A Cry For Justice

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

Thursday Thought — The Slow Build of Harm

I have heard the effects of living with an abusive partner compared to (get ready for this) a frog being boiled alive.  They say that if you threw a frog into hot water, it would jump back out immediately, alive and with only minor injuries.  If, on the other hand, you put the frog into water at room temperature and then very gradually warmed it up, the frog would adapt to each incremental addition of heat, and wouldn’t perceive the danger until it was too late and it had cooked.

The point of this comparison is that emotional harm can creep up on you gradually. As a result, it’s hard to even tell that your partner’s behavior is what is causing your difficulties.  It just seems like life is getting harder, or like you aren’t the same person you used to be, but you aren’t sure why.

Some women don’t realize how badly they’ve been affected until the relationship ends, and they discover what normal life is like; suddenly they aren’t tense and worried all the time, they aren’t afraid to talk to people, they aren’t constantly apologizing.  Women have said to me, “It was like I could suddenly breathe again, and I hadn’t even noticed I was gasping for air.”

Remember the person you were before this relationship started.  Was she a happier person? Did she have more friends and social relationships?  Was she calmer?  Did she feel better about herself?  Did she have ambitions and dreams? Was she in better health?

(entry from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? [*Affiliate link] pp377-8)

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.



  1. No longer silent

    True, According to my eldest daughter? I was a shell of a person at the point where I left him.
    Now, 4 years later, I have a teenager living with him, who has become the surrogate spouse.
    After parental alienation with the eldest, now it’s with the middle child.
    Now, my youngest says “If you’re sad, I’m sad.”
    No, I’m not happy. Because of the continual abuse cycle that continues even after divorce, my anxiety peaks when dealing with the x spouse, or my eldest children who parent themselves because x spouse and children see me as inadequate.
    Attorney said “You picked him.”
    I’m at a loss.
    When I try to reinstate my parental authority, it is put down by my eldest children.

    • “You picked him” is victim-blaming.

      I encourage you to cast off those words your attorney has said. You might want to tell your attorney “I am consulting you for legal advice and advocacy, not for therapy. Please don’t try to tell me what you think I did wrong in the past.” (or something like that)

  2. I can barely remember, I was an early teen when I got to know him and married at 18 (I am now near 50). But I do know, that once I separated, I couldn’t believe the improvement in my sleep patterns. I could suddenly go to sleep within minutes of hitting the pillow (rather than taking 2 hours) and I sleep through (without waking in the wee small hours and being wide awake for a few hours before finally being able to get to sleep again).

  3. becomingbrave

    This is such a wonderful analogy. It has taken twenty five years of being married to an emotional, verbal abuser and a devastating tragedy to our oldest son who was also a victim of his father’s abuse, for me to be able to acknowledge my husband’s true behavior and call it what it is. Unfortunately, because I am pursuing divorce, instead of my children and I receiving much needed support from our church, I am now under church discipline. Thank you so much for this daily blog, words of encouragement I look forward to every day.

    • TruthSerum

      Sounds like the discipline needed is more on the church, rather than you….Again, victim blaming. I divorced not only my abusive husband, but the church counselors as well who told me my emotions don’t mean anything. I was told to use my head and not my emotions to think. So I did….I thought about it and dumped all of the above.

    • If they excommunicate with you, I encourage you to wear the E badge with pride because it will denote how you stood for truth and righteousness and refused to be coerced by Pharisees. Quite a few of our readers have been thru or are facing the same thing. You are not alone!

      • It was my abusive ex husband who left and it was him who filed for divorce.He was given lots of sympathy and support of course, the poor man. I was considered the person to blame and I was the one who got excluded from church. More than one church.For myself I don’t really care, because these people would exclude Christ himself. But because of what these church people did my children have rejected church altogether.

      • standsfortruth

        I used to have health problems before divorcing my abuser.
        Probably from pushing myself physically and mentally in work to purposely make myself less available to my abuser.
        It was a coping strategiy to try to stay one step away from him and his manipulative antics.

        But in doing so my body would break down a couple times a month where I was very sick with flu like symptoms and could not eat or drink anything for about 24 hours.

        It has been at least a year now that Ive been free from him and those symptoms have completely disappeared .

  4. Herjourney

    There may be residual fallout from living with abuse. Depending how long the abuse took place.
    I find myself more courageous in speaking truth and what I expect in a friendship. Healthy boundaries!
    A survivior may feel she needs to apologize from time to time for words spoken she wouldn’t or was too afraid to speak in an abusive relationship.
    The residual shame and guilt creep back in.
    I am now strong enough to stand by what I want. No turning back.

  5. Came Alongside

    It’s especially hard if the water boiler tells the frog constantly that the water is hot because the FROG is hot thus raising the temp of the water.

    • Bingo!

    • DancingRain

      Or, “The water isn’t hot, it’s freezing cold. Your crazy!”

  6. LH

    Even tho after separating from him, I still had to go thru a nasty separation/divorce plus my ex-church also being abusive during the process, I felt like I had my voice back and I was able to stop taking acid reflux meds! (Today, 10 years later, I still deal with some health issues because of almost 30 years of abuse, esp fibromyalgia, but my life is soooooooo much better.) (And A Cry For Justice continues to help me heal.)

  7. Seeing the Light

    This describes what happened to me with eerie accuracy. Exactly.

  8. Hope

    I love this, thank you! It so describes my life – and probably many others in similar situations. I just thought my marriage was unusually difficult. While individual incidents were actually traumatizing, I dismissed them thinking I needed to forgive – that word is bandied about in the wrong context far too often these days. What I didn’t know, just like the little frog in the pot, was that all damage is cumulative; all emotional trauma, all mental trauma, all spiritual trauma, and all physical trauma (which often scars us inside as well).

    I never did (or could) figure out what I was doing wrong, but self-reflection and trying harder to be a better wife, better partner, better mother and better Christian sure didn’t work. At all. So I figured it was just me, until I no longer recognized myself or remembered who I was. I not only couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t remember and I could barely get out of bed – for years. And my “husband” was happy and cheerful. (?!?)

    I thank God Almighty for long term friends who remembered who I was, remained my friends, and reminded me when my reality shattered. For me, my good friends are answers to prayer and precious gifts from God Himself.

    • Sunflower

      Yes, I was the same. Disabled, and he was happy. But whenever I got a bit better, he’d get more abusive again. I couldn’t think of a way of escape, so I checked myself into the psych ward. Immediately I felt quite a bit better, and most of all, I felt FREE!! Imagine that. I didn’t want to go home. That was my clue.

      • One of the women on the documentary Sin by Silence tells how she felt relief and safety when she was put in prison for killing her abusive husband. She felt much safer in prison than she had felt living with him.

        PS BTW, I’m not encouraging anyone to kill their abuser.

  9. healinginhim

    This post and the comments are so ‘right on.’ When others are willing to listen to me I usually find myself confessing “that I’m not the same woman I used to be.” My physical health has deteriorated and sadly this seems to have empowered my abusers. They seem happy that I am weakened. So sad that others would wish this upon someone whom they use to say was ‘faithful’ and kind-hearted.

  10. Karen


    I am praying for you and your well being and that our LORD will put others in your path to encourage you and build you up in the way that He desires for all of us here. My situation is similar to yours in the fact that when I am sick, my abusive husband tells me “it’s because of your sin.” He never said that to his parents when one passed on from cancer and the other had a stroke. His mouth was silent concerning their sad circumstances. It is so difficult to fathom that a husband would hate his wife so much that he has no consideration for her well being in the home, then can go out a preach a great sermon on Sunday morning and the leadership swoons over his great and vast amount of wisdom. The whole abusive charade just boggles my mind.

    Healing, I have been following this blog for a number of years now, and everything you post touches my heart, my life in many ways, for they are similar circumstances. The heart of your words have ministered greatly to my hurting soul and I want you to know that you are making a difference to me and many people here for sharing all of these years.

    Still praying for you and hoping all here will experience some peace, joy, and love as we close the year out.

    • healinginhim

      Karen, Thank you for your encouraging words. They are even more precious as I’ve had a rough day of self-doubt even at the workplace. Feeling very much as an outcast. That’s why having ministries like ACFJ along with pastors like Jeff Crippen and Sam Powell who really preach out against injustice is so important. — Yes, I’ve “read” and “studied” the Word countless times. It is the “preaching” and “exhortation” of the Word which helps instill it further into my heart.

      • Praying for God Himself to part the waters of safe escape and freedom for you and many others here, Healing in Him.

        Just want you to know that it is difficult for me to rest- while so many brothers and sisters in Christ are still in bondage to their abusers.
        Hugs and prayers go out to you and others here.

  11. Finding Answers

    I first heard the “frog in the pot” analogy many years ago, though in different contexts.

    I’ve read this post and the comments generated many times over the last few months.

    It was hard to identify the slow build to harm, as it started the day I was born. The pot cracked off my life less than one year ago, and my walls came tumbling down.

    I cannot remember who I was before, because I have never been…only parts of me. Some parts are dreams, hopes for a future full of meaning, full of God’s purpose for me.

    I am a gentle soul, not certain of God’s protection. I’m tired of “preaching” on Abba Father being translated as “daddy”. My “daddy” was an abuser, not my protector. The closest I can come without triggering is Papa – I have never had one of those in my life. The name is not tainted.

    I am an orphan, not certain of my adoptive Papa. I don’t want to go back in the pot.

    • I love the way you’ve written this comment, Finding Answers!

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