Gifts from pursuing abusers

UPDATE  Sept 2021:  I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches.  He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


[November 22, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

There have been at least two times in my own experience when I have told someone who was abusive that they were not to contact me again. Each time they would send birthday presents or some other things to my house in my mail. I never replied to the gift in any way and in fact threw them out. But the next year, here came another one. Every abuse victim who has been the recipient of this “kind” behavior knows full well what it feels like. It feels exactly like what the abuser wants it to feel like — condemning and threatening.

….It is abusive, wolfish, and pure harassment.

This could have been written by many victims of abuse, but it was written by Ps Jeff Crippen whose relationship with his wife, I can aver, is not abusive in any way. (Here is Jeff’s comment if you wish to track back and see it in its original context.)

We’d like you to share with us your experiences of gifts from pursuing abusers. It doesn’t have to be just spousal abusers; the dynamics of abuse and manipulation are similar across the board.

There’s a wonderful Aussie expression I just learned – ‘dog whistling’ – communication that is inaudible but effective. Many abusers are dog whistling when they give their victim gifts. The gift looks innocent on the surface, the hidden message is inaudible to most witnesses, but it has a big effect on the victim.

I’ll start with my own stories.

1) There was a guy who tried to court me, years ago, after I separated from my first husband for the first time (1994) and had just begun to attend church and walk as a Christian. Because I was a baby Christian, I still had quite a few behaviours and attitudes that came from my time ‘in the world’, and one of them was the belief that it was okay to share a lift in a car with a single man, and that didn’t signify anything about a personal relationship. (Bear in mind I’d been very casual about relationships in my teens and early twenties, and had hitchhiked a lot on my own….) I’d invited this guy to lunch once, and he’d given me a King James Key Word Study Bible — just the thing to please a word-lover like me.

The annual church camp was several hours drive away. I offered a lift to this guy, not knowing this kind of thing was ‘off limits” for good single Christian women, and thinking it would save petrol (I’m a greenie too). He accepted, and came in my car with me and my daughter.

Well, no prizes for guessing that this guy assumed I was God’s answer to his prayer for a wife. As soon as this became apparent to me, I told him “No”, politely but firmly. He continued to send me letters, quoting Scripture and telling me his dreams of having intimacy with me. I wrote a “Please Do Not Contact Me Again” letter. I left that church — for other reasons primarily, but it was a convenient way to shed him too. He continued to send me the letters, spaced months apart, but unchanged in their sentiments. I learned to recognise his handwriting on the envelope and felt sick each time one arrived.

Now, I’m not saying he as a full-on abuser; he could have been just a very lonely man, though he did have a history of being in jail. But he sure pursued me with unwanted gifts in the form of those begging letters.

2) There was a survivor I supported for a number of years until I realised that no matter what efforts I made to help her, she never improved. My efforts never helped her to recover or get better. I won’t go into the details here but I think hers was a very unusual case, and quite unlike true victim-survivors. One of the things she used to do was send me beautiful cards with neatly written words of encouragement, gratitude or prayer; always they were positive and spiritual and ‘uplifting’. But I learned to recognise these cards as one of her ways of keeping me hooked in as a crutch for her to lean on. When I finally announced I was ending the friendship and would no longer support her (“I don’t have the skills to help you” was what I told her) she did not tip into suicide as I’d feared, but she did keep sending me those pretty cards. Every time my birthday rolls round I get another one. I’ve written telling her: “Please don’t send any more cards.” She ignores my request. The last card I tore up and threw into the recycle bin without reading it, but that sick feeling in my stomach was the same as it always is: “leave me alone!”

[November 22, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to November 22, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 22, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 22, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 22, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

81 thoughts on “Gifts from pursuing abusers”

  1. Barb,

    Your two examples illustrate how different the gifts can appear, and yet they invoke the same sickening feeling of being violated or disrespected.

    My ex is a chronic, habitual gift-giver. I just received a gift I never asked for. I am not going to reveal what it was, but I am certain that you would screw [up] your nose and think, “huh? why even bother?” No, it is no longer the expensive or romantic gifts (they are too expensive for someone who is not interested any more); nowadays the gifts are simply statements of “See, I know what you like, and I can provide it for you, and you can’t get rid of me!”

    Unfortunately, gifts DO hook the kids. It’s hard for them to resist something they really want, and those who have resisted have paid the price, and one has even decided to give in to get a bit of the slice that the others are getting.

    It has made me reflect on my own motives for giving. Needless to say, I mirrored some of his values and habits, and I never thought gift-giving could be a manipulative tool, even when I heard rumors of people complaining about his intrusive ways of gaining allies.

    What do you suggest a survivor does about this? I have already told him that I do not want his gifts, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect. I don’t throw anything away in front of the kids, or they would get distressed, as sometimes he puts their names on it as well. Other times, it might be something useful! It’s not a straightforward thing to manage this problem.

    1. I don’t think there’s any easy way to handle it. Wish there was!

      Maybe in some jurisdictions, gift-giving by the perpetrator is classed as a breach of the protection order. But that is IF the survivor has obtained an order, which is not always possible; nor do all survivors want protection orders; and protection orders often expire….

      Returning the gifts, unopened (or opened and cut to pieces with shears!) can be one way. But if the kids have seen the gifts and want them, that is certainly not the way to handle it.

      Keeping the gift and making use of it is another way, and it’s helpful to think “I’ve plundered the Egyptians!” when one does this. At least that thought restores one’s dignity.

      If the gift is perishable goods, and one is feeling brave, one could always leave it to go mouldy or rancid and then return it to the abuser (not in front of the kids!).

      Maybe one could have him charged with littering if he leaves stuff on one’s front porch! No, really, I’m only joking. But it shows how hard this issue is to deal with. Any ideas from others?

      1. I also don’t think there is an easy way to deal with it. The variables of each situation have to be considered.

        My mom used to tell me when I was young not to let someone know their behavior affected me, because then it would take the fun out of it for them. It’s not that what they are doing didn’t hurt, but it’s my reaction to it that needed to change. That is a hard thing to do sometimes and isn’t appropriate for some abuse. It does work for some things and with some people.

        One way that has been helpful to me is to treat the gift with my understanding of a gift, that is, it is a thing given without payment. I say “thank you for the gift” (and I use that word specifically) and their thoughtfulness. Then, depending on the gift, I choose whether or not to accept it, keep it or toss it, donate, or sell it. If I have accepted the gift and they then pull on the hook through trying to use guilt tripping, etc., I ask them, “Did you choose to give the gift?” If they say “Yes.” then, I again thank them for the gift. If they make some other excuse or try to lay blame on me for them choosing to give the gift, I keep bringing it around to the fact that they chose to give the gift, and I understood from them that it was a gift, not a bribe. If they tell me I understood wrongly, which, in my case they wouldn’t because they don’t want to be seen as a “bad” person, I tell them I’m sorry I misunderstood their intention or motivation and didn’t realize that they were bribing me. It’s about keeping the responsibility of their actions where it belongs, which is on them. I’m learning more and more how to not take on the responsibility of their abuse towards me, and how to keep handing it right back to them. It’s kind of like a verbal mirror I’ve learned to hold up in front of me.

  2. I am so glad you wrote this post, Barbara! It is equal parts sad and comforting that I am not the only person who dealt with this. I have seen this gift-giving abuse cycle in two ways in my life. My ex-husband would give a gift for the sole purpose of gaining something back. Often, these “gifts” were the basic necessities of life. 😦 He would make them into gifts and then I would owe him something. I got to where I did not ask him for anything EVER and I would buy things secretly so he would not use it against me. 😦

    Second, my older sister is highly abusive (which is, I think, part of why I married my first husband). She has always shown nothing but contempt for ME but she sends gifts to my children. My children know her contempt for me and question why their aunt sends them birthday / Christmas gifts every year. I asked her last year to desist and she wrote back a HORRIBLE letter about how I don’t love my children and am an unfit mother because I would “punish my children” because I have a problem with her. She continued with the gifts. She wrote my children letters. It felt awful. Finally, two months ago, my fiance wrote her a kind letter asking her to stop sending the children gifts. He explained to my sister that I am their family….that they love me and will not ever turn on me. He also pointed out that she has very little respect for me if she would ignore my pleas that she stop. He told her they would all be sent to Goodwill unopened and that the children would not even know about it. I feel like my sister is an expert at isolating me. She tried to isolate me from my own children. She wrote back a horrible nasty letter and said she would stop sending the gifts but she would not stop buying them. She would collect the gifts for when my four children “are ready to be with their true family — their aunt, uncle and cousins.” (!!!!!!!!)

    1. Typical abuser: they up the ante every time. You appeal to reason and normal human decency, they make out that you’re unreasonable and warn you of even more dire payback. Well done to you and your fiance for trying, though!

    2. It truly is amazing to see, once you know what to look for, the consistent pattern with abusive, manipulative people.
      I have found that telling them what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to behave, gives them an advantage and another opportunity for them to try to abuse me. Once I determined that I was dealing with an abuser, I realized that telling them the consequences of their behavior gave them an advantage with me because they knew how I would react and they would be able to come up with something that would play towards my desire to deal openly and honestly with people. I’ve stopped telling them what the consequence will be if they continue in their behavior towards me because they have demonstrated that they are not honorable people.

      1. Song — that is VERY helpful. I think I always DID tend to be transparent (although that has changed a GREAT DEAL). Privacy may be my only defense. Smart thinking.

      2. I’m so glad it was helpful. Becoming more private doesn’t stop the abuser, but I think it provides a buffer and boundary for us. Be prepared for them to use it as another attack against you.

      3. Really good comment, Song. I really struggled with this a lot. I think there’s a huge motivation for us to tell them how what they do affects us. My motivation was that a normal-thinking person would see my pain, understand, and finally “get it”. By doing I was putting my healing in her hands – I was waiting on something that wasn’t going to happen. Not sharing was one of the most difficult things I learned to do. This could be a post unto itself (hint, hint, Barbara).

        On a related note, the day my divorce was finalized, she sent me a simple text “Happy divorce day” – no bitterness or anything. The day she found out that I “defriended” her on Facebook she blew a gasket and told me I was mistreating her. Privacy and boundaries are huge, and often the church isn’t supportive of either (my secular therapist, however, was).

      4. Jeff S,
        Thank you.
        And I liked this insight of yours:

        I was putting my healing in her hands – I was waiting on something that wasn’t going to happen.

        Applying and using what we would do in a healthy relationship doesn’t apply in abusive relationships. Too bad this concept is not taught in churches. I’ve been in churches that teach healthy relational relating, and that is amazing, but they don’t address how to deal with the abusive relationship. It’s sad to me that the teaching is so imbalanced.

      5. I’ve been in churches that teach healthy relational relating, and that is amazing, but they don’t address how to deal with the abusive relationship. It’s sad to me that the teaching is so imbalanced.

        Song, you’ve pointed out the big problem. It’s not enough to teach how to relate in a healthy manner. We must also teach how to identify unhealthy ways of relating, and how to respond when we are at the butt-end of such relationships.

        I believe all doctrine is best taught in both the negative and the positive: tell people what wrong doctrine / practise / behavior looks like, feels like, smells like. Then teach them what right doctrine looks like, feels like, smells like. Paul did this over and over again in his epistles. “Let me tell you about the wrong way brothers and sisters, then I’ll tell you the right way.”

      6. ….come up with something that would play towards my desire to deal openly and honestly with people.

        I recently read that a manipulator targets people who are honest and ethical. Why? Because they can’t con a con. Good job in seeing how your abuser was exploiting your positive characteristics! My abuser did that for years.

      7. a manipulator targets people who are honest and ethical. Why? Because they can’t con a con.

        That’s got my wheels turning. I heard about a husband who knew all about con merchants, having grown up amongst them. He thought he could spot a con really well. He probably could. But he also thought that some folk who were honest, were con artists. It was like he suspected con merchants everywhere, and could not detect when someone was actually being honest and ethical.

        No, let me refine that. He could detect when someone was ethical – inasmuch as that made them an apt target for conning. And although he often credited people with honesty and ethics when he first got to know and like them, if anything went sour (because of his immature behaviour) he would then start to suspect them of foul motives. But the foulness was in his own heart and eye; the other person was in fact honest and ethical — maybe somewhat ignorant or misguided, as we all can be, but not devious or malicious.

        Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. (Luke 11:34-35 ESV)

      8. Me too, but only after I found out the hard way. I had always been trying to follow advice given by authors like Cloud / Townsend, which generally included having a talk, setting out your concerns, laying out the consequences, then monitoring and taking action according to their behavior. Well, guess what — it not only doesn’t work with abusers, it is like walking into a trap. C.S. Lewis had the right idea when he argued that the Bible tells us not to be with powerful abusers, not because we are too good for them, but because we are not good enough (i.e. not equipped) to deal with their evil.

    3. My ex-husband would give a gift for the sole purpose of gaining something back.

      Too familiar, Megan!

      Even something as simple as my request to pick the kids up two hours early for a weekend camping trip became a “favor” with strings and expectations attached.

      I eventually learned to never ask for anything beyond the court-ordered custody schedule, and to simply always work my schedule to fit the papers.

  3. Megan, I received an identical response from my mother! I am constantly amazed at how similar the verbiage, threats, and behaviors are amongst abusers. My ex-husband also would buy me gifts for holidays that would be considered absolute household necessities and yet act like he’d bought me the moon. However, he demanded very expensive “toys” for his special days and would remind me how much he spent on me. He is currently buying our 3 year old daughter tons of toys to play with for his visits. However, he refuses to buy our three sons anything, even when asked, and I believe that’s because they have all confronted him on the abuse. They are obviously being punished, while our daughter is being “courted” and wooed into thinking that Daddy is a good guy because of all he’s bought her.

    Thank you, Barbara, for clarifying yet another abuse tactic that we need to be wary of.

    1. My husband would often buy me things that he wanted for my birthday and Christmas and then get mad if I wasn’t excited about it. And when it came to the children all the gifts were from him because “he was the head of the household” and not from me.

  4. One of the ways this plays out for me is that gifts are withheld by my spouse until we are separated and then he tries to draw me in with things he would never consider buying otherwise. This indicates two things to me, he clearly knows what things would bring me joy and chooses not to give on purpose. Secondly he only gives gifts for purposes of manipulation. So after receiving one of these gifts while separated he is often very angry that my response is not super excited. I am baffled that I should be excited to receive something out of desperation that could easily have been given in love but was withheld intentionally. During our marriage I just thought he couldn’t understand what I might like. Now I understand he knows exactly and chooses not to give. Bizarre.

    1. AJ,
      Yes, that is how they work.

      This indicates two things to me, he clearly knows what things would bring me joy and chooses not to give on purpose. Secondly he only gives gifts for purposes of manipulation.

      The game of manipulation is insidious. I’m so glad you are perceiving it.

    2. Yes, this realisation is chilling — so he knew what he was doing all along!!!
      Realising this ghastly fact is in many ways more painful than living in the fog thinking “it’s not that bad” and making excuses for the abuser. The knife has already gone in with its fatal blow, but then it gets twisted and we see the look in the murderer’s eyes and we realise “Not only does he want to kill me, he actually intends to torture me in the process.”
      No wonder we stay in denial for so long!

      1. I think that is so true, Barbara! I’ve come to this realization over and over in several areas. He KNOWS what he is doing and he MEANS to do it. Chilling, indeed. 😦

      2. I am in the [this] step right now to a great degree. The more I read others stories the more I realise how much he wants to torture me. Your words were right on, Barbara, every time I have that chilling realisation I can just see an evil grin on his face in my mind.

  5. All too familiar, here, too.
    When we were together, he subtly ridiculed many the things I enjoyed – like certain music styles. But after he left the house, he would let me know of new albums he “thought highly of” that he thought I would enjoy, too. I had to answer the phone – because he always did it when he called to say he was on his way to pick up the kids. Or he would buy it and send it in with the kids.
    It’s all so confusing to the kids.
    They got the toys, too — at least one a week — although there was great distress when one got a toy and the other was told that there was no toy because s/he wouldn’t do something my ex- was demanding they do. And changes to the visitation schedule were always costly — particularly to the kids keeping up friendships and activities at home. My kids learned that to ask for exceptions to the visitation agreement (for things like marching in the parade with the scout troop or being on a summer sports team) cost them dearly and so they stopped asking as did I for even things like visiting my ailing parents. The consequences have not been kind.

    It’s kind of darkly funny that my ex- actually yelled at me for NOT asking for changes to the visitation schedule so he could have something that I would owe him!

    1. I found the ridicule of all the things that were life-giving to me particularly devestating to my soul. It is very hard to find joy in things that are constantly mocked and eventually it is hard to find joy in anything.

  6. I identify with these comments so much! Gift giving, paying for things I owed money on, etc. were all manipulative tactics the abuser used when we were separated. One time, he even brought me a kitten, which when we were together, he was totally against! When we were together and he gave a gift or did something “unexpected”, he was NEVER satisfied with my thank yous…. The final time we were separated, I made the decision to never ask for his help again. That has helped me so much because he had made sure I was super dependent on him. It stopped a lot of contact which has been healing!

    1. Has anyone else had a similar experience around acts of service. For example if I ask for help with a project or with something around the house the answer is most likely “no”. When I get to the point that I finally stop asking for any help he gets very angry about the fact I no longer am asking. From my side he somehow seems to like the power this gives him or something. He often uses the words “you are treating me like I’m just a roommate” when I get to the point I give up on him taking any responsibility at home.

      1. I had similar experiences…. I didn’t get the roommate comment, but was put down as being unwilling to ask for help and trying to show him up as the head of the home.

      2. AJ,
        I’m so sorry you are experiencing the crazy-making behavior of an abusive person. I understand that you may be feeling perplexed and confused by what you are going through.

        From my side he somehow seems to like the power this gives him or something.

        That’s exactly what it is….he wants the power it gives him. He wants the power over you, the power to deny your request, the power to try to make you feel guilty when you’ve given up on asking. He wants the power to make you think you are the one that is causing the problem. He wants power, no matter how he can achieve it or get it.
        It doesn’t make sense to us because we think people think, process, and behave like we do….with kindness, respect, empathy, and logical rationality. Abusive people don’t do those things for the same reason we do them. They have different goals than we do. Their goal is to use us for their sick, twisted folly and advantage. Our goal is to create and grow relationships. Those are very different objectives. Abusive people do not make sense to us. It’s a “Catch 22”, no win situation when dealing with them.

      3. He lost custody and visitation. While we were in court, his mother passed away. He fixed the brakes on my car the next day….I let him because I knew that he would rather be busy than sit around with all that had happened (stupid mistake). A couple of months later, he suggested that I do something to redeem myself in the eyes of his family. They all think I was using him.

        I wish I could say that I knew him, that I knew he would rather be busy at that time of devastation. But since he lied to me all the time, I guess I would have to say that I never knew him.

        Gifts of service, gifts of stuff, they are the way he uses to maintain power over me, even after the separation. I sometimes have the attitude of “spoiling the riches of Egypt” and take what he gives….not because I have a desire to take from him, but that there is a need and he is giving what fills it. But that doesn’t happen very often and the “now you owe me” thing is always present.

      4. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was quite pleased to fix your brakes that day, for two reasons. One, it gave him something to take his mind off his mother’s death. Two, he knew he could tell his family later, “She’s so selfish: she got me to fix her brakes right after the court case, when I was still in so much grief over mum dying.” Perfect — two birds with one stone.

      5. I was not allowed money even for small things like socks and underwear for the children, without a big production made of it. Sometimes he would throw me some coins. I stopped asking, and one day he noticed that the children had some new things. He asked where I got the money. I casually said, “Oh, you never want to provide for us, so I’ve gone over your head. Now I ask God when we need something, and He seems happy to provide.” Um, that didn’t go over at all!!! He was very angry.

        Another thing I learned to do was, when he said he was going to do something that he knew I didn’t like (and you could see that ‘look’ in his eyes when he said it), I would say, “Well, if that is what God told you to do, you’d better do it.” He didn’t like that either, but it stopped the argument and often he gave up.

      6. I can completely relate to this entire comment from AJ.

        I avoid asking for anything (unless I absolutely can’t do it myself) knowing full well I will suffer the consequences for doing so but it gets done sooner if I just do it plus I only have half the ranting. And yes, he gets mad if I ask and gets mad if I don’t.

        Recently, child needed to be at a practice. So he took child. This is what a parent does. A few days later he made a point of saying to me that he did me a favor by taking child to practice. I later made a point of telling said child (who’s old enough for this kind of conversation) “you do realize that when dad does things for you it’s not really about you, right?” Child agreed.

        I once asked him when he came home from work before I knew better if he’d hold the baby while I cooked dinner. Soooo this meant of course I set myself for years of hearing about how I asked him to babysit so I could do what I wanted!!! (My intent had been to encourage him to spend time with his baby instead of the TV. I’d been happy to have baby in kitchen with me while I cooked.)

        Basically, here are the rules.

        !) He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Period.
        2) I’m the mom and therefore everything that needs or should be done is part of my job. End of discussion.
        3) If he does do something then he’s doing me a favor. And this includes everything — working, doing something for the kids, fixing something etc.
        4) Nothing I do is ever a favor because I’m supposed to do it.

  7. One of the hardest things for me has been navigating visitation with our son (I have primary physical custody and she has visitation). Often the language she would use would make it seem like she was doing me favors (“You stay out as long as you want and have fun.”). This always made me feel uncomfortable.

    She actually has moved out of state now and I find my stress level is WAY lower, even though I generally do not get to go out much.

    1. You stay out as long as you want and have fun.

      Reminds me of what another survivor told me. Her ex would get the kids on visitation for a few hours. When she came to pick them up again he would hand her the child support money with a flourish, in front of the kids, saying, “There, you can take the kids to McDonalds!”
      She had to use that money for bills and groceries. But the kids had been set up to think mum was real mean for not taking them to McDonalds.

      1. And I just want to add to the abusers who lurk on this site….child support and alimony are NOT gifts!! They are money that is owed! They are a bill like electric and student loans.

      1. Yes, it has been a relief, but I wasn’t so sure when it happened. She and our son (3) had finally started bonding (before the divorce, he didn’t know who she was at times) – it’s hard to know what is best for him, but she DID seem to be doing well with him before she left. On the other hand, he has seemed so much calmer and well behaved since she moved. He does occasionally ask to go to “mommy’s house” and it breaks my heart. Her plan is to travel to see him here; I don’t know how often that will be though.

      2. Jeff, my daughter (then 12) used to wail “I miss Daddy! When can I see him again?” after I pulled the plug on visitation because of his serious mistreatment of her. But half an hour later she would be wailing “How could he have hurt me like that? How could he have done that to me!” I just learned to ride the waves of her ambivalence. It was all part and parcel of her working through it emotionally.

        I know the heart-tearing you might feel when your son asks “When can I go to mommy’s house?” but don’t worry, you did the right thing, and it was his mother’s choice to move interstate, not yours.

      3. Thanks, Barbara. It’s a tough situation for me to navigate because the kinds of things she did to me were not the kinds of things that he would understand at his age. I have never seen her act in a harmful way toward him directly other than not spending time with him, which she started correcting once we had a schedule in place. I believe that as he gets older I will have more to contend with, and my view has been I can’t control that, but I can provide a safe place for him no matter what she does.

      4. Jeff — I so agree with Barbara here. It is so difficult to know that you did the right thing when your child’s heart is torn up like that. My [several] children are [all 10 years old and under] and I left my ex-husband in Europe over a year ago. For several months, all the kids cried for their Papa — even thought they were also afraid of him! I have found that communication to the max is the best way to handle things with my older [number redacted]. We talk at a ridiculous length, which is difficult for me because my parents were “coverers”. I have to force myself. But the more open and honest I am with them, the more secure they become. As for the younger [number redacted], they have all but forgotten their father. I know that your little one has to see his mother but, as he gets older (even as early as next year!) you can start teaching him about why you left and how you have his best interest in mind, etc. I talk a lot to the children about breaking sin cycles (or generational sin) and work hard with them to change years and years of patterns on both sides of the fam. I will be praying for you. I know this is difficult but you did the RIGHT THING.

        [For safety and protection, the number of children and their ages have been lightly airbrushed. Editors.]

  8. By definition a “gift” is the transfer of something without the expectation of payment. A gift is meant to be free. Maybe we could come up with a more appropriate term for what abusers give because it certainly is not a gift….

    1. Good point, Anonymous! It may be dressed to appear as a gift, but it is actually a bait….attached to a barbed hook and line.

      1. Joe!! Yes….bait! I like that term because it seems like almost everything coming from an abuser is some kind of bait trying to reel us in to their lair / snare / web of control and power-over. Bait gift. Baited gift. Concealed weapon. Hmmmmm. The wheels are spinning.

  9. I thought dog whistle [Internet Archive link]1 was an American political expression, but according to Wikipedia it originated in Australian politics. The classic example in the US is Ronald Reagan announcing in Mississippi the he supported “states rights”, basically assuring the racists in the South he is with them, while being able to deny it at the same time.
    Wow, is this like the abusive spouse in the pastor’s office pledging to “take care of his wife” when she knows exactly what that will mean when they are out of sight!

    1[December 23, 2022: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page for the term “dog whistle”. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

      1. Yes, good illustrations, Loren. And Barbara, the “dog whistle” is an appropriate illustration….inaudible but effective.

  10. Oh, so many gift issues I’ve had. In the beginning, he’d walk that line carefully between giving gifts that were appropriate and sweet, and sometimes being just on the edge of making me uncomfortable.

    Then after the wedding there was an item I saw in a store and thought was fun and really liked, but didn’t want to spend the money on and didn’t really have room for. A week later, there it was, in my home. I already knew not to try to tell him that just because I liked something in the store didn’t mean I wanted it at home, lest I sound ungrateful.

    Then the birthday and holiday gifts that were too much, too many, too perfect, just too.

    The odd thing with him was that he would never show any excitement over any gift I gave him. (Similarly, he’d never laugh at my jokes, but get him around his buddy and you’d think they were 12-year-olds making fart jokes.)

    He used flowers strangely, too. After one of the final arguments before I decided it was over, he came to my workplace with the children, who gave me flowers. Since he wasn’t speaking to me, I thought for a second he was saying he was ready to talk, so that night I said thanks for the flowers. Without missing a beat, he said “those were from the children.” Later, when I confronted him on that one, he said the kids saw the flowers in the store and wanted to get them for me and he didn’t want to tell them “no”. But there’s no possible way he could have picked them up, taken them to the store, and gotten to my work — the time-space continuum just wouldn’t allow it.

    After that, flowers kept showing up at the house. I told him to stop buying them, because they made me uncomfortable and also made more work for me keeping them watered, away from cats, etc. So he stopped, until the day before our mediation, when I found flowers on the seat of my car with a note asking me to reconsider. Sure, I’ll reconsider divorcing you because you made a minimal gesture which I specifically asked you not to do. Riiiiight.

    1. Little Miss Me,
      It’s not surprising that people outside of the relationship can have absolutely no idea what is going on. Bringing flowers to your work appears to be such a sweet romantic gesture and yet it is made to be violent to your soul. Extravagant gifts may make other women envy your relationship, but somehow having something forced on you that you didn’t ask for is the opposite of loving and cherishing. So crazy.

    2. One of my recurring fantasies, after my first marriage ended for the last time, was of me accepting the bunch of flowers that he gave me when reconciling after those four years of separation, and me grabbing the stems in both hands, breaking them in one swift movement, tossing the broken flowers at his feet, and walking away.
      Oh if only I’d done that, rather than accepting the flowers with a sweet smile. But the fantasy sure helped my recovery. We have to do something with our anger, don’t we, and having a fantasy like that is a way to “be angry and sin not” (Eph 4:26).

      1. He would always give me gifts after an argument and then would become furious with me because I did not respond to them like he thought I should. He would rage at the fact that I was not jumping up and down with joy and praising his thoughtfulness or repaying him with intimate favors. “Gifts” always came with a price. Since I’m not a words person and he needed that praise and gratitude, which even if I were extremely thankful to him, it was never enough. It left me feeling used, because I always thought gifts were free. Even with others, any time he did a favor for someone, he thought they should pay him back or be overly grateful for his help. He would cut off ties when people didn’t compliment him or pay back his favor. I even told him one time “why do you get so mad when people don’t repay you like you should. You did the favor because you wanted to, you weren’t forced into it. If you do something for someone, it’s because you want to not because you expect something in return”. It always fell on deaf ears though.

  11. My “gifts” have come as “concerned friends” of his calling to make sure that I am alright and asking that I pray for him because he is “really depressed right now and wants to make sure his wife still loves him.” He has always used his bipolar as a sympathy card with everyone he knows and it has worked well for him. These phone calls are placed just far enough apart that it seemed every time I was getting headway on straightening out my thinking he would try to pull me back into and make sure I don’t forget about him. He even once had the emergency room doctor call and let me know he was in the hospital for attempted suicide. I was angry so I told her that “I have a restraining order against him and quite frankly I am disappointed to hear that the suicide attempt failed.” And then I hung up the phone.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Bethany. Phone calls from ‘concerned friends’ as gifts — I wouldn’t have immediately thought of them as ‘gifts’ but of course, they are designed to look that way to bystanders, and he (the abuser) can boast about how he’s been encouraging all your friends to show their concern for you. Recruiting allies is one of the techniques abusers use as soon as the victim manages to separate. And yes, that enlistment of allies is dressed up to look like a pretty gift to you.
      What a shame he never showed much concern for you in all those years you were married to him, eh?

      And I echo what Song said: you gave a great response to that doctor from ED.

    2. Great response on the suicide. My ex held me captive with the suicide threats for years. After I left him, I received several phone calls from “mutual friends” who were worried about him because he had lost the will to live. Amazingly, he is still living.

      1. Suicide threats are really hard. For the longest time I believed I had the unfortunate power of being able to end my wife’s life if I said or did the wrong thing. I was terrified.

        I don’t think all suicide threats are abusive, but when the intent is to control another person, it absolutely is. My wife swore up and down (and still does) that she was not trying to control me, but I have no doubt. And during her final episode where she decided to starve herself to death she admitted she was doing it to hurt me.

        Oh, and the wisdom from the Elder I most respected: “you shouldn’t have said whatever you did to make her want to kill herself.”

      2. Yes, Jeff. I have such a similar story. My ex-husband threatened suicide several times if I didn’t do what he wanted to do. And I agree — suicide threats in and of themselves are not abusive but they CAN be. And, I agree with Barbara — what that deacon said was appalling.

      3. Jeff S – I am so sorry your wife did that to you. I remember living in fear that I would come home and my husband would be dead. Now I know that he never intended to kill himself, he only fakes suicide attempts in order to keep me in fear. I don’t know what I would have done if he ever did kill himself while we were together. Taking your own life just to spite the other person has got to be one of the worst forms of evil I can think of.

      4. Thank you for your sympathy.

        A suicide threat is a threat of violence. To respond with suicide to something you don’t like is to respond with a violent threat. Self-directed violence is still violence. It is not noble.

        What really bothers me is you have this idea popularized as legitimate in books like the “Twilight” series (which my ex is a big fan of) – when the main character throws herself off of a cliff after her lover leaves it’s almost noble (or so I understand, having not read the books).

      5. I didn’t know that about about the “Twilight” series but it makes sense. Makes sense that your ex was into those books, and makes sense that so many unsaved women love them. I know many nurses who were engrossed in that series. I could never figure out how intelligent, professionally trained people (whose training includes mental health and suicide management and prevention) could like those books. But that’s how the unregenerate mind is: it makes no sense because total depravity goes to the inmost part of our being. Thank God for giving us salvation from that mess of pottage!

      6. From a well-spoken teenager I knew who’d read the books (she was the target audience), the draw of the “Twilight” books is that it plays upon the romantic desires of many women by portraying a virtually perfect man in the vampire (he’s tender, super strong, noble, and loves her sacrificially) and a woman with virtually little depth so it is easy for the reader to insert herself into the love story as the heroine.

      7. Okay, that makes a lot of sense, having the female character of little depth so each female reader could insert herself. What an insightful comment from that teenager.

    1. Thanks, Song. 🙂 I gotta admit it felt really good to say it too. I also told one of his friends that “I hope he is depressed and having panic attacks! He deserves to suffer! I am having panic attacks too; I am waking up at night in cold sweats because I am afraid he is going to come after me again. Any man who would beat his wife and leave her cold and naked on a counter just because she didn’t want to fight but was trying to take a shower deserves to be depressed!” That “friend” has never called me again.

  12. Oh, my gosh. God is there for me!

    My husband gave me a gift this weekend! An actual physical gift. I was a gracious receiver and said “thank you”. But in my mind I wondered if there was a post here about gift giving I hadn’t seen yet. Wouldn’t you know I come to this site this morning after he’s gone and a recent response to the this post shows up.

    I read the post and every comment even though I have a ton of stuff to do today.

    I realized a long time ago, long before I understood he was the problem that his gifts were always about him. He gave me gifts for the house (appliances) in front of the kids. (I would act delighted. I didn’t want to the kids to think I was an ungrateful person.) Gifts are / were never anything I wanted. Never, ever. He’d buy me clothes but nothing I’d wear because they weren’t my style. He’d buy me food gifts that I wouldn’t eat (I’ve been eating a certain diet for years and he hasn’t noticed yet or if he has he hasn’t acknowledged it or he just doesn’t care or even more likely doesn’t approve). A few years ago he bought me a very expensive gift for my birthday. I felt very awkward because it was obviously intended to be a romantic gift — something you’d give someone you’re in love with. I thanked him. If he knew me he would have known — wait he does know me! He absolutely did it for himself. He knows I wouldn’t want that. I’ve never asked for such an item.

    Anyway, I put it in a drawer in it’s box. One day when he was angry at me he used that as proof that I didn’t care about him. I told him that it’s expensive and it makes me nervous leaving it out (which is true). He’s used that “against” me several times. I did finally get it out and use it a few times but as you can guess that didn’t make any difference. He had his “proof” once again of how ungrateful I am!

    So anyway, he bought something this weekend that I used to own but gave away years and years ago. I gave it away because I didn’t want it. I didn’t miss it. I hadn’t thought about it since I gave it away. In fact, I didn’t even know he knew it was gone. (It’s things like this that reveals that he’s more observant that he lets on. He always acts like he’s this unaware guy who needs me to “tell” him things and if I don’t he yells at me for failing to do so. In other words, if he fails to do something it’s because I didn’t remind him or tell him; never mind he should be a responsible adult.) The gift is a decorative item. I don’t like a lot of stuff out. It’s clutter to me.

    I wasn’t sure what to think or feel about it. I fell back in to old ways of thinking. What if he really is trying to be nice??? Then I read the comments for this post and realized when has he ever given me something I wanted. And even if this was some sort of effort to be better it falls way short and there’d better be more if that was really his intent.

    The comments here gave me clarity.

    You can bet now I’m displaying this thing. It doesn’t anger me because I look at it as a reminder of his mindset. Plus by displaying it will be a reminder to him that he can’t use it against me because I didn’t hide it away!

  13. Some examples:
    This lady offered me bootleg movies from some guys she knows. I said “no”. She dropped off about 7 on the doorstep. I returned them to her front porch. Seriously, I said had said “no”. Plus bootleg movies are….illegal anyway! She stopped even talking to me at all. But before that she seems to be a really pleasant new friend. Ha!

    A librarian asked if I wanted candy after we already had some. I said “no” and she walked over to me and put them in my hand. Yet she had been condemning and super strict with someone else about only taking one. Point is I said “no”.

    X-H family one time lavished me with gifts in front of others yet they called me names and shamed me privately.

    A family member would send certain items that I said specifically said “no” to.

    I think it’s rude, intrusive, controlling and totally disrespectful. It says “you don’t know what you want or need but I do!” and “hi I don’t respect you but I’m going to stick around try to convince you or others otherwise while I disrespect you.”

  14. Ummm, Barbara, with respect to your second example: have you considered that you simply behaved improperly and without any empathy? I don’t know the details, but from what you describe, a woman turned to you and wasn’t helped by your approach (nothing bad in that — different things work for different people). But for that reason you insinuate that she is not a “true victim-survivor”? Barbara, pray, what is a false victim-survivor? And what would call someone who cuts off a relationship with a patient and then has the nerve to publicly whine about receiving birthday cards from that patient? Lacking empathy and any sense of proportion, at best?

    1. Elizabeth M, I did not behave improperly or without any empathy. You are quite right in saying that you don’t know the details. And I won’t give them all here as it would take thousands of words. But believe me: I did try helping her and giving her empathy, for years. And it was like pouring water on to sand. It all drained through, with no (or very little) improvement in her situation.

      And she was not my ‘patient’, I had always and only attempted to have a friendship with her. I am not a professional counselor. But even a professional (like Dr George Simon) cuts off character disordered clients who demonstrate that they are not willing to do the work required to change their behaviour and character. Dr Simon rightly says that it would be a waste of his time and professional expertise to keep trying to ‘work’ with people who do not want to work on themselves.

      After trying to be a supportive and empathetic friend to this lady for years, I eventually had to come to the conclusion that, while she was indeed a victim of domestic abuse, she herself also had a pretty serious character disorder.

      In this post was not ‘publicly whining’ about her sending me greeting cards. And I am rather offended that you have characterised my words this way. I wrote about it because I was conveying my experience as an example which might help our readers reflect on their own experiences of having received gifts from abusers / aka character disordered people.

  15. The unwanted gift he keeps giving me is unwanted apologies. After I began to wake up to the abuse (I lived like the proverbial ostrich for years) and he ended up going to therapy ‘to please me’ he had a cycle of apologising (always very sincerely and nicely worded). It would be apologise, no change in mind set, unkindness, apologise etc. In the end, I couldn’t bear to open them because they were meaningless. I’d bring them to show my counsellor and she’d read it for me and tell me it was more of the same and I didn’t need to read them. She likened the apologies to me being given a gift that would be snatched back. And me just leaving the gift unwrapped now because I knew I wouldn’t get to ‘keep it’. I’ve told him I don’t want apologies and not to give me anymore. Yet, he continues to. I’ve been separated for some months now.

    The most recent apology was a few weeks ago. He texted and said he was going to text it next but I didn’t have to read it if I didn’t want to. I was surprised at how much it upset me emotionally. I didn’t read it, and I wondered how it could have the power to unhinge me so much (I had been going well emotionally for a few weeks and that plunged me in turmoil and frustration for a week). I think it’s because it showed he still does not respect me while at the same time he is ‘saying’ he has changed / is changing and I should have him back. It’s the words and actions being so opposite. It’s like kiss, slap, kiss, slap, kiss, slap. Ouch!

    I thought about it in terms of boundaries. It’s like someone saying that they know you don’t like having your fence knocked over but it’s ok for them to knock it over because they are pre-warning you it’s going to be knocked over. So, because they’ve pre-warned you, you can choose not to watch it happen (since you don’t like it) and they think that makes it ok for them to knock it over.

    1. What a good analogy with the fence knocking over!

      And receiving a gift knowing it will be snatched back….that’s a good one too. One reason I think fake apologies hurt so much is that we long for true apologies….we long for them almost more than we can express. If only we were to receive a true apology….from anyone, the abuser, the church that hurt us, the family members that hurt us….

      I know that when I heard one true apology from a Christian who had initially misjudged the situation when I separated from my first husband, I broke into tears instantly. It was only a ‘little’ thing but it meant so so much. And in the absence of apologies from any other members of that church, that one apology stood out like a beacon on a hill.

      I suspect your abuser has figured out that you would truly love to receive a genuine apology, so he keeps sending you fake ones because he knows it pours salt in your wound every time he does it. In other words, he’s being malicious.

      Good for you for see through the fog!


  16. I’m going through this with abusive parents. They have a “tightly run ship” or system of control, and anything that they can’t control (any person) is coerced into it again — whilst simultaneously appearing the victim — with gift giving, hypnotic tones, blue-eyed intimidation, forgetfulness, lying, denial.

    The abuse itself is also “victim”-based. They would only behave as an ally or friend if I was in pain, ill, failing, incompetent, nervous, or doing what I’m told no questions asked. Otherwise I’m an enemy to be covertly / overtly undermined…. Unbelievable.

    1. Hi, Mike, welcome to the blog and thanks for sharing. 🙂

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