerk is that you just really, really, really want to resolve an issue. REEEAAALY bad. And for some magical reason, you think that if you could just turn your words in exactly the right way, with a sprinkle of pink fairy dust at just the right moment, you might break through. There might be a meeting of the minds.
You might come to a peaceful resolution that leads to great sex and deeper intimacy on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level. But that never happens. Ever.
“But it might!” You say. “It might! Someday! If I keep trying!”
So it’s up to you to change him? Who said another person was your personal responsiblity to change? To control?
Whose life did God give you, anyway?
He gave you one life. Just one. Yours. And THAT’S the life you get to change! Isn’t that good news?
So back to the original two questions.
First: is it really that bad? You tell me. Because you get to decide whether or not it’s really that bad. Maybe you could ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you sleep well at night, knowing you are safe emotionally, physically, and spiritually in your own home?
- When you and your partner have conflict, are you both able to bring it around to resolution so you can both move forward in peace?
- Do you live and move within your home in peace? No eggshells on the floor?
- Can you freely express your opinion, knowing you will not be belittled and demeaned for having one?
- Are your ideas and thoughts respected and valued in your relationship?
- Are you an active part of the decision making process in your relationship?
- Do you feel loved and cherished for who you are?
- Do you make choices for yourself without worrying about what your partner will think or say?
If you said no to most of those questions, then it’s really that bad. Your relationship basically sucks. It isn’t healthy. It’s sicko.
The second question: maybe he’ll change? I read somewhere that the best predictor of the future is the past. So if things in your relationship have been consistently the same (that includes the cycle of good, then bad, then good, then bad), and it never changes, what can you predict about the future of your relationship?
When I first asked these questions, I had other abuse survivors tell me clearly that I would eventually discover what most abuse survivors discover. Nothing’s gonna change.
And after I gave it a few more years, really pressing into my partner for some measurable action and change, setting up clear boundaries, and refusing to tolerate bad behavior, things only got worse. Which was actually helpful for me in the decision making process.
I waited, and I’m glad I did. I waited until I knew for sure, for sure, for SURE that I needed to be done. And then I filed for divorce and walked away forever. I was threatened by my former church, but I kept walking. Because they aren’t anything special or big or scary. They are not God. They are just broken human beings, like me.
I’m not the first woman to do this. To go through all of this. There are literally thousands and thousands of us all over the globe. That’s excellent news, because it means you are not alone, either.
CAVEAT: An abuser CAN change. He can get saved and the Holy Spirit can transform his life. I recently had a client whose husband did exactly that. He’s a new man. He transformed from the inside out, so it wasn’t a temporary behavior change. After a year of experiencing his new manhood, this woman is finally resting in his love. They are rebuilding their lives, and it is a wondrous thing. But that’s a rare exception to the rule. And it requires the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.
I know other women who have stayed into their 70’s with their abusive partner, hoping against hope that he’ll change. He never did. And now they are old and full of regrets at having lived their entire lives in survival mode, sacrificing all that God created them to be in order to enable a wicked man in his sin. They lived out a marriage that modeled Satan and the Church. Not Christ and the Church.
No matter what anyone says, this is not what Christ died to give His daughters. It’s time to rise up and say “NO!” to lies and “YES!” to the truth.
Are you with me?