[March 3, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
There was a moment during my marriage (perhaps you could say it was the emotional end of my marriage), when “the wall” went up. It was the moment when I said “I realize that I do not know you, you are not safe for me, and I will not allow you to hurt me any more / anymore.” I remember this moment vividly — as if it happened yesterday. Physically, I mirrored my emotional state by staying at the edge of the room, observing but not engaging, as my wife raged physically against herself and the house in which we lived.
I’ve referred to this moment before as “scorched earth” — the point at which the relationship was so burned to the ground that nothing else could grow. We would spend months trying to work through this, and our marriage therapist, my wife, and I made it the primary goal of our sessions to bring the wall down (we all acknowledged the wall as a barrier to me being able to function properly in the marriage). He was a good therapist, though, and very careful to caution that I not bring the wall down all at once.
What was the wall exactly? The wall was an inability to let my guard down with my wife. I was cut off and could not share vulnerable thoughts and hopes with her. For a while the wall felt like a defective part of me, like the part of me that connected with her was dead. Our marriage therapist helped me see it in a different light, however. In his view the wall was protection I’d built up after years of injury. It was actually a God-given boundary that would ensure I didn’t keep opening myself up to emotional pain. He believed I should work “one brick at a time” to create minor cracks of renewed trust.
Now at this point you might be wondering why my therapist wanted to bring the wall down if he thought it was protecting me. There are really two answers to this. The first is that I don’t think he recognized just how dysfunctional my wife was. In fact, he directly stated this to me when we mutually agreed to stop therapy, saying that his approach was flawed because he really hadn’t understood the situation. I can only say I appreciate his humility in halting when he realized he was out of his depth. I also think he wanted to guide the bringing down of the wall because he wanted to make sure I didn’t bring it down all at once, which he saw as extremely dangerous.
To their credit, the Elders at the church did not tell me that the wall was bad or demand that I “get over it”. They insisted that I remain in the marriage, but doing so without emotional vulnerability was OK in their book. The thing is, it made me feel worse and worse about myself because it resulted in behavior that I felt was starting to turn me into an emotional abuser. I no longer felt ok saying “I love you” because I didn’t mean it. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to her on the couch at home. I stopped touching her hair, giving her embraces, or talking with any depth. I remember looking online at the signs of emotional abuse, and the signs were all things I was doing to her because of this wall. My sense of shame increased every day.
And yet, it was the wall that saved me. When the final meltdown occurred, I don’t know how I would have survived without the wall. I’d barely emotionally made it through the incident that caused the wall, but the one that followed was far, far worse (mainly because in this case she admitted that her behavior was targeted at me, which she had never said before). Yet this time it didn’t hurt as much. I shed some tears and was sad, but I remained strong and intact. I survived.
I don’t know how many have experienced the wall or something like it, but I do know this: the wall was a gift. The wall protected me. The wall was of God. Maybe the wall was God’s way of establishing boundaries in a man who didn’t know how. All I know is that it was grace in my life.
I’m still conflicted about some of the behavior the wall caused. I don’t know how I could have treated my wife better while protecting myself, but I wish I had. In the end, though, I want to encourage anyone else who has a wall up to view it as a good thing, designed for protection and not a deficiency. God often does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, even setting boundaries.
[March 3, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to March 3, 2023 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 March 3, 2023 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 March 3, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 3, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: boundaries, Jeff S, protecting victims
Oh, Jeff S — the wall! I know the wall very, very well. And I also remember the day it went up. That incident threw me into a spiral that I still haven’t been able to fully recover from. That day was the day that I was no longer able to sweep his words and actions under the rug. I finally realized that he wasn’t “joking” and he really did mean it. There was simply no excusing what happened that day. And it brought back all the previous incidents that I did manage to sweep under the rug because I now saw them in a new light. I remember staying up very late that night in total shock.
And I used to feel guilty about the wall, but I don’t anymore. Well, most of the time I don’t. Sometimes guilt will still sneak in. And when it does, I’ll come back and re-read your post. I think I’ve commented on here before about my wall. I like it. It’s safe. And I don’t want to take it down. I think he and his counselor see taking down the wall as a goal, but I don’t. I’m not going to try to take it down before I’m ready, and I emailed his counselor not too long ago and said that. And if he refuses to accept that, well, then I guess I know that he hasn’t changed so much after all.
Guess what book arrived this week?? So excited to start reading it!
Yes. The wall is one way we resist being abused because we refuse to be content with being abused. And when we see it as a positive, rather than a defect, our upside down world turns right way up.
Numb is the word that I would use to describe my “wall”. I was growing increasingly numb to his attacks. On the outside I didn’t really change my actions. I played the part and I’m a really good actress. But on the inside I was cold and numb. I didn’t like being numb but I knew it was out of my control. I could do the outward actions and convince everyone around me that I was happy and my life was wonderful, but it was not real. I hoped pretending enough would make it real because I thought being numb was bad, but as you pointed out it was God protecting me. I know now that this feeling that I had is called “dissociation” but at the time I didn’t even fully realize that I was in an abusive situation so I thought the numbness was depression or something mental. I was even put on anti-depressants for a time by my doctor because I thought that I was just depressed. When they didn’t help I stopped taking them and just pretended that I was better.
I now find that I have to take the wall down a little at a time and allow myself to feel slowly. I wasn’t prepared when I first started taking it down and was thrown into such a wide range of emotions that I ended up in the emergency room because I was suicidal and having massive panic attacks. With the help of a really good therapist, this blog, and Anewfreelife’s blog I was able to recreate my wall to the point of stability and then I started to take it down again one brick at a time. I am glad you had someone warn you not to take your wall down all at once like I tried to do.
Bethany, thanks for sharing that. I am sure that some of our other readers will benefit from your story of taking the wall down too fast and being flooded with emotions, then having to put it back up again for survival, then cautiously take it down brick by brick, at a pace you could cope with. It sounds like you have a very good counselor. 🙂
It was like my perfect world had been ripped out from under me and I was left with nothing. I was such a good actress that I even had myself convinced (for the most part) that I had a wonderful marriage. In the post just after this one I told the story of the night my world shattered. I couldn’t believe how blind I had been. The trauma and shock nearly drove me to kill myself. No one that I worked with understood. I was one of those cases of “Her life was so perfect I would have never guessed that that was going on behind closed doors”.
Once I determine that I am dealing with abuse, I counsel the one being abused to set what I call “boundaries”. These, of course, infuriate the abuser, but they expose the meanness and often help clarify the issues. This “wall” is absolutely necessary for the recipient of abuse. It separates them from the “fog” of abuse and protects them to some degree.
If one looks carefully at how the apostles dealt with abusive and wicked personalities, one will see that they set boundaries as well.
Thanks Larry – you are exactly right. Currently we are going through the book “Boundaries”. This whole concept of drawing boundaries as being a biblical and good thing puts off some Christians as they think it is “unloving”. Hardly. Without boundaries we become enablers of sin and that is never good — not even for the sinner. Church discipline, properly exercised, is a great boundary. God Himself has quite the boundary around heaven! The ungodly will never enter it.
I read “Boundaries” years ago. It wasn’t until I heard this biblical concept from Cloud and Townsend that I really saw how right and necessary it is. Until then I was always frustrated and often angry or exasperated with God for letting people walk all over me because I thought that was how He wanted it and I could never understand the double standard: why it was OK for them to walk all over me but I had to be loving and sacrificial to them. After reading about boundaries I was able to see God in a completely different (read sane) light and saw it was NOT OK for them to walk all over me and being loving had to be a matter of choice, that is freely given not under compulsion and in order for that to happen I had to be able to say “no”. That has been discussed elsewhere on here (I think Barbara mentioned it somewhere?).
But the point is, it is impossible to be genuinely loving without boundaries.
I also loved how they showed God has boundaries. And I have since considered it is a point of Satan to try to erase boundaries. Think, for example, of Communism where there are no property rights. There is a razor thin line, or perhaps no line at all, between having no property rights and there being no right of person. Thus, if someone wants something material that you happen to have in your possession, you have no right to deny them. Hence, if someone wants your person, you have no right to deny them. Thus there is no such thing as stealing, coveting your neighbor’s wife and therefore no such thing as adultery, no such thing as rape, or fornication, or any number of other things God calls sin that are really fundamentally boundary violations. Etc…. And in the end, since there is no sin, there is no need of a Savior, and Christ’s cross is for nothing….very Satanic concept if you think about it.
And while I’m at it, without boundaries there is no such thing as holiness, or sanctification — being set apart.
I only read “Boundaries” after I filed for divorce; I’d wished I’d had it before. I had already learned about setting boundaries from secular sources, but the Townsend and Cloud book puts some Christian refinement on the ideas that really help a lot. I think it’s a must read for anyone who still has to interact with their abuser (still married, kids involved, etc.).
Ironically my ex’s therapist had her reading at the same time that I was. I don’t know if she finished it.
I’d like to just call a major double standard alert here:
While it’s nice your Elders were okay with this, I cannot imagine any pastor, Elder, etc., saying this would be okay for the reverse — for a woman to put up these sorts of emotional boundaries and stop saying I love you, stop sitting next to her husband one the sofa, stop being affectionate. It is her “duty” because her husband has “needs”.
Oh yes, I had walls for years. And maybe I would have gotten out sooner if someone had said it was okay to respect those rather than violate them day in, day out for thirty years in the name of being a “good” submissive wife.
Killed off a part of me that’s having a difficult time coming back.
Oh my! That is truth for me too, so devastating. So sorry for your journey, Ida Mae. Prayers for recovery! I now see my wall as a walled garden. Where there was once “scorched earth” there is now a wall and a gate and inside is room for new growth and health and beauty. Only those that I choose may have the key.
I love that walled garden image. It’s beautiful. And have you ever noticed how a neglected garden starts to show beauties when you do a bit of weeding and taking out of dead stuff. Things you thought were “nothing” start to bring forth unexpected delights.
Ida Mae – this is exactly right. There is indeed a double-standard in this regard, with men receiving the greater favoritism. Sadly, more often than not, a man drawing these boundaries is going to tend to find more support than a woman who draws them.
Oh, yes! Many years of walls while in that first marriage. Initially, they were haphazard and felt all wrong. Later, with counseling, I came to recognize them as healthy boundaries, worthy of defense.
Like you, though, I never felt comfortable living in a marriage while intentionally holding myself at an emotional distance for extended periods of time. The last year of that marriage, I spent many many hours in prayer and fasting, simply begging God for healing. I wasn’t sure what I was even asking for. I just knew things were not as they should be and I needed His healing touch.
I really did not expect God to answer that prayer the way He did….by redeeming me from that covenant abusive bondage and delivering me through the divorce!
I had so many of the same experiences. I felt like a switch went off inside of me and I could no longer feel vulnerable around my ex. Sadly, this was completely fulfilled by the time my first baby was born. I remember my “wall” going up about two years into our [over one decade] marriage. 😦 I did away with a lot of things that showed any sort of vulnerability….I “toughened up”. I did not even realize this was my way of coping and protecting myself. He became angry that I would cry alone with the door closed or that I couldn’t share my secrets with him. I just couldn’t make myself do it. And there was no way to do it. I, too, struggled with guilt….thinking there was something wrong with me. I know, now, that it was God protecting me — something God builds into us to be able to handle trauma. Thank you, Jeff S, for putting it into words.
[For safety and protection, the length of the marriage has been lightly airbrushed. Editors.]
To some degree what this wall is related to the cycle of abuse. We all know that commonly as what is called the “honeymoon stage”. (Barbara has a better name for it. Something like the “setup stage”.) This setup stage is just that. It is part of the abuse, even though it seems so kind and nice. But what is really going on is that the abuser, for evil motives, is merely trying to gain trust once again so that the victim is suckered into a vulnerable position. Then the hammer falls once more. The wall, or boundaries, is a protection against this setup strategy. It is a refusal to be duped when candy is offered. “Keep your candy. I know what you are up to and it doesn’t work anymore.”
Pastor Jeff C, if you could just keep repeating that I might eventually get it. 🙂
Keep your candy, keep your candy, keep your candy…. 🙂
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.
Yes, Jeff C, exactly right. Keep your candy.
“Set up stage” is fine; I think I have called it the “buy-back stage”. Same difference. Any term is okay so long as it conveys that it’s part and parcel of the whole abuse cycle. I never liked “honeymoon stage” because it casts us victims as dumb, silly, dippy, and brainless.
Barbara, I agree. “Honeymoon stage” sounds like it’s enjoyable for the victim and it’s not. Maybe it is in the very beginning when the cycle hasn’t repeated very many times yet. But I feel like saying “I’ve been on this ride before, and I know how it ends.”
“Keep your candy” is great!
Ironically the phrase “dropping the hammer” has been repeatedly used in reference to me! Yea, I love candy but am finally able to say “keep it!” No longer have the strength or desire to prove how ridiculous these cycles are. Finally at a place of peace, regardless of who can see it or believe it. I know. God knows. All of you know! Thanking Him for this place of refuge, they are few and far between.
Hi, Anonymous, I changed your screen name for your safety. Welcome to the blog, and I encourage you to read our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for guarding your safety while commenting here.
Oh yes….how clearly those defining moments come back! Laying in bed with my husband, crying and telling him he had hurt my feelings, and receiving a barrage of “you are such a stupid, stupid idiot!” over and over and over again. Then giving him sex because that was what I was “supposed” to do. Our relationship was dead on that very day, even though it was at least 6 more years before I had the courage to file for divorce. This (the divorce) came after being told in my kitchen that he was going to “tell everyone!….your family, my family, all our friends!….that I was withholding sex” from him. (My final and last boundary before filing for divorce.) I lived in the house with him, slept with him every 3 nights no matter what, and was completely and totally dead to him….something he constantly berated me for but he would not willingly work on what was happening in our marriage that caused it in the first place. He was telling people I was mentally ill, sent me threatening emails using Scripture, etc.. So thankful for those “walls” that keep us sane in these types of situations. Now trying to figure out how to trust people again….
Thanks for sharing, Anon. I’m so sad you went through all that. We hope you find our blog a place of safety and growth. Trust: I think it can only be extended to people when they have shown themselves trustworthy. We reveal a tip of the iceberg and see how they respond. If they respond kindly and non-judgmentally, if they show interest and empathy for us, then we can open up a little more. It’s baby steps, but I’m sure you will find you can develop trust slowly but surely with those who are demonstrating to you that they are safe to trust. Trusting our gut feelings is the place it begins. Listening to and heeding those messages from ourselves. And the wall was one such message. Your gut feeling said “Put up a wall!” when your ex mistreated you. That message from your gut was trustworthy. Other gut feelings will be too. 🙂
Thank you so much for this blog! I’ve been listening to the sermons about abuse also and they are such a blessing! My “wall” has been up for quite some time. It’s safer that way. But lately I had been feeling guilty about it, now I don’t! Again, thank you so much for tackling this issue!
Husband vehemently objects to the emotional and physical boundaries I have put in place….boundaries I eventually had no choice about having. HE built that wall! I merely had the audacity to use it.
Yes, but it was not audacity on your part, it was righteousness and wisdom and courage!
What I meant by that was it is his reaction to it that suggests it was audacious on my part. I and God know differently. We know it was necessary. And I did not do it for my sake alone, but for the sake of him, as well….for the sake of being the ezer-kenegdo wife I have been called to be. Alas, he in his foolishness has no want of a courageous, and wise wife who would stand up to sin and call us to righteousness….and there is not room enough for both me and his unrepentant addiction and abuse.
To walk away from a dearly and deeply loved one….nothing has ever been more difficult or broken my heart [more] so than to realize he loves his sin more than God and me.
Oh, I feel that one. SO. VERY. PAINFUL.
Oh, yes! What a painful realization that was….to clearly see she loved her sin more than she loved me or the children….and to know that was not going to change….
I had put up “walls” as well! Most of our short marriage I had a “WALL”. It was so thick even I couldn’t break through it! Since I am no longer living with my abuser, and in the middle of divorce those “walls” are slowly coming down! Those “walls” I had put up are becoming easier to climb over!
Several years ago, in the middle of a heated argument with my husband, in spirit I felt a wall go up. It was not even a decision on my part, or at least it didn’t seem to be. It felt like a car window automatically going up between me and him, and I could “feel” that instead of a window it was a sheet of steel. I have never forgotten that.
Sadly, this is exactly what my “walls” were like, but those WALLS were my defense. I’ll add too, that I DID not like who I was. I was changed. I didn’t even feel like a human being, a RAG DOLL (numb) is what I felt like.
Thank you all for opening my eyes. I’m not very good at expressing my feelings, and here you all are expressing them for me (so to speak) with your situation! Thank you!
I can still be hurt, but now I have withdrawn from him. I go through the motions, but I am closed off too. I have tried to give him a gentle touch or whatever as I want to act decently to him, but I see who he is now. His personality disorder has taken over his life and what I used to see as caring for the family is now something I see as a soothing ritual. When I disturb his rituals, the abuse comes out. I don’t think he loves me, I think he NEEDS me to make his world safe and predictable. It is sad, really.
This post has been such a blessing to me. I re-read it often to remind myself that I have not become cold or hard-hearted. I’ve behaved in ways not natural for me but can now rest in the realization that the Lord has allowed this boundary so that my heart is protected from further hurt. He is gracious.
Is this wall — the stonewalling thing? My husband ignores that I exist, doesn’t respond to me, and goes on with the kids as if I’m not there. I get angry and furious. I feel crazy and out of control. He lays on the affection with them all the while putting this wall up against me. I can’t stand to live this way. He says things to provoke me and calls me mean in response to what the kids say. Also I punched him in the face after he stonewalled me and left for a whole day and refused to tell me where he was. He shoved me into the couch and pinned me to the floor. I feel like I’m the abuser. Looks that way. I’m very very confused anymore.
This post sounds like something my husband would write. I’m really confused.
No, the wall which is being talked about in this post is a wall that is a boundary. Boundaries are right and good. They are needed to protect us from wicked malevolent people. They are needed to guard our hearts and our souls, so we are not overly contaminated with the putrid sins which abound so much in this world.
To stonewall means “to delay or obstruct (a request, process, or person) by refusing to answer questions or by being evasive.” Stonewalling has a negative connotation. Mostly we use it to describe the conduct of people who use covert aggression — people who use it for selfish or downright evil reasons.
Abusers often stonewall their targets. It is also called “giving the silent treatment”. This tactic of abuse is very powerful because it makes the target feel like a non-entity….without dignity, without personhood, and therefore without any human rights.
It sounds like your abuser stonewalls you often: that stonewalling and the silent treatment is a big part of his pattern of coercive control.
What you did when you punched him is not like that at all. It is much more like the retaliation of an animal that is being attacked by a predator. For example, if a lion attacks a small dog, the dog will almost certainly try to scratch or bite the lion. Don’t be hard on yourself for what you did then. It is perfectly understandable.
If you read the definition of abuse in our sidebar, you will see that you do not fit that definition. It defines abuse as:
You are not the abuser because you are not displaying a pattern of coercive control of your husband and you do not have a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, you keep your husband subordinated and under your control.
“Feeling like you are an abuser” is a very common experience which many, many victims of abuse have. You are not alone. You are not the abuser.
Here are some posts about this very topic which I think will help untangle you. 🙂
Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?
Am I the abusive one? [Internet Archive link] — By Lundy Bancroft.
My abuser says I am the abuser!
Let her be angry
Right Back At Ya! The Abuser’s Tactic of Reflective Blaming
Another piece of my puzzle….
My wall has been in place my entire life….and I remember the day it came down. (I could give you an exact date, but it would be too identifying…. 🙂 )
For me, the wall is different than dissociative amnesia. I unknowingly used both to cope.
The day the wall came down, I refer to as the day my walls crumbled….ironically, I was using Jeff S’ term long before I read his post. 🙂
Now I understand the 24 / 7 flashbacks, memory-reintegration, and healing process I’ve written about throughout the ACFJ blog. While I would not recommend dynamiting the wall in one fell swoop, I followed the Holy Spirit’s lead. He has led me through the blog, step-by-step, insight-by-insight.
I’m having to learn a new way to live….
Adding on to my own comment….
And sometimes the steps are leaps and bounds. And sometimes the insights are more than a simple kaleidoscopic turn.
Without the wall, the repudiation of lies from my past sometimes flattens me with non-physical pain. And I am OK with that, truly I am.
It is often said learning the truth is painful. I can vouch for that. 🙂
I am coming closer to the Truth.