[September 27, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
I have been thinking a lot about a strange phenomenon happening to those of us who have been in abusive marriages. It took me 3 years to leave my abuser. And I still struggle with the terms “abuser” or “abuse”. It is foreign to my ears because he wasn’t my “abuser” for 11 – 12 years. He was my “husband”. Was he really all that bad? Am I sure I am remembering things the way they really were? I have many people in my life who would respond to those questions with a resounding “YES”. But….the phenomenon is this: I don’t see him as an abuser, even though I am well-aware that he abused us dreadfully.
Yes, Megan….he was that bad. He tore into your soul emotionally. He took a young, naive girl who only wanted to be a bride and he stepped all over her in every way. He was and is THAT bad.
All I have to do is tell ONE STORY of one day of our lives and watch the horror rise up on a friend’s face to remember that my life was hell every day. I cannot trust myself when it comes to him. I absolutely have to believe what others see in him. I am still too easily manipulated by this man.
Another woman can describe her marriage and I can pinpoint WITHOUT A DOUBT how abusive her husband is. But, with myself, there is a fog….a blind spot….a complete lack of clarity. I knew, of course, that I was suffering and that the children were suffering. It is a strange thing to still be in denial, even though it was horrific enough to make us flee. I have a theory about this. I believe, over time, I went through phases. This is my experience:
Engagement, honeymoon and the following weeks: I was shocked by some of his behavior. He would not allow me to tell anyone we were engaged; there was no celebration. On our honeymoon, he expected me to cook every meal and clean our little condo. I felt utterly used sexually. I felt dirty. He now owned me. I could NOT believe that this nightmare was marriage. When we returned home, we had an invitation to a college reunion with some fun friends with whom I had been close. My then-husband said it was “inappropriate” and we would not go. The isolation began. I laid on the bed, depressed. My then-husband showed me Scriptures that pointed to my responsibility to be silent….to let the husband lead. My self talk was thus: “This is terrible; This is not what marriage is supposed to be like. This is not what God says marriage is supposed to be like. I am so alone! What have I done? Oh my gosh….that is NOT NORMAL! What is he doing? Why did he say that? I am afraid!”
Note: It is important to point out that not everyone has a Phase 1. Some have already experienced such a dysfunction in their core families that abuse is already their “normal”. Or there is confusion as to what a healthy marriage is (poor doctrine….).
I began to learn how to cope. I knew that divorce was not an option. My parents and church had been very clear about this. I believed God hated divorce (and, in turn, would hate me if I wanted out). I learned to tiptoe around things. I learned to thrive outside of his realm. At night….while he was at work, I got a Master’s degree. It took 6 years. I found ways to still play the piano, even though he was terribly threatened by my gifts. I convinced myself that things would be OK. I turned a blind eye to the twisted-ness. I scampered behind him when he “disciplined” the children….re-directing them….re-teaching them….loving on them. All the women in his family did this. It became my normal. I no longer thought I deserved better, anyway. I had heard the lies so many times. Here is the point: my mind became re-wired. This life I led had become my normal. I had re-wired myself out of pure self-preservation. I was no longer shocked. Here was my self-talk for most of my marriage: “Oh, I can deal with this. I know how to placate him. I am reading the signs and I need to walk softly. It’s not so bad. That is how his father is….this is how all men are.” It was a slow fade; a slow death. Light bruising turned to dark bruising. We were the frogs slowly boiling in the water yet never noticing.
This is when I “woke up”. It took three years and a lot of agony to be popped out of my paradigm. I had a lot of help and I painstakingly searched the Scriptures with all my heart. I could not bear the abuse anymore but I could not outright say it was abuse. I just knew that things had become so dark and frightening….my children were afraid….we were being destroyed….I had to get out. Once out, the fog was still there for a long time. The process of re-wiring myself back into reality has taken a long time — and I am still working on it. I am seeing clearly now due to three things: Others peering into my former life with shock and dismay, reading books such as The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans and The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, and God’s absolute and total transformation of my mind and heart. The prayer I prayed most was for clarity. He has given me this….
I am stunned again. Stunned at what was our “normal”. This is a good thing.
[September 27, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to September 27, 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 September 27, 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 September 27, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 27, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
27 thoughts on “Stunned Again”
This is not intended as criticism, even though I know that some sensitive souls may take it as such. My desire is to gently prod, provoke. Here goes. Might one make the case that the choosing a mate over what is right is a form of idolatry? Jesus was very clear that following Him would often mean separation from family, even, at times, from a spouse. I keep remembering Paul’s retort when the High Priest ordered him to be struck while speaking in his own defense.
No one is above God’s Law. He who would ‘instruct’ others concerning it must himself bow before it. If he does not do so, all is hypocrisy and, as such, has no weight, no authority, and no believer is ‘required’ to submit to it.
Larry – yes, I think I see what you mean. And if we can all understand your point, then actually it should be a real encouragement to everyone. Everyone is required to submit to God. High Priest, Apostles, Pastors, husbands, wives, parents — everyone. This includes those in authority. And your point, if I understand you correctly, is that there are plenty of examples in Scripture when godly people opposed those in authority over them because the ones in authority had forfeited their authority by disobeying God and thus going beyond the bounds of their authority.
Therefore, when someone is stepping out of the bounds of their authority and we know that they are, yet out of the fear of man we continue to obey what they command, then we are preferring a man over God. And as you say, that could be idolatry. Understanding this point is actually freeing because once we know it is idolatry then we can tell the idol to go take a hike, thus bringing Dagon down and shattering him.
Of course the trick is to not be deceived, and abusers are quite good at deception. And quite often they have allies to help them in that deception, leaving their victim in a fog of confusion. Godly victims want to serve Christ and if they are told that Christ would have them submit, then they want to submit. As you say though, we always submit to the Lord and many times that is going to mean refusing to submit to a human being or institution.
Ah. I see what you are saying. Thank you, Jeff and Larry for bringing this authority issue into the light. I had never thought about it this way. I have struggled under the false guilt of “usurping my authority as a wife.” I still hear this in post-separation abuse about every few weeks. I think my ex-husband will say until the day he dies that I “went against my authority”. He is extremely angry if I cut conversations short with the children because he feels we are ALL going against God’s ordained authority by not letting him do whatever he wants to us. He tells me that God will not be mocked as I quickly cut off the kids’ Skype conversations with him because he has hurt them emotionally. Larry….your point is a great comfort and relief to me. Thank you.
You got it, Jeff. Said it much better than I could.
Very accurate. I think a lot of times it is idol worship. Constantly trying to look right, have the house clean enough, make the right meal, say the right things, give enough enthusiastic affection, etc. The list can go on and on trying to appease someone who cannot be appeased. We forget who we are and Who we belong to. We often lose sight of how much God loves us or measure His love according to our abuser’s current level of pleasure in our behavior.
I am so very grateful that is not the God I serve. To catch glimpses of His unfailing love and approval.
To know He waits patiently for us to respond to Him. How we look, clean, cook or speak really mean nothing to Him aside from wanting our hearts to be full. He knows “failures” in these areas are really an indication that something may not be right with our heart and that is what He cares about, not our performance.
So, yes, I can see what Larry is saying and I agree. God’s love is freeing. And I love the freedom! Submitting to a man, my husband in my case, who responds in anger when I don’t do what he wants is not God’s design for submission. God’s yoke is easy and so when we place ourselves under authority it seems to submit ourselves to that authority should be easy as well.
I know what you are saying. I had a whole comment crafted on this for another thread and decided against posting it because I thought it might come off as harsh. (I still have it saved.) It was along the lines of being responsible to obey our Spirit-informed consciences, as well as having the right to do so (which is what the original blog post was about), and that in so doing we will find ourselves “outside the camp” of man’s approval more often than we might like. I don’t remember if I used the word “idolatry” but that is saying the same thing from a different angle.
I appreciate what Jeff says about it being freeing, really. That is the truth.
I love reading your posts. You have such a way with communicating your story.
I can see easily how the “phase” thing would happen. You had to find some way of normalizing the abnormal since you did not realize you had any other choice. But the Lord desires truth in the inner man and was not about to let you dwell in the darkness of falsehood. The Spirit of Truth cannot bear witness to that.
….is the truth and He is not indifferent to marriage being misrepresented as it is when abuse is present.
Thank you, BIT. You summed it up beautifully in this one sentence:
That is exactly right. Hugs. 🙂
Megan – you nailed it again! I don’t see him as my abuser, I see him as my husband! It is brilliant! I will think on this and pray on it for awhile and hopefully in time I will see him for who he truly is.
Bethany — we could all do this together! It seems like just saying the word “abuser” out loud is challenging for me, still, when it is so obvious to everyone around me!
Megan, once again I’m gushing with enthusiasm for your writing. You capture things so sharply, so vividly, and you distill the essences of things.
Those “Three Phases” are so true. And the recurring thought after leaving one’s abuser: “Was he really all that bad?” is one I think almost every survivor has. I know I certainly did. That thought is one of the reasons victims go back to their abusers.
It’s so hard to process that it really WAS that bad. Wrapping our heads around it can take years.
….remember….recalibrate….feel the shock “yes it was that bad”….push it aside to get on with life….doubt….remember….recalibrate….feel stunned again….join some more dots….it slips away again…..get triggered….remember….recalibrate….
This is what recovery is all about.
Thank you for the summery of recovery, Barbara. I am glad to know that this revolving door of doubt, remember, shock, forget, is normal and that I can expect it to go on for awhile. It is actually strangely encouraging to know that years from now if I get triggered again it will be normal.
You’re welcome, Bethany.
Barbara — you are so affirming to me! And I agree with Bethany — that cycle you describe is so absolutely clarifying. And makes me feel “normal” even though so much in my life has been abnormal.
When I was in the midst of my decision to file for divorce, I had seasons when I would just be engulfed with memories I had forgotten….little things, and some really big things. At first it frightened me. Then one day the Lord spoke and reminded me I had been praying for clarification….asking for “power, love and a sound mind” to understand what to do. It was then that I began to see those recurring memories as gifts. God was keeping me focused (in the midst of that fog Megan C describes) on the reality of who my husband REALLY was, and it was necessary for me to remember this in order to keep moving forward down that long tunnel to freedom. Clarification….bringing the truth to my heart and mind….and widening the chasm between my “godly” husband, and Jesus.
I had a moment when the Lord asked me to choose between Him and the status quo of remaining in my marriage (yes, in a sense, it was idolatry….an odd sort of “comfort” I was afraid to let go of). I felt like I was jumping off a cliff with my children, but I chose Jesus. I have NEVER in all my years of being a believer, had such an instant sense of peace and JOY! I knew He would never leave me, He would take care of me and my kids, and He has….every step of the way. Praise God!! He is SO faithful! 🙂 It was worth it to see Him do all He has done. Psalm 111:2 (The Message):
So, what you are saying is that not only was it not sin but it was obedience for you to divorce your husband. Obedience that God blessed. As, of course, He always does.
Yes absolutely! It was an obedience very few understand, which is why this blog is a lifesaver for me. And yes, we have seen God bless the courage this decision required. I wonder sometimes about the feelings the children of Israel might have had, leaving Egypt. We know they wanted to go back at times. The future was unknown and circumstances less than desirable. But it was God’s blessing on them to bring them to a new place.
Praise God He loves us enough to gently call us out and then stick by our side as we walk through the “desert” to the promised land! I left the “fairy tale” to walk in the truth….a decision my kids celebrate along with me. We could not deal with my abuser’s need to be an idol any longer.
[Paragraph break added to enhance readability. Editors.]
Yes, Bravo, Megan! I did experience those same three stages. You truly have a gift in being able to analyze and so clearly explain our common experiences. And, yes, Larry, I did most definitely feel that it was idolatry even while I was in it. I would pray and tell the Lord that I was sorry, and I often said that I felt like I was committing adultery whenever I tried to pray and read my Bible because spending time with God was taking time away from him. However, it was the “submission to him and him being the representative of Christ in our home” issue that kept me where I was spiritually. It made me feel like I had to commit that idolatry, or I would be displeasing God. One pastor told me that I had allowed R to set himself up as an idol in our home but then turned around and told me to submit even more. It was horribly confusing!
Ugh! I feel convicted by this post! I still refer to him as my husband — constantly! I really must stop that! It is liberating to share the history of abuse, but I feel guilty for calling him an abuser. Strangely, that just seems so harsh. You’ve helped to realize that I need to take that next step. Thank you, Megan!
Good point, ANFL. I am going to stop using the term “husband” to describe my abuser or any other woman’s abuser. It may be hard at first but I think it will help me a great deal in the long run.
I got this to too (substitute “love” for “submit”). The theory was that by seeking happiness in my wife, I was being idolatrous. If I truly had God in mind, the emotional stuff wouldn’t hurt because I would know it was for God’s glory (when I asked what would happen if it got physical he said “that’s not the situation – we would deal with that if it were”). In this view seeking any affection from our spouse at all is idolatrous. I wanted to ask (but never did) how his wife enjoyed being married to someone who did not want her affection since he was so God-focused and non-idolatrous.
So you get it on both ends – you are supposed to submit / love sacrificially so your spouse can use you however he or she wants, but if you express any desires of your own, you are idolatrous. It’s no wonder I started feeling like my identity had been stripped away with a view like that.
I’m surprised you and ANFL were able to keep your sanity!
So sorry for you Jeff. Yes, both sides!
You are welcome, sweet Anew! I am so glad we are all learning and growing together and can help each other. You are a great encouragement to me! Big hugs!
Ida Mae, who comments here sometimes, refers to her abuser as the anti-husband. 🙂
Good post, Megan! Yes – that was all what I went through! And still am.
I love Ida Mae’s anti-husband name. I still call mine a husband too. If I refer to him as anything harsher I get “looks” because most people I talk to do not understand. Or I feel funny calling him something else because I feel like I am still not rising above it all. Which also promotes the thought Megan mentioned – “was it really that bad?” That thought keeps coming up as the authorities and my attorney and the kids’ therapist don’t see him (the anti-husband) as not deserving to have visitation with my children. Nor do they take me seriously that I am afraid. Ugh.
For me, the way I finally realized I was in idolatry, was realizing that I idealized my “Fairy Tale”, which was my delusion that kept me coping with how abusive my marriage was. I had this lovely story in my head of how everything was supposed to be and if I prayed enough, worked hard enough, made the kids behave enough, pretended enough – it would all come true. Megan, this statement —
—breaks my heart. I did that too.
I think I even made up in my head this non-existent person that was supposed to be my husband. (See, I still can’t call him anything else.) That scares me too that my brain still tries to come up with some way he could really be good. I have thought maybe I have “Stockholm Syndrome”. But it helps me cope with dropping my youngest son off for visitation every other week or so.
Joyce – I am so sorry and I feel your pain. In short yes you most likely have “Stockholm Syndrome”, but most of us do! I sent CPS away when they showed up at my door and I hid the bruises on my son’s body from everyone, not because I was “afraid of my abuser” even though I was but because I was defending him and protecting him from getting into trouble with the authorities. It really is “that bad”, my dear sister. I had a wise friend tell me one time after I got done expressing to him that I was temped to think that it “wasn’t that bad”. He said “how bad dose it have to be to be ‘that bad’? Isn’t one day of your marriage bad enough to never put up with that monster again? let alone 7 years!!”
I am still tempted to think that it wasn’t that bad and I ’til have to stop myself from making excuses for him but I am getting better slowly and I will be praying that you too, Joyce, will be get better. 🙂
Thanks, Bethany! I’ll pray for you too. 🙂