[June 13, 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 is a four part review. Part one highlights what I think is good in the book “Is It My Fault?”.
The latter parts point out aspects of the book which in my opinion are pretty troubling.
Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Abuse by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb has been a difficult book for me to review. I read it twice through, carefully marking the good and bad points with two different highlighters. Being one of the canaries in the coal mine, and seeing the anguish of other canaries who are fainting from the toxic fumes, I have had to overcome my ‘irks’ and disappointments before I could give fair praise where it is due, while simultaneously trying to encourage the authors by suggesting some improvements. I hope I have achieved this graciously.
Before beginning my review, let me share what the Holcombs said about themselves when promoting their book on sexual abuse, Rid Of My Disgrace, (source):
Our experience in the area of abuse, both personally, professionally, and pastorally, led us to write this book. When Justin was 12, he was assaulted by a member of his extended family. So, he knows personally what victims are experiencing.
Lindsey has served for years both counseling victims of sexual assault and training leaders to care for victims. She worked at a sexual assault crisis center where she provided crisis intervention to victims of assault and conducted a variety of training seminars to service providers. Lindsey also worked at a domestic violence shelter. Many of the women she served were also victims of sexual assault. Her graduate research was on sexual violence and public health responses.
Justin has served in ministry for almost twenty years and has counseled numerous victims of sexual assault. He has taught theology at Reformed Theological Seminary since 2001. Justin has also taught courses on sexual violence in the Sociology and Religious Studies departments as well as in the Studies of Women and Gender program at the University of Virginia.
The good points of “Is It My Fault?” (with a few hints for improvement)
The Holcombs (mostly) do not blame the victim. “It is never your fault. You are not to blame. You do not deserve this,” are frequent refrains. They say abuse is wrong, it is sinful, and the victim has been sinned against. They use the word ‘victim’ the way I use it, and for the same reasons: “The term victim signifies the cruelty and unfairness of domestic violence and puts the responsibility for the assault where it belongs — on the assailant.” (26) At the same time, they recognize that ‘survivor’ has nuances that ‘victim’ may not have, and some people who have suffered abuse prefer to describe themselves as survivors rather than victims. (27)
They do not see abuse as a ‘relationship problem’. They quote Lundy Bancroft saying, “Abuse is not caused by relationship dynamics. You can’t manage your partner’s abusiveness by changing your behavior, but he wants you to think he can.” (21) They encourage the victim to speak out and not be silenced (67); but they also say, “You don’t need to confront the abuser alone, because what you most need is to be safe.” (23) The fact that abusers choose to abuse is spelled out clearly in chapter 3. They do not waste time on pushing the forgiveness barrow, and they never push couple counseling or ‘reconciliation’ or talk mushily about ‘redeeming’ such and such.
They get the gender stuff right. They recognise that some victims are male, but they write to and for the overwhelming majority of victims who are women, and whose abusers are men. (28)
The principle of fleeing abuse and escaping from persecution is expounded in chapter 10, with very good use of Scripture; and throughout the book it is mentioned quite often. The Holcombs sum up chapter 10 by saying,
If a woman has an opportunity to be safe and away from abuse, we believe that God would rather she take the opportunity. More than trying to reform the abuser, staying because marriage is forever, staying to show forgiveness, it is better to be safe. (140)
They put safety first. Putting safety first is one of the cardinal rules for supporting victims, and I am very glad they got this right and gave it the emphasis it deserves. They discuss ‘deliver us from evil’ in the Lord’s Prayer and how not all people are trustworthy (25). They explain the harm domestic abuse does to children (61-3) and how abusers say they will change — but statistics show that they continue to abuse (63). While they encourage the victim to leave, to remove herself from the abuse, they recognise that leaving is not easy but dangerous and that post-separation abuse is quite common (23, 64). They talk about reporting the abuse to the police, and they recognise that going to the justice system is not an absolute guarantee of safety, but it can still be an effective deterrent (65-6).
How to make a safety plan is very well covered in Appendix 2. And in Appendix 1 there is a list of USA hotline numbers; this appendix would been better if it told readers that the hotlines only cover the USA, and if it had given the HotPeach page which gives links to domestic abuse services worldwide.
Psalm 18 is expounded in chapter 11, showing how it pertains to victims of domestic abuse; this chapter is very well done. I particularly recommend the discussion of hamas, the Hebrew word for ‘violence’ which David quotes in Psalm 18.
Psalm 55 is well expounded in chapter 13, showing how it offers great comfort to victims of abuse.
They help the reader who is unsure whether she is being abused (chapter 2). They use key phrases — “walking on eggshells”, “the abuser’s well-stocked arsenal,” his “deceptive wielding of control” that is “difficult to discern” (32). They list things that abusers do, and how they behave. They classify different types of abuse: physical, sexual and emotional. Sadly they do not mention spiritual abuse in this classification. I feel they ought to have given economic abuse and social abuse (isolation) their own headings, rather than lumping them in the emotional abuse category; sometimes financial abuse is so prominent that it is the first facet of the abuse that victim wake up to. This section would also have been improved if they had put emotional abuse first, and sexual and physical after that, as all abusers use emotional abuse but not all use sexual or physical tactics of abuse.
The Holcombs pose very good questions that will help the victim reflect on her experience:
Do you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled or planned? Does he act differently towards you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to the abuse? [great question!] Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect? (38)
They give the Power and Control Wheels and talk about the cycle of abuse (39-46). They include vital teaching from Lundy Bancroft: “Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.” ( 46) And they talk about male privilege and how domestic abuse is an epidemic (47).
Why some women stay, and the resistance of abused women are addressed well (51-54). I commend the Holcombs for referring to How Women Resist Abuse — a pdf by Calgary Women’s Shelter which I often recommend on this blog, though I would have liked to see that pdf named and extolled in the text, not just in the endnotes. And it was disappointing these important topics were embedded in a chapter titled ‘Why Does He Chose To Abuse?’ as they might be overlooked by the skimming reader.
They honour the victim and encourage her to trust herself more
You are the expert in your situation….we know that you will have been doing everything you can to manage yourself and any children involved. An abuser will attempt to totally disempower you and force you to stop trusting your own instincts, we would encourage you to begin trusting your own instincts and when possible seek help. (63-4)
[June 13, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to June 13, 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 June 13, 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 June 13, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (June 13, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Violence in the Home is a good article by Justin Holcomb in Christianity Today (Spring 2015). It gives pastors guidelines about identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse. I had very few concerns about the article, so I would recommend it being shared with pastors and leaders.
Posts in the “Is It My Fault?” review series
Part 1: Is this post.
Part 2: Divorce, language use, suffering and substitution, in “Is It My Fault” by the Holcombs
Part 3: The concept of Grace in “Is It My Fault” by the Holcombs
Part 4: More confusing messages in “Is It My Fault” by the Holcombs
31 thoughts on “The good points of “Is It My Fault” by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb (book review Pt 1)”
Barbara, excellent stuff, as usual. Thank you for your tireless work in this regard.
Thank you Barbara for the hard work of reading this book not only once but twice and then dissecting it. Did you get any reply from the Holcombs to your comments and suggestions?
I too regret that abuse is not perceived as always emotional in the first place. It certainly starts first and foremost with an evil psychological game the abuser plays. Then the abusive tentacles can unfold such as sexual, financial, spiritual, verbal, etc. in whatever option, order or intensity.
Regarding the book title, I don’t like it at all. In a form of a question, it conveys some kind of doubt and actually sounds like the very mind game the abuser plays. I would have preferred an affirmation like “Not My Fault”.
As for the front cover, the fact that the abuse target, a woman, is the only person represented may show the isolation in which she is forced and stuck, but nope, there is no fancy aura all around her but dense fog! And with this kind of guessing game title, they could have put some lurking shadow of a male perpetrator to really make the point and remove all doubt to their ambiguous question.
Hi Innoscent, I have not had any reply from the Holcombs yet, as to my comments and suggestions. But the post was only published today.
Barb, I pray that they will receive your comments with an honest heart and acknowledge your experience in this field.
Sorry I just assumed that you might have sent your comments to them some time before this post.
no worries (no need to be sorry, Innoscent) 🙂
Innoscent, you make some great points and I agree with you on all of them. An affirmation in the title would have been more positive but their title does make sense to me too.
My most frequent thoughts as I struggle to escape my own fog are more “what have I done wrong?”, “how could I have done this differently (so he wouldn’t abuse me)”, and yes, “is it my fault?”. I am not in a place where I can say 100% of the time, or even 75%, “it’s not my fault”.
I am still questioning, learning and struggling hard and I would be more likely to pick up a book with a title speaking to where I am now … which is … “Is it my fault?”
From my reading, counselor, websites like this, I know in my head, it’s not my fault. From my prayers and Bible reading, I know God does not wish to see one of his daughters in this terrible place and in this emotional pain and anguish … but it’s not heart knowledge 100% of the time either.
Because this is the man I’ve loved my whole life, built my dreams and life around and I struggle to let go of the person I thought he was. I’d rather believe it’s me or something I’ve done wrong than give up the entire foundation of the life I’ve lived up to now.
But what I’ve found is you can’t go back to your ignorance of the abuse once your eyes have been opened, you realize it’s not normal to live the way you do. But it’s still hard to let go and step out. Terrifying actually, and I’m still not sure if I can do this, if I’m strong enough.
I hope someday to be in a place where I can honestly say with my head, heart and whole self … NOT MY FAULT!!! and have a happy, peaceful life that reflects that knowledge having been internalized completely.
Give yourself a pat on the back Anne, for the perception you have gained so far, while still in such a mind-spinning space! You’re so right, once you have seen the abuse for what it is, you can’t go back to that place of ignorance..and it is a terrifying thing to get your head around and consider how to get out. You are not alone here! I will pray for you, for God to help you with strength.
Perhaps therein lies the strength to the title of Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why does he do that?” because it squarely places the responsibility where it belongs: on the shoulders of the abuser.
I confess that I don’t remember ever wondering “Is it my fault?” but I do remember wondering “What did I do?” when he would go into a rage. I would listen and listen to his words to figure out “Okay, surely it’s going to be in this rage of words something that I’ll identify as to the reason that brought about this outburst.” It never came. But I don’t think that I saw it as a fault of mine – a cause perhaps, but not anything intentional or bad necessarily on my part (hence, not necessarily my fault) – merely something that surely I just didn’t understand, but could maybe figure out.
Eventually, I got a point then where I suggested to him that “we” (he) use facts and details about behaviors and events that occurred instead of qualifying words “describing each other” (me) in “our disagreements” (his explosions). That too never happened, even if he’d agree (by his silence not contesting or a nod or just walking away, but never disagreeing).
I didn’t care for the title of the book either but figured it was because I couldn’t relate to it – not having automatically assumed “fault” on my own part, instead trying to reason out his behavior or anger. Eventually, that reasoning led to the light bulb that finally finally went on: “This behavior is intentional. He’s actively working against me.” It was a hard realization, but a necessary one. I turned an important corner at that stage.
Please know I’m not casting aspersions on anyone for ever thinking she or he may be at fault as the victim of abuse. Everyone is different and the dynamics of abuse vary from situation to situation. I’m just saying that for me it was more an intellectual debate with myself trying to figure it all out – knowing that I hadn’t “done” anything wrong necessarily to provoke his behavior. So it was more a quest to determine answers.
I can see why people don’t care for the title. I didn’t either, but for similar reasons, not quite the same. I think the community of targets of abuse would be better served by titles that place responsibility where it belongs – on the perpetrator, even if the target of abuse is questioning herself. Better to start right out the gate on the proper foot.
Still Reforming, I see your points and they make quite a lot of sense the way you explain, but for me, in the questioning phase, the title is not a problem for me.
I still can’t totally believe it’s all intentional on his part. I know I should, but I can’t. I precipitated the way he treats me by leaving the church we both attended … it is a church heavily influenced by John Bevere teachings in “Under Cover”, they use Emerson Eggerich for marriage seminars, the old pastor was treated as if his words were on par with Jesus himself … it was a very spiritually scary place and was destroying my faith.
Husband told me I had to do what I had to do and didn’t try to stop me from leaving, but over the years, as he stayed there and absorbed the teachings there, his attitude toward me changed. I know is because of what they teach, I’m not “under the umbrella” of protection anymore … and I know that’s not true or right … but it is what it is … and if I’d stayed, I’d probably be spiritually dead, but husband would be happy with me because the appearances are more important than the reality. (The scandals there are horrendous even now, but from the outside, they are a “model” church)
So even though I know I did the right thing for me, I’ve always believed the lack of harmony and peace in my marriage WAS my fault. I tried to believe that I had no other options, but maybe I did, maybe I didn’t try hard enough or in the right way. I don’t know. But in my state of mind, “Is it My Fault?” resonates with me and if I then read the book and it shows me it’s clearly NOT my fault, then it serves its purpose. “Not My Fault”, well I’m not in a place I can totally believe that so I’d be much less likely to pick it up and read it. But we can agree to disagree. I may be one of the few who is not troubled by the title because that’s where my head is right now. In a year or someday, perhaps I’ll be where you are now.
Thanks for taking the time to explain your well thought out position. I appreciate it.
You sound immensely brave to me! The pressures you are under are enormous, and you can still articulate so clearly where you are at and the nuances of how your thinking goes, now this way, now that way . . .
And fwiw, it sounds to me like you are putting up an amazing battle in standing for the truth and for your dignity, personhood and life (as opposed to your being turned into an automaton in a spiritual and emotional coma).
If you are tempted to be hard on yourself, such as saying “I know I shouldn’t be going back into the fog. . . I know my thinking is not logical,” try to remind yourself that you are under all that pressure, so you can’t expect your thinking to be unwaveringly fog-free. The fog is numbing, so in one sense it reduces our pain, and when we comply with the abuser’s mindset (the one that tells us it’s our fault) the abuser senses that so he can de-escalate his abuse a few notches. But when we come out of the fog he senses that too, and escalates his abuse to try to intimidate us back into the fog so we comply with him.
It is a battle. A long battle to get to the place where we see clearly AND have the courage and vision and HELP to leave, if that’s what we choose to do. But God is on your side, not the abuser’s side. God is angry with the abuser and with all his lies; but God is tender and patient with you. 🙂 I am confident you are making progress.
Remember the backstitch analogy; it may help you be kind to yourself. 🙂
And btw, I agree with you that it’s okay to agree to differ on whether we like the Holcomb’s title or not. I didn’t mind it, which is why I haven’t criticised it in the upcoming parts to this series. But I can see how some victims / survivors might not like it. And I think the discussion about it here has been helpful.
Thank YOU for explaining your testimony a bit more. I can relate to some of what you write, as when my mom left my dad (I was 13), he stated that we were now “outside the umbrella of his protection.” I agree now that it’s not Scriptural, but it sure can mess with one’s mind. Much sounds so….. spiritual or like it would make sense, but without proper exegesis and good support (emotional, spiritual, true church coming alongside you), it’s easy to get confused about what’s the right interpretation. And knowing how none of us get it perfectly right, well, I think many of us wives tend to want to keep trying and trying because, as we understand it, that’s what Scripture says. I’m grateful for the careful exegesis given here on this site because it strikes me as being more in line with God’s character as I understand it in Scripture – especially with respect to justice.
Btw, with respect to your statement to SeeClearerNow that you wish he’d hit you to just get it over with, I can’t tell you how many times I had similar thoughts. You’re not alone or sick in that regard at all. I used to feel sad because he’d do nothing outright that would be obviously “over the line” so that I could be justified (in my own understanding of God’s Word, and therefore what I thought was His heart on the matter) in either leaving or telling people (church family, leaders) about what’s going on. Everything before that point seemed like it would sound trivial, even though it wasn’t. And he presented so well in public, so…. who was likely to be believed?
Don’t worry about wishing those things. I also wished that he would just die, which sounds so very terrible, but it was absolutely the only thing that I could imagine that would release me from the marital bond. And yet, I look back and think that surely that is legalism to some degree – because, well, my husband ended up leaving me and filing for divorce. Technically, I’d be accepted in most churches because of those facts on paper, but surely that’s not what Jesus would press – the legalism of the bond. “Okay, he deserted her, so she can come in my church.” That doesn’t make sense to me. I want a church that will take me in because of who I am in Christ and that they understand the truth of the matter, not who left whom – but the whys of it all. The facts. The heart. I want a church who will accept all of the women (and men) abused and abandoned even if they as the targets of the abuse are the ones who left. Because it was the abuser who broke the marital vows in regard to abuse, not the target. Just as Sabbath was made for mankind, and not mankind for the Sabbath – so was marriage made for mankind, not mankind for marriage.
Barbara and Still Reforming, I am thanking you through my healing tears.
I was almost regreting posting early this morning but after waking up after another night on the couch (it’s so much easier to pretend I fell asleep on the couch watching TV than to face the marital bed for so many reasons! Even though I am still plagued by guilt for doing it. Sigh.), I couldn’t sleep so started reading the blog. And then posted.
Getting ready for the day, noticed the replies. And almost was afraid to read them as I’ve gotten so used to not engaging with anyone on anything (except a few close friends and family) because at home any difference of opinion is met with behaviors that kill the spirit slowly.
But finally, read them I did … and wept … and wept … and wept. You GET it. You really have been there and two real women totally understand the pain, the fears, how hard it is, not trusting yourself and others.
Thank you for the encouragement, Barbara. I don’t feel brave at all, only small and alone and fearful most of the time … But it’s so good to hear strong words of encouragement like yours.
Still Reforming, when I read your admission that you sometimes wished your abuser would die, the dam broke for me. From tears to sobs. Because I’ve wished that too, during some of the worst times, not because I truly wish him harm, but because the pain is so great and I don’t see any out unless one or the other of us is gone. And yet how can you feel good about yourself when you even think those awful thoughts about the one you promised to love and cherish forever? How can God ever bless you, how can you even claim to be a Christian with those dark thoughts?
And don’t worry, it’s safe to weep this morning, all traces of tears will be gone before he sees. I’ve got two hours while he’s at a weekly Christian men’s breakfast. It suddenly strikes me, the irony in that. While he’s out mentoring and fellowshiping, his wife is home weeping over the ways his behaviors have made her feel over the years.
Thank you again for the good words and many things to think on.
If I could give you a big hug right now in person, I would. For now, please accept this one: (((((((((((((((((hug))))))))))))))))))))))))
It has taken me years before I could ever even type that sentiment – that I wanted him to die – because I knew, just like you articulated so well, it’s not that I wished him dead; It’s that it seemed like the only way out of the marital bond based on my understanding at that time of God’s Word. AND the fact that that was what my church taught. In fact, even if my husband were adulterous, my church would not have supported ending the marriage. (My pastor said that if you read Jesus’ words He doesn’t allow divorce for adultery. Jesus says, “whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” and according to my then pastor, he suggested that the wife already was an adulteress – due to the words “except sexual immorality” so the husband wasn’t causing her to commit adultery because she already was an adulteress. See? And then the leaders would preach Hosea, who was married to the harlot – so there was never ever a way out other than death.)
I don’t believe that way now because I look at marriage quite differently, but when one feels so trapped – by the legalism – then…. how does one understand God? For me, I just stopped at a certain point. Not stopping to love God or pray, but just stopping in the study and searching and … well, the hope. I lost hope. There was no more point. God my Father had me like that, so… my understanding of Him just … shifted. And not in a good way.
I understand how you’re feeling with the fear of not wanting to read replies. I got so gun-shy with my husband’s put-downs and seething anger and twists and lies, all the while with the church supporting him (even when I told them the truth). that I became afraid to read or hear anything anymore lest it support him and his ways. I was braced because I didn’t know how low I could go.
Finding this site and these people – this family given by the Lord – was a true balm to a wounded soul. To be able to tell what it was like and have people understand and believe me.
You’re believed and supported too.
We talk a lot at this blog about how victims always resist abuse, and how imortant it is to honour the victim’s resistance.
I’ll say that again in American Spelling 🙂 — Honor the victim’s resistance.
SR, you wanted him to die, but you did not kill him, and you restrained yourself from thinking of killing him. This is an example of how you were resisting the abuse. You knew the abuse was wrong, and was doing you untold harm, and you did not comply with that harm and lay down all your dignity and die inside: you longed for it to end.
In that longing, you were showing resistance to the abuse. You were showing that you were NOT CONTENT with being abused. And you were also showing, in longing for him to die, that you wanted to OBEY GOD because, with the lights you had at the time (the false doctrine you’d been taught about grounds for divorce) you though that him dying would be the only way the abuse would end. In wanting the abuse to end, while also wanting to obey and honour God, you rightly thought that him dying would be the only way for both of those longings to be met.
Well done! I honour you.
BTW, the man from whom I learned all this stuff about Honouring Victims’ Resistance [Internet Archive link], and who pointed me to the wonderful PDF about that from Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, is Allan Wade. One of things he and his colleagues say often is:
Here it is in screen shot in case anyone wants to share it that way:
Thank you. I’m sure you know how very much your words mean. I never before thought about it the way you described, but what you wrote is true, thanks be to God.
I’m downloading the publication “Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships.” now.
Dear Anne, thank you for sharing some of your heartbreaking story, which sounds so much like mine, and life just became an endless round of hopes and tears and discussions and on and on. I so hope I haven’t hurt you in my comment about the title of the book. I understand where you are coming from and totally agree that the title can be perceived in a different way according to where victims are at.
I’ve been separated from H for some time and have been recovering and educating myself about this whole crazy thing that an abusive mindset is and all that goes with it. I had also an abuse father and sibling. 😦 In my marriage I eventually came to the point where I fully understood that all this nightmare was not my fault. It took a long time constantly assessing everything in every possible way, questioning myself, etc. to the point of mental exhaustion. I knew I had done ALL I possibly could to be a good wife and help and ‘rescue’ my H believing that love and dedication would help him get it one day, that he would see the suffering he was causing me. To no avail… I knew that if I had been PERFECT, it would have not sufficed.
NO, a resounding NO, I was not an abuser like him, even though my H continued to turn things around and accused me of being the abuser! It was a devilish mind game and I knew then God was preparing a way out for me before I’d lost my mind.
My screen name ‘Innoscent’ is inspired by this very conviction of being innocent with regard to abuse, and this yearning for justice. ‘scent’ for I am not the one who stinks because of such despicable crime of inflicting so much pain to someone who is supposed to be like your own flesh and to be cherished like Christ loves His church.
Yes Anne, you will be in a better place one day because God sees through your situation and your heart and stands by the victim. Indeed it is hard to let go of a dream, but you are now gathering more insight and strength to be in a position one day to make the right decision for your welfare. I really feel for you. ♥
No, I’m fine Innoscent (love the meaning behind your screen name btw!). You didn’t hurt me in any way. In fact, this whole thread has been good for me. Reminds me that differences of opinion do not mean one is right and the other is wrong (at home, I’m mostly always “wrong”!), and that no matter what side you are on with your opinion, it’s not a character blemish to hold a different opinion, and really, with that idea, there is no right and wrong: it’s an opinion! It’s what you think about something, not a fact either way per se. You should be free to express it without fear and without someone else treating you disrespectfully because you have a different thought than they do!
Thanks for sharing what you’ve been through. I can really relate to your “mental exhaustion” comment. For years now I’ve been telling myself … I’m so tired of being tired!” Some was physical (I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease recently … didn’t a post recently mention that many abuse survivors end up with autoimmune diseases, brought on by the stress of their situations? Guess I’m a case in point.), but A LOT is mental, some from the depression of the situation, but much also from the mental gymnastics that are a regular part of trying to live and reconcile with your situation and not go crazy.
And the thinking and rethinking of what he said, what I said, what I should have said, what did he really mean by that, what are the ramifications of every possibility, how do I apply that to the next encounter. It’s endless and my mind can never stop racing and be at peace. It’s exhausting.
I’ve realized too that it’s destroyed my ability to do some of the things I used to love, like reading and crafting. I can read about emotional and spiritual abuse because my need to “know” about what is going on, find definative “proof” that it is what I think it is, is insatiable. But my mind cannot relax and be at peace enough to concentrate on reading for fun or being creative. And that makes me sad. For now at least, I’ve lost part of what makes me “ME”.
I’m so glad Innoscent that you’ve been able to move on and separate from your abuser. So there is life “on the other side”! lol. Thank you for sharing your story and the thought processes you’ve gone through to get there.
I sometimes think about how lovely and peaceful it would be to not have the abuser in my life. But I haven’t yet figured out how to bridge the gap from where I am now to that peaceful place yet. Thanks for the hope that it can happen in my life too, someday.
[eds. note: some details removed for identity purposes.]
Thank you dear Anne for stressing the fact that we are entitled to voice our opinion. It was one of the many things I suffered much with my H and is one very destructive tactics of the ‘panoply’ of the abuser (I too am a logophile 🙂 ). You are not heard, taken seriously, consulted, valued, etc. day after day after day, until you are stripped of your own reason and worth. So I’d find ways to voice my opinion with friends, at church, etc. and you know what, my H knew how to keep quiet, and people would jump to conclusion that I was an opinionated wife and was crushing my H. Arrgg!
I like what Still Reforming and Barbara have written to you, so validating and comforting. I’ve also read your other comments below and I’m glad it is helping you to come here and share with people who can totally relate, and that you also have a friend, victim of abuse, who can support you.
From what you describe you are caught in a web like many of us here were until God delivered us. I was so damaged in my mind, heart and body. Abuse is slow murder and as much as I wanted to make things work with my H, I knew I was being ground to dust. 😦 And that’s not what marriage is about, not at all!
God will show you the bridge at the right time and will give you the strength to cross over, then bomb the bridge so that you are set free for good. Barb is right, we are in a spiritual war.
Thank you all. For the words of support, the (((hugs))), just being here. I’m in a very dark place right now. Snapped, made the mistake of engaging with him and am now “beaten to dust” emotionally. In some ways he made clearer to me that it’s abuse, but in others, I feel so much more powerless and weaker.
Probably should insert a trigger warning here…
Anger does no good, reason does not reach -I’m not being abused, we’re only in Eggerich’s crazy cycle and if we could only get out of it, everything would be fine. If I respected him he could be more loving. I seem to see him as some kind of a monster so of course he can’t feel anything but the same about me. I’m still pretty cute and there’s no one he’d rather be married to, but as to any positive CHARACTER traits I might have (as opposed to appearace), after having to think about it for quite a few minutes, I’m a good mother and have a heart for the quote quirky unquote people I have around me.
It would be nice if someone brought him a cup of coffee once in a while while he works so many hours to provide for us. (Isn’t that what a husband/father is supposed to do?) He doesn’t mind but he sure wishes we’d appreciate it and thank him for it.
He starts work so early, he’s ready for dinner at X:XX pm (but I can’t be home from work that early), so when I put dinner out later, he really doesn’t want it then. He knows it’s wrong of him to refuse me making him something, then being mad I’m not making him anything, but he can’t help feeling that way. He admits I pretty much always have tasty leftovers in convenient portions for him in the fridge if he’s hungry, but when others in the house (the kids) aren’t working, why can’t they make him something? (From the man who only begrudgingly made them dinner on the one night I had to work late when they were too young to cook their own meals!)
He even threw me the lifeline that he’d consider changing churches and go with me somewhere new, but he feels called to minister and when he sees a need, he has to get involved (but WE NEEDED YOU and you were not here for US, your family) – but that he feels nothing would change about my attitude so he’d just be wasting his time, giving up his friends and connections and letting people down for nothing because I’d still not be happy with him at a new church.
I could go on, but won’t.
I kind of want to curl up in a ball in a corner and rock back and forth.
I thought my heart already broke. I was wrong.
I too drew comfort and encouragement from Anne’s words related to merely expressing our opinions.
I now find myself double-guessing what I post practically all the time, and it’s irksome to do that, not to mention how it makes me feel very self-centered, always wondering how what I’ve written comes across. It may be too much focus on self, and yet, I also don’t want to communicate poorly and perhaps trigger another soul.
Perhaps I do need to always keep things in check, but I wonder if some of it isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to having been conditioned by both my husband and former pastor, the latter of whom once said to me, “I think you’re very intelligent, inquisitive, and opinionated.” (There’s that word: “opinionated.”)
That last word took me so by surprise – and he had a tendency to drop bombshells like that and then amble away – that after a minute I started to stutter, “Well, I hope it’s an opinion formed by the light of Scripture,” but by the time those words formed, the pastor was gone.
My husband would do the same thing sometimes – make bombshell statements and then just waltz away. Once when husband left the room as I was describing my day taking our child to therapies to attend to her two diagnoses, so I observed, “You don’t seem to be very interested,” to which he replied, “If you want me to be interested, tell me something interesting.” Then he turned on his heel and promptly left.
Perhaps others have the same experience I do that I keep bumping into folks who are like this (husband, pastor, attorneys), but not wanting to assume abusers or narcissists around every corner (or under every rock).
Those experiences lend themselves to always second-guessing the sharing of our views and opinions, even when respectfully and desiring interaction to hear others’ views.
Interesting observation about the front cover image, Innoscent!
One of my concerns about the book is that while it describes the tactics and mindset of abusers fairly well, and advises victims to leave their abusers, while it recognises that the victim’s risk is heightened during separation, and there can be post-separation abuse, and while it points victims to safety planning and secular services that can help them leave, it does not address the nuts of bolts of how to deal with the situation when the abuser is a regular attender of the church and is recruiting allies in the church to isolate the victim and pressure her to reconcile with him.
So the nasty, scary reality of the abuser IN YOUR LIFE still eating away at it, still harrassing and undermining and pecking at you like a vulture, and turning the congregation and church leadership against you — that reality which so many of us have known and still know — is not dealt with in the book.
The cover image of the woman with no image (not even a suggestion) of the abuser, is kind of emblematic of that absence in the book.
Hope this comment makes sense. It’s late here and I’m tired.
On the topic of the book’s cover, I’ve read a review of the book on Amazon where the reviewer said that she thought the cover was unsuitable for a victim who might want to read it in her home while she is living with an abuser. That’s a good point, too.
Your comment does make sense. 🙂 That’s exactly how I feel with the ‘nuts and bolts’ missing in some books out there, the practical side of things that would truly guide and protect victims from the ‘vultures’ eating away at them. I remember the very first book I read about emotional abuse; I was so grateful to the author for shedding light through my fog, but as I read the last page it left me there; it was only showing me how intense and freezing my fog was. Scary! I remember how I cried for days and my mind was like prostrate. You are given the ingredients of a recipe without any instructions…
You’ve put it in a nutshell!
Thank you for your thoroughness of detail, Barbara. It was your writing that helped piece together the key that set me free from the lie that I had to remain single until he returned and repented. I am very grateful for your keen insights.
I have just found a radio interview with Justin and Lindsey about this book, at KeyLife.
Is It My Fault? – Justin & Lindsey Holcomb [This link is broken and a working audio of the interview wasn’t found on either the Key Life website or in the Internet Archive. Editors.]
The program is called Steve Brown etc, and the interviewers are Steve Brown and Zach Van Dyke.
I found the interview mostly to be good. And it gave a bit more background on Lindsey, namely, that she grew up in a domestic violence household: her father and her grandfather were abusers. She only realised this when she started training as a case worker in a domestic violence shelter and outreach program, after she had graduated from college.
There was only one thing I found concerning in the interview. Speaking of Ps 55:15 which says
Justin says (33:29): “I have prayed for God to intervene, and my hidden prayer is ‘God, kill them.’ [i.e. kill the abusers] Now, I think God’s grace covers everything. God forgives all sins. Now the reality is that an abuser can be forgiven; the practical thing is he might lose his family as a consequence of his abuse, but he’s forgiven by God. So I want to make sure that we separate the two: I don’t want to people to think that domestic abusers are somehow not inside the scope of God’s kindness and grace.”
To me, this was ambiguous. Because Justin made no mention of the necessity for abusers to genuinely repent to receive God’s forgiveness, it could be heard as God forgiving all the sins of an abuser even when the abuser hasn’t repented. . .
I’m so glad you point things like this out Barbara. My h would regularly claim scripture that he couldn’t. He said things along the years that made me question that he might actually be trying to come close to God but I witnessed how the devil was very active in his life (times where I would literally see his face transform- and not for the good- as well as other things like that). I don’t take any accountability away from my h though I saw evidence of the enemy’s workings because he has always had a choice.
It is frustrating on so many levels when writers or bible teachers don’t qualify statements that were never meant to be universal. They assume that people just know the unmentioned qualifiers I guess (or they might be deceived themselves). Like the bumper sticker “God loves you” as though by the fact you’re reading it means its true. Half truths like that keep people from spreading the true gospel and do a disservice to the kingdom in my opinion because they keep a hard or deceived heart hard and deceived. It seems there is a dangerous notion that as long as you’re not actively against God then that is evidence you’re saved.
SeeClearerNow, Thank you! It is terrifying. I keep slipping in and out of the fog. I want to finally feel sure of something, anything … but it’s a daily, sometimes hourly or even minute by minute process. I wish I could always feel sure that I’m not crazy, that it is emotional abuse, but sometimes it’s easier to just blame myself and I slip back into the fog again.
He’s being so nice now, doing things he should have done all along so it’s hard to keep up believing I’m right, that it’s emotional abuse, when that belief causes so much anxiety and pain, truthfully, even more than the abuse itself because I’m used to that, to the walking on eggshells, gauging his moods, etc. Sometimes my head just wants to explode. Everyone thinks he’s so wonderful, and in some ways, he really is, just not to me.
Yes, I know that’s illogical and not right thinking, but I keep falling back into it. It’s sick, but sometimes I just wish he’d hit me and get it over with so I could be sure of something. Yup. I’m a mess.
You know, Anne, I’ve heard MANY victims / survivors say that. I’ve read it in books and articles that report the words of victims. And it’s not only said by women whose abusers refrain from physical violence, who choose for their own wicked reasons to NOT step over that line and use physical tactics of abuse; I’ve also heard it from women whose abusers DID use physical violence.
(Trigger warning: explicit description of mental and physical abuse in this upcoming paragraph.)
In the case of the abusers who DID use physical violence, those women often say that the build-up to the explosion of violence was in some ways harder to handle than the explosion itself. That sense of hanging by a thread over a cliff, knowing one would be dropped, but not knowing when . . . and sensing in one’s bones that the abuser KNEW this torture of suspense was even more eviscerating to the victim than his blows and his kicks would finally be. . .
(((((hugs to all who were triggered))))
And another thing. Here is the depressing truth. Even if your husband, Anne, did cross the line to physical violence, there is every likelihood that when you told someone in the church, they would still dismiss your report, would minimize it, make excuses for him, or say things like “Well, it was only a push, or only a shove, a slap with the back of the hand, it wasn’t a punch, he didn’t hit you with a closed fist, you don’t have any bruises, it wasn’t like you needed medical attention, it was just a one-off, he didn’t mean to really hurt you, what did you do to provoke him, etc.” . . . so the ‘magic’ you might have been imagining would happen if he crossed the line to physical, would probably not be magic at all. The church would STILL not see it as real abuse.
Sorry to burst your bubble! 😦
But I understand that longing — how we clutch at straws thinking that “If only such and such would happen, if only he would do so and so to me, then SURELY the church would believe me!???”
And it’s a healthy longing, because it’s a longing for justice.
… and another thought I’ve just had, Anne. Even if your husband DID add physical violence to his panoply of tactics, would that guarantee that you could then feel sure in yourself that it was real abuse? Maybe you would — great! But some victims in that situation still get dragged back under by thoughts of minimization such as I’ve church folk typically utter.
I’m not saying I know how you would think, Anne; I’m just giving my observations based on what I’ve noticed from a range of other victims / survivors. 🙂
Totally OT here but Ok, I have to say it! “panapoly” What a great word!! Not one you see used every day! lol. I love great use of language!
You are right Barbara. I might make an excuse even then and not leave. Right now I say, if only I could be sure, at least he doesn’t hurt me physically but if he goes to that next level THEN I could make that jump to free myself.
And I still tell myself that despite all the knowledge I’ve gleaned that the emotional abuse I’m dealing with has harmed me, hurt me and changed me even more than if he had hit me or or physically abused me.
Before I had any inkling that it was abuse, I used to get up some mornings and be crying over who I saw in the mirror. I’d think, why can’t I do this one thing that is the thing I want most to do in the world, be a good wife? Why do I feel so broken, scared, incapable, stupid? What’s wrong with me? I USED to be smart. I USED to be capable. I USED to be confident. Maybe I never was and was just fooling myself … who is this woman in the mirror? She’s not the me I thought I was.” I was really starting to think I was losing my mind.
No, I don’t expect any help from a church so I’m not waiting for him to do something severe enough that I will be believed. I’ve been an unsubmissive wife in the eyes of his church since I left many years ago, but I never would have gone to them for help anyway, even if I’d have stayed there.
I told my pastor’s wife (my church, different from husband’s) my situation a few months back. She seemed sympathetic, but had nothing to offer me in terms of help. I had given her leave to tell my pastor, if she wished or not.
Running into him outside of church a month ago, we talked and she had told him and he was “sorry to hear it, found it hard to reconcile with what he knew of my husband, but believed me and that if I needed anything, to let the church know.”
But it was obvious he was totally out of his element and had no idea what exactly I was dealing with or how he could help. To give him some credit, I believe if I told him what was needed, he would try to help in whatever way he could. (But are many victims/survivors in a place where they can actually articulate what they need in order to be helped?)
But my pastor has done things socially with my husband, been involved in inter- denominational church work with him and probably will still be in the future so I’m not looking there for help.
And it is sad that as a Christian, I can’t look to church for support and help. But I’m blessed with some wonderful friends, both Christian and non-Christian who’ve been incredibly supportive. Not a one has doubted me or told me I’ve caused it or even contributed to it. And I’ve discovered that one of my closest friends (who lives out of state now) is also a survivor of severe verbal and emotional abuse, much worse, very overt and not subtle, as what I deal with. I never would have guessed, but when I shared my story with her, she opened up to me about her situation. She’s been a staunch supporter for me. I can only hope I’ve been as helpful to her.
We joke about “escaping” together and finding jobs in a different state and sharing a house and expenses so we could live in peace together. Who knows … maybe someday we will!
sounds like a great idea!
I often think that sharing a house with another out-of-the-fog survivor would be a way that some survivors could manage financially in those first few critical months and years post-separation. When finances are a killer, it could help.
And somehow, I spelled it wrong … I meant panoply!