Thursday Thought — Abuse Victims Always Resist
Whenever people are badly treated, they always resist. In our experience working with victims of violence, none of them complied with violence, disrespect, or oppression. They always tried to reduce, prevent or stop the abuse in some way. Because they are in such danger, victims usually do not resist the perpetrator’s abuse openly (although some victims do resist openly anyway). Often the only way victims can resist the abuse is in their thoughts, or through small acts that are sometimes not even noticed by others. A victim’s resistance may not stop the abuse, because the perpetrator is making his own decisions about how he wants to behave. A perpetrator’s abusive behavior is totally his responsibility, and he is the only one who can stop the abuse. However, the victim’s thoughts or actions indicate that in no way does she “go along with” the abuse, or “let it happen.” The victim’s resistance shows her desire to escape the abuse, to keep her dignity, and to make a better life for herself. Unfortunately, in many cases, the ways that victims have resisted abuse have been labelled as “sick” or “dysfunctional” by others. Some examples of negative labels . . . are:
A victim may resist abuse by not sharing her emotions in relationships.
- This could be labelled as “emotional detachment,” as in the “inability to express emotions,” or as “avoidance”.
A victim may resist abuse by not doing what the abuser wants her to do.
- This could be labelled as “passive-aggressive behaviour,” or “difficult/uncooperative behaviour.”
A victim may resist abuse by refusing to stoop to his level of behavior and by doing nice things for him.
- This could be labelled as “co-dependency.”
A victim may resist abuse by numbing her feelings.
- This could be labelled as “dissociation.”
One problem with the use of these ‘labels’ is that they may be hurtful and offensive to victims. Another problem is that they tend to suggest that both parties are responsible for ending the abuse. . . . Although people may agree with the common belief that “perpetrators are responsible for their violence”, to be consistent with this belief we suggest avoiding any labels that imply that both parties are responsible for the violence.
[excerpt from “Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships,” a PDF by the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. A link to the complete PDF can be found at our post Honouring Resistance — a wonderful resource for understanding abuse.]
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: resources for supporters, resources for victims, Thursday Thought, victims' resistance
Thank you for this post.
So many of the abusive things that abusers do to us are done in the small acts of ‘everyday living’.
Note: I put ‘everyday living’ in quotes because I don’t want to convey that all the micro-aggressions and subtly controlling actions and non-actions which abusers use to control their victims are normal or good or just the way any average joe behaves.
And likewise, many things we do to resist abuse, we do in the small acts of everyday living. For example, we control our facial muscles so we don’t betray to the abuser our real emotions, because we’ve learned that if we show him what we feel, he uses that against us.
A victim might control her breathing when she senses he is starting to escalate.
She might divert the children’s attention to something benign, so they don’t pay so much attention to how their dad has just been mean to her.
She might carefully manage the finances so that his financial profligacy does not lead them into rack and ruin.
She might go without food or sanitary pads, so that the kids can eat.
She might high five and give a little smile to herself in the mirror when she’s alone, because she knows that’s the only smile she will receive all day.
She might have an imaginary alternate family life narrative in her head, where all the family are happy and they all get on without any fear of ‘trouble’.
The forms of resistance are countless and endlessly creative. And many many of them are done in the small acts of everyday living.
Oh my goodness this made me cry, because I’ve done quite a few of these and still do. I just never thought of them as being ok as in not to feel guilty for doing them.
Hear, hear! Thank you!
I still go through periods of feeling angry about things – less so with respect to my stbx and more so related to the church I just left, but… perhaps anger is one of those forms of resistance. I appreciated what Barbara (I think it was Barbara) recently wrote – how anger is a sign of a return to health and well-being. That it is a form of resistance – righteous anger, that is.
Honoring resistance. It’s a good thing. Thank you!
Thank you for this. It’s true…those labels have made me feel awful. The labels do not identify the strength that it takes to get up every morning and choose to smile and carve out a little corner of peace for my large family. The labels do not identify the numerous times I approached my husband and confronted his behaviour and the numerous times he “repented” and agreed to change. I was the consistent one. Yes, in many ways, my consistency and calming behaviors allowed my husband to continue being a total you-know-what but during that time I believed he would change. I believed the man! I believed that, together, we were working and building a family. For me, the betrayal of THAT is the hardest to live with!
One reason I stopped going to therapists and counselors over the years (and, yes, the two of us and my husband alone have gone to many) is that I was labeled there. I am more than a label and every situation is unique. Yes, there are identifiable patterns of behavior but, an abuse survivor should not be labeled! She/he is struggling to get her human ness back.
Jill – your life sounds so much like mine … numerous times of false repentance … my adaptability and compromise allowed him to continue taking advantage of my desire to please the Lord … Yes, the betrayal is very difficult to live with; to cope with. AND the labels don’t help.
well said….love your posts; so insightful and helpful on my road to healing
An outsider relayed to me that my husband said, “she’s not participating in the marriage.” Husband’s language for ‘he’s not getting any s-x.’
Re-posting this comment: Thank you for sharing this wonderful resource. Dignity and respect are always powerful particularly coming from an abusive situation where it doesn’t exist.
I was pondering how I resisted, thinking I didn’t resist much but in fact, there were times that extreme compliance was a way to buy time and a way to resist physical violence. Much like a prisoner of war you learn covert resistance although at the time I didn’t clearly see the picture of what I was living in.. Self preservation sometimes dictated response. There were times that open defiance wasn’t worth the risk of harm.
Another resistance was prayer. After a particularly violent beating by my first husband, my ear was bleeding and I was still laying on the floor when my now ex-husband walked out of the room. I didn’t get up, I just laid there and cried out “God, do you see? What do you think of this? Is this your will for me”? I’d done the submitted wife thing for almost 20 years. I heard what seemed to be an audible voice “I see, and he will never hit you again”.
I thought this meant that my husband would reform and at last really change as a supposed Christian. 2 weeks after this incident, he got up one morning, loaded some boxes he packed while I was sleeping into the family station wagon, said, good-bye, I’m leaving and drove away. God moved on that man to get out of my life. At the time I didn’t understand this was answered prayer. Within 2 weeks I’d been provided a job in a very miraculous way.
I resisted on my knees appealing to a good shepherd that knew my name. Unfortunately I remarried someone more abusive within the year until I learned that marriage was not the only identity a Christian woman had, but that is another story. This passage comes to mind as I think of the power of spiritual resistance:
A quote of my ex that has come back to mind as I grapple with the reality that he was / is a covert aggressive N. “Its mind over matter, I don’t mind and you don’t matter.” So subtle, with a little light hearted flippancy. The truth is that he stole a little more of my identity each time he said it. My identity was nearly erased as he groomed me to be an extension of him, to serve his purposes. There simply was not room for two people in our marriage. The only way that I can say right now that I resisted was that for long periods of time, I sat with a psychologist for 40 minutes every week. But I never had a clear head to talk about what was going on. I simply knew I had to go to survive for 7 days until I returned.
It is still hazy as to how one human being can desire to own another human for his own purposes. How dare someone steal from God what God created in love. And all the time. sitting in his study preparing sermons and claiming to hear God.
As I write, I realize I did close my mind off to him, I did not share what I was thinking, or what I was interested in. And in part, I came to realize that if I mentioned something I was interested in, he would grab it and try to get me to develop it into something that would be beneficial to him.
Dr Simon’s book, In Sheep’s Clothing, and a psychologist are helping to guide me through this process of identifying what has happened to me and coming safely to the other side.
Hi Seeing Clearly, from what you said here, it sounds to me like one of the ways you resisted his abuse was by the very fact that you found his abusive words didn’t make sense. It may not have felt to you like you were resisting, when you were privately thinking to yourself “what he just said didn’t make any sense!” But in fact, I sugggest it was a form of resistance. You didn’t see sense, see logic, in his illogical, nonsensical statements.
By having your gut feeling ‘this makes no sense’, you were actually resisting his upside down, twisted, nonsensical belief system that he was constantly trying to impose on you, like a man who keeps an insect under a bell jar.
And it’s very hard to face the truth: that this person, my spouse, actually wants to strip me of my identity.
Thank you, Barbara, for explaining it more clearly. I had not thought of my realization that it did not make sense as being a form of resistance. I am amazed at how intricately God made us. We have phenomenal self-protecting tools to survive.
I agree that it is very hard to accept the truth. I am not able to grasp this truth yet. Besides the anger that I work very hard not to take out on others, there is still disbelief and humiliation….
At some point those who have lived with persistent abuse may deliberately choose to suppress their emotions to survive the horror of their day to day existence. I know I did. And I can remember when, where, and how old I was when I told myself to stop feeling my emotions. It was very necessary during the time when I was helpless to get away from the abuse.
But now, years later, I’m safe and I still suffer from an inability to fully experience normal human emotions. It is the lingering legacy of abuse. I’m told that this is a symptom of PTSD and maybe it is. I’m not an expert in psychology. But it seems like hurling bombs at the already suffering to attach hurtful and offensive terms to a perfectly logical and practical coping mechanism. I did what I had to do to survive and I’ve paid a price for that already. Please don’t add any more to the cost.
Hi Suzanne, I changed your screen name. Can you please email TWBTC email@example.com to discuss what you want to do with your screen name. thanks. It seems you’ve changed it at some point.
Thank you for posting this. My abuse did not occur within an intimate relationship, but this still applies. I’ve never seen these things posted in a non-negative light before. Thank you.
So how can or will he ever stop abusing us? When does God Win?
I have been told by a counselor and a psychiatrist this week that I gave a lot of suppressed anger and pain. I soon undergoing therapy for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and disassociation. I am so damaged. I am so numb from my life experiences.
I can feel my numbness .. I know I am not feeling and I don’t care. I am angry. I am so angry I am feeling like being self destructive.
I had a friend say to me the other day that the sexual stuff that has happened in my marriage is consensual (this is because her husband has been talking to my husband) …
This makes me very angry and I feel like phoning her and telling her what I think.
I was told yesterday that my prognosis is a good one. I was told that I am psychologically sound, strong, bright, articulate. I will get better because I am determined to. I was thankful for this hope. My anxiety is up and down and I am on meds for this. Head people that are helping me want me out of this relationship asap. They say that I am triggered everyday.
[Eds: some detail edited from commenter’s safety] I feel numb I cant even think. I hope to have the courage to leave next week.
you said you can feel your numbness – that you know your are not feeling and you don’t care.
To me, your numbness — and your not caring about your numbness — are very understandable survival & coping responses in the face of immense stress.
At the same time, I hear that you do have some emotion: anger.
Is it possible for you to use the energy from your anger to give you the courage to leave?
I am glad you have people (the counselor and other professionals) who are helping and supporting you.
The comment by that ‘friend’ was very hurtful, horribly hurtful. She and her husband have clearly been recruited by your husband.
I understand your feeling of wanting to phone her and tell her what you think.
If I may make a tentative commment on that idea, I doubt it would help you much: if she retorted by dishing out more things that blamed you and undermined you, which she is likely to do because she is under the influence of her husband who is under YOUR husband’s infuence, it would only make you feel even more triggered.
So, I suggest that you don’t try to correct her thinking at this point in time, but instead just focus on getting out.
What is holding you back from leaving? What are you most scared of, if you leave?
And the things you are scared of — some of them may happen, for example (I don’t know if this is one of the things you might be scared of, but I’m guessing it is, from things you’ve shared before) — some of your adult chilren may abuse you for leaving, and some of your ‘friends’ may dump judgement on you. But anyone who does that kind of thing is not a safe person for you to relate to. So I encourage you to accept the likelihood that you may have to put up a wall against quite a few people, not only your husband.
BTW, I praise you for openly resisting that person who abused you and telling that person to stop. (the detail I edited out of your comment)
My friends comment was very hurtful and subtle and from the mouth of her husband. Her husband is abusive too but she doesn’t even know it.
I haven’t got the energy to correct anyone’s thinking. I speak up at times and when I do it is with concise strength… the psych is amazed at my knowledge of myself and my abusive situation. I have studied this topic of abuse much and of course this blog has been a Godsend to me.
So I speak to certain people armed with knowledge and knowing what I know. I stand very firm on these things and I will it back down.
I don’t feel weak… I just feel so numb I have been numb a lot over the years but this is the worst I have ever been. I have never been so calm outwardly either but inside I’m so angry. My husband says things and I glare at the wall or I roll my eyes around to myself. I can’t stand him. I look at him and he is not my husband … I feel nothing for him. My love and feelings for him are dead.
Part of me is scared of where I’m at… but I feel I am on a journey of being set free … I also feel like I am in labour giving birth to something …
What is holding me back from leaving? Fear of the unknown… fear of not being able to cope.
The psych also said to me the other day before knowing of my church experience I was brainwashed and full of fear. All this being stemmed in being in a cultish church for nearly 30 yrs. The damage is profound and only now really being looked at.
Your numbness — it reminds me of The Wall — a post by Jeff S.
I think your mind has super-numbed itself — stopped feeling anything for your husband —so that when you leave, you will not be so easily dragged back into his web through fear of having ‘hurt’ him or ‘let him down’.
The numbness, in other words, is your friend. I think God is giving it to you so you can act.
I may be wrong — if so, trash what I said here.
It sounds to me like you are in a very HEALTHY stage, even though it doesn’t FEEL like it. The numbness, the anger, all of it – it’s erupting from down below having been squelched for so long. The reality of who YOU are is still there, even if suppressed for so many years. You’re STILL you! You didn’t go away and you didn’t get steamrollered. You’re detaching (or so it sounds) from your (anti-)”husband.” I did that at a certain point in order to survive. I made a “plan” and announced it to our last marriage counselor. My plan was (1) read all I can about narcissism/passive-aggressive behaviors, etc. (2) get a group of friends known only to me (not to him – although he could know them, he wouldn’t know I was confiding in them) If I ever needed to talk – I have to say though, that group really never happened; It was more a good idea than a reality, but I did end up confiding in one or two, and that was enough; and (3) detach.
You are doing remarkably well, and please do keep letting us know how you are. I am holding you close in prayer for wisdom, supernatural peace through this storm, God’s own comfort so you know it is HE Who is holding you and that you are one of His and precious to Him, deliverance, guidance, and protection. Also praying for your children – for wisdom appropriate to their years. (((((((hugs)))))))
Dear Loves6, I have been following your story and praying for you. Your story is similar to mine in some ways. I will pray for you to have courage and to be able to see things clearly.
I have come to realize that my husband will never stop abusing me — he just finds new ways to “torture” me as the years go by. So don’t feel guilty about plans to leave and make a new life for yourself; I am doing the same thing on my own time table.
Hi again Loves6
I hope I am not overwhelming you by writing too many words. I know that it’s hard to take things in if one is dissociating so frequently. So please do not feel under any pressure to read this or reply to it. 🙂
You mentioned that you are feeling like being self destructive.
I have had periods in my own life where I wanted to commit suicide. I don’t know whether ‘suicidal thoughts’ is what you were referring to with the words ‘self destructive’, so please don’t think I’m assuming anything about you. I only want to share my own experience, on the off-chance that it may help you a bit.
For me, suicidal thoughts were a regular part of my teenage years. I fantasized about taking my life often. I did this because it seemed to give me a sort of comfort, an escape from the pain. I found some sleeping pills that my mother had hidden high up in a rarely-used cupboard, that my Great Aunt had had in her effects when she died. And I took them and hid them in the drawers in my bedroom. They were my potential escape route, for years. I never took one of those pills, but having them there gave me comfort, security in a sense, that IF I decided to do the deed, the means were there ready at hand.
Haha, my mother found them after some years and removed them. And in classic style in my family, the matter was never discussed. Silence was the way of dealing with unpleasantness in my family.
Anyway, all those years of fantasizing suicide entrenched that thought track in my brain.
In my twenties, suffering from very severe bulimia, I not only fantasized about suicide, I formed a deliberate plan and started taking steps to carry it out.
By the grace of God, He walked me into a psych hospital instead of letting me do the deed.
While I was an inpatient in that psych hospital, I came to realise that God had not allowed me to suicide, and I concluded that if I ever went down the path again, taking steps to end my life, God would again prevent me from doing it. So I made a vow that I would never take that route (it was no use trying to be more powerful than God!). My vow was that I would never take active steps to end my life. I did not vow that I would never fantasize about suicide.
Years later, in a prayer-ministry session, the prayer counselor (under the prompting of the Holy Spirit I believe) confronted me about this. The counselor didn’t even know what the issue was in detail, but — long story short — but by the end of that session I had confessed out loud to God, to the counselor and to myself, my sin of allowing myself to nurse that fantasy of suicide. I confessed it as sin, renounced it, and asked forgiveness from God.
That, in some way I can’t fully explain, was a vital step in my sanctification and walk with the Lord.
Now, since then, I have not been entirely free of the wish to die. Sometimes, at different points in my life when I’ve been suffering much pain and / or physical distress, thoughts of wishing to be dead have crossed my mind. At those times, I didn’t beat myself up for having those thoughts, I knew I was having them simply because I was in such pain. But I have never again nursed the fantasy of taking that escape route, like I used to nurse it.
I don’t know if this will help you in any way. Please just take what you want and leave the rest.
Hi Barb. .. I do not feel overwhelmed by your words. I appreciate your input and you always offer words of wisdom. Thank you x
I am feeling self destructive in many ways. I too have a container of sleeping pills that I have had for 8 years and have recently been prescribed more I have added to my collection. I don’t believe I would go through with it. I have had feelings of suicide on and off. My self destruction is also in a sexual sense. I have spoken to my psych about these thoughts. I want to lash out and do the very things that my husband is so scared I will do. I want to be promiscuous and rebel. This is were my anger wants to be directed. It is dangerous and it is bad and I and im so numb I wouldn’t care.
I know this is terrible to say but it is the truth of where things have come to for me. I know it is my sexual abuse past…. I have kept this under control for many many years but my anger towards my husband for hurting me in the deepest part of my heart when I have given myself to him fully, with all trust and he abuse me like he has makes me want to LASH. He has thrown my sexual abuse in my face so much when I have shared my deepest pain with him. I now want to do terrible things and him not know…. then I would feel like I am lashing hugely.
I also have thoughts of hurting him. I want to hit him, push him, slap him, and worse. At home at the moment I am unemotional. I feel nothing and I am not even angry outwardly… I am so angry but I am so calm.
My psych said when I suppressed anger surfaces I will go one two ways… it won’t be pretty… so I am very aware of the danger I am in to myself … it is very real.
Thanks Barb so much for sharing your story with me. Bless you xox
what you wrote here confirms to me what I’ve already sensed about your situation: that there is a high risk of an outcome that could either be lethal or very damaging to someone or someones.
And when DV professionals talk about lethal outcomes, they mean any one or any combination of the following outcomes:
victim dies / abuser dies / children die.
And I hear that you are also sensing the destructive urges in sexual sense, impulses to promiscuity. Trust me: I’ve been there and done that and it is not fun, never fulfilling, and can lead to even more complications in one’s life long-term. I don’t have to mention them here, but I will just in case it helps you continue to hold back from those impulses: infectious disease, unwanted pregnancy, more shame, more misery, sordid complications of all sorts . . .
You are aware of the impulses, and are holding yourself back from acting on them. I honor you for that.
And the opportunity you have is to use the anger to motivate you to leave the abuser. It’s fine to visualise hurting the abuser, if that lets some of steam off the pressure cooker in your mind. But at the same time, can you channel some of the anger to your advantage — by using it as the power to act on your desire to leave him? Can you ask God to use your anger for that constructive goal?
I’m continuing to pray XOX
My counselor has told me that I have been raped in my marriage … this has happened countless times….. coercion. .. me saying no and he coercing me… many many times. I am detached and can not even comprehend this… sexual abuse in marriage but this. I cannot take this in… very overwhelming to consider at this time.
Unsure where to post this, but papers were signed for divorce. I have mixed emotions but I am doing quite well. I thank God for giving me the strength to get through this. It had been a long journey! I, also, wanted to let you all know (ACFJ) you have been a crutch for me as well, and i thank you!
Loves6, you are in my prayers!
well done, Round*Two 🙂
Mixed emotions is pretty normal, I would think, in such circumstances.
I’m glad you are doing pretty well.
How timely. I too received notice on Saturday morning that the judge signed the “dissolution of marriage” papers in my case. So….. this stage of the journey is now past. (Also, in praise to God, I contested the final bill from my attorneys, and they wiped the slate clean; I don’t have to pay it. I had already paid an annual salary’s worth to them for very little return, and I had a long attachment of grievances that I sent them when I contested their last bill, so I think that weighed in on their decision.)
I’m glad you’re moving on in this journey, and I am right there with you. Like Barbara said, I think having mixed emotions is quite normal and in fact healthy. If this were easy breazy, I’d be more concerned. It’s a reflection of your own health to have those emotions.
Also like you, I’ve been praying for love6; She’s been heavy on my heart as of late. Her emotions too seem to be a sign of her health rather than lack of same. In fact, I think that PTSD and all of the mental health issues with which targets of abuse struggle are actually indicative of their humanity in God’s image — as they have great heart and it’s their compassion and tenderness that is stricken. Had they no heart or conscience (like their abusers) they could take the abuse in stride without feeling.
YES! At least they did one thing right!
Good on you for contesting their bills 🙂
Thank you Still Reforming for your prayers… there is real reason why I’m heavily on your heart. Bless you x
Wow! I am so glad you can finally begin to move forward! And yes, praise God you got a clean slate from your legal representation! I pray this new journey brings you peace and healing!
Continuing to pray loves6, and all in this site!
I love this post, thank you! It gives me a better perspective. My friend is in an abusive relationship. I can’t force her to end it. Any guidance? I have read many of your posts, and they are all wonderful, but I haven’t seen one with advice for me or for someone who is unwilling to let go.
we have a page of resources for supporters of victims which may help you a bit.
I have done them all and do them all.
Very angry today… husband doing just what you say abusers do… confess to me.. says sorry to me .. tells me he is going to confess to the kids and friends. .. find out last night that he has skimmed around the edges and not said what he told me he would. Then discounting sexual abuse and martial rape saying all sorts of things to my older child to make me out to be over reacting or not telling the full truth
I feel so angry … I’m scared … I’m lonely and I want to do some of the above to make things feel better but I know I cannot. God help me !
I hated this post (Love the website and the authors, but Hated this post) Why? Because my PA husband would LOVE to use this one against me. He would lie cheat and steal to get his addictions met in cyclical fashion typical to the abuse wheel. Naturally I would crash at the newest revelation, and he would blame ME for his backslidden actions. Point by point above, he would :
–not sharing his emotions in our relationship, and when he did it was how he felt about how he couldn’t go take care of his vices. Then he would complain that I wasn’t listening to his FEELINGS. (his BABY BOY feelings about not getting his fix)
–Practice “avoidance” with the hope that the wife would not find out his recent indiscretion or indulgence
–not do what he promised to do – but then would blame me for WANTING him to do it in the first place – like be transparent and stop detaching in the relationship. It was MY fault for exacting too high of demands for him to possibly follow thru.
–be “difficult / uncooperative” and FULL of resentment – hoping that his resentment would get me to BACK off holding him accountable to what HE promised to do. Insane.
–do nice things for me but only in the three days immediately following a “cycle”.
–he would numb his feelings but constant seeking of escapism, then blame me for being too needy. NO, a porn user loses his ability and his desire to connect intimately. Stop blaming me.
An article like this one would fall perfectly in his hands and his line of justification for leaving the marriage.
I am resisting, I know that. I am looking into legal help to get an order for separate support. Right now I feel so overwhelmed, scared to make a decision. I don’t feel like I can handle anything. I don’t know why I feel so stuck and it all feels too hard.
Good for you Rebecca. It sounds to me like you are canvassing your options and trying to work out the best way to navigate your exit from a difficult and unnerving situation. ((hugs))
Thank you for posting this. I now realize that I’ve been resisting abuse in many not-so obvious ways. I feel more validated now that I’ve read that other victims do these things too. I’ve done everything from going numb, to screaming at him “in my mind” when he’s hurting me, to buying clothes I know he doesn’t want me to wear. I’ve even kept some items of clothing that he said I should get rid of. And most importantly I’ve been praying Psalm 140 against him because it is a prayer against the violent man. We are all resisting abuse in our own way.