Verbal & Emotional Abuse
Victory over Verbal & Emotional Abuse
by June Hunt
“You’re worthless!” … “You’ll never amount to anything!” … “I wish you had never been born!” Words like these in childhood can wound the heart for a lifetime.
And further wounding takes place in adulthood when “control” is the name of the game. Threats like … “If you leave me, I’ll hurt the children!” or “I’ve taken the keys—you’re not going anywhere!” … are both emotionally and verbally abusive and are ways of maintaining control in relationships.
Abuse can also be perpetrated without a word—whether with degrading looks, obscene gestures, or threatening behaviors. These actions inflict immense pain and impede emotional growth. You don’t have to allow an abuser to make you feel worthless. Jesus says that God not only knows each and every sparrow, but He also knows you intimately and considers you to be of great worth.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
A. What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is the unseen fallout of all other forms of abuse: physical, mental, verbal, sexual, and even spiritual abuse. People often minimize the importance of emotions. Yet with deeply wounded people, their feelings can be the driving force behind their choices … the life-sustaining element of their very beings. Emotional abuse strikes at the very core of who we are … crushing our confidence … wearing away our sense of worth … crushing our spirit. The Bible says,
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
• Emotional abuse is any ongoing, negative behavior used to control or hurt another person.
Emotional abuse ranges from consistent indifference to continual belittling of character.
— All forms of abuse—emotional, verbal, mental, physical, spiritual, and sexual—damage a person’s sense of dignity and God-given worth.
— All forms of abuse wound the spirit of a person and, therefore, are emotionally abusive. Proverbs, the book of wisdom, says,
“A crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)
• Emotional abuse or “psychological mistreatment” scars the spirit of the one abused.
— The damage from emotional abuse lasts far longer than damage from any other kind of abuse. A broken arm will soon heal; a broken heart takes much longer.
— After extended periods of emotional abuse, many victims lose hope, feeling that life is not worth living.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12)
• Emotional abuse can be passive-aggressive.
Passive-aggressive abuse is a means of indirect, underhanded control; hence, the term is passive-aggressive.
— Passive-aggressive abusers express their anger through nonassertive, covert behavior. In an attempt to gain covert control, they often use manipulation as a means of placing themselves in a position of dependence. Then, with underlying anger, they become faultfinders of the people on whom they depend.
— Victims of passive-aggressive people feel perplexed and dismayed at being the target of punitive and manipulative behaviors.
— Friends of passive-aggressive abusers often become enmeshed in trying to comfort or console them in response to their claims of unjust treatment and their inability to handle life on their own.
Passive-aggressive abusers need to recognize and resolve their very real anger and take to heart God’s warning …
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
• Emotional abuse can be either overt or covert rejection.
— Overt rejection conveys the message that a person is unwanted or unloved (as when one is belittled as a child).
— Covert rejection takes place in subtle ways that may or may not be intended to cause harm by the perpetrator (as when one is ignored as a child).
Both Overt and Covert Rejection: Tamar
(Read 2 Samuel chapter 13.)
Tamar, daughter of King David, was raped by her half brother Amnon and then was openly and blatantly despised and shunned by him.
Their father, King David, indirectly rejected Tamar by failing to execute justice on her behalf when he refused to hold Amnon accountable for his sin against Tamar. David, in essence, let his son off the hook by totally ignoring the sexual violation of his daughter.
Question: “What does the Bible say about emotional abuse?”
Answer: The Bible doesn’t use the term “emotional abuse,” but it does instruct us as to how we are to treat one another. The Bible details numerous attitudes and actions we should have toward each other. If we follow these guidelines, we will never be abusive toward anyone …
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4)
B. What Is Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse is a form of overt, emotional abuse. A skilled woodsman wields his weapon carefully, chopping repeatedly on a precise spot until the targeted tree falls. This lumberjack takes pride in controlling himself and his weapon, never striking a careless blow. Likewise, a verbal abuser uses his tongue as a weapon to hack away at another person. This abuser is skilled in his ability to strike a blow—wielding words that caustically cut heart and soul.
“You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue!”
• Verbal abuse is the systematic, ongoing use of harmful words or a sharp tone in an attempt to control or dominate another person.
— Abuse means mistreatment: the destructive misuse of something or someone.
— Verbal abuse is always destructive.
“Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit.” (Psalm 52:2)
• Verbal abuse injures the feelings of others with reviling, insulting, or contemptuous words.
— The Hebrew word for revile is gadaph, from a root word that means “cut” or “wound.” Jesus said,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)
• Verbal abuse often seeks to injure the reputation of others …
— using tactics such as backbiting, barbs, or belittling talk
— using strategies such as slander, slurs, and lies
“You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.” (Psalm 52:3)
C. What Is Brainwashing?
Many prisoners of war have succumbed to brainwashing—an effective tactic used in psychological warfare. This term refers to a systematic, forcible indoctrination that puts pressure on prisoners to relinquish their beliefs and accept opposing beliefs. Unfortunately, you don’t have to be in a prisoner of war camp to be brainwashed. Your captor could be a significant member of your own family or a new set of acquaintances. In whatever circumstance brainwashing occurs, the damage can be devastating … systematically wearing away your sense of self-worth and confidence … causing you to distrust yourself and even to lose touch with reality.
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.”
Verbal and Emotional Tactics Employed by Those Who Brainwash Others
• Verbal Brainwashing
|Implying that your failure to comply with all demands or to adopt all the abuser’s attitudes or beliefs will result in severe consequences
|Repeatedly implanting messages contrary to your presently held values or beliefs
|Belittling your “outside” family and friends who disagree with the abuser
|Engaging in name-calling, insults, ridicule, and humiliation
|Claiming that your thoughts are childish, stupid, or crazy
“They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land.”
• Emotional Brainwashing
|Depriving you of all outside sources of emotional and social support
|— Induced exhaustion
|Keeping you up late, interrupting your sleep, causing sleep deprivation, wearing you down physically or emotionally
|— Excessive compliance
|Militantly enforcing trivial demands
|Withdrawing emotional support but later denying the withdrawal
|Intentionally failing to keep promises and agreements
|Using you or someone close to you for selfish interests or gain
“The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.”
II. CharaCterIstICs of verbal anD emotIonal abuse
Words possess immense power. Through a word, God created the world. Through The Word, who was made flesh (John 1:14), God saved the world. Words can be life-giving as well as life-threatening—life-giving by inspiring us to be all we were meant to be … life-threatening by destroying our hopes and dashing our dreams. Ultimately, words move from being positive to being abusive when they hurt our hearts and harm our relationships. The Bible says,
“The tongue has the power of life and death.”
A. Are Your Words Grievous or Gracious?
Words have the ability to build others up or to tear others down.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
|Words That Hurt
|Words That Heal
|• Attacking a Person’s Identity
|• Addressing a Person’s Action
|— You are inherently wrong.
— You are intrinsically bad.
|— You did something wrong.
— You did something bad.
|— “Shut up!”
— “You look awful.”
|— “Please listen, we need to talk about (__________).”
— “Let’s talk about what might be more appropriate for you to wear.”
|• Casting a Vision
|— “You stupid idiot!”
— “You crazy fool!”
|— “You are good at (__________).”
— “You have positive qualities.”
|— “You’re worthless!”
— “You’re disgusting!”
|— “Your life has tremendous value.”
— “I can see areas where you have much appeal!”
|• A Negative Picture of the Past
|• A Positive Picture of the Past
|— “I wish you’d never been born.”
— “I should have had an abortion.”
|— “I was glad the day you were born.”
— “I knew God had a special purpose for you when you were born.”
|• A Negative Picture of the Present
|• A Positive Picture of the Present
|— “You can’t do anything right.”
— “Get lost!”
|— “You do a lot of things right.”
— “You’ll always have a home in my heart.”
|• A Negative Picture of the Future
|• A Positive Picture of the Future
|— “You’ll never amount to anything.”
— “You’re hopeless.”
|— “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”
— “God has a future filled with hope for you.”
“ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
B. What Are Familiar Faces of Abuse?
Abuse wears many faces—faces as varied as the people who give it and receive it. Abuse can be subtle or blatant, quiet or loud, smooth or abrasive. But with all its differences, abuse is always either verbal or nonverbal in delivery, and it always deeply impacts your personal and social life.
“His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.”
• “Advising” excessively
• Bashing because of gender, race, or religion
• Betraying confidences
• Breaking promises
• Complaining chronically about unjust treatment
• Controlling conversations
• Criticizing unjustly
• Demanding false confessions
• Demanding that unrealistic expectations be met
• Demeaning family members
• Denying that abuse ever occurred
• Denying that the abuse is wrong
• Destroying credibility
• Dictating orders
• Humiliating publicly
• Interrupting constantly
• Laughing at abusive behavior
• Lying or truth twisting
• Making fun of a person’s fear
• Making negative comparisons to others
• Making racial slurs
• Minimizing what is wrong
• Playing verbal mind games
• Reality switching
• Shaming publicly
• Speaking profanity
• Teasing publicly about sensitive areas
• Teasing that hurts the heart
• Threatening suicide in order to control
• Twisting Scripture
• Undermining other relationships
• Using coarse talk
• Using put-downs
• Using words as a way to deceive
• Violating the context of conversations
• Wounding with sarcasm
|• Abandoning the family
• Abusing mentally
• Abusing spiritually
• Acting deceptively
• Acting overly suspicious
• Arriving late as a form of control
• Assaulting a person physically
• Being chronically irresponsible
• Being excessively jealous
• Betraying family, friends, coworkers
• Brandishing weapons
• Changing rules or expectations continually
• Committing adultery
• Damaging property
• Driving recklessly
• Embezzling company money
• Excluding others from the group
• Failing to validate feelings
• Favoring others
• Forcing an abortion
• Forcing sex or sexual perversion
• Giving condescending looks
• Giving excessive gifts to manipulate
• Giving sneering looks
• Giving unsolicited “help” to manipulate
• Hanging up the phone on someone
• Hiding things (car/house keys, money, jewelry, important documents)
• Interfering with another’s work
• Interrupting another’s sleep
• Intimidating physically
• Invading another’s personal space
• Isolating from family
• Killing another’s pet
• Making insulting gestures
• Making unwanted visits
• Manipulating children
• Monitoring another’s phone calls
• Opening another person’s mail
• Over-indulging in order to control
• Playing cruel tricks
• Prohibiting another’s decision making
• Prohibiting the positive friendships of others
• Prohibiting the private conversations of others
• Refusing to leave when asked
• Refusing to listen
• Refusing to validate another’s feelings
• Rejecting one’s own child
• Slamming doors and drawers
• Sulking, pouting, “pity-parties”
• Threatening gestures
• Walking away as a power play
• Withdrawing emotionally
• Withholding deserved compliments
• Withholding deserved credit
• Withholding finances
C. What Characterizes Classic Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
Passive-aggressive behavior is a form of covert control. Overt abuse, such as physical bashing, verbal raging, or name-calling, is easy to identify, but covert abuse, like shunning, slighting, ignoring, can be much more difficult to detect, though it is just as emotionally abusive. Passive-aggressive people express anger indirectly and seek to make their points in evasive, underhanded, or deceitful ways. While some people are unaware that they engage in such hurtful behavior patterns, others are quite intentional in their actions. The Bible makes it clear that …
“No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.”
Tactics used in this type of emotional abuse may include the following:
|“I never said that.” … “Your recall is wrong.” … “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
|“You’re just too sensitive.” … “You’re exaggerating.” … “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
|“You couldn’t possibly feel that way.” … “You’ve got it all wrong.” … “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
|“If you had really studied for the test, you could have made a 100 instead of a 98.” … “Your efforts really fell short.” … “You’re giving yourself too much credit.”
Methods of Sabotage
To gain covert control and personal power, the passive, emotionally abusive person will use some of the following methods:
|• Fostering chaos
|Controlling others by intentionally leaving work and projects incomplete
|• Lying or misleading
|Controlling others with unjustified excuses for not fulfilling commitments
|Controlling others by intentionally missing deadlines, thus displaying no regard for the negative impact on others
|• Being chronically late
|Controlling others by keeping people waiting
|• Being ambiguous
|Controlling others by sending mixed messages, leaving others in a wake of confusion about what was said or what was meant
|Controlling others by offering unsolicited advice on a continual basis
|• Being passively indifferent
|Controlling others by giving the impression that their concerns are heard and important, but then disregarding them
|• Protecting and helping
|Controlling others by extending help with the intention of causing a sense of indebtedness
|• Being a “quick-change artist”
|Controlling others by changing the subject and diverting attention from conversations that feel personally threatening
|• Withholding affirmation
|Controlling others by failing to give deserved compliments and deserved credit
|• Crossing boundaries
|Controlling others by taking advantage of those with little or no personal boundaries
When Saul’s men were sent to watch David’s house and to kill him, David prayed,
“For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride.”
D. What Are Examples of Emotionally Abusive Rejection?
Rejection is common to all of us. We have been unjustly rejected by a prospective employer, not chosen by a team captain, jilted by a suitor, or ignored by an acquaintance. Yet while we may have had our feelings hurt or our egos wounded, it didn’t last long and left no permanent scars. However, some types of rejection can cut like a knife and pierce like an arrow to the heart.
“Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.”
• Examples of overt, abusive rejection:
— The parent who deserts the family.
— The parent who tells a child, “I wish you had never been born.”
— The parent who tells a child, “You are a disgrace to this family.”
— The parent who tells a child, “You’re just like your sorry father.”
— The parent who tells a child, “I wish you were like your brother.”
— The parent who tells a child, “You will never amount to anything.”
— The parent who tells a child, “You were a mistake.… You were an accident.… You were the wrong gender.”
• Examples of covert, abusive rejection:
— The parent who constantly “raises the bar” with excessive requirements
— The parent who demands more than the child is capable of giving
— The parent who withholds love
— The parent who overindulges
— The parent who overprotects
— The parent who divorces
— The parent who commits suicide
E. What Is the Cost of Being Constantly Abused?
There is always a price to be paid for pain … a loss to be incurred by the recipient of abusive words and hurtful gestures. The cost is often unseen … an extensive, inner deprivation that can continue to damage the soul for a lifetime.
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
Victims of Abuse May Experience …
|• Loss of self-worth
|• Loss of self-confidence
|• Loss of self-perception
|• Loss of happiness
|increased emotional flatness
|• Loss of freedom
|• Loss of inner peace
|increased “peace-at-all-cost” behavior
|• Loss of self-assurance
|• Loss of security
|increased desire to escape
|• Loss of trust
|• Loss of sexual identity
|increased sexual confusion
|• Loss of a clear conscience
|increased guilt or shame
|• Loss of friendship
|• Loss of faith
|• Loss of safety
|• Loss of self-respect
|• Loss of optimism
|• Loss of pride
|• Loss of hope
“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
F. What Self-demeaning Statements Result from Being Abused?
Place a check mark (ü) beside any that apply to you.
□ “I am defective.”
□ “I am bad if I feel angry.”
□ “I am bad for having needs.”
□ “If I am good, I will be loved.”
□ “I am a worthless and unlovable person.”
□ “Mistakes only confirm my worthlessness.”
□ “If people I care about reject me, I must be unlovable.”
□ “I need the approval of other people in order to be happy.”
□ “I am responsible for the behavior and feelings of those around me.”
□ “I am responsible for bringing about change in others when I see that it is needed.”
□ “I must be dependent on others who are wiser and stronger than I am.”
□ “The feelings of others are more important than my own.”
□ “I need to be independent because others are untrustworthy.”
□ “I will never let anyone get close enough to hurt me again.”
□ “Everything I do is wrong—I can’t do anything right.”
□ “Nothing matters anymore; life is hopeless.”
□ “Bad love is better than no love at all.”
□ “Whatever you want makes me happy.”
□ “I will never measure up.”
□ “I don’t see any way out.”
Question: “What hope is there for someone broken by abuse?”
Answer: For the one who has been broken by abuse, God offers great hope. That hope is in Himself. Begin to deepen your dependence on the Lord and seek His comfort and healing.
“Blessed is he … whose hope is in the Lord his God … who remains faithful forever.” (Psalm 146:5–6)
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
G. Are Your Relationships Healthy or Unhealthy?
Are you in an abusive relationship? Have you experienced an unhealthy dynamic between you and someone close to you? Many people fail to recognize that they are in an abusive relationship because abuse has been “their normal” for so long. If you look closely, you can evaluate the “health” of any relationship by seeing the type of fruit it produces—whether the fruit is good or bad. Jesus said,
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
The Fruit Test
As a help in realistically evaluating a relationship close to you, take “The Fruit Test.” On the left side of each “fruit” mark yes or no for yourself, and on the right side, mark yes or no for the other person in the relationship.
Circle “Y” for Yes and “N” for No.
|Fruit of the Abusive Spirit
(what the sin produces)
|Fruit of the Holy Spirit
(what the Spirit produces)
|“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.… The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions.”
(Galatians 5:15, 19–20)
|“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
|Having a sharp, biting tongue that often hurts the heart
|Seeking to do what is in the best interest of another
|Being so overly-controlling that the identity of another seems to be destroyed
|Living with an inner gladness of heart regardless of challenging circumstances
|Displaying disdain or animosity toward another person
|Displaying tranquility in the midst of hardships and trials
|Starting arguments that result in tension and strife
|Enduring difficulties calmly without complaint
|Viewing others as rivals, while possessively wanting to exclude them
|Expressing genuine care and helping with a benevolent heart
|Displaying out-of-control anger
|Displaying moral character and godly virtue with a pure heart
|Seeking to satisfy personal desires with little or no regard for the desires of another
|Being loyal to appropriate significant relationships
|Frequently voicing disagreements and disapproval
|Treating others with sincere respect, displaying a soothing disposition
|Causing splits between others instead of seeking unity
|Exercising restraint rather than choosing to be undisciplined
|(Later ask someone close to you—someone whom you trust and who will tell you the truth—to help you evaluate your responses.)
The Bible says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).
III. Causes of abuse
“How can he be so cruel?” “How can she be so insensitive?” “Why would he talk that way?” These are real questions that victims of abusers may wonder or ask. Understanding the real answers can give you wisdom and discernment regarding your relationships.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
A. What Breeding Ground Brings Forth Abusers?
Has someone implied that you are abusive? If so, and if what has been said has a kernel of truth to it, do you want to change? In order to heal from the wounds of the past, you need to face the fact that your past was painful. Then acknowledge and seek to understand the painful impact those wounds have had on your relationships, both past and present. At this point, you can courageously choose to face the areas in your life that need healing … or you can refuse to do so and remain a victim of your past … and continue to make others a victim of your past as well.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
The Background of Abusers
Evaluate your own childhood. What were your relationships like during your preschool years? During your years in school? During your adolescence? What feelings do you remember? Were you usually sad … glad … mad … scared? The list below may help you to remember.
• I experienced some type of abuse by one or both of my parents.
• I felt “different” as a child.
• I felt belittled or bullied by my schoolmates.
• I stuffed my emotions.
• I learned my parents’ ways of maintaining control.
• I didn’t have a safe place to express my feelings.
• I thought that “my normal” was normal—but it wasn’t.
• I never dealt with my underlying feelings of anger.
• I never developed sensitivity to the feelings of others.
The Childhood Feelings of Abusers
As children, abusers usually felt singled out. They felt that they were different in several of these areas:
• Too short or too tall
• Too fat or too thin
• Too dark or too light (skin color)
• Physical features too large (nose, ears, feet)
• Physical features unwanted (freckles, acne, buckteeth, hair color)
• Athletically challenged (awkward or uncoordinated)
• Academically challenged (mentally slow, ADD, or ADHD)
• Physically challenged (disabilities, poor eyesight, hearing problems, or speech difficulties)
“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”
(Matthew 6:27 NKJV)
The Predisposing Influences in the Childhood of Abusers
Not all children who experience abuse become abusers; however, most abusers were once abused in one way or another. This raises the question, “Why do some children become abusers while others do not?” Certain factors predispose children to make particular choices about how they respond to their experiences. One thing they all have in common: each young spirit was crushed by heartache. The Bible says,
“Heartache crushes the spirit.”
— The child is willful and assertive.
— The child is confident and forceful.
— The child lacks compassion and empathy for others.
— The child exerts power and control over peers.
— The child is aggressive and impulsive.
— The child is competent and secure.
— The child has an inflated ego and a sense of entitlement.
— The child is competitive and dominates relationships.
— The child experiences some form of abuse within the home.
— The child spends excessive, unsupervised hours watching violent TV programs and sitcoms laced with sarcasm.
— The child forms the belief that being mean to others is the best form of self-protection.
— The child is unable to express anger and frustration safely at home.
B. Why Do Some Inflict Abuse while Others either Receive or Reject Abuse?
All children are impacted by abusive treatment. Some take the path of succumbing to abuse and defining themselves by the negativity of that abuse. Others take the path of rising above abuse and defining themselves by positive character building values.
“As for the deeds of men—by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths: my feet have not slipped.”
Three Paths to Travel
Many people wonder, Why did I have to travel down this path of abuse? You may not know the exact answer for some time, but you can know that as long as you continue to entrust your life to the Lord, He will direct your path each step of the way, and you can be an overcomer.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
#1 The Path of Victims
— Children internalize abusive experiences.
— Children blame themselves for the abuse.
— Children feel deserving of abuse.
— Children seek out abusers who look strong.
— Children remain victims of abusers.
#2 The Path of Abusers
— Children internalize abusive experiences.
— Children blame others for the abuse.
— Children feel that others are deserving of abuse.
— Children seek out the weak in order to look strong.
— Children become abusers.
#3 The Path of Overcomers
— Children initially internalize their abusive experiences, but later externalize them.
— Children initially blame themselves or others for the abuse, but later forgive all involved in the abuse—including themselves.
— Children initially feel deserving of abuse, but later feel deserving of loving, trusting relationships.
— Children initially seek out abusers or victims, but later seek out well-adjusted people.
— Children initially remain victims or become abusers, but later reject both roles and become emotionally healthy.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
Question: “Why do people who are being abused continue to stay in abusive relationships?”
Answer: One major reason is fear. Isaiah 21:4 says, “My heart falters, fear makes me tremble.” Instilling fear is a powerful weapon used to control another person. One effective strategy that instills fear is the use of demeaning messages, such as verbal threats to inflict physical harm. Another fear tactic is to leave or to withdraw emotional support. The basic underlying fear, however, is the fear of not having the three basic needs met—the needs for love, for significance, and for security. Yet the Lord wants us to turn from fear to faith and to trust Him to meet our deepest needs.
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)
C. What Is the Root Cause of Abusive Relationships?
Healthy relationships are those in which the people involved have a clearly-defined sense of their own identities. Without a clear understanding of who we are and of the worth God has given us, it is hard to maintain functional, ongoing relationships that enrich everyone involved. A relationship will not always be smooth, but it can provide a safe, trusting environment in which there is no fear of intimacy and each person knows how to communicate personal needs and desires to the other.
Unhealthy relationships generally reflect an inability to understand and work within appropriate boundaries. Since unhealthy boundaries are almost always the result of being raised in some variation of a dysfunctional family, the likelihood that children raised in such families will develop healthy boundaries is limited.
The pain from not having their God-given needs for love, for significance, and for security met in childhood carries over into each subsequent relationship—in which they expect, or insist, that these needs be met.
Wrong Belief of Victims:
“I am responsible for the way others treat me. I deserve to be mistreated because, at my very core, I am a bad person. Therefore, bad things should happen to me. If I would just be a better person, people would treat me better. I don’t have a choice about being mistreated. I must be doing something wrong or I wouldn’t be treated this way. If I just try harder to do what is expected, I can make things better. If I can’t, maybe I deserve to be unhappy.”
Right Belief of Victims:
“I realize that I have been living a lie, believing that I am to blame for being mistreated and believing that my happiness will come from a human relationship. I have a choice about being around anyone who mistreats me. I don’t want to have a false loyalty to anyone who abuses me. Nor do I want to have the false expectation that if I can just change, the abuse will stop. I will no longer live for the approval of others but will rely on the Lord to meet my inner needs—because my value and worth come from Him, and He loves me unconditionally. Only the Lord can meet all my needs.”
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Wrong Belief of Abusers:
“I am not responsible for the way I treat others; they are to blame. If people wouldn’t make me mad, I wouldn’t treat them badly. They are the ones who should change, not me. There’s nothing wrong with me. People just need to accept me the way I am.”
Right Belief of Abusers:
“I realize that I am responsible for the way I respond to others. No one deserves to be mistreated. No matter how people act toward me, how I act toward them is my choice. God has given me the power, through His Holy Spirit within me, to treat everyone with love and respect. I do not need to try to control people because God is in control, and He is the only one who can meet my deepest needs.”
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
(2 Peter 1:3–4)
Question: “How can I overcome the damage that I suffered in my past? Why do I keep repeating the same unhealthy relational patterns, and how can I change these harmful behaviors?”
Answer: God often allows difficulties in life to wake us up to our need to understand our personal attitudes and actions, and then with that understanding we can take responsibility for them. You will be drawn to the same relational dynamics over and over until you overcome the past by allowing God to train you and to produce a harvest of peace and righteousness in you.
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10–11)
IV. steps to solutIon
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Have you ever spilled a glass of milk and watched helplessly as it poured across the table top and over the edges onto the carpeted floor below? You wish you could somehow catch it and put it back into the glass, but it flows between your fingers and cannot be contained. You are left with a mess to clean up. You might successfully wash the tabletop and clean up the residue of spilled milk from the carpet … but not so with words. Once they have been spilled out on a person, damaging the soul and hurting a relationship, you can’t wash them away or clean up their residue. Their effects may linger forever, causing permanent scars of sorrow on the heart of another person. God hears and judges your every word as it spills out from the overflow of your heart!
“How can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Words that are good do not come from the mouths of those who are evil. v. 34
Out of the overflow of your heart come the words you say. v. 34
Righteousness flows from good that is stored in your heart. v. 35
Deeds of evil are stored in the heart of one who is evil. v. 35
Spoken words said in carelessness will bring condemnation on those who will be held accountable on the day of judgment. vv. 36–37
C. Is This the Language of Love?
Abuse occurs when one person repeatedly interacts with another person in an unloving manner. Abuse violates the way God tells us to love one another. The best description of love is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, often called “The Love Chapter.” If you wonder whether you are being verbally abused, write out the exact words spoken to you and ask yourself …
• “How does this make me feel?”
• “Does this sound like a conversation between friends?”
• “Would Jesus speak to me in this way?”
• “If I said these words, how would the other person react?”
Compare the words spoken to you with 1 Corinthians 13:4–8—this is God’s definition of love and the standard He has set for us.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4–8)
|The Language of Love Inventory
|• Love is …
|Yes or No?
|Patient—Are these words spoken in haste?
|Kind—Are these words unkind?
|• Love is not …
|Proud—Are these words prideful?
|Rude—Are these words disrespectful?
|Self-seeking—Are these words self-serving?
|Easily angered—Are these words hostile?
|• Love does not …
|Envy—Are these words selfishly possessive?
|Boast—Are these words bragging?
|Delight in evil—Are these words malicious?
|• Love always …
|Protects—Do these words attack?
|Trusts—Do these words create doubt?
|Hopes—Do these words create despair?
|Perseveres—Do these words lessen motivation?
|• Love …
|Keeps no record of wrongs—Are these words stored up offenses?
|Rejoices with the truth—Do these words reflect untruthfulness?
|Never fails—Do these words reflect loss of love?
D. Can You Have Victory over Verbal Abuse?
Is there any hope for those who have been verbally abused? Granted, no magic dust will defuse the dynamic, but with hard, consistent work, progress can be made … change can occur … and victory can be achieved. Those who seek to control or to overpower you with verbal bombardments may not be as strong and self-assured as they appear. If they express inappropriate anger toward you, realize that their assaults are not about you, but about them! The source of their insensitive attacks is a heart that suffers from emotional deficits originating in the past and from their choice to respond to those deficits by abusing others. Additionally, be aware that you yourself may have unresolved anger from abuse in your past that magnifies the abuse you are experiencing now.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Steps to Victory
#1 Face the Problem.
— Decide to identify any verbal abuse. Does the other person …
• Say things that seem designed to make you feel guilty?
• Always claim to be right?
• Put you down in humorous or sarcastic ways?
• Become your judge and jury?
• Bring up the past over and over?
— Decide to communicate your position to the abuser.
— Decide that you are no longer going to tolerate the abusive behavior.
— Decide that you will look at and resolve your own anger from past or present verbal abuse.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)
#2 Understand the Source of the Problem.
— Know that many verbal abusers were themselves abused or neglected in one way or another as children. (Some, however, were not abused as children and simply learned abusive behavior later in life.)
— Know that verbal abusers lack sympathy and feel justified in their abuse.
— Know that uncontrolled outbursts of anger can be triggered by depression, stress, anxiety, worry, frustration, or insecurity.
— Know that you are not the cause of the abuse (although you will be blamed).
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)
#3 Confront the Problem.
— Communicate an attitude of caring.
“I want you to know that I care about you.”
— Communicate that you have been deeply hurt by the abusive behavior. “I feel deeply hurt by your tone of voice when you talk to me.”
— Communicate your desire for a positive relationship, but make it clear that you will no longer tolerate verbal attacks.
“I want to support you, but I will no longer tolerate abusive behavior from you.”
— Communicate truth without condemning.
“I want our relationship to continue, but if you choose to continue belittling me, I will know that you don’t value me, and I will leave.”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)
#4 Take Responsibility for Yourself.
— Resist becoming defensive.
— Resist retreating into a shell.
— Resist playing the familiar “victim-martyr” role.
— Resist seeking retaliation.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17–18)
#5 View the Abusive Person from God’s Perspective.
— See the person as someone for whom Christ died.
— See the person as having God-given worth.
— See the person as capable of being changed by Christ.
— See the person as having legitimate God-given needs that God is willing to meet.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
#6 Love Unconditionally.
— Love is not a feeling, but a commitment to do what is right.
— Love looks for ways to meet the needs of another.
— Love seeks to do what is in the best interest of another.
— Love says, “I care enough about our relationship to work to make it a positive one.”
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12)
#7 Practice a Powerful Prayer Life.
— Remember that God cares about both of you more than you care about each other.
— Remember that prayer is the surest path to healing and wholeness.
— Remember that you need to pray for healing for both you and your abuser.
— Remember to thank God for all that He is teaching you in the midst of this trying time.
“Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18)
E. How to Change the Course of an Abusive Relationship.
You can curtail verbal and emotional abuse by developing a plan to prevent yourself from being controlled. You cannot change someone else, but you can change yourself so that the abusive tactics previously used on you are no longer effective. As you determine the appropriate boundaries, realize that these boundaries are designed to protect your heart. The Bible says,
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
After Determining Your Plan of Action …
#1 State clearly, in a conversation or a letter, what you are willing to accept and not accept from the abuser.
— Communicate your position in a positive way.
— Do not justify yourself. Do not be apologetic, just state the boundary:
“I want our relationship to continue, but …
“I am not willing to listen to your ‘name-calling.’ ”
“I am not willing to hear your accusations concerning (name) any longer.”
“I am not willing to endure the silent treatment from you.”
— Keep what you say short and succinct.
“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27)
#2 Announce the consequence you will enforce if the abuser violates your requests.
— Your response should be a matter of disengaging from the abuser.
— You cannot change the abuser’s behavior, but you can remove yourself from frequent exposure to unacceptable behavior.
“I want to visit with you, but …
“If you call me a name again, I will leave for a period of time.”
“If you persist in making that accusation, I will end our conversation.”
“If you give me the silent treatment, I will go and find someone else to talk with.”
— Consequences are part of God’s divine plan that what we sow, we will reap.
“A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
#3 Enforce the consequence every single time the abuse occurs.
— Do not bluff! The abuser needs to know that you are going to act consistently on your words.
— Plan on being tested at least twice and maybe up to five times.
— In your mind and heart …
Say no to manipulation.
Say no to pressure.
Say no to control.
— Eventually, your abuser will stop an abusive tactic … but only after that tactic proves to be ineffective.
“Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no.” (James 5:12)
#4 Absolutely do not negotiate.
— Since verbal abusers do not use words fairly, negotiation will not work.
— Instead of “talking out” the problem, your abuser will seek to wear you out.
— Simply state that when the behavior stops, you look forward to a renewed relationship …
“I am not willing to discuss this topic any longer.”
“I have stated clearly what I will not accept.”
“When you are ready to respect my requests, let me know. I look forward to enjoying being together at that time!”
— Keep your words brief and to the point.
“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)
#5 Never “react” when your boundary is violated—only respond.
— Expect your boundary to be violated … but don’t react.
— Expect your boundary to be violated again … and again! But don’t react.
— If you react, you will find yourself back under the control of the abuser.
— Respond by detaching yourself from the abuser and enforcing your repercussions.
Do not cry because of feeling hurt.
Do not beg because of feeling fearful.
Do not explode because of feeling frustrated.
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8–9)
#6 Solicit the support of one or two wise, objective people to help you through this process.
— Include supporters as you analyze and identify the problem.
— Include supporters as you determine how to articulate your plan.
— Include supporters as you enforce the repercussions.
— Include supporters—friend, mentor, counselor—to help you through this critical period.
Discuss the situation with your supporters.
Discuss the tactics used on you.
Discuss the plan of action.
“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” (Proverbs 19:20)
The time it takes to disassemble and disable an abusive relationship is actually limited. But during that limited time, expect manipulative maneuvers and emotional ups and downs. Assume that your actions will make the abuser angry. Allow your abuser to react without in turn reacting yourself. Do not seek to placate this person—it won’t work. Think of this time period as comparable to having surgery. It is a painful experience, but it provides the only hope for healing and having a new, healthy relationship.
“The tongue of the wise brings healing.”
F. How Do You Confront and Cope with Emotionally Abusive People?
Although victims of verbal and emotional abuse generally feel inadequate and powerless to stop an abusive relationship, appropriate confrontation is often necessary to defuse emotional abuse. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Wishful thinking won’t make it better. And believing that loyalty means remaining quiet is dangerously erroneous.
When hurtful words and actions are exposed as unacceptable and viewed as intolerable, the foundation is laid for change to occur. That change will come slowly and will likely be met with much resistance by the abuser. When power is the goal and control is at stake, an unrepentant abuser will repeatedly change tactics in an attempt to maneuver around each boundary you set, always looking for some way to put you in a position to be manipulated. To remain silent in such a relationship is not love but fear … and is harmful rather than helpful.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”
Start Educating Yourself
• Emotional abuse can be going on for years before victims realize the difficult dynamics in their relationships.
• Abusers can be calculating, and their behavior may be deliberate and designed to keep them in control.
• Once your eyes are opened to the tactical behavior of the abuser, much of your discouragement will begin to dissipate. (Only then will you be able to establish a more level playing field.)
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”
• Communicate that you will not be treated with disrespect.
“I feel greatly disrespected because of the way you are treating me. I will not stay here if you continue to disrespect me.”
• Be specific about what behavior is unacceptable.
“I won’t continue to talk with you if you continually interrupt me.”
• Refuse to accept excuses and reasons for repeated inconsiderate behavior.
Suppose the other person says, “I didn’t mean to be late—some people I needed to see came by.” You say, “That does not make what you did acceptable because you could have phoned me. From now on—unless you call—I will go on with my plans without you.”
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Seize the Moment
• Speak up as soon as the abuser begins to change the subject or to twist your words around to mean something other than what you intended.
“You just changed the meaning of my words. I didn’t say that. What I said was (__________). Now what are you hearing me say?”
• When abusers say something absurd, repeat it back to them.
“What you are saying is (__________). Is that accurate?”
• Remain calm. Your abuser wants a strong reaction from you.
“Do we need to discuss this at a later time? If you want to continue now, I need you to speak with more restraint.”
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.”
Seek to Surface the Other Person’s Hostility
• Acknowledge that you sense the anger in the other person.
“I sense that you are feeling angry.”
• Confirm that being angry is permissible. (Never attempt to humor an abuser out of anger.)
“At times anger is justified.”
• A person may need help recognizing the cause of the anger, but don’t try to psychoanalyze the individual.
Ask, “What triggered your anger?”
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”
Soften the Confrontation Process
• Confront the behavior, not the person.
“I care about you, but I dislike what you are doing. What can I do to help you stop (__________)?”
• Avoid threats, sarcasm, hostility, put-downs, or judgment of the other person’s intentions.
“If you are angry with me, talk with me and help me to understand why. But please stop your present behavior.”
• When you don’t get a clear, direct, to-the-point answer, ask again (respectfully).
“Let me ask again.… Why did you tell me you were coming to the ceremony, but then you never showed up?”
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Stay in the Present
• Focus on the issue at hand.
• Don’t bring up past issues.
• Don’t let the other person get you off track.
“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
Squelch Unrealistic Expectations
• Don’t put your hope in any expectation that an abuser will change, but put your confidence in God and in His sufficiency.
• Be aware that you cannot make the abuser change no matter what you do, how much you try, or how good you are as a person.
• Know that change will occur only after the abuser admits to having a problem and begins to receive the help and support needed to turn from that problem.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:8–9)
Strengthen Your Relationship with the Lord
• Look first to the Lord for discernment about your relationship.
Ask the Lord to give you wisdom, insight, and direction as you seek to honor Him in all your relationships.
• Read Scripture and take God at His word in order to renew your mind so that you will not continue to live as a victim.
Get involved in a Bible study. Memorize and daily rehearse Scriptures that emphasize your worth and the authority you have as one who is a temple of the
• Live dependently on Christ, who lives within you.
Don’t try to live out of your own resources. Several times throughout the day present yourself to the Lord and acknowledge your total dependence on His resources.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
(2 Peter 1:3–4)
G. How Do You Build Personal Boundaries?
All countries establish clear geographical boundaries, and some even protect these boundaries by strict control of who enters or leaves. Additionally, laws are established that apply to everyone living or traveling within those boundaries. People need to do the same! Certainly not with roadblocks, soldiers, and guns, but God does want us to establish personal boundaries in our relationships to preserve our own emotional health and to protect the treasure God has in us. We need to strictly guard who has access to our hearts and minds.
Do you feel that someone often takes advantage of you? Are you expected to meet all the needs of someone else? Do certain people expect you to help them, but then fail to help you when you need help? Does someone take advantage of you at work by piling one priority on top of another? Do you feel manipulated by someone’s lies, half-truths, procrastination, and lateness? These are all examples of a lack of emotional boundaries. When these kinds of breaches occur often, they are significant threats to your being free to serve God and to become all He wants you to be. Learn to draw the line with people who would cross your boundaries and put you in bondage!
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Step #1: Place boundaries around your heart.
Be careful where and on whom you spend your emotions. Put firm boundaries around the things in which you are emotionally invested. Completely giving your heart away will cause you to stumble and will cause your devotion to turn from God to someone else.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Step #2: Learn that it’s okay to say no.
Many people who lack boundaries are not in touch with their true feelings.… Or if they are, they don’t think they have the right to say no. Do not listen to lies about being selfish or uncaring when you refuse to comply with someone’s wishes. Jesus set many boundaries while He was here on earth, and He said no to many people, including His disciples. He knew that the “No” was necessary for Him and for them. Jesus said,
“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ ” (Matthew 5:37)
Step #3: Start being assertive.
People who are nonassertive would benefit from “Assertiveness Training” classes. Nonassertive behavior allows others to violate your personal rights; by your behavior you actually permit the infringement. The typical reason people continue to be nonassertive is to avoid any kind of conflict, but the consequences are horrendously hurt feelings and deeply devalued self-worth. Assertively “standing up for yourself” in a respectful, appropriate manner is acting in accordance with Jesus’ instructions.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
Assertiveness Training 101
Ways to Deliver Your Message Objectively without Inciting Anger
• Without judging, describe a specific behavior of the other person that violates one of your boundaries.
— “When I hear anger escalate, I get concerned.”
— “When I hear that several extra people are coming for dinner and I have not been given sufficient notice, I am caught off guard.”
“The result is.…”
• Describe specifically how the other person’s behavior affects your life and, as a result, how you feel. (Avoid, “You make me.…”)
— “The result is I feel hurt and frustrated because I think that instead of yelling, we should be talking about the problem.”
— “I feel embarrassed, ill-prepared, and inadequate because there often will not be enough food prepared, and I also feel taken advantage of.”
• Describe what you would like to hear or to have happen.
— “I want you to call and give me enough notice to prepare adequately.”
Step #4: Draw the line!
Each of us has personal, emotional, and physical boundaries that should not be invaded. Do you know your specific boundaries? Do you know how to respond when your boundary limits have been trampled? Do you know where to draw the line? To help identify your boundaries, pay attention when your emotions are intense, dark, shaming, or guilt-ridden in response to something someone has said or done to you.… Your boundaries are being crossed. The following responses will help you educate those in your life who are verbally and emotionally crossing the line!
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)
|“Do you realize that you are speaking loudly?”
|“Do you know how your words are sounding?”
|“Do you know that you are saying things that are making me feel uncomfortable?”
|“Please lower your voice.”
|“Please stop using that kind of language.”
|“Please explain your anger.”
|“Stop insulting me with your words.”
|“Stop these painful outbursts.”
|“Stop hurting me in this way.”
|“You must stop speaking to me in that tone of voice.”
|“You will have to change this way of communicating with me.”
|“You may not continue to hurt me in this way.”
|“I will no longer allow you to hurt me like this.”
|“I will no longer allow you to talk to me in this way.”
|“I will no longer allow that tone of voice in my presence.”
|“I am open to working this out when you can be reasonable.”
|“I care about you and our relationship, but you must change your ways of communicating with me.”
|“I am willing to go to counseling with you if you will agree.”
|“I am now leaving in order to protect myself.”
|“Because this behavior is unacceptable to me, I am going to distance myself from you for awhile.”
|“If you continue with this behavior, I will consider all my options regarding our relationship.”
Step #5: Appropriate God’s will for your life.
Some people can make you feel as though your personhood has been swallowed up by a very strong, controlling personality. Close the door on your fear of displeasing others by establishing boundaries. Begin to redefine your own, separate identity by daily choosing to live according to God’s will.
“You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” (Romans 8:15)
God’s Will for You
• God’s will is that you be treated with respect.
“Show proper respect to everyone.” (1 Peter 2:17)
• God’s will is that you be heard and taken seriously.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19)
• God’s will is that you express appropriate anger toward others and that anger toward you be expressed appropriately.
“In your anger do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
• God’s will is that you participate in and benefit from mutual submission.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
• God’s will is that you speak truthfully from your heart and that others speak truthfully to you.
“Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25)
• God’s will is that you be allowed to make mistakes and to take responsibility for them and that others take responsibility for their mistakes as well. The apostle Paul said,
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12)
• God’s will is that you be able to say no without feeling guilty.
“Say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)
• God’s will is that you refuse that which violates your own conscience.
“When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:12)
• God’s will is that you give and receive only justifiable rebukes.
“He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23)
• God’s will is that you appeal to a higher authority if need be. The apostle Paul, when slandered by Jewish leaders, said,
“If the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts 25:11)
• God’s will is that you remove yourself from an abusive situation.
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered.” (Proverbs 22:24)
• God’s will is that you seek emotional and spiritual support from others.
“Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
Question: “How can I deal with the hurtful things my husband says to me?”
Answer: When things are peaceful between the two of you, ask him, “If we could have a better relationship with each other, would you want it?” When he responds affirmatively, say, “I want that too. But sometimes we get into verbal battles that are not best for us or for the kids. So I’ve decided just to step out of the room when that happens in the future and then come back later. I’m going to do this because spoken words cannot be taken back any more than toothpaste that has been squeezed out can be put back into the tube.”
H. Can God Heal Your Broken Heart?
No one escapes the pain of a broken heart. In the Hebrew language, the meaning of the word translated “brokenhearted” is literally “shattered.” And no one lives very long in this fallen world without experiencing that “shattering” and the all-encompassing pain that accompanies it. Many never heal from heartbreak because they avoid dealing with their pain by blocking out, denying, or burying the memories. But the path the Lord has prepared will heal your deepest hurts if you allow Him into the innermost part of your heart where He can spread His balm throughout your entire being … spirit, soul, and body.
What Is the First Action You Can Take toward Healing?
The first step for you to take on the Lord’s path toward healing is to enter into a loving relationship with Him. To help you understand the relationship that God wants to have with you, here are four points from His Word that you need to know.
#1 God’s Purpose for You … is Salvation.
— What was God’s motive in sending Christ to earth? To condemn you? No … to express His love for you by saving you!
“God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17)
— What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth? To make everything perfect and to remove all sin? No … to forgive your sins, empower you to have victory over sin, and enable you to live a fulfilled life!
“I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
#2 Your Problem … is Sin.
— What exactly is sin? Sin is living independently of God’s standard—knowing what is right, but choosing wrong.
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
— What is the major consequence of sin? Spiritual death, spiritual separation from God.
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
#3 God’s Provision for You … is the Savior.
— Can anything remove the penalty for sin? Yes. Jesus died on the cross to personally pay the penalty for your sins.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
— What is the solution to being separated from God? Belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to God the Father.
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6)
#4 Your Part … is Surrender.
— Place your faith in (rely on) Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and reject your “good works” as a means of gaining God’s approval.
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
— Give Christ control of your life, entrusting yourself to Him.
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ ” (Matthew 16:24–26)
The moment you choose to believe in Him—entrusting your life to Christ—He gives you His Spirit to live inside you. Then the Spirit of Christ gives you His power to live the fulfilled life God has planned for you. If you want to be fully forgiven by God and become the person God created you to be, you can tell Him in a simple, heartfelt prayer like this:
|Prayer of Salvation
“God, I want a real relationship with You. I admit that many times I’ve chosen to go my own way instead of Your way. Please forgive me for my sins. Jesus, thank You for dying on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Come into my life to be my Lord an dmy Savior. Through Your Power, begin healing the hurts in my heart. Make me the person You created me to be. In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”
What Can You Expect Now?
If you sincerely prayed this prayer, look at what God’s Word says that He does for you!
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
I. Are There Additional Actions You Can Take toward Healing?
Whether you are a new believer or a long-time believer, the path to healing is a process that takes time. As you walk with the Lord, ask Him to help you take these actions toward healing.
• Give your heart to the Lord, allowing Him to be your Deliverer.
— Acknowledge your inability to heal yourself and accept the fact that God is the source of all growth and healing.
— Realize that the abuse you have suffered actually may have altered your brain chemistry and created some physical problems.
— Ask the Lord to heal your past pain and to soothe your soul as you take refuge in Him and draw on His strength.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.” (Psalm 18:2)
• Know that you are never alone.
— Realize that everyone experiences loneliness and pain—it’s part of the path of life.
— Continually thank the Lord that He is always with you.
— Build a network of friends who care about you and who will support you both spiritually and emotionally.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
• Search for truth.
— Discern the truth about what has caused your past woundedness and your present struggles.
— Search out the truths of God’s Word that strengthen and encourage you.
— Seek the truths of biblical principles and the wise counsel of trustworthy people to aid you in understanding and addressing your situation.
“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:5)
• Address your legitimate emotional needs.
— Understand that you have three God-given needs—the need for love, for significance, and for security.
— Understand that proper self-esteem comes from viewing yourself through God’s eyes.
— Understand that God never withholds His love from you, though you may not have sensed that you were loved by your parents or your spouse.
“You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” (Nehemiah 9:17)
• Pay attention to your own feelings and perceptions.
— See the abuse for what it is … actual abuse!
— Know that you’re not going crazy—you are not “nuts”!
— If you felt abused, acknowledge that what happened is unacceptable.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
• Clear your mind of confusion.
— Realize that you have been a victim of confusing, mixed messages.
— Seek help from a safe, trustworthy person to sort through the confusing words and to distinguish the truth from the lies.
— Refuse to be confused if the abuser reverses the blame by putting it on you or counters what you are saying.
“God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV)
• Acknowledge your negative feelings.
— Make a list of any negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hate, or revenge.
— Be honest with God about these feelings—He knows you have them, and He understands why.
— Ask God to cleanse you from unhealthy, negative feelings and attitudes.
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
• Forgive your abuser.
— List each offense committed against you by each abuser.
— Release each offense and the pain it caused into the hands of God.
— Choose, as an act of your will, to release each abuser to God for His judgment.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
• Allow yourself to grieve.
— Write down all the losses that have occurred in your life.
— Allow yourself time to grieve. Weep by yourself or with a friend.
— Write the word “finished” beside each painful memory.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven … a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)
• Realize that healing is a process … not an event.
— Refuse to seek quick fixes and painless solutions.
— Develop an understanding of the activities that promote healing.
— Grow in patience as you embrace the “journey” of the healing process.
“As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” (James 5:10–11)
• Develop a ministry of healing for others.
— Ask God for a compassionate heart that is sensitive toward those who have experienced abuse.
— Be prepared to share your experience when God brings other victims across your path.
— Ask God to fill you with a passionate desire to comfort others by sharing your healing with them.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
Question: “How can I release the bitterness toward my abuser, who is now dead?”
Answer: Although you cannot confront your abuser in person, you can confront indirectly by saying what you would want to say or need to say as though your abuser is in front of you.
— Consider the “chair technique.” Imagine the person seated in a chair placed in front of you. Say the things you would say to the person if you were actually seated across a table from one another. Express your feelings about what was done to you and the ramifications it has had on your life. Then forgive the person and explain that you have taken the person off of your emotional hook and placed the person onto God’s hook.
— Write a letter to your abuser stating every painful memory and read it over the person’s grave or at a place where you can openly “speak” to the person as though you were in each other’s presence. Then at the close, choose to forgive by releasing your abuser into the hands of God.
— Make a list of all painful as well as positive memories. After completing the list, go back to the beginning and write the word “past” by each memory. Acknowledge and accept that the past is in the past. Release all the pain as well as the person into the hands of God.
The fact that your abuser has died does not mean that you cannot forgive and thereby prevent bitterness from establishing a foothold in your heart and mind. The Bible says,
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
J. What Are the Steps to Recovery for Victims of Abuse?
Recovery—healing—is a process that occurs over time and is a result of hard, but productive work. Rarely is it accomplished in a moment or in a single experience. All the practical insights and suggested solutions for recovery can be summed up in nine steps that are illustrated in the following confessions.
“I recognize that I am powerless to heal the damaged emotions resulting from abuse, and I look to God for the power to make me whole.”
“I acknowledge that God’s plan for my life includes victory over the experience of abuse.”
“The person who abused me is responsible for the acts committed against me and for the words spoken to me. I will not accept the guilt and the shame resulting from those acts or words.”
“I am looking to God and His Word to find my identity as a worthwhile and loved human being.”
“I am honestly sharing my feelings with God and with at least one other person as I try to identify those areas needing cleansing and healing.”
“I am accepting responsibility for my responses to being abused.”
“I am willing to accept God’s help in the decision to forgive myself and those who have offended me and to trust Him in the process of doing so.”
“I am willing to mature in my relationship with God and with others.”
“I am willing to be used by God as an instrument of His healing and restoration in the lives of others.”
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
K. Is Restoration Possible for the Abuser?
Have you tried to communicate your heartache to a loved one who has hurt you, yet there’s no indication that your pain was heard? Perhaps your many appeals for compassion, understanding, or even acknowledgement have been fruitless because the abuser is simply not empathetic. When one has been treated callously throughout childhood, the hard exterior that develops does not allow sensitive emotions to come in or go out. And without empathy, a person is incapable of being sensitive to the emotional pain of someone else.
Who Can Break through the Abuser’s Hardened Wall of Defense?
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In order for change to occur—for the relationship to be healed—the sovereign, loving work of God in the heart of the abuser is necessary. But the one who has been abusive must be willing to meet certain criteria.
• Honesty is required of the one who has been abusive.
— Are you aware that many abusers have no idea that they are abusive? Is it possible that you may have been abusive?
— Are you willing to consider that you may not be in touch with your own emotions because they have been buried for so long?
— Will you acknowledge that you tend to place all blame on another person and that you believe you are always right?
— Will you concede that you may be in denial about the seriousness of your behavior?
“A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.” (Proverbs 12:17)
Take the Honesty Test
Has a loved one ever said that you are emotionally insensitive or uncaring?
Has a loved one ever said your behavior is abusive or unreasonable?
Has a loved one said you act “nicer” when you are with others than when you are alone with that person?
Has a loved one ever said that you tend to overreact?
Do you avoid responding to questions that you don’t like?
Do you get angry when asked questions that you don’t like?
Do you refuse to acknowledge your past negative behaviors?
Do you have a short fuse that ignites anger?
Do you think your personal interactions with others could be destructive?
Have you previously had several failed, unresolved relationships?
If you answered yes to at least three of these, the chances are good that you are abusive to someone.
“Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.”
• Desire to change is uppermost.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)
Do’s and Don’ts for Taking Responsibility
|• Don’t vent your pent-up anger on another person. (Anger that is bottled up needs to be resolved and dissipated, not spewed out.)
|Do … Understand that feeling angry is not a sin.
Do … Recognize and admit that you may not know how to handle your anger.
|• Don’t say, “You’re the reason I am so angry.”
|Do … Realize that you may be using your anger to get your own way.
|• Don’t say, “I can never please you!”
|Do … Begin to see things from the other’s point of view.
|• Don’t say, “After all I do for you, it’s never enough.”
|Do … Recognize that courageous people are willing to admit their weaknesses.
|• Don’t use harsh, belittling, or sarcastic statements.
|Do … Realize that you can change.… It’s never too late.
|• Don’t withdraw emotionally.
|Do … Be willing to enlist friends and family members for accountability.
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.”
• Reflection is beneficial.
Most families will have some issues of control, but some children are subject to methods of power and authority that are more extreme than what is considered normal. Usually when a parent is severely and overtly dominant, a child’s feelings are stepped on, and personal expression is stifled. Then an atmosphere of fear invades the family. Children grow up with a negative emotional focus on the offending person, vowing never to be like the father who always broke promises or the mother who was strict and unaffectionate. Although the behavior of the children, when they are grown, may not be the same as the behavior of their offending parents, their emotional focus may cause them to develop the same attitudes of resentment and bitterness they so disliked in their parents. That is why the Bible says,
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Points to Ponder
◦ Was there anyone in your original family who was overly controlling of others?
◦ Is there anyone in your past toward whom you still harbor resentment?
◦ Do you bitterly vow that you will never exhibit the same behaviors as your parents?
◦ Do you have a negative focus on one or both parents?
◦ Do you still feel the need to talk about the negative behavior of your parent(s)?
◦ Are you still angry over the way your loved one was treated by someone else?
◦ Have you learned to love objectively the parents God gave you in spite of their faults and inabilities to communicate love?
“When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
• Anger management is mandatory.
People who have difficulty with anger control may express their anger in two ways. If you vent your anger at someone else, your anger is explosive, but if you keep your anger bottled up, your anger is implosive. Explosive anger is outwardly abusive, while implosive anger is inwardly abusive. Both are damaging to relationships. God does not condemn our feelings of anger, but He does require that both kinds of anger be expressed appropriately.
“In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4)
• Self-control techniques are essential.
Step One: Discover your trigger points.
— Be aware of when you are feeling irritated or aggravated.
— Take note when a sudden feeling of anger explodes in your mind.
— Listen to yourself and realize when you are behaving badly, performing poorly, or snapping at those close to you.
— Stop! Take a few moments and give yourself time to discover the source of your anger.
“Get wisdom, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5)
Step Two: Restrain angry thoughts and actions.
— Turn your thoughts toward Christ: Lord, may I have Your peace.
— Count to 10 before you respond.
— Walk away and then come back after your feelings are under control.
— Take a “time-out” for 15 or 20 minutes, if necessary.
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)
Step Three: Choose the right time and the right way to express your feelings.
— Train yourself to keep a lid on your anger until your agitation is calmed.
— Try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view.
— If you are angry at another person, ask, “Is there a time when we could speak about something important to me?”
— If you have anger turned inward, talk with a friend and seek an objective view of the situation.
“An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” (Proverbs 29:22)
Step Four: Be aware of your early family background.
— Read about and recall your early family dynamics.
— Did you discover that it was not safe to express anger?
— Did you learn that explosive anger was a means of control?
— Have you now learned to see your family through the eyes of an adult?
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Step Five: Begin absorbing truth.
— Pray for the Lord to reveal to you how He sees you—the person He created you to be before abuse marred and changed you. He will do this with love.
— Pray for the Lord to reveal His love for you.
— Acknowledge that you have God-given worth. Don’t let others define who you are.
— Read through the Book of Proverbs beginning with chapter 8. Write out all the verses pertaining to anger that are relevant to you.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Step Six: Come to Christ, seeking His help with a sincere heart.
— Confession: “I admit that my behavior has been wrong and has hurt others.”
“ ‘When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed.” (Numbers 5:6–7)
— Repentance: “Relying on the strength of God, I will change my behavior because I truly desire to please God.”
“If you repent, I [God] will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman.” (Jeremiah 15:19)
— Forgiveness: “God, I thank You for Your willingness to forgive me in spite of my failure to honor You.”
“I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38)
— Acceptance: “Jesus, I receive You as my Lord and Savior and give You control of my life. Thank You for being willing to adopt me into Your family.”
“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
— Substitution: “I am willing to give up control of my life in exchange for a new heart and a new life in Christ.”
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:31)
— Restitution: “Lord, reveal the names of those to whom I owe a sincere apology. I will go to them and ask forgiveness for my inappropriate and hurtful behavior.”
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)
— Cleansing: “God, I thank You for Your promise to cleanse me and to remove all my sins and unrighteousness.”
“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Psalm 51:2–3)
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