A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abusers’ Addiction To the Upper Hand

My husband, David (who is a pastor), told me a story yesterday about a man at an elder/deacon board meeting at a church a few years back. The meeting was an effort to unite the congregation and staff and create a mission statement and vision for the church. At one point, during an endless talk about every minute detail, one of the elders spoke up and questioned, “Why don’t we allow the pastors to create a vision for the church? I mean, let’s trust them with this!” Right then, a very angry board member slammed his fist down onto the table and said, “THEN WHO WILL WIN?! No, we are NOT taking away the leadership from the LAY PEOPLE!!!” The man went on and on for a bit and then there was an awkward silence. The rest of the people at the meeting were slayed. This angry man revealed his heart right then and there. No one wanted to take anything away from anyone. But, to this man, this was not about Church. This was not a unified church effort to him . . . this was a war. And he wanted to win.

George Simon speaks of disturbed characters as “fighters”. Not warriors in the sense that they are fighting for some sort of common good or for their survival. Abusers see all of life as a fight — a fight to win, a fight to get their way and a fight against normal expectations of society:

 . . . the disturbed character is making excuses (rationalizing), blaming others (scape-goating), it is absolutely essential to remember that he is primarily fighting. When you confront a disordered character about a harmful behavior, he is fully aware of the pro-social principle at stake. He’s likely heard the principle espoused several times and from several sources. (George K. Simon Ph.D.. Character Disturbance: the phenomenon of our age Kindle Locations 1735-1737).

Abusers, high conflict personalities and disturbed characters all put people into two categories: those above them and those beneath them. Nothing is mutual. It is part of why they love the patriarchy movement so much! And, for the seasoned abuser, every person in their path is a chance to dominate. It is a struggle for the upper-hand . . . one-upmanship . . . they want to win.

So . . . whenever a person gives themselves away with such language, you know you are dealing with a personality that wants to destroy. The truth is, these abusive personalities know and understand what they are doing and they generally (listen to this!) do not want to change. It is much easier to just continue to aggress against the universe. It is the way of the Enemy! It puts self in the driver’s seat. It is the age-old problem.

The answer to the problem of controlling people is always freedom in Christ. We always have freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, abusers do not see this, understand this nor want this. And, because they are shackled, they want to shackle others. The only thing we can do is to try to keep the shackles from mere man off of ourselves. Press on, as freemen who are also bondservants to only one — the Christ who died for us.

41 Comments

  1. BeginHealing

    Oh boy is this timely. I have felt like I am being taunted in a game of chess right now. The hearts and flowers stage is over and my husband is becoming more aggressive. It is covert and well hidden to others under his sheep cloak. He is continually forcing me into a defensive corner. Putting me in situations where I am forced to give a yes or no answer to something and either way I lose. I say yes I empower his manipulations if I say no he looks like a victim of my hard heart to others. I keep finding myself in these scenarios. Last night I thought to myself that I want off of this particular game board all together. But how do I do this? I have walked away from my church. He has made ours a very unsafe place for me. Our “friends” are not so much friends to me anymore. I am trying to reach out to others and develop a new support system. But that takes time. I am just so very tired of this process. Please tell me at some point that this is going to get better.

    • MeganC

      It will get better, friend. There is so much hope for you! I am praying that you truly can remove yourself from the game board altogether. The fact that you recognize the games and see the manipulations reveals how wise and capable you are. Big hugs.

  2. Brenda R

    What are they winning? Do abusers really win anything? Those of us who were under the influence of them didn’t, that is until we took back our freedom. How is God to be glorified by anyone serving in the church that wants to win? They certainly don’t win God’s approval or of their brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. It takes all of the parts of the Body to function. Why anyone would want to be in “control” is beyond me. I have my small portion to give and if each member takes their little portion, the Body could really get moving for our God. More truth would be preached, more sinners reached and saved, the Spirit of the Lord would be in every service, the poor would be fed. That board member should have been addressed for his heart immediately. Even if he disagreed, that was not the way to handle it.

    • MeganC

      I think it is like an addiction, Brenda. They never really fill that leaky bucket, even if they “win”. It is more of an addiction, I think. They think about winning all the time. There is no peace. No rest or contentment.

  3. joepote01

    Megan, I saw this first-hand multiple times in my previous marriage. Faced with a decision to make, I would ask to talk through the options to make a mutual decision on the best course of action. After some time of reasoned dsicussion, she would realize the best decision was not the course of action she wanted. Suddenly, she would erupt, with narrowed eyes shooting daggers at me, “But that would mean doing it YOUR way!”

    For her, the whole discussion was not about making wise choices. It was all about winning.

    • LorenHaas

      Wow, I had a similar situation with my former wife. Our son’s dog could be very destructive when it did not get enough attention. She was rightfully upset about this behavior and loudly complained about it over many months. The boys and I loved this dog, but finally to keep peace in the household, I offered to use a rescue group to find a new home for him. “Oh no”, she said, “that would just make ME look like the bad guy!” So the reasonable choice she rejected because she was hoping to find one that made me look bad to our sons.
      Fortunately, after she left I still had the dog. (and our sons)

      • joepote01

        Hah! She didn’t want a solution. She just wanted opportunity to complain and make you look bad.

        I’m glad you kept custody of children and pets! 🙂

      • What a good illustration, Loren. She chose to berate and yell at you and the boys, rather than to ‘look bad’ by being known as a person who sent a dog to an animal shelter. Her public image was more important to her than being civil to her family behind closed doors.

    • MeganC

      Exactly, Joe. What is leading them is not love (what is best for those around them), it is control, winning and the upper-hand. What a miserable way to think and live. 😦

    • Suddenly, she would erupt, with narrowed eyes shooting daggers at me, “But that would mean doing it YOUR way!”

      Wow. 😦 How sad to be like that. 😦

      • joepote01

        Yes, very sad! 😦

    • anotheranon

      How many times I went through this also. Constantly trying to figure out how to pay the bills and keep the farm going. Once I asked if the family could talk in the evening and figure out all the work for the next day. He yelled back “We ain’t gonna do that!” End of trying to reason with him. He had to call all the shots at a moment’s notice to keep everyone guessing. All part of controlling me (and now I see–abusing me).

      • joepote01

        It creates a truly impossible situation. One spouse honestly desires to work toward mutual agreement on the best course of action, while the other only cares about power and control. They have to ‘win’…even though the competition is all only in their head and not to anyone’s benefit.

  4. There is a dance to learn here. Dance toward freedom. Dance away from the battle to win. Dance toward exposing the conflict for the abuse it is. Dance away from those who just refuse to understand. When does the music stop? Maybe never — but — we can learn the steps and become dance masters at avoiding competition with abusers.

    • BeginHealing

      I love this analogy Barb. I used to dance when I was younger. Choreography was always difficult when it was new but over time as soon as I heard the music I knew what to do. Muscle memory and the heart is a muscle.

  5. Valerie

    Oh how this resonates with me. About a year ago my H came to a place of brokenness (that only lasted a few weeks) and he admitted that he has always seen conversations with me as something he must win. One time he told me that I am too good with words so its hard “to win against me”. Another time he told me with a smirk, “If God wants to get my attention he’s going to have to work at it because I’m stubborn!” That gave me chills.

    There is no conversation with an abuser. Its all maneuvering. He doesn’t listen to what I say and consistently shows that he’s not looking to understand but to find a better argument or a way to shut me down. There is no comfort, encouragement or safety with him; instead its like a military general unrolling his war plan and going over it looking for weak spots while gaining allies in this war he has waged.

    Why?

    I’ve given him token after token showing I’ve come in peace but still he strategizes. As Brenda asks, “What are they winning?’ Control I guess. Its Monopoly and they refuse to let you even have the worn out buildings with the windows knocked out. Its Survivor- Marriage Island. 😦

    • MeganC

      This is truth: “There is no conversation with an abuser. Its all maneuvering.”

      The only answer to the “why” questions, in my mind and heart, is that abusers are unregenerate. No force of nature has come into their hearts to turn all the selfishness and self-centeredness upside-down. Nothing has taught them that to look outside of self is the better way.

      • fiftyandfree

        So true. It took me a long time to understand that. Every conversation was an exercise in futility. I finally understood that nothing I ever said would be taken at face value or responded to fairly. I wish I would have understood this earlier on, but grateful that I do now.

    • Brenda R

      Valerie,
      You know that Survivor Series will be coming out next season. Someone out in Hollywood will think it is a good idea.

  6. fiftyandfree

    One night as I slept fitfully after praying myself to sleep I woke suddenly and I heard the Lord tell me very clearly and very distinctly, “It’s a game. You are the object.” And, “He (the abuser) is playing with him (the counselor).” This was after a particularly stressful counseling session in which the abuser had all but convinced the counselor that he was humble and repentant about what he’d done. I really needed to hear this straight from God because although I sensed and dreaded that I meant nothing to him and that he was a master game player, I really could not fathom that kind of callousness and I was still stuck in that “divorce is always sin” trap.

    • MeganC

      I understand. These truths are agonizing when we come to terms with them, but so very necessary as the truth will set you free . . . .

      • fiftyandfree

        Yes, I was going to add that but for some reason deleted it. I needed truth that night and our wise Lord knew that He needed to give it to me plainly, and He did 😉 To become aware that you are nothing more than a game piece, or the object of someone’s twisted need to control and conquer, is rather sickening.

  7. Charis

    From my husband’s own admission: “Every interaction with you was a chess match against an unknown opponent in which you had no chance to win.”

    As freaky and creepy as that is…it took me 9mos to realize what he’d said. I can’t even begin to unpack that. “Every interaction.” Every one. Wow. The psychological abuse behind that statement rocks me to my core.

    And what, exactly are we winning? His assumption was that I, too, was trying to play (and win) the game. No. I wasn’t. I wasn’t trying to win anything. I recall distinctly describing to him several years ago that everything felt like a competition between us…he, of course, flatly denied and then made some excuse about friendly competition creating a healthy environment with benefits toward improvement. I pled for partnership with zero competition. What I got was a competition…where I had “no chance to win.”

    The destructive truth is that the “unknown opponent” part of his statement refers to his 30+ year deception of living out of a rolodex of personalities; each unique to the situation or person he was with. He admitted last year that he had never been real with anyone, ever…since the age of 12. Not me, not his parents, not my parents, not anyone at church, relatives, work, friends – no one. He didn’t even know himself. He invented & kept personalities to go along with what he surmised would advance his agenda, win friends, impress people – get him ahead…likes/dislikes, talents, preferences, humor, smarts, pockets of knowledge: a complete & total persona. He donned and doffed these like a pair of shoes befitting the scenario/person.

    He told me all this saying, “Isn’t this great?! This means you can now get to know the REAL me?!” Um. No. It’s not. You’ve just revealed the bedrock of lies our relationship was built upon and asked me to pick you AGAIN, fall in love with the “new, real” you. I don’t even know who YOU are. How could I ever know that THIS is the real you?! Ever?

    He fails to understand why this is so hard for me….and blames me for crashing his spiritual “high.”

    I never was very good at chess.

    • joepote01

      “You’ve just revealed the bedrock of lies our relationship was built upon and asked me to pick you AGAIN, fall in love with the “new, real” you. I don’t even know who YOU are.”

      Exactly! What would be the point of trying to have an intimate relationship with someone about whom the only thing you know is that you absolutely cannot trust them? On what could such a relationship possibly be based? NOTHING! Or at least nothing of substance or health…

    • Brenda R

      Charis, The only good news in your husband’s confession is that it is all laid it all out before you. There is no fog left. There is no confusion other than in his mind as he blames you for his crash. You were in love with someone who does not exist. As far as knowing the “real him”, I doubt seriously he has any idea who that is. I would never pick X again. I know too much about him. I don’t even like him much less get close enough to fall in love with him.

      • I agree. And also, his confession displays starkly that he is in Reality 1, while you have always been in Reality 2. These are terms that Patricia Evans uses. Reality 1 is the mindset that sees relationships as all about power, control and winning. Reality 2 is the mindset that seeks mutuality, honesty and caring in relationships.

      • Brenda R

        Barb, I haven’t read Patricia Evans book, but I should. Reality 1 and Reality 2 about sums it up. You cannot have a marriage when only 1 of you is in Reality 2.

    • From my husband’s own admission: “Every interaction with you was a chess match against an unknown opponent in which you had no chance to win.”

      That kind of honesty is pretty rare from abusers, in my experience.

      The only other instance I’ve heard that has a similar ring to it is Megan C’s abuser who once behaved with complete courtesy and respect for her for SIX WEEKS and then suddenly reverted to the porn-addicted beast. And when she asked him why he behaved so nicely for those six weeks, he replied “I just wanted to see what it was like!”

      In other words, even his good behaviour was motivated from an entirely solipsistic place — even when he appeared to be showing her loving consideration it was all just egoistic self-absorption.

      • Charis

        I pointed this out to him once. When he recently asked for evidence of his abuse, I referred him back to this comment he made of over a year ago. He told me flatly that wasn’t abuse. He denied, minimized, flat out lied – I am beyond guessing – (all in the presence of our marriage counselor) that this statement was simply a reference to how I must have felt all those years as he slipped in and out of his many persona’s. I sat stunned. Do NOT pretend to tell me how I felt! The counselor sympathetically nodded his head in full understanding and agreement with my husband. I left the session fuming. As if THAT explanation made it any better!

        No. It is psychological abuse, gaslighting, whatever you wish to call it. The fact that he cannot see it or chooses not to see it as abuse is not my problem any more…and it never was. As hard as that is for me to let go of, it is the truth.

        I don’t see this as a moment of him being honest. I tend to agree with you…it was another tactic. It was a hook. He said it after returning from a men’s retreat. It was one of his many revelations that he was oh-so-pleased to divulge to me. One of several that signaled the death knell of our marriage; leaving me shocked and numb – devastated. He…was angry at my reaction. I should be happy for the burden lifted at Calvary. I should be joyful for him. It was supposed to revitalize our marriage – pull us closer together.

        In truth, it tore us asunder. I was ruining his “mountain-top” experience…and he let me know it! He sulked for a week, withdrawn, moody, giving me the silent treatment. Yes, this was all MY fault, once again.

      • …it was another tactic. It was a hook. He said it after returning from a men’s retreat. It was one of his many revelations that he was oh-so-pleased to divulge to me.

        It sounds like the men’s retreat turned him (briefly) into the Sensitive New Age Guy type of abuser. Lundy Bancroft describes that type in his chapter where he lists the various types of abusers.

        I’ve had close up and personal experience of the SNAG abuser. Uugh.

      • Charis

        Or…maybe he was bragging. Or perhaps, as Bancroft says – abusers will admit to abuse, just not all of it nor see it as abuse. Maybe it was a fleeting moment of clarity for him before the overwhelming balance of his personality came crashing back through in dominance. I don’t know.

        I have often wondered why he said that to me. I have clung to it though, in the moments when I am tempted to let the fog tell me that it is all in my head. When I minimize my situation. When I fight against the “church” advice of staying.

        He said it, he knows he said it. I heard it; word for word. We both know it. Regardless of how he tries to explain it away. It’s too late. He has crossed lines that cannot be erased.

        As Brenda described: I don’t even like him much less wish to get close enough to fall in love with him.

      • Charis

        Please forgive me, I feel that my responses are coming from a place of defensiveness.

        I think I misunderstood your first reply to me…and in so doing, felt fear, self-doubt, and panic. I felt as if I had to justify why my husband said what he did, my interpretation of it…and why, ultimately, I was choosing to leave.

        Then, hours later when I revisited the thread, it dawned on me (sinks in) that you were simply offering another explanation, help, insight and I was too dense to “get it.” I had to read it several times before I saw it.

        This has happened before. Not just here.

        The knee-jerk reaction – maybe PTSD? – is hard to fight against. Although I am newly separated, my protective instincts are still quite strong. I am struggling to recognize a safe haven and help when it is sincerely offered. In the meantime, I don’t know why I am still so easily triggered.

        Still, I deeply apologize; I meant no disrespect. You would be one of the last people I would wish to offend. I am so sorry.

    • want to hear an astonishing story of an abuser who always needed to win?

      This astounded me when I heard it, but I heard it from the victim’s own mouth and I’d known her for ages and trust her report completely.

      She told me that whenever she and the abuser were having sex, he would try to come to orgasm first, before her. And when he got to orgasm before her, he would say “I won!”

      • Brenda R

        Barb that doesn’t surprise me at all. The only difference was that once X was done he rolled over and had a cigarette. He could care less what my experience was. Saying “I won!”, though sounds like a 6 year old that got to the last cookie first.

  8. A pastor explains that he can predict divorce based on how the bride and groom exchange the wedding cake:
    http://www.kevinathompson.com/how-i-predict-divorce-based-on-the-wedding-cake/

    Note: as an Aussie, I don’t think I’ve seen this custom in marriage breakfasts. Maybe it is only in America? But boy, I can see how it would reveal a lot about the quality of the couple’s relationship and whether one of the spouses was an abuser!

    • Anonymous

      Barbara, The KevinThompson link is remarkable. It really does reveal much about the relationship of a couple and has me reflecting on my wedding day:-(

    • joepote01

      In the linked post, Kevin Thompson said, “Feeding each other cake is an odd tradition, but one that should be defined by lighthearted fun.”

      Growing up in South Arkansas, that was definitely my view of the wedding cake tradition. It was a quirky little tradition couples did at weddings, that was supposed to be light-hearted and fun…and laughing while getting icing on each other’s faces was part of the fun.

      After spending time studying biblical covenants, I see it as much more. I now see the mutual cutting of the cake and feeding each other slices as part of a very historically rich covenant tradition…a tradition for which we have largely forgotten the meaning yet continue to carry out.

      How many couples are aware that they are acting out a solemn ancient rite of covenant, breaking bread and feeding it to each other, in a symbolic act of partaking of each other’s nature, “this is my body” (Matthew 26:26)?

      • Anonymous

        And very often when the vow/covenant is broken you are unable to eat with the offender. There is much to consider with “the feeding – breaking of bread’. Joe, Thank you for mentioning this.

      • joepote01

        Good point, Anon!

        The breaking of bread (or lack thereof) defines relationships in many ways.

        Thank you!

  9. Finding Answers

    (Airbrushing as I write…)

    Charis wrote: “The knee-jerk reaction – maybe PTSD? – is hard to fight against. Although I am newly separated, my protective instincts are still quite strong. I am struggling to recognize a safe haven and help when it is sincerely offered. In the meantime, I don’t know why I am still so easily triggered.”

    I have seen – and experienced – this kind of reaction in circumstances other than those recovering from abusive relationships. I suspect it’s all part of finding we need to shift our paradigm to reach truth, bouncing back and forth between them.

    Perhaps no longer needed, but a cyber-hug to Charis.

    Barbara wrote: “I agree. And also, his confession displays starkly that he is in Reality 1, while you have always been in Reality 2. These are terms that Patricia Evans uses. Reality 1 is the mindset that sees relationships as all about power, control and winning. Reality 2 is the mindset that seeks mutuality, honesty and caring in relationships.”

    I wonder if there is such a thing as “Reality 1 1/2”? 🙂 I have experienced these kind of word-game conversations with abusers and those who feel defensive for other reasons. Those coming from a defensive stance oftentimes know a truth and realise they are faced with someone who has made a paradigm shift they, themselves, need to make in their own life.

    In this instance, I am not referring to major decisions such as leaving abusive relationship. Take, for example, someone who has chosen a healthier eating pattern. (And I’m not talking about those who then act like the self-righteous Pharisee, praying in the synagogue.) How many times have you watched others attempt to undermine the person who has succeeded in making the paradigm shift? “Oh, just one __________ won’t hurt you!”

    The difference is difficult to put into words. Coming from an abuser, the situation is more from the position of power over / humiliation. Coming from the person dragging their heels at making their own paradigm shift, it’s more like a temporary reprieve / excuse. “See! XYZ could’t make the change, so why should I?” Or, “If XYZ couldn’t succeed, how can I expect to?”

    Joe wrote: “Growing up in South Arkansas, that was definitely my view of the wedding cake tradition. It was a quirky little tradition couples did at weddings, that was supposed to be light-hearted and fun…and laughing while getting icing on each other’s faces was part of the fun.”

    I wonder how the pastor would have interpreted my experience of the wedding cake tradition. Anti-X was abusive, but there was much laughter all-round when we attempted this…no one told us there was a sheet of plexiglass between the bottom layer and the other layers of the cake. Hhhmmmm. Now that I think about it, I wonder if the pastor would have included the whole scenario in his process of discernment. Zoom out the camera, and I could look at this as starting with misinformation, lack of support from family and friends, and blame-shifting (laughing while pointing fingers).

    In response to Megan’s original post:

    I have faced the “winning-at-all-costs” in every venue of my life: Entire family was abusive; ant-x was abusive; friends were abusive; workplaces were abusive.

    For me, the paradigm shift from an angry, authoritarian, patriarchal, “winning-at-all-costs” God to the truth of God is draining on so many levels.

    I am praying the eye-opening, fog-lifting of the last less-than-one year will finally see fruit of the Spirit.

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful responses, Finding Answers 🙂

      And your thoughts about “Reality 1 1/2” are so well articulated. I agree with what you said there.

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