Special Challenges for Abused Women of Faith
DO friends not believe you about the abuse?
Has your church given you confusing and unhelpful advice?
Has your husband turned friends and family against you?
Are you having hard time trusting God?
If you are going through any of these things you aren’t alone. They are common experiences that we Christian women face when we start to see the covert psychological and emotional abuse in our lives.
It’s unbearably painful– our life is falling apart around us and the husband who we thought loved us is now a stranger to us.
And then, on top of that, everything we’ve always depended on for strength and stability – our support system and our faith – gets shaken as well.
I’ll be writing on many topics for abused women of faith in the future, but this post is an overview of five issues we commonly face:
~ Not being believed
~ Betrayal by our support system
~ Damaging doctrinal beliefs we have to sort through
~ The church’s lack of understanding about abuse
~ Our confusion about our faith
They don’t believe me
If your husband goes to church, everyone around you thinks he’s a wonderful Christian. He’s put on a great front, but now you’re seeing that he’s the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” There’s a good chance that many of your friends and acquaintances won’t believe you.
You may have already experienced the common, confusing experience of sharing your marital problems with a friend and hearing, “Oh my husband does that, but he’s human and I forgive him.” In your heart, you’re thinking “But it’s not like that. It wasn’t just a mistake he made. It goes so much deeper than that.” But you couldn’t explain it because you didn’t have the words to describe what he was doing.
Even now that you are starting to be able to describe it, you suspect that the response you’d get would be somewhere between disbelief and blaming you. It’s a lonely, heart-breaking experience to be so misunderstood.
They’ve taken his side
Once you start to talk about the abuse, there’s a good chance that some people who you thought were friends will side with your husband. Many women lose friends and support systems when they start telling the truth.
On the one hand, it’s understandable with covert abuse. They’ve only seen the charming side of your husband and have a hard time believing you. But on the other hand, that means that they don’t trust you. You know you aren’t lying, and you can’t understand why anyone would think you would.
It’s hurtful and shocking. It leaves you feeling invisible and insignificant. And it’s a huge betrayal at a time when you desperately need support.
If you separate or divorce, some people will think you aren’t trying hard enough and are destroying your family. It’s traumatizing to be accused of doing wrong when you are the victim and need support. That’s why people who take the abuser’s side are called “flying monkeys.”
But know that God will eventually bring you safer friends than the ones who sided with your husband. These new friends will love truth, see you for who you are, not question your integrity, and will stand by you and give you strength.
If you have friends who are standing by you and believing you, treasure these women!!
If not, cling to Jesus. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by a kiss.
But I’ve always thought that as a Christian I should…
You’re probably finding yourself facing inner conflict about what you believe.
You’ve tried everything
You’ve believed that to solve a marriage problem you need to pray harder, forgive more, submit more, give him more sex, love him more, and respect him more. You’ve thought that you’ve failed as a wife.
You’ve been taught that women tend to be bitter, and that you were gossiping.
You’ve been told that God is allowing your suffering for your own good, that all relationships have difficulties, that it takes two to make a relationship problem, that you need to “count it all joy,” that God “hates divorce.”
You believed all this because that is all you knew. Yet none of these pieces of advice has changed anything about the abuse.
You’ve probably already spent 5, 10, 20 or more years forgiving him, hearing him “repent,” giving him another chance, and nothing has changed.
You’ve probably already spent years praying for him, searching yourself for your part and your sin, and searching the Bible for answers.
You may have sought counseling, pastoral advice, read self-help and marriage books and even gone to marriage retreats.
But nothing ever changed in your marriage
Trying to fix your marriage with this advice is like taking tums for stomach cancer. Wrong diagnosis- wrong solution.
You had no information about covert abuse and had no idea what was really going on in your marriage. Not one of the solutions you were given were relevant to an abusive marriage. They may work for a difficult marriage, but there is a big, big difference between a difficult marriage and an abusive one.
Very few of us have been taught to think about abuse from a correct Christian perspective and now you’re faced with sorting through and changing fundamental parts of your belief system.
There’s a lot to relearn
You may be realizing that what you might have to do to handle your situation goes against many of the beliefs you’ve accepted as part of Christian doctrine. But that doctrine is mostly man-made doctrine and has only made things worse for you so far. Now you get to learn what God really says about abuse and follow His truth.
My church isn’t safe
Unfortunately, most churches are unhelpful, and oftentimes even damaging places for abused women to go to. Pastors are not trained to deal with abuse appropriately.
The abuser is supported and you aren’t
Church communities have a long history of protecting the accused instead of the victim. They want to believe “There are two sides to every story,” and they believe his.
And if they do believe the victim, they’ll be quick to accept the first “I’m sorry” from the abuser without any proof of real change.
Even women suffering physical violence and severe verbal abuse are often given ignorant, irresponsible and dangerous advice. For those of us experiencing covert abuse, it is even more difficult – how do we even explain what is going on? The reality of our abuse is often brushed off with “that’s a communication problem,” or “you are being too sensitive.”
The serious effect this has upon us is real- many women end up with PTSD from the trauma of betrayal upon betrayal.
If you are in a church that supports and believes you, you are fortunate!
Thankfully there’s a growing number of resources for abused women of faith. There are some excellent blogs trying to educate the Church and they are writing very clearly about what the scriptures actually say about abuse.
I feel like my faith has been shaken to the core
You may feel like you don’t understand anything anymore. You might be very confused about God and no longer trust Him. You might wonder why He’s “allowing” this to happen if the doctrine you have been taught teaches that God allows suffering for our good. There is so much to sort through about how abuse affects our faith.
As you’ve come to understand about covert abuse and why abusers do what they do, you’ve faced an upheaval to your worldview. Suddenly a world that seemed safe and in order is now being rocked by your new understanding. You are face to face with evil and reevaluating everything you believe.
It’s kind of strange that the Christian church, of all places, has such a shallow teaching of evil since the Bible is pretty much all about the battle between good and evil. As a result, when we realize that evil actually exists in the people we know, it gets very real and shocking.
Finding a new understanding of God and His Word
As a result of this shaking, you’ll be going through the freeing process of discovering with what the Bible actually says and who our God really is.
As I went through this process I had many amazing revelations. One thing I did was to take a red pencil and underline everything the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament had to say about evil people (and scoffers, deceivers and revilers).
The Bible will make sense in a new way
Being shame based, I had easily bought into guilt and had an overactive conscience. As I discovered what the Bible says about evil, those scriptures that I had thought were directed at me no longer haunted me and made me feel awful. It became clear that they are directed at people who align themselves with evil, and I knew that wasn’t me. As you go through the discovery process you’ll discover all sorts of sweet treasures and your beliefs will be changed.
Your faith will eventually resettle and be strengthened
You’ll discover who Jesus really is and what He actually says about abuse, which is wonderfully different from the doctrines of man that we’ve been taught. (He hates abuse.) You’ll find good, solid answers to your questions about how God feels about divorce. (He supports it for abuse.)
Try to not be afraid of all this confusion. Easier said than done, I know. All these challenges add another layer to your recovery, but you will discover a God who is more loving that you ever thought. You can untangle the muddle and find your solid Rock again.
There are so many comforting worships songs I could post - here’s one.
If you’re too confused and overwhelmed to trust God, that’s okay. He’s got your back, He won’t let you go, and He’ll be there when you can trust Him again.
Are you facing any of these challenges? Comment below or in our private Facebook community.