A Cry For Justice

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

How Abuse Steals Away the Connections We Need for Emotional Health

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease. Proverbs 22:10

I have written before about how the trauma of abuse robs us of home. Home sweet home is a motto abuse victims cannot relate to. In this post, I would like to expand on this concept with the hope that what I say might help other victims understand more clearly why they feel what they feel.

The church which I have now pastored for nearly 21 years is small, but healthy, after being subjected to many attacks by many abusive people who claimed the name of Christ.  We are wounded, but recovering. And we hope that as this healing progresses, we will increasingly experience the unity and community that loving, healthy relationships in Christ produce. So what I have to say here is not meant to reflect at all negatively upon anyone in our church body today.

Consider two churches. The first one that I pastored was in the mountains of Montana. We were there for eight years. After almost three years at a church in Alaska, we came to our present church, as I mentioned, nearly 21 years ago. Two churches. Now, I have been asking myself a question and have been wrestling to understand my feelings lately in regard to these two places. Why is it, I asked, that I can see pictures of that old log community hall in Montana and see old pictures and films of the people there, and immediately feel an emotionally strong “connect” with that place?  We had plenty of very difficult times and difficult people to deal with in those years. Yet, in spite of that, we connected with that place. The feelings of that connection still overwhelm me when I go back for a visit or look at old pictures and videos.

And then there is the present community in which we live, and the church building I have preached in for these two decades. I know that the Lord called me here, and that He has sustained us and our people. We have watched a generation of children grow up in this church and now we are watching a second. We have had funerals for friends, weddings, and we have worshipped together for countless Lord’s days now. And yet, I feel virtually no emotional connection to our building or to this community. I love our people who have been so loyal in the face of many hardships. But when it comes to this place, I have remained emotionally flat. And for quite some time I have not understood why.

I now know.

When we arrived at that first church in those Montana mountains, we were greeted warmly. There was a sense of community in that small band of people and it wasn’t long before we connected with them and with the community. I can still go back there and have the memories flood over me and though some of them are unpleasant, most are good. I feel, well, I feel a sense of homesickness. But when we arrived in this present church there was no warm greeting. Almost immediately as our feet hit the ground, the opposition began. And the abuse. People who craved power and control wanted to make sure that they retained it – after all, they were entitled, right? As I think back to those first weeks and that first year, I cannot think of anything but grief, doubt, false guilt, and a desire to quit. Those things continued for many years after.

What does abuse do to us? There are many effects, but the one I am describing to you here can, I suppose, be stated this way: abuse robs us of the ability to emotionally and mentally connect with people and places. We NEED that kind of connection if we are going to be emotionally healthy. You know what I am speaking of. I need to be able to go inside a church building and be flooded with feelings and emotions of good days gone by. I need to be able to walk down the main street of the town in which I live and recall that ten years ago I enjoyed a very good time here. I need to be able to say, “this is my town. This is home.”

And you need these things as well. But abusers rob us of them. They keep us from making the healthy connections of life. They shame us into isolation. They steal our value and lead us into a false notion that every room, every street corner, every social function is enemy territory inhabited by people who wish we would just go away. And if you live with one, if you are married to one, or if you have a church full of abusers, that notion is really not too far wrong. Small towns can be very cruel places.

Do we begin to see then why the Lord so intensely hates the abuser? Why He tells us, as in the Proverbs verse quoted about, that such people are to be driven out from among His people so that strife and abuse will cease and people can begin to heal and to connect? Listen to the Lord again:

Pro 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

In other words, the Lord hates abusers.

What is the opposite of abuse? What is it that produces these “connections” I am trying to describe? Well, it is love, isn’t it? If the evil of abuse (hatred) disconnects and divides, then love does quite the opposite. Is it any wonder then that the Lord has told us that the substance of His law is that we love Him, and that we love one another? We were made to love and to be loved. When that happens, we connect. People and communities cease to be mere objects. They become our loved ones, and our homes.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God, to one another, and to a renewed creation. I look forward to the day when I see that New Earth, walk through it, and find myself saying and feeling that “this is my town. This is where I belong.”

20 Comments

  1. MeganC

    This is so good, Jeff. So so good. And true. I wept after reading the first paragraph (even though I had those words before). There is no “home sweet home” for the victim. So much is robbed. And you are spot on with the idea that the abuser isolates the victim into believe that every corner, room, etc., is a place where people just wish he/she would go away. This was good for me to read, as I am still working on making those healthy connections. Thank you.

    • MeganC

      Which, by the way, is why it is so important for people to reach out to victims. Those who stay neutral are often seen as being against the victim in the victim’s own mind because the victim’s default is that people are against her.

      • BeginHealing

        “Those who stay neutral are often seen as being against the victim in the victim’s own mind because the victim’s default is that people are against her.” So VERY very true Megan.

      • Ang

        Silence in the face of evil is itself evil:
        God will not hold us guiltless.
        Not to speak is to speak.
        Not to act is to act.
        ~~—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

        “He who allows oppression shares the crime.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus

  2. Amy

    “…abuse robs us of the ability to emotionally and mentally connect with people and places. We NEED that kind of connection if we are going to be emotionally healthy.”

    How very true!
    I was married for 20 years to an emotionally, verbally and mentally abusive man. He destroyed anything healthy in our marriage and I always felt like he hated me. I used to say to him, “if only you LIKED me, if only you were my friend.” There definitely was no emotional connection between us and now I understand that. And interestingly, it’s often said that women need to feel emotionally connected to want the physical connection of sex and men often need the physical connection of sex to feel emotionally connected…no wonder I never, ever wanted sex with my abuser and he used to always berate me for it saying that I just didn’t like being touched and was cold. Hmmmm….

    But now, 5 years after he walked out on me in a calculated, manipulative manner in order to further destroy me, I live the fairy tale I only used to imagine and dream of…I am married to a man who I call my best friend, who loves me dearly and would never intentionally harm me.

    Anyway, this is a fantastic post! You really put into words what many of us have or are living through with an abuser.

  3. Rebecca

    This is a great article. I was abused emotionally and mentally, and controlled in my late childhood and teenage years. For the past 30 years I’ve been in what I’ve now realized is an abusive marriage.

    Only last week I realized that, even when it got me into trouble, I would always tell my parents the truth. I realize now that I did this because I wanted connection with them (it did not work though). I subjected myself to abuse because I needed connection. I am trying to turn around this dynamic in my marriage now. I can only change myself, and I hope my husband will choose to change too. I am grateful to Jesus for giving me this realization and now also the confirmation through this article and this website. THANKS so much for being His tool in His hand to heal others.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Rebecca- You’re welcome. As you have learned, we can’t connect with abusers. For them relationships are completely a one-way deal. They take and we are sucked dry.

  4. BeginHealing

    Great post Jeff thank you. This is something to really ponder as I ready my kids to move into a new home. I am a little stressed over the transition but I am looking forward to being in an environment that is not filled with memories. It will be so nice to be in a home that doesn’t have broken doors and holes punched in walls. The memories will always be there but the daily physical reminders will disappear. I pray that I can create a home for my boys physically and emotionally. It will be a smaller house but much more of a home ❤

    • “It will be so nice to be in a home that doesn’t have broken doors and holes punched in walls.”
      I can testify to that!

  5. Sherry

    Thank you for this post. It was what I was feeling today. I have been married for 29 years to an abuser. Recently I tried once again to be honest with him and it was impossible for him to understand. I have been trying to make friends and reach out for connection in my church and after 2 1/2 years that seems impossible too. When I dream of leaving my marriage I dream of having a home that belongs to me where people are welcome and loved.

  6. This makes so much sense to me–I have very few good emotional memories of our new hometown after a move in my mid -teens. I realize now that it was because my parents’ physical abuse of each other & of my sister escalated so drastically when there was no one around who knew us, no one who could ask, “What’s going on?”

  7. Marah

    This resonates with me, too. Although I’m very much a home-body, my anxiety level is so high here, even though my husband hasn’t been living here for about two months. I cannot relax. I don’t even like this house: it’s falling apart, we have very unpleasant neighbors on one side and pot-smokers on the other (which drifts in through our windows), and it’s far a away from where a lot of our life happens. But I have no income (and haven’t had for almost 18 years) to afford to pay rent somewhere, the house is close to some things that we need, and our few friends are around here. But home sweet home? What a joke. It feels like a refugee center.

    • Kay

      you have my complete sympathy-this is so exactly like my situation, even down to the pot-smoking neighbours!

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Marah, refugee centers are needed for a time. Know this is a season. Praying for relief and a place to call home very soon for you.

  8. Thanks for putting it so clearly, Jeff. I am not sure that many people understand what it means not to have those emotional connections, not to have a home, sweet, home. For those who have been abused growing up as well as in a marriage, that sense of belonging is doubly missing.

    This is in some way related to what I was just thinking recently; the statistic that married people live longer. This is regularly pulled out by family associations to argue against divorce. Without having really looked into it, I can only take a stab and suggest that this difference may be due to the benefits of married life that include camaraderie and emotional connection. But in an abusive marriage, there is none of that. Weighing the costs and benefits leave victims concluding that she would be better off out than in. The deficits of a single life can be overcome by trying to build healthy bonds with safe communities. Of course, after a lifetime of traumatizing experiences, it may be difficult to believe that emotionally satisfying and safe relationships are possible. But with the Lord’s help, victims can work through past emotional abuse and forge new friendships with people that will provide that sense of home, sweet, home that has long eluded them. On the other hand, the deficits of living in an abusive marriage are quite difficult to overcome while still in the marriage. So really, that statistic should be clarified – do married people live longer, or do healthily married people tend to live longer than those not married? Do single people who have a healthy sense of belonging in a community live just as long as healthily married people? Do divorced people who suffer post-separation abuse show worse psychological and physical outcomes than happily adjusted single people? Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that it’s those healthy connections, stolen by abuse, that make the difference in quality or longevity of life.

  9. Anonymous

    Read this post this morning and like MeganC, I just wanted to cry and I couldn’t even find the words to express my thoughts. (I’m feeling somewhat empty even now) Everything Pastor Crippen wrote numbed me with the truth; with reality. For many years I have corrected myself whenever I have referred to “our home”. It’s not a home. It’s a house.
    Pastor, thank you for sharing and loving and connecting.

  10. Forrest

    The worst part is that we often end up thinking (incorrectly) that we are the ones who have the problem. That somehow it is our fault that we don’t feel connected. Thank you, Jeff.

  11. IamMyBeloved's

    What a great article! This is so me. I too, will be happy, when I feel I am “home”. Abuse has robbed me of so much – so much that cannot be explained or understood by others in my life.

  12. Anonymous

    “I can still go back there and have the memories flood over me and though some of them are unpleasant, most are good.”

    Music does the same thing to me. A song from a bad time in my life can emotionally set me right back to that time period and frame of mind. At times, it can overwhelm me. There were many songs that I used to refuse to listen to, even plugging my ears in public in order to block out the feelings associated with them. But God has changed this recently. I think that in the past when I heard these songs that were associated with negative situations in my life I was (on some level) afraid that I would revert back to the old way of thinking or that I wasn’t far enough removed from that time period, that I felt safe enough to hear them. But now I actually stop and ponder the song itself (listen to the words and decipher the meaning) and even allow myself to feel those negative emotions for a little bit before I remind myself that God has me tightly in his hand. That I don’t have to be afraid anymore and that he is the one who allowed me to go through that trial so that I would gain the wisdom I needed to have in order to know him and to be a little more wise than I was in the past.

    It’s often bittersweet, these memories, but they were the building blocks God used in the staircase that is my life so that I could reach the vantage point and level of maturity that I have now. We get to keep the wisdom we’ve earned, even if we lose many brain cells from the PTSD. In many ways, this inability to hold onto all our cognitive thoughts, is a cleansing. Don’t get me wrong, the evil ones STOLE from us, but God uses it for it for our good.

    One example of how God has used PTSD to bless me is how when I realize that someone is an abuser, I immediately start removing myself from their presence and setting and enforcing firm boundaries. I know how evil ones think / operate and am much faster at neutralizing their set-ups. The brain cells I have left are too valuable to me and I don’t want to waste them on evil.

    Evil ones are always in game mode–they are always playing some kind of game that sets themselves up as the “winner” and everyone else must lose and be destroyed–so I either refuse to engage in their game or I make sure that I have good documentation in order to defend myself against their inevitable accusations and ways they’ll try to include me in their guilt. Because of my PTSD I don’t waste precious time trying to make sure that I am making the “perfect” decision to disengage from an abuser and if I am wrong in my judgment I have still done the right thing by giving it to God and protecting my mind and my heart. Proverbs 4:23 “…Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. …” God is faithful to reveal the true nature of the person–in His time.

    Thank you Jeff for another thought-provoking article. When we write about these things and share them with our true brethren (those who belong to Jesus) we are distributing the wisdom we’ve gained, which is meant for all of us. I’m grateful to have something to give but ultimately, 1 Chronicles 29:14, “”But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

  13. Finding Asnwers

    My heart aches for everyone I read in this post, from Pastor Jeff to all who have commented.

    Not because of a difference in past experiences, not from any sense of safety, and not from any outward connections.

    I know the answer, but don’t know the “Why?” I follow the path taken on many other ACFJ posts, but in reverse. Maybe there are others who will find this a breadcrumb on their own journey.

    My answer is “I am home”. I know God has called me back here, and knew this even mid-divorce. I did not move to another community.

    (For my protection, I omit many – but not all – details.)

    During the divorce, I was overwhelmed with heartbreak, trying to consider moving as an option in resolving my circumstances.

    There was no emotional connection in the sense of “hearth and home”. That is something I have never experienced. Perhaps, as Pastor Jeff writes, because they are all tied to abusive relationships. Yet where I live now is no different.

    I need relationships. I need connection. I know that…with all my heat, I know it. I miss physical hugs. I miss connecting face-to-face, seeing fleeting expressions, hearing changes in vocal inflection. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with loneliness, a need to share my life, my self, with others. To hear and know I am heard.

    Yet, I still feel home.

    My life circumstances, however dark, however dim, however unsure, however hopeless, however despairing, have not increased the lack of “home and hearth” feeling. Maybe this is hindsight talking, but while my life circumstances did not change with moving here, my sense of feeling home has improved.

    I am not connected by people, by my physical living quarters, by any sense of community (though I know it’s out there when I am ready).

    Maybe the answer to my “Why?” remains unexplainably simple.

    God wants me here.

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