The “B” Word (bitterness) — part of the language of abusers
[July 8, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
This post is written by Megan with some help from Barbara. The words “I” and “me” refer to Megan.
For quite a while, I have noticed that victims of abuse are regularly accused of being “bitter”. In fact, it seems to be a catch-all method for striking out the validity of a victim, as one would draw a thick black line through an error with a Sharpie. “Oh her? She’s just bitter….” Or, “He’s SO bitter…. ” Once a person / victim has been marked as bitter, he or she ceases to be viable. Isn’t that convenient? So I suppose one should not be surprised when one is attempting to stand up for the truth and people accuse one of being bitter. I wonder if they said that when Jesus was turning over the tables at the sanctuary. Can you imagine? “Look at Him….so angry….turning over those tables….He seems so….BITTER.”
Occasionally people criticize blogs like ACFJ by saying that since there is no way we can know the truth behind stories from folk we’ve only met in cyberspace, it is wrong to publish any stories from people who say they are victims of abuse, and that publishing such stories is giving a platform for people to encourage one another in their bitterness .
Most of us have heard this before. People like us are all just a bunch of bitter folk. Trying to change the world, one bitter step at a time.
What’s more, there is a double standard here: critics like this are usually happy to believe (and publish) comments from strangers — folk they’ve only had cyber-contact with but never met in real life — when those folk disparage victims and discrediting victims’ accounts, but they criticize people like ours for publishing comments from people we have never met. Hmm.
At A Cry For Justice, we do not automatically believe all accounts we hear, but we think we have developed pretty reasonable discernment for the differences between the language of genuine victims versus the language of abusers who are faking victim-hood. We feel we have learned this ‘on the job’ so to speak, but the principles and red flags we have learned are very similar to those which are being taught by professionals in the field of domestic violence (see links at the end of this post). And even if we should happen to credit an account by a person who claimed to be a victim but was actually a perpetrator, it would still be up to the authorities and influential people in that person’s life to discern the truth for themselves, not just follow suit with how a blog like ours has treated that individual.
In churches, many victims who disclose the abuse are disbelieved — or not believed and supported wholeheartedly. Relatively few Christians are standing up for these victims. This injustice is part of what we seek to right on this blog. And the injustice is being compounded by folk who readily and undiscerningly believe those who discredit victim’s stories, especially when such folk are not willing to learn the markers of the language of abusers (in both their Jekyll and Hyde presentations) versus the language of genuine victims.
I want to nip this in the bud for any person who wants to point their (well-meaning?) blog-writing finger at us and accuse us of fostering bitterness. The truth is, there are a lot of victims who ARE bitter. I mean, wouldn’t you be? If your husband abused you over and over….would you possibly lean a little on the bitter side? I know that I did. I felt tricked, betrayed, lied to, hurt, scared….life was not what it was supposed to be….for all I was “doing” to try to be “godly”….there was no more joy in my life. It had all been sucked out. In fact, I suppose that is how Naomi felt when she announced to the entire Bible-reading community for countless generations that she was, indeed, a bitter woman for a while. Look here:
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 ESV)
Wow. I get that. I felt like God had turned His back on me for YEARS. Long, miserable years. I love Naomi’s honesty here. Things happen. And we get bitter….or angry. Now, as a Believer in Christ and one indwelled by the Holy Spirit, I could not stay in that place of bitterness forever. There was a time, four years ago, where I confessed all my bitterness to the Lord. I changed so drastically that even my countenance was transformed. God was working out my salvation with me in His time. If we know God, we cannot stay in a place of perpetual hatred or bitterness. Sometimes things just happen. And we experience the anger and the bitterness. And then we put it behind us and press on.
A Cry For Justice never condemns the men and women who are a part of this blogging family. That is not our place. We do not and would never look at a woman and dismiss her by calling her bitter. How degrading. How shameful. How accusatory. We know, full well, that abused men and women have been accused enough. We want to listen. We want to enter into the pain of the readers and friends and help them heal. Or grow. Or fight, if they have to. By the way, forgiveness and freedom and peace do not mean that we stop fighting for our lives and the lives of our children.
Critics who glibly sling the “B” word around show a lack of grace and mercy. It is part of the “flat-affect theology” that insists we Christians do not experience any “negative” emotions like anger or bitterness. Paul writes that we are to put off bitterness and anger. But, that does not mean that I do not experience bitterness or anger sometimes. And, when I confessed my feelings of hatred for those who have slandered me to my dear husband, David, he looked at me, put his arms around me and said, “I understand why you feel that way. Look at what they did to you. Look how they tried to isolate you. Look how they left you to struggle and suffer alone.” That is mercy, right there. My hidden feelings of hatred melted away in the presence of Christ-like love. I was able to forgive, confess my hatred to Christ and move forward (again, not forward with those who had hurt me….forward into life and life-giving relationships). What a different story than those who would accuse me of being bitter. And, again, because I am in Christ, I do not want to sin in that anger or bitterness or hatred. Emotions are experienced….but tempered to the best of our ability. ‘Cause we’re human.
Sometimes, we need to feel the pain. We experience the bitterness and / or anger….if not, how could we ever experience the washing of peace and exhale in the presence of God’s forgiveness? Some things are worth being angry over. To this day, I am convinced that “non-emotion theology” only stifles a person and keeps them from fully experiencing the full spectrum of the emotions God has created. All of them.
[July 8, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 8, 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 July 8, 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 July 8, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 8, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
The Dreaded B Word [Internet Archive link] — A similar post from the blog Recovering Grace, a blog for survivors of Gothardism.
The language of abusers who portray themselves as victims — Pt 1: Vagueness & Contradictions — A post by Barbara Roberts.
Conference Workshop [Internet Archive link] — A conference put on by No To Violence that Barb attended, where the things she had learned at the coal face were confirmed by the professionals.
Assessing men who present as victims of family violence but who may actually be the primary aggressors (PDF) [Internet Archive link] — The document from the No To Violence Conference workshop. We have added this link to our Resources page.
Language of Abusers — The ACFJ tag for the language of abusers which lists quite a few posts.
The “root of bitterness” in Hebrews — it isn’t unforgiveness — A Guest post by Rebecca Davis. The first in a series.
The “gall of bitterness” in Acts — it isn’t resentment — A Guest post by Rebecca Davis. The second in the series.
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: abuser's tactics, anger, church response to abuse, emotional abuse, false teachers, language of abusers, Megan C, recovery, Ruth
- Dear Pastor Tullian…(or, my emotional response to your apology for your emotional response) | Taylor Joy Recovers
- Is Judging a Sin?
One of the things I have taught / harped on for years is that God does not abandon us for honestly sharing our feelings, whether good or bad. Time after time, His followers got frustrated, angry, disillusioned, and yes, bitter.
Did God reject them for having these feelings and sharing them with Him? No. What he did was minister truth to them, teaching them the way things really were, but He did not condemn His followers for being honest about negative feelings. After all, God already knows how we feel, but if we hide them, we are trying to keep them from Him and cannot give them over. We hold on to them and they do nothing but become worse, eating at us until we eventually become a shell of what God truly wants for us.
The church should be taking the same attitude. Rather than avoiding negative emotions, we should be allowing people to be honest and open and then try to help them deal with those emotions. We shouldn’t do this out of an attitude of condemnation, but out of an attitude of love, just as David expressed with Megan. And when we are able to be healed, then we can do as Scripture says, to comfort others with the comfort we have received.
Just heard yesterday that I was dismissed by the religious community years ago because I was ‘bitter’. Nice. Thanks for this great reminder and permission to feel what I felt. I too have moved forward, but I will not despise any victim that is still in the place of rage or bitterness, for that’s where I found God.
Every person owns their life and their story. And every person has the right to tell their story to anyone they want to. I wish someone / anyone had told their story and / or warned me about the church I was in. Spiritual abuse damages the soul. I never expected to learn the true meaning of evil from inside the church.
LOVE that quote!
“Spiritual abuse damages the soul. I never expected to learn the true meaning of evil from inside the church”
Well WOW and amen! You are not alone! Plenty of us here, learned evil’s true meaning that way too!
Hi Ang, haven’t heard from you for a while! It’s good you’re back. 🙂
Thanks. I’ve just been silent because I have been here all the time,
I love that quote, too, Ang!! I have thought a lot about it since yesterday.
I think every victim experiences the grieving process. Anger and bitterness is one of those steps. It is completely normal, even though I try to stifle those feelings, I think it is better to let them out. Keeping them bottled up keeps them buried in my heart. Letting them out leaves more room for the Spirit of the Lord to fill. The more the Spirit fills the cracks of my heart the further the abuse is buried deeper in my mind and new memories are able to stay on the surface. X is losing his ability to abuse me as time goes on. The delete button on email is so handy. If I allow his words to repeat in my mind, I will fall into his trap again. Detete before reading them. Don’t hear his angry voice. Don’t listen to his lies. Don’t let him do this to you again.
I know I will have lapses in the future, a memory will come to mind. Anger, bitterness and despair will raise its ugly head, but the more I stay in Christ the less the X and other in my past will be able to have a grip on me. They are all in the past. The Lord is giving me strength and discernment for a better future. Thank you ACFJ for your stand and counsel in Godly Biblical Truth. To anyone who comdemns the work being done here I say, “Get thee behind me Satan”.
Megan, you have a true blessing in your husband.
I think the core issue behind the accusation of ‘bitterness” is one of objectivity. That is, a person without the experience doubts the impartiality of the person who has. They see feelings as being nonobjective and a hindrance at getting to the truth.
I remember one person asking me about my divorce asking the question “Did you have the same view of divorce and remarriage before this happened to you? Now I respect the person, and I actually think it’s a good question, but maybe not for the reasons he was asking. It was a good question because it forced me to think about what had to change for me to really consider this issue with the intensity it deserved. But answering “no” to that question does not mean I am less objective- it means that I am more informed. I have more information to go on now.
I hesitate to share my feelings or admit that I am hurt, because I feel like as soon as I do people write me off as going by feelings rather than logic. Of course, those people would look at me like that would probably love a testimony that a man turned his life around after realizing through abject failure just how meaningless his life was without God. It was that man’s experience that drove him to find deeper truth, and it’s completely valid. God uses suffering to teach, so why is it that people discount what we learn that way?
I wrote a song for my CD called “I Never Knew” and it was all about the pain I experienced when I went to my church for help and got condemnation instead. I fear that people will hear that song and write me off as “bitter”. Heck, I listen to it and I think I sound bitter. What is crazy, though, is that if I listen to an angry song on the radio by a secular musician, I think “wow, that person is honest”, but if I hear pain described in the context of a Christian song I think “wow, that person is bitter”. I guess I can learn something from that too- in the Christian sub-culture we never are supposed to let the “mask” of happiness come down. We have look and feel great all the time. Otherwise, well we must not be doing it right. That means any emotion that isn’t happiness must be bottled up and hidden away, and we certainly have nothing to learn from it.
There is so much falsehood with all of this. No wonder outsiders look at the Christian faith and think we are all hypocrite. We think a great testimony at showing them how happy we are all the time, when a real testimony should show how real we are and how real the love is that saved us.
Jeff, you are right on. We have been raised in the modern culture to believe that for the Christian, everything is a bed of roses and if it isn’t, see the previous statement. If you still don’t believe it, then something is wrong with you (lack of faith, living in sin, yada).
Everything about God and the Christian life is supposed to be happy. Let’s just gloss over the verses where Jesus promised tribulation, or Peter talked about various trials, or Paul’s list of things that happened to him on his missionary journeys. Let’s just write out of the Bible the depression that God’s followers experienced. Gee, could it be that the reason we don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was is because it can actually cover a number if human issues?
Nope, we are supposed to be happy, because if we don’t, we displease God, or at least make all these happy-go-lucky church goers uncomfortable. Heaven forbid if the church actually did turn into a hospital for the broken, which includes broken Christians!
Yes, the modern Christian life looks nothing like the scripture where people STRUGGLE. Look at Psalm 42 and 43:
Psalm 42 (ESV)
Psalm 43 (ESV)
I mean, this guy is battling with his unhappiness and openly questioning why God has hurt him.
Imagine someone asking you how you are doing and you answer “Well, I’m struggling to see how God loves me, even though I know he does, and to be honest I kind of feel rejected by him right now because he’s let my enemies be victorious over me”. Or even more, imagine projecting that up on the stage for everyone to read.
Amen! Refreshing–Be real, Brothers and Sisters. This reality should be seen as opportunity to lift one another up in personal contact and prayer. Instead, it will probably be looked at as there personal sin and lack of faith.
Randy, I’m loving that acronym. F.I.N.E. I am going to keep that handy. Brenda
So did Jesus call the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” out of logic or emotion? Did He ask for the cup to be removed, if possible, out of logic or emotion? Did He weep out of logic or emotion? Did He cry out to God “Why have You forsaken Me?” out of logic or emotion?
See, there is to be a balance. We are not to become numb and unfeeling, although in Romans, that is a term, depending on the version, used to describe those who are being turned over to themselves. Unfeeling –
Just read an article yesterday on how God is not interested in our happiness and how we need to knock off the thought that he is. I think sometimes as Christians, we are so confused about what God really wants, we just start to make it up as we go. We have to know Him, not just doctrines and laws and things men have made into doctrines.
I often hear that the purpose of marriage is to glorify God and to further His kingdom on earth but that He never promised that we would be happy and that it’s selfish and unchristian to want to be happy in marriage. Ugh…. where do Christians get these notions?
I got really tired fo the whole mask thing so when I walk in to church and get the question “how’re you doin’?” and I am not feeling well or down I have a different response rather than “fine”. I reply, ” Do you want to know the truth or the lie I’m about to tell?”. I don’t say it in a crabby tone, but let them know that everything in my world is not all peachy keen. I don’t want to pretend just to make other people happy. We sweep too much under the carpet and it just doesn’t make things better. Christians should be telling the truth and working it out together.
So, Jeff S., where do I hear your song?
When people ask me how I am, I always answer honestly (though not necessarily with all the details). I’m kind of a jerk that way :p
As for the song, it is “I Never Knew”. You can hear it at any of the following:
(I’m working on a post now about this album with a little info for each song)
NoiseTrade (donation / free, if you join my mailing list): Steady On: Through The Darkness
Spotify: Steady On: Through The Darkness
iTunes: Steady On: Through The Darkness
When asked in church, “how are you doing?” I used to answer “couldn’t be better!” Because I really thought there was no hope of things ever getting better.
F.I.N.E. can also mean:
That can put a smile on your face for real if you think about that while saying “I’m fine!”
Randy, I love that. You’ve made me smile today. 🙂
“I got really tired of the whole mask thing so when I walk in to church and get the question “how’re you doin’?””
I’m learning to be a little more “real” especially since most of the ones who ask now are (or at least seem to be) just seeking gossip. How I came to that conclusion is another story… but lately I just tell them (if it is actually a rough day), “Today is hard.”, “I’m grieving”, “If you look at me too long I will probably start crying. I can only hold this smile so long”, or “I really don’t know yet, when I stop to catch my breath it’ll catch up I’m sure.”
That’s a HUGE difference from what I would say when I was living with my abuser and dying inside! I never wanted to lie, but I knew people didn’t really want the truth either (heck, in my church they really don’t even want you to come and weep at the altar. Well, not for long anyway) Wow! I DO sound bitter! But anyway, as to my response when I was with my abuser, I came up with some pretty clever ones, “I’m walking by faith” and “I’m doing better than I deserve.” were my favorites! One day, after separating from my abuser I gave that second response to one of his family members and they replied, “Well, THAT IS the truth!” The craziness of that statement never hit me until it was used against me. I really wanted to tell the person, “maybe you should live with the abuse that I have endured from your family member and then I can remind you how you ARE still doing better than you deserve!” SMH!
KD I like “I’m walking by faith” and I am sure you were not doing as well as you deserved. Why people side with abusers, well I can’t even wrap my brain around the thought. My current church doesn’t even have an alter call. Pastor always says to get to know your neighbor and encourage one another, but it is more like cliques going off into small groups. If anyone did go to the alter to pray, I’m not even sure what would happen. You should stay there as long as you like. In the OT that is what they did, they built an alter. They prayed there before God. In my lifetime I’ve seen frequent trips to the alter and no one thought anything of it. One person went up and others went to join that person in prayer. It didn’t matter what they prayed about they just went to support and lift up whoever it was and whatever they were praying for to God. Oh, for the Good Old Days.
“.. a person without the experience doubts the impartiality of the person who has.”
Isn’t that it right there? I believe the whole debate of bitterness is well captured in that thought.
Love your insights! This one is rich and you could just sit with it for a long while.
I always picture a saintly church member kicking an injured person, and then turning their back on the victim while tossing “bitter!” over their shoulder.
We need Nancy DeMoss’s picture on this post – she’s all I think of when I hear “bitter !!” 🙂
Sometimes the word “Jezebel Spirit” is used along with bitter! The acting out of my hurts was dismissed that way. Because the symptoms of abuse were causing me to behave in ways that were controlling due to a fear of abandonment I was feeling. Maybe I did have a Jezebel spirit. I know I was sinning although I didn’t even realise it! But I still believe that IT- whether the label is BPD, or C-PTSD or Jezebel- came inside me through abuse. Even some of those who preach on the Jezi spirit acknowledge that it occurs more frequently in female abuse / rejection survivors. Yet those of us they say have it do not have our wounds tended to gently and tenderly but are told to submit to exorcisms and admit it is only a spirit. If, like me, we say we believe it is mental health related then we are told we are not submitting to church discipline and therefore need to be shunned. And it hurts. My mind was already so broken when I was labelled in this way that I couldn’t read all the documents they gave me on the jezi spirit. I wasn’t even eating or sleeping let alone able to read the stuff by John Paul Jackson they gave me. So in between 15 mins of them giving me this stuff and telling me to admit I agreed with them I couldn’t and then they got rid of me. Apparently not submitting to an exorcism is grounds for church discipline. Fair enough, but I was a young Christian, almost an infant in the Lord, and I didn’t realise this
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.
Oh imsetfree, my heart goes out to you! That was absolutely awful what they did to you!
In Jeff’s first book, A Cry For Justice [*Affiliate link] (see the sidebar of this blog) he talks about how the term ‘Jezebel Spirit’ is flung recklessly around in some churches in ways that are VERY hurtful to victims of abuse. That church you’ve described is one of those places. It’s after midnight here where I am in Oz otherwise I’d try to find the passage in Jeff’s book and quote a bit of it here, for you.
We also have a post which discusses the Jezebel spirit.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
Love this post, you two! Great job communicating truth here. Sorry for the long comment. You said:
“What’s more, there is a double standard here: critics like this are usually happy to believe (and publish) comments from strangers — folk they’ve only had cyber-contact with but never met in real life — when those folk disparage victims and discrediting victims’ accounts, but they criticize people like ours for publishing comments from people we have never met. Hmm.”
Hmm, is right! I truly believe that the people who bear these types of double-standards in their lives, are blind; and if blind guides – then how could they ever discern who was telling the truth? Everything they touch is touched by their blindness. Actually, they become the devil’s advocate and further engage and enable the abuser and are dragged away with the abuser into further blindness. But, as they would tell us, God allows it for a reason. In the end, we may find out that part of the purpose of our being abused, was for the blind guides, to give them a chance to learn mercy and compassion and grace, but who refused to be turned from their blindness and hardness, and chose to be merciless instead. I know this may sound “bitter” but – judgment awaits them.
“We do not and would never look at a woman and dismiss her by calling her bitter. How degrading. How shameful. How accusatory.”
You go onto speak of what mercy looks like. The above demonstrates a lack of mercy, which is exactly what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing. It also reminds me of the Scripture that says to those who show no mercy, likewise none will be shown to them.
So, does being accused of being bitter, go hand in hand with the accusations of being perpetual victims? You demonstrate in your post here, that at some point you were set free from the anger and bitterness you “felt” – which doesn’t mean you were sinning in it, but rather just “feeling” it – and my question is, would that resolve it for these bloggers who accuse victims of being perpetual victims? What is the standard for those bloggers who accuse us, for the victim to be released from being called bitter or a perpetual victim? You see, a true victim of abuse, has to be careful all their lives. A true victim of abuse, doesn’t just blow it all off and go on with life, as if nothing happened. A true victim, needs guidance and to learn how to not repeat the patterns they had instilled in them. Even if the abuse occurred as a child, as an adult victim now, the abuse occurring today can be much worse than the former, as it escalates over time and with relationships. True victims, usually repeat being victimized. It is what they learned somewhere along the line. Jesus wants us to know and learn how not to repeat the past and it is His grace, mercy and love, that leads us to good counselors to help us get there! He does not own a magic wand that He waves around. Yes, He can heal and instantly, if He so chooses, but He wants us to learn it and often we do not learn, if things happen easily for us. Hence, we could all become perpetual victims, even though we are Christians. We have to unlearn things and need love, mercy and compassion in Christ’s name in order to be able to do that, not the Pharisaical brand of more laws, no love, no mercy, harsh judgment and even more abuse. Jesus absolutely hated that, and because He is in me, I hate it too.
My thoughts are simply this. People who are not professional licensed counselors who have no experience, knowledge or understanding in dealing with “real abuse”, should not counsel abuse victims, period. I think that pretty much eliminates self-proclaimed abuse counseling bloggers! (ACFJ is here for support, but encourages the people who come here, to seek counsel and read and educate themselves). Why would anyone trust a “know nothing”, to counsel them out of the abuse they have suffered. My counselor is very quick to say, that people who have not lived in the horrendous abuse I and others on this blog have lived in, just don’t get it – and never will get it; and I know from first-hand experience, that I concur with the counselor’s view.
I agree wholeheartedly with what’s been said here. Thanks for letting me vent and experience my emotions without making more accusations. I’m still married and my husband says “you’re a bitter and spiteful woman” as a tag line to every argument we have, particularly when I don’t concede to his demands. When he first starting saying it, it messed with my head. “Am I really a bitter and spiteful person?” Bitter?…maybe. Spiteful?…no, that’s his job. When I thought I had to stay in this marriage in order to be obedient to God and a “good Christian,” that’s when I felt hopeless and bitter. When I was told that this whole marriage thing depended solely on me, to be perfect all the time, to suffer all the time, and still put on a happy face, that’s when I felt bitter. When my feelings weren’t validated and I was told I was half responsible for what was going on, I felt bitter. As my counselor and friend likes to say to the naysayers, “Give us advice when your son or daughter has been abused. Tell us then what you’d do and how your child should or shouldn’t feel.”
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Megan, Your story gives me hope.
Oh yes! A big cause of bitterness is the lies and oppressive double standards that are imposed on hurting and wounded sheep.
That’s just it Barbara. We were or are depending on where we are in this journey wounded sheep. A Good Shepherd goes out and brings His wounded sheep in and heals them. He doesn’t say oh well, you’re already in the clutches of the wolf so just stay there and finish being devoured. Those who would leave us to suffer are not following the Good Shepherd’s example.
Once a person/victim has been marked as bitter, he or she ceases to be viable. Isn’t that convenient? So I suppose one should not be surprised when one is attempting to stand up for the truth and people accuse one of being bitter.
“Bitter” has been used as an invective against Christians in pain to shut them up so often that Wartburg Watch forbids it’s use. You may not appeal to “bitter” over there. To which I say, good on them.
Personally, I find it far more profoundly frightening that Christians can cut themselves off from others’ pain so easily that they can lob the accusation of “bitter” as though it were some strange thing, given what pain and grief abuse victims have been through. How ridiculous!
I can tell you that although the churches I dealt with botched up my case miserably, I wasn’t bitter. Actually, I was confused about what they were trying to accomplish and I tried to hold them to the PCA Westminster Confession of Faith by disciplining my husband for his outrageous behavior. By pressing Church A for answers about their policy, (really lack of policy), I was labeled demanding and vindictive. The following are examples taken from actual letters:
Church A: When I asked for an explaination of why my husband was not disciplined:
“We did not write about this in our November letter in order to refuse your request, but as a practical matter: you have consistently debated our response and continually demanded that we do something different than what we are convinced we must do on this matter out of our biblical-informed consciences, We simply did not want to keep the debate going by rehashing the same thing again and again. But you have again demanded a response, so we will write one out as concisely as we can.” Letter closed with, “We can offer you nothing else to meet your demands…”
What followed was a complete distortion of the whole case and no explaination of why they didn’t follow the Westminster Confession of Faith. Just a lot of hot air. When I left for church B, I asked them to examine this situation, I received this letter:
Church B: “But PW, we want to caution and encourage you to examine your heart towards the elders at Church A. We understand that you agree with neither the process nor the decision at Church A, but we urge you not to harbor a harsh or sinful attitude towards them. And we must caution you that we believe that this is the case.”
In another letter when I mentioned that Church A did not follow up with my pleas for help while the pastor was the lead in the municipal play production of Bye-Bye Birdie, and I wondered if they were just too busy to help me, Church B wrote, “We believe that this paragraph-as well as the entire letter and other of you actions-reveal a harsh, and yes, sinful attitude towards the Session at Church A.
I was preached against twice at Church B, Once on creating an idol by not obeying the elders and again during the Boston Bomber sermon that I wrote about in a previous post. I have since filed a grievance about the damaging lack of procedure with the Presbytery. I hope that good will come from this for future abuse victims, but as far as Church A and Church B are concerned, it seems they think that I am a demanding, harsh, sinful, bitter woman.
Yes, PW, they don’t use the B word in those quotes, but they may as well have. “Harsh and sinful” in Christianese is often a euphemism for the B word. And leaders like that love euphemisms; after all, it might demean them to put in writing an accusation of your being ‘bitter’. The B word is the kind of accusation that gets lobbed in face to face conversations but not put in formal letters.
“creating an idol by not obeying the elders” . . . translation: rejecting the idol that the elders had fashioned of themselves, and preferring to follow God and the bible-based principles of the Westminster Confession rather than those self-idolizing elders.
Amazing that YOUR attitude was considered “harsh and yes, sinful”, yet their attitude of not helping the poor and needy is completely overlooked! If the Church had done it’s biblical duty as the Scriptures say to do, then you would not be frustrated and upset at being left in the oppressive state that the Church was supposed to aid you out of. This whole hierarchy system that was set up and developed at some point in the Church, was not how the Church was originally set up by Christ to operate, in my opinion. It is Pharisaical in nature and we know that Christ hated that set up. It has become so Catholic in nature and power, that it as if the elders are the popes, and the Presbytery is the Vatican. To question them is to question God. We are to be subject to our elders (not sure that means elders in a governmental sense) and to respect those in authority over us, but when they aid an abuser, they have stepped into territory that we are no longer required to respect them in, nor heed their counsel. Everything is to be done in the Lord and we know the Lord does not aid abusers and oppressors of women and children, even if they be elders. To be silent is said to consent. When they were silent, they were consenting with abuse.
The “B” word… … … I’ve been able to avoid much of it so far, since I haven’t really gotten angry about the abuse yet. So, when people ask, much of what I say about my abuser is loving and tender. HOWEVER, people (especially Xtians) do not ever want to hear anything negative about another brother or sister in Christ and they are quite sensitive to any suggestion that you may have actually been abused.
When I first started sharing articles from ACFJ on facebook, I got some pretty condemning comments from my abusers supporters. Comments like, “love those who hate you, pray for those who use you…” and quotes about what a wife should do “submissive, quiet, good housekeepers, etc”. Now all of these comments were before I ever shared anything personal.
Recently, I have been more open. I have not shared a single detail about the abuse but I have shared some of the emotions that I am dealing with and that the marriage was unhealthy. Things like “I have been there done that” before a list of how women respond to abuse and “Wow. I had none of these” before a post of basic ingredients in a minimally healthy relationship.
Then it came, from another well-meaning friend who admits to being a survivor but “doesn’t want to take sides”… … … (why do ex-victims seem to be the most critical?)
A friendly message letting me know that my raw posts lately are not well-received. Wanna peek? Here is a little;
“I know you are hurting, trying to survive, needing to vent and inform the world about your abusive marriage (or ex-partner) and helpful mended somewhat in the near future. I’m not sure that posting all that raw emotion isn’t just a little bit like an ice pick directed at someone else. It does seem that way from this side of the fence.”
Followed by, “Don’t be mad, I’ve been in your shoes, I was angry too, etc”
Sigh. I’m just thankful that I’m not in a place where her “help” wounded me.
Gee, I’m thankful you weren’t hurt by her comment.
You asked why ex-victims seem to be the most critical. I don’t think that’s always the case (look at our readers on this blog, for instance) but I have observed that some ex-victims are critical of other survivors who express raw emotion, esp emotions of the negative kind. In the cases I’ve observed, those ex-victims have not dealt with their own emotions fully, they’ve avoided fully dealing with them… deeming it just too painful to go there, or whatever. Sometimes they believe they’ve forgiven their abuser and because they equate forgiveness with having no more negative emotions, they suppress the residual emotions they may have (often bucketloads of pain and anger) because to let them up to the surface would imply that they had not really forgiven. And to maintain their sense of comfort and ‘peace’, they try to get other survivors to suppress their emotions likewise.
After I posted this I sent her a message asking what specifically sounded like daggers? She applauded herself for getting through to me and encouraged me to “balance” my posts with “happy” things.
After some thinking on my other “survivor friend”
who wounded me greatly, the only explanation I could come up with was that they both probably had unresolved issues as the level of “well intentioned” cement covering anything “real” was pretty unmistakable.
I’m getting dangerously close to being “myself” (only better) again and I actually suggested that maybe there was more healing for her and pointed out the inappropriateness of suggesting I put more “happy” posts on fb. Would you say that to a friend battling cancer who posts her struggles and cancer awareness materials? Gosh, I hope not!
I’m kind of thinking that if anyone no matter who they are don’t like your posts–THEY DON’T have to continue reading them. I thought that is what posts are for to get out your feelings and help you grow. They aren’t necessarily for someone else. I could be wrong. I don’t do FB or that sort of social networking. This blog and Leslie Vernick’s are about it for me. So just my opinion for what it’s worth.
THANKS so much for this post, Megan.
You said: “Occasionally people criticize blogs like ACFJ by saying that since there is no way we can know the truth behind stories from folk we’ve only met in cyberspace, it is wrong to publish any stories from people who say they are victims of abuse, and that publishing such stories is giving a platform for people to encourage one another in their bitterness.”
Of course some folk would try to discredit and shut down this site. Why would the devil want evil exposed?
It’s convenient for them to use the “bitter” angle but it doesn’t hold water. As for not knowing the truth behind stories from people you’ve met in cyberspace, these critics obviously haven’t read Pastor Crippen’s book, A Cry for Justice. His book was written precisely to equip church folk to recognize abuse.
The FAR bigger problem in the church is genuine victims not being believed, not false, pseudo-victims being encouraged by these sites. Until people can come up with supporting data that shows otherwise, they should not be taken seriously. In any case, we know ALL about pseudo-victims because perpetrators always masquerade as victims. They will use anything to justify their abusive tactics, and closing a site like this will not stop them in any way, shape or form.
Man, if people knew what utter rubbish they were regurgitating…
Our church has suffered from a false gospel, the proponents of which have “troubled” our flock here, much as the Judaizers troubled the Galatian believers. Their message? That the “gospel” requires us to forgive, to reconcile with, and to accept and trust people who have wronged and abused us, but who show no evidence of true repentance. We are told that we must regard such people as genuine brothers or sisters in Christ, and that to refuse to do so is to be guilty of unforgiveness and yes, bitterness. The same theology insists that we must never speak harshly of or to….anyone. That everyone must be welcome with open arms into our midst. To not do so is to be guilty of “departing from grace.” This is all the same unbiblical, false nonsense that you are talking about in this post. Scripture is filled with very harsh words, from God, directed to the wicked. We are told (1 Cor 5) to put people out of our churches when they claim to be Christians but walk in unrepentant wickedness. We are to be wise and watch out for deceivers who creep in and hide among us in order to spy out our liberty in Christ and bring us into bondage. Paul pronounced such ones as damned by God (anathema, see Galatians 1) and he said that he wished that those who were teaching a false gospel, demanding that Christians be circumcised and thus continue in works of the law to achieve righteousness, would just keep right on cutting and emasculate themselves. Oh, Paul, how unkind. How bitter. Oh, whoops. Paul was an apostle speaking for God, wasn’t he? Hmmm….
So all of this nonsense about how grace and the gospel requires us to be milktoast, naive, y’all come on down Christians is nothing less than a false gospel. It is anathema. It pronounces the wicked righteous and the righteous wicked. Those who preach it are anything but kind and merciful. They are, in fact, merciless in their treatment of those who are oppressed by the wicked.
Yes Jeff. That same false gospel that says that an abuser is truly repentant, when he cannot even admit his sin, nor take responsibility for it, and continues to abuse – but says he is sorry. That false repentance that says, “I said I was sorry, what else do you want?” without even giving an opportunity to see if the “sorry” is real or not and without any change. What nonsense!
This is what God gave to me today: Isaiah 32:7 “As for the scoundrel – his devises are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.”
We really need to start rightly interpreting God’s Word to us.
Preach it, sister!
This “false gospel” also says that an abused spouse must not divorce his or her abuser if the abuser wishes to stay married (remain with her). This false belief kept me in bondage for 12 horrible years.
I was at a Christian event this weekend and was told by a woman that I should continually ask God to bless my ex husband. I just can’t do that. Does that mean I’m bitter? I rarely even pray for him anymore. I believe he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and possibly what the Bible describes as a reprobate. Are we supposed to pray for wolves in sheep’s clothing and reprobates?
I rarely pray for my x anymore. I use to. I use to pray that he would “get it”, that God would touch his heart. But it has become evident that my x doesn’t want God to touch any part of him. Now my prayers regarding my x are that he will not be able to use his abusive tactics against our children and that they will see through his deception. God is answering this pray.
You might like to know what Pastor Crippen has said about this very issue: “I believe that the Lord does not require us to pray for such people. I think they are the kind that John had in mind when he wrote: 1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”
You can read more of what Pastor says about praying for wolves at this post “Still More Thoughts on Wolves Hiding Among the Flock”
this misguided notion of “praying blessings upon the wicked” – comes from the verses “love your enemies and pray for those who hate you”
Except that I don’t think it necessarily means that we are to pray that God rewards our abusers by piling lots of fluffy blessings on their little snake heads. I think it just means pray for them. That could mean a lot of things. And praying for children to be protected from their evil ways is a good thing to pray…
Katy — That is so good. I JUST started praying for those who have dealt treacherously with me. I no longer pray blessings on them . . . (fluffy, as you said) . . . and I don’t pray that God will “open their eyes” and avenge me (believe or not, I went through that phase). I pray that they will know God . . . that they will come across people who will reach out to them and speak truth into their lives. And that is all. Because I cannot do more than that, yet. 😦
Well, what do you pray for a wolf? That God will somehow override his wicked will and file down his pointy claws or break off his sharp teeth? I mean honestly, this is a valid question? Do we ever see in His Word, prayers for the wolves?
Very good point Iam….. I can’t think of a single biblical passage which commands us to pray for wolves. Only to be wise in recognizing them and avoiding them.
And here is the other problem. It seems no one wants to call a wolf a wolf. It seems to me also, that we have so leveled the playing field of sin, that porn users, sex addicts (some in the pulpits), abusers, etc. are allowed to lead or sit in the pews, without discipline, because it is just their sin that they are “working through” – and we’ve all got a problem like that, because we are all just a bunch of sinners. If our sin still looks like it did before we were saved, we have a problem folks.
Oh yes, we should pray for people who have abused us. It’s called impreccatory prayer. You’re praying for God to get ’em for you!
A “pastor” accuses an abuse victim of “bitterness”: Biblical Counseling: Is it Always Safe? – And Pastoral Response to Abuse Survivor [Internet Archive link]
RUN!!! From Jim Berg! And his teachings.
He counseled me when I was a student at BJU. Afterwards I would walk out of the administration building and just keep going. Eventually I would “wake up” and have to figure out where I was and how to get back. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I was dissociating after every counseling session. He was “encouraging” me to forgive my abuser and telling me all the same things my abuser did when he “forced” me to forgive as a student in his elementary classroom.
Hearing the same forgiveness speech put me over the edge. I was suicidal to some degree or another during my college years.
I can’t say enough! Run from Jim Berg and the teachings at Bob Jones University!
It’s God’s mercy that I didn’t walk out in traffic and die while dissociated or when suicidal.
I RECENTLY WENT TO A “BIBLICAL” COUNSELOR ABOUT DECEPTIVE, ABUSIVE PATTERNS IN MY “DEVOUT CHRISTIAN” FAMILY.
I WAS GIVEN AN ARTICLE TO READ ON BITTERNESS BY JIM WILSON.
(Jim Wilson is, in a way, a front-runner of Biblical or Nouthetic counseling.)
AND READ TEXTS ABOUT FORGIVENESS.
AND TO SEE THEIR PAIN….WALK IN THEIR SHOES.
THEY MUST HAVE BEEN HURT ALSO……….
AND TO GIVE IT ALL TO GOD, AND LET IT ALL GO!
I CANNOT TAKE ANY MORE SCAPEGOATING AND FALSE ACCUSATIONS!
IT HAS DESTROYED MANY, MANY YEARS OF MY LIFE AND HAS BEEN GIVING ME STOMACH ACHES!
IN COUNSELING, IT SEEMS LIKE THE RESPONSIBILITY IS ON MY SHOULDERS….
THIS HEAVY WEIGHT IS TOO MUCH TO CARRY.
THANK YOU FOR PROVIDING A “SAFE” PLACE TO EXPRESS OUR FEELINGS.
Oh, Barbara, I feel your pain and hurt. So sorry for you! Praying!
THANK YOU! THE CRAZINESS GETS SO TIRING!
I had the same experience and it destroyed many years of my life as well. This place and a few others have been instrumental in helping me to heal. If I have to hear one more person tell me, “Well, hurting people hurt people” I think I’ll throw up. So, I’m supposed to allow him to abuse me because maybe he was abused? I don’t think so (but I used to – you see, healing does come!).
I FEEL LIKE I AM SUPPOSED TO CARRY THE WEIGHT OF THIS.
NO ACCOUNTABILITY ON THEIR PART.
I CANNOT CARRY THE BLAME FOR EVERYTHING!
HI Barbara, welcome to the blog 🙂
glad you are resisting the bad counsel of those who would say ‘peace peace’ where there is no peace. blessings and (((hugs))) to you.
THANK YOU, BARBARA, FOR THIS AWESOME SITE!!!!
IT IS COMFORTING TO KNOW THAT I AM NOT ALONE………..
I am thinking this article should be given to know what not to do. I tried looking him up online to read some of his stuff. There were entirely too many Jim Wilson’s. I am glad you were lead to this place of safety and it blesses and encourages you as it has me.
“ONE GOOD RULE OF THUMB: BITTERNESS REMEMBERS DETAILS.”
“YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED-WHICH MEANS YOU ARE BITTER.”
That is a terrible rule of thumb. Detail oriented people remember details. Bitterness pertains to what the recall of those details does to you. And then you must allow for wounds that are still open and should be expected to remain so for a long time, because they are so egregious. As with physical healing, the greater the damage, the longer it will take to heal. Little scratches take a couple of days or so (assuming no infection) and don’t bug you much. Severe injury will take much much longer and you may very well recall the accident (or crime) in detail due to the trauma.
Though while we’re at it, trauma can also cause you to forget details. Not because you are not bitter about them but because it is too much to remember.
Well exactly! Those making up the assumptions like this guy did is absurd. Plugging everyone into one mold is ridiculous. God made us each different and gave us the ability to cope in different ways. I don’t feel bitter anymore, but I remember details. I think that is so I don’t return to it. Thank you Lord for making me this way!
Here is the Jim Wilson article:
How to be Free From Bitterness [Internet Archive link]
“ONE GOOD RULE OF THUMB: BITTERNESS REMEMBERS DETAILS.”
“YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED-WHICH MEANS YOU ARE BITTER.”
I TRIED TO EXPLAIN TO THE COUNSELOR THAT I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS!!!!!!
THANK YOU, BRENDA.
THE JIM WILSON BITTERNESS ARTICLE THAT THE COUNSELOR HAD
GIVEN ME STATES:
“ONE GOOD RULE OF THUMB: BITTERNESS REMEMBERS DETAILS.”
“YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED-WHICH MEANS YOU ARE BITTER.”
Barbara, For lack of a better description, Sounds like a lot of “hoo hah” to me. We don’t forget what happened and anyone who thinks otherwise should live through it once or twice. I couldn’t find the article online. Brenda
I FOUND THIS PAGE.
HOPE IT WORKS FOR YOU.
Abuse and the Wilsonian Theology: A Survivor’s Story
Barbara & Megan, Thanks to both of you for the links to the articles RE: Jim Wilson. After reading them both I am more thankful for the counselor the Lord sent my way. It reconfirms in my mind why you do not attempt marriage counseling without the abuser having extensive counseling first. Also, it clarifies the need for interviewing counseling. This man has no flexibility and although many of his thoughts are true he is destructive to an already abused individual. He has no compassion for the abused and would likely get someone killed and have no remorse for it. I can hear the words “it was God’s will” in his message. Nonsense.
In his article he mentions a time that he spoke harshly with his wife for speaking while he was having a hard time and frustrated. He was correct. The problem was his and he did need to work out his heart with God and release his temporary bitterness I hope he went and then apologized to his wife. He didn’t mention making it right with her, only God. The problem was his not hers. She had every right to walk out of the room after his behavior. He spewed at her. His heart was wrong. His problem was not only with God but with her. He took out his bad attitude on her. Sound familiar? Even abusive?
So in his eyes, we should never speak truth with our peers RE: our abusive husbands. We should only speak to God about it. We should only take care of our bitterness and ignore that we have been beat down verbally, beaten physically, ignored, imprisoned in our homes etc. So let me get this right….He makes his living hearing these things from people. Now isn’t his sin in listening to these things? If we are not to talk about it, how can he condone listening to others problems? Perhaps he needs to choose another profession.
It never ceases to amaze me how people will say “well you married him”. IF he would have shown the entire book instead of only the chapters that he chose to view before saying I Do, I can honestly say I would not have. I chose God knowing the differences between him and Satan. I only knew the sheep that kept the wolf well hidden.
THIS IS VERY INSIGHTFUL!
I don’t think it is necessarily always a black and white thing. I know I am bitter and that I have wrong attitudes in my heart that need dealing with yet I know that technically I have experienced what would be described as abuse. It has taken me until very recently to accept that a genuine abuse victim can be bitter and also that the victim needs to let God deal with the bitterness inside too. I still struggle with self doubt at times about this (hence my recent comments on whether have the right to call myself a victim / survivor etc) but I know in my intellect it is possible to acknowledge abuse and at same time acknowledge bitterness inside. I say this not to judge any other survivors but simply to say that for my part I know the bitterness is there. Abuse isn’t a black and white case of someone is abused therefore none of their reactions to the abuse are sinful. Because we all sin. We survivors are no exception.
It seems that some churches have a system of how someone should feel after a trauma. Eg. Someone loses a child, or gets cancer deserves lots of sympathy and long term support (this person is described as suffering grief or sorrow) but then if someone tells the church that they were abused in their past, however painful its been they aren’t told they are grieving, they are told they are self pitying! I know self pity is a big part of it in my case but I resent the concept (which some Christians have put on me) that self pity is ALL I am suffering. I believe I have experienced genuine grief, confusion, agony of soul and tormenting thoughts and shame over what was done to me.
Sometimes I wish I could tell the churches that just because my life hasn’t been as bad as some peoples doesn’t mean it dosent really really hurt at times. A scraped knee isn’t cancer but it still hurts if you are a small child! And that is the age I was when I was first harmed by someone in authority.
how well said!
Imsetfree, you seem to have the insight to recognize the reality of what you are experiencing, and that is such a precious gift to have. I think the point of the article is that too often, abuse victims / survivors have their experiences defined and categorized FOR them, such that they are told that they are being bitter, unforgiving, etc.
Your statement about how the church tells someone how they should feel after a trauma further cements that point. Nobody can define your reality for you, not the abuser, not the church and not the wider community.
And yes, I agree that just because someone is abused, it doesn’t mean that all of her / his actions are not sinful because everyone can sin. However, I would not see any wrong reactions on my part as being abusive because I don’t chronically or habitually mistreat loved ones out of a sense of power and entitlement. Sin – yes, abuse – no.
This made me cry. I have felt crazy for so long. I felt like no one would listen to me. I have a Jekyll & Hyde spouse. He can turn it on and fool the best of them. I feared no one would believe me. I did open up to one female friend and she condemned me for not being Christ-like enough. It was enough to send me into silence. But here…these posts…this loving group…just to think someone cares and that they might believe the hell I’ve been through. Even that they ‘might’ believe me sends me to tears. I confessed my bitterness to the Lord tonight. I felt His loving arms for the first time in a long time. Oh, how a little compassion goes a long way. Just wanted to say thanks!
Welcome to the blog. 🙂
I’m so glad you found Meg’s post helpful.
If I’m ever again accused of being “bitter,” I will stand up and say, “Thank you! And may God work in my life as He did in Naomi’s, when she told others to call her “bitter.””
A season of bitterness…..
For so many of us, we go out of our way NOT to be bitter or to hold on to resentment–realizing that we can damage ourselves as well as our relationship with God. But I do think a “season of bitterness” can be a time of significant growth–if done with our eyes on God and searching His word.
I’ve never gotten the impression that when Naomi told others to call her Mara because she felt bitter–that God was mad at her or was far away from her.
When I’d FINALLY had it with all the evil in my life–figuring I might as well commit suicide–was when I was able to dump all my feelings onto God. I figured if He hated me anyway, even when I’d tried so HARD for decades to please my husband and family and Him, but was only repaid with hatred and constant draining of my emotional, spiritual, physical and financial resources—that I might as well tell Him so. So I poured it ALL out before Him–not just once–but PERPETUALLY! I withheld not a single thought about my anger and hatred of what He’d allowed in my life. I wanted THE TRUTH of what was happening and I wanted HIM to show it to me! On and on and on I yelled out all my frustration and verbalized and vocalized my resentment for HIS seeming mistreatment towards me. I had one daughter who cared about me but she was barely a teen and was in the same sinking boat that I was in. So I yelled this out to God too! That if He felt the need to punish me for whatever wrongs I had committed, why did He have to harm her as well?!
What did this do for me? It let me see it all for the truth that it was–no longer trying to squeeze myself into the white washed tombs so many churches want us to pretend we are. Churches who care NOTHING about GOD but only in presenting a certain façade in order to bring in other twice dead people who are willing to continue the farce and who tithe. And it released me from it too. From the anger, hatred, and from the fog of evil that comes with all these lies. God wasn’t a BIT surprised by my thoughts or feelings or “bitterness,” as He already KNEW this stuff, and once I finally dumped it all out, He was then able to start to fill me up with His REALLY GOOD stuff!
I have little doubt that if I HAD had a counselor at this time (I had tried to find one on and off since my mid-teens), they would have tried to stem the flow of my outrage as well as tried to steer me towards calmer waters. This would have been detrimental to my healing I now see, so I can now feel blessed to have had “only” God as my companion and sounding board.
Thank you so MUCH MeganC and Barbara for this beautiful post!
Yeah, one counselor I saw treated me nicely during the sessions, but when I asked her to write a formal report about me to support my claim for victims’ compensation (a Victorian Government program that gave $ compensation to victims of crime) her report was really nasty. She called me ‘vindictive’. I was gutted when I read her report. She’d been supporting me during the counseling sessions, and saying how she understood and empathized with my anger against the institutional church which had mistreated me… but then in the report she slapped this really negative ‘vindictive’ label on me.
I told this to the worker who managed the compensation scheme in that town. She was horrified and she indicated that she would make a note never to recommend that counselor to other victims of crime.