My father beat my mother. He’d get into drunken rages and he’d physically hurt her. That was abuse. I grew up understanding that. Having been on the run from him for a long time, when we settled down in my mother’s hometown I was finally able to be at peace. That was a good thing. Being away from him, even when I’d miss him, was a good thing. He’d hit her. He’d burned her. He’d even broken some of her bones. He’d hurt me, too. Even as a child, I understood that. I grasped that what he did was abuse.
Because my father was physical, his abuse of us was easy to label as abuse. Anyone around us knew what was going on. My mother had support for getting away from him. Friends, family, and even the church, helped her.
It’s not always so easy to identify abuse. And it’s not always so easy to get others to understand what you are going through. We might be being abused and not even recognize it. Yelling, screaming, saying cruel things, even hitting a wall in anger, can be easy to justify if we try hard enough. “He’s had a bad day”/”I haven’t tried hard enough to please him”/”If only this or that had/hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have gotten upset”. But if we’re having to justify such behavior, it’s probably a sign that something is wrong.
Abuse is a repeated pattern of mistreatment. Anyone can lose their temper. Anyone can say something that they don’t mean, or say cruel things in anger. That’s not to justify those things. Scripture says we’re to treat others as we want to be treated, and that we are to submit one to another. Such behavior isn’t seeking anyone’s good and so a Christian shouldn’t allow himself/herself to do or say such things. However, a one time or even once in a blue moon action isn’t an abusive pattern. What he or she did or said may have indeed been abusive but it’s not yet a pattern.
Domestic abuse is a continual pattern of behavior that is designed to hurt, manipulate or control another person. Physical abuse is just one type of abuse, and even with physical abuse, there doesn’t have to be bruises or scars for abuse to have taken place. If he drove recklessly in order to scare you, if he pushed or shoved you, if he restrained you against your will, he has abused you.
Sexual abuse isn’t just rape. A man can rape his wife and that is abusive. He can also force her to view pornography, loan her out to another man against her will, or force her to participate in sexual activity that is painful or shameful. He can forceably undress her, make her have sex or force her to be undressed in front of others or in a public place. He can spank her during sex when she doesn’t want to be spanked. He can make sex painful through use of some object, through rough-handling her, or by other means.
He can abuse her financially by not meeting her financial needs when he could. He can refuse to allow her to purchase needed supplies for herself. He can ruin her credit. He can force her to go bankrupt. He can refuse to allow her to have any money or keep her on a strict budget. If he is doing these things to control her, he is abusing her financially.
He can be cruel to her, saying or doing things that constitute verbal or emotional abuse. He can gaslight her by telling her he didn’t do or say something she knows he did. He can humiliate her in front of others. He can act erratically so that she feels the need to walk on eggshells around him.
He can spiritually abuse her by not allowing her to attend church or by twisting Scripture to justify his abuse of her. He can twist Scripture in order to justify subjugating her.
Paul Hegstrom, author of Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them has identified 21 types of abuse. I don’t have room here to cover them all but I will come back to that in a future post. Suffice it to say that there are many ways that one person can abuse another. If you are being hurt (physically or otherwise), if you are being controlled (not allowed out of the house, forced to keep a tight schedule or budget, etc.), if your needs are being ignored, if you are being told that you “deserve this because you are a woman”, you are being abused.
Please, if you think you are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). Or tell someone who can help you. There are shelters available in many cities. Tell a friend or a pastor. Even tell your doctor (even if there are no marks). Just get help. Please, just reach out to someone.
Meanwhile, I may not know you or what you are going through but, as my reader, know that I’m lifting you up to God. I care. I’m praying for you. Just act. If you need to talk, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
God be with you.