Does the victim recognize the abusive patterns? Yes, and no. And then, by degrees, YES!
Does the victim recognize the abusive patterns? Depending what you mean by ‘recognise’ I think that question can be answered no, and yes, and both.
Backstory: This post was prompted by something Darby Strickland said when explaining CCEF’s Counseling Abusive Marriages course. She said: “Until both spouses recognize the abusive patterns, counseling can actually perpetuate the problem.” I’ve already stated my concerns about this CCEF course in a three part series (click here for Part One).
Typically, victims are (kept) in the fog for a long time and do not FULLY recognize the abusive patterns while they are in the fog. But even in thick and longstanding fog, the victim in one sense does recognizes the abusive patterns — and does her best to predict and prevent the most egregious and most destabilizing abusive events/incidents/outbursts. She does this by walking on eggshells. She gets to know her particular abuser’s patterns and learns to anticipate them and tries carefully to avoid doing things that will set him off. BUT BUT BUT the abuser can and does switch tactics, and add new ones, and he’s purposefully inconsistent so that she is kept on the back foot in trepidation and fear.
In this place, she recognizes the patterns as best she can predict them — and she tries hard to ‘avoid trouble’ and to mop up and repair and hold together what the abuser is destroying. Her focus is often directed to ‘helping her spouse’ but she is also, on the back foot, valiantly trying to protect her dignity and safety and personhood and the wellbeing of her kids.
As she gradually comes out of the fog, the victim begins to recognize the abuser’s patterns in another way, a more analytical way, a way which divests her of false blame and guilt and which starts to ascribe the full blame and full RESPONSIBILITY to the abuser. At some point in this process, the victim will begin, often tentatively at first, to call it “Abuse.” And we know that many victims take a very long time before they are comfortable ascribing the word “Abuser” to their partner.
It is also true to say that the victim may recognize and not recognize the abusive patterns at one and the same time. She may recognize them in her gut, subconsciously, and be creatively walking on eggshells around them, while simultaneously not recognizing or admitting the full pattern let alone the full mindset behind them — the intentionality of the abuser and the granite-like bedrock foundation of it all: the abuser’s belief in his own entitlement.
And she can fade in and out, back and forth, between having
- the sharp-focused front-brained analytical recognition that divests her of false guilt, and
- the fog-bound but intuitive, trepidatious, eggshell-walking recognition that is hamstrung by second guessing, doubt, confusion, self-blame and compassionately giving the abuser the benefit of the doubt.
In other words, she often comes somewhat out of the fog and then goes back in and then comes out a bit more and then falls back some. . . . This iterative, revolving, spiraling process is generally a good sign: it’s a characteristic indicator that the victim is — overall — on a upward path of coming out of the fog and the prognosis is good. Not that the victim is pathological or ‘diseased’; I use the term ‘prognosis’ metaphorically, not clinically.
However, the Pharisaic church can push the victim back, push her deeper back into the fog, if they mishandle the case. Which they OFTEN do. Sigh. This is a major reason why Christian victims stay in abusive relationships longer than non-believers do.
The backstitch analogy
The take home message for victims is: it’s okay if you find yourself making one step forward and one step back. In fact, it is often a sign that you are coming out of the black hole, and healing is occurring.
The Lord showed me a truth about this: one step forward and one step back is like backstitch in sewing. Backstitch makes a stronger seam than running stitch. The overall progress is forward, so don’t worry about the fact that sometimes it seems like you are going backwards. The Lord is just bringing about your healing so it is good and strong in the end and cannot be easily pulled out by the catches of life.
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Note: by the time this post is published, Darby Strickland’s course at CCEF will have already started.