Austin James’s book “Emotional Abuse: Silent Killer of Marriage—A 30 year Abuser Speaks Out”. One Star Review by Avid Reader
Prepare for a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of someone willing to admit their guilt and seek help. This book is raw, gritty, and sometimes a very uncomfortable journey through the eyes of an abuser. Austin writes page after page, describing where he went wrong in hopes that this book will help others understand and confront emotional abuse.
WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK
That’s what I liked best about this book. Austin goes into heavy detail describing what emotional abuse is and how to recognize it. He writes, “The bottom line — anything said or done that attempts to gain control over another person is emotional abuse.” (p123) Now before I explain why this is a one star review, let’s take a closer look at this book.
Reflecting over his thirty year marriage that ended in divorce he writes,
“Anger was always my friend and constant companion for as long as I can remember in this relationship. It was always my go to weapon of choice when I needed a win.” (p16)
“While Teri and I were dating it didn’t take me long to discover I could get just about anything I wanted if I got mad at Teri.”
“I constantly had to amp up my anger response to get what I wanted because Teri would condition herself to my current level and sometimes not back down and give in as I anticipated.” (p21)
“Yet outside the home I was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. Most abusers are.” (p23)
“I became a master of manipulation making everything look like somehow it was all her fault and I was the victim.” (p26)
“In some sick, twisted way, I thought this kind of behavior between a husband and wife was normal.” (p27)
“My underlying reason for the abuse, control, and manipulation was in some sick way to keep Teri dependent on me so she would not leave me.” (p51)
As you’d expect, after thirty years of this, his wife reaches a breaking point where she finally asks for a divorce. Once again Austin admits fault saying, “I had no one to blame but myself.” (p56)
As Austin experiences separation and divorce, the Holy Spirit deals with his heart that he is an abuser. Austin describes having to come to grips with who he really is and that
“me being angry wasn’t a character flaw. . . it WAS my character, my identity, what I was in one form or another almost everyday of my life.” (p52)
Austin begins to seek professional help and try to change. After the divorce Austin apologizes to his wife for “making you have to divorce me. There was no other way for me to wake up and realize how I was in our marriage.” (p115).
That’s just a few of the really helpful points that Austin makes throughout this book. There’s a lot more really helpful points including a warning to AVOID marriage counseling when seeking help for an abusive relationship.
Austin writes about how the issue of emotional abuse is being swept under the rug and “rarely talked about or ousted for what it really is — a silent killer.” (p1)
He warns people that if they visit a counselor for help and that counselor insists on joint marriage counseling first — then walk away because you won’t find the help you need there. He points out that even when he and his wife sought professional help “not once did the question of abuse come up during years of seeing both secular and Christian counselors.” (p4) That’s a real problem, especially in the church. However, just to be clear, Austin does recommend seeking professional help — but distinguishes between types of counseling that aren’t helpful in dealing with abuse.
The best chapter of this book is when Austin writes a full length apology to his wife. This chapter goes into extensive detail that can help people identify the subtle ways that emotional abuse and neglect seep into a relationship. Austin apologizes for things like “thinking that I always knew what was best for you and never validating your feelings.” (page 110)
Another really interesting chapter is when Austin describes growing up under a narcissistic mother. This chapter helps identify the most subtle forms of manipulation. To give you an idea of how far his mother was willing to go for control — at one point she pretends to commit suicide as a ploy to gain his sympathy! He tries to escape by leaving home as a teenager to serve in the military. Once again his mother finds a way to drag him back home by manipulating the military!
Austin describes how this unhealthy relationship bled over into his marriage. “Neither Teri nor I could see that the abuse, control, manipulation and anger Mom was exhibiting towards me was flowing through me and on to her.” (p103)
Reading that chapter, I didn’t feel like Austin was trying to avoid taking responsibility — it sounded more like he was trying to describe his experience so that readers could identify how the narcissistic personality operates.
That’s what I like about this book. I also appreciated that Austin recommends some excellent resources by Lundy Bancroft.
Another very helpful thing is that Austin included an entire chapter on how to tell if an abuser has really changed. There is such a problem in the church today with people pretending to repent to regain control of a relationship that more teaching is needed on how to discern the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Austin makes many really good points on what to look for including “equality of power — is there a more balanced level of power — give and take — in the relationship vs being all take as before?”
PROBLEMS WITH THE BOOK
Now here’s what bothered me about this book.
There’s a very strong self-hatred permeating every page of this book. Austin writes page after page, constantly beating himself up for the past. The self-hatred gets so strong that sometimes it actually sounds like Austin is verbally abusing himself.
When I came to page 29, I wanted to put the book down and declare, “Austin, you are a new creature in Christ! Old things have passed away. . . (2 Cor 5:17) There is NO CONDEMNATION to those that are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit!” (Romans 8:1)
Notice that there’s a qualification in that verse: “walk not after the FLESH but after the SPIRIT.” What does that mean? The Bible defines “outbursts of anger” as a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-25 (‘The Names of God’ Bible). There we are warned that “people who do these kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” But those who are in Christ “have crucified the flesh” and are bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit which includes “self-control”. Real Christians have died to the abusive forms of anger and choose to walk in love.
Anger is a really serious thing — one angry outburst cost Moses the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-12).
On the other hand the Bible tells us to “be angry and sin not.” (Eph 4:26) because there is a good form of anger that notifies us when our boundaries have been crossed. Good anger is what drove Jesus to make a weapon and drive the money changers out of the temple. (John 2:15) We also see Jesus getting upset at the disciples (Mark 9:19) and the Pharisees (Matthew 23) (Mark 8:12) (Luke 11).
But the problem today is that the church only allows the abusers to get upset and not the victims. What’s wrong with that? When the church is pitying the abuser and putting all the pressure on the victim to try harder in the marriage, they have forgotten that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15 ESV)
The second major problem that I have with this book is how Austin reacts to his wife when she asks for a divorce. After thirty years of breaking her heart, Austin still pleads for more time. When she proceeds with the divorce, Austin doesn’t seem to understand that abuse is Biblical grounds for divorce. Instead he writes that
“Teri’s heart remained sealed off to me and with it, any sense of compassion or willingness to listen. Teri remained distant from me emotionally as if she was operating on autopilot.” (p63)
Right there he’s playing the victim — which is the same pattern of manipulation that he’s supposed to have changed.
“Divorce was not the right answer in this situation. It just didn’t make sense that God would break me free from the hell of my abuse after all these years and transform me while Teri and I were still together just to have it be the final act in our marriage.” (p77)
“Yet I could not fault her for her feelings. I knew divorce was not the right answer but after all I had done to her over three decades, how could I fault her for anything she felt she needed to do?” (p78)
What she needed to do was obey the Bible’s command to “Go from the presence of a foolish man when you perceive not in him the lips of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7)
The abusive form of anger puts the abuser in the category of “foolish” according to Proverbs 14:17 “He that is soon angry, deals foolishly.”
The Bible commands us “not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or IS ABUSIVE or is a drunkard or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” (1 Cor 5:11 NLT)
So why does the church require wives to live and eat with these kinds of husbands? Besides the Bible already warned us that someone “with a quick temper, sins a lot”. Proverbs 29:22 (NCV)
But instead of teaching the Bible, what you hear all the time preached from the pulpit is that divorce is sinful and reconciliation is your only option. Hang on a second — if reconciliation is your only option than why does Proverbs 22:24 (AMP) say “Do not even associate with a man given to angry outbursts?”
If divorce is sinful then why did God Himself experience it? (Jeremiah 3:8) You read that correctly — when even God Almighty reaches a point where divorce was necessary, it could happen to any of us.
In a perfect world there would be no divorce. Then again, God put Adam and Eve in a perfect situation and they still managed to mess it up because all of us have the power to choose between good and evil.
That’s the third problem that I have with this book. When Austin starts describing what he learned from various Christian resources, you realize that these resources are teaching abusers to shift blame.
Now since Austin has already spent most of the book admitting his own faults it sounds really contradictory when he starts describing how these Christian resources helped him discover that his abusive nature was caused by faulty “wiring in my brain.” (p65)
Then Austin also briefly touches on the topic of demonic influence. Once again he is quoting what he learned from Christian teaching that “A demon controlled me — I was merely a puppet to its control and manipulation.” (p28)
Nope. Austin, you were right when you wrote on page 61, “deep down inside I always knew right from wrong.” All of us have the power to change at any point — “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, POWER, and a sound mind.” (2Timothy 1:7) If a demon was controlling you, then wouldn’t they want to keep you from accepting salvation? That’s the first thing they would do if they could overpower your will. But the truth is that while the demonic realm will try to influence us to hurt ourselves or others, we still have the power of free will.
Now back to this review — is it possible for abusers to change? Absolutely! After writing that “verbal abusers” will “not inherit the kingdom of God”, in the next breath the Apostle Paul says, “And that is what some of you WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” ( 1Corinthians 6:9-11 Berean Bible)
Keep in mind that the Apostle Paul himself went from a violent background to writing two thirds of the New Testament. But that didn’t happen overnight. Look closely at the book of Acts and you’ll see that the early church didn’t trust Paul.
Ananias is terrified when God tells him to visit Paul only a few days after Paul’s conversion. Ananias reminds God about “all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem”. (Acts 9:13) Only after receiving specific directions from God in an open vision, does Ananias even consider being in the same room with Paul. He prays for Paul and God heals Paul’s eyesight, but the rest of the church leaders still try to avoid him. Paul spends three years out in the desert (Galatians 1:16-19) and then tries to visit Jerusalem but none of the other disciples want to see him. “They were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) This skepticism toward Paul was a good thing — they needed more time to find out if his conversion was real.
My point is that while overnight repentance is possible, it takes time to change behavioral patterns. That’s why I appreciated the chapter in this book on how to tell true vs false repentance in an abuser.
As Austin himself admits — he’s still in a learning process. I hope that as he travels on that journey towards wholeness, he will take the time to study the website cryingoutforjustice.com which has many resources that can help him prepare to complete that journey and maybe even find love again someday.
For more discussion on Austin James’s book visit our post, Pt 3 CCEF’s ‘Counseling Abusive Marriages’ course — bread mixed with stones? where we discuss this book and quote from two other Amazon reviews.