Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People: A coaching clinic for victims of domestic abuse and their supporters

Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes  (Job 13:12a  NKJV)

Domestic abuse victims frequently find themselves misunderstood by those from whom they seek support. Such interchanges can be extremely distressing for victims — they feel at a loss as to how to respond to the attitude of the supporter. Frequently supporters don’t mean to hurt; it happens because of lack of knowledge or lack of empathy. This post has been written in the hope that such misunderstandings will be reduced. It offers a coaching clinic for both victims of domestic abuse and their supporters or bystanders.

To help victims: the post gives suggested answers to unhelpful comments which well-meaning people often make.

To help supporters and bystanders: the post discusses reasons why unhelpful comments may be made, and why such comments may hurt. We want to avoid the situation Job was in, where he said to his so-called friends, “How then can you comfort me with empty words, since falsehood remains in your answers?” (Job 21:34  NKJV).

Every unhelpful comment in this post was made to a victim of domestic abuse

All of the unhelpful comments quoted here were made to victims of domestic abuse. In most cases the comment was made to a victim who was trying to seek help or had already taken steps which made her predicament fairly public (such as separation from the abuser). The unhelpful comments were made by a range of people: friends or family, clergy, theologians, counsellors, seminar leaders, Christian psychologists, and authors of marriage guidance books.

Why well-meaning people may make unhelpful comments

There are many reasons why well-meaning bystanders may make unhelpful comments to victims of domestic abuse. Probably the most common reason is that people feel unsure how to respond because the topic of domestic abuse has been a bit taboo, like divorce or death. Most of us have seen little modelling of how to conduct these conversations.

If a well-meaning bystander knows both spouses of the marriage, he or she could fear that talking with one spouse will restrict his or her relationship with the other spouse — in other words, there is a reluctance to be seen to be taking sides. However, what bystanders need to know is that there is no neutrality in domestic abuse: taking the supposed “neutral” stance means — by default — taking the side of the abuser.

Bystanders often fear getting involved. Will it mean having to advise / direct / assist the spouse(s) towards taking action? How would I know what to do? If I got involved, would it mean dealing with health professionals, offering help with child care, money or material support, or being called to be a character witness in a family court conflict?

There may also be a reluctance to give solace straight away. The bystander may privately think “Maybe this person didn’t always put their best foot forward in the marriage. How can I be sure where the blame lies for this marriage problem? Maybe my role should be to help the person who has confided in me to engage in self-examination and self-scrutiny.” This approach frequently seems right because the two spouses present differently in public.

The perpetrator often presents as a civilised, amiable and reasonable individual and will posture as the victim if problems in the marriage become publicly evident. The victim may appear to be the “problem” spouse if they evince significant depression, sensitivity, discontent or anger. The bystander may think that the victim seems to be overly dwelling on the abuse, almost “nursing” it. Moreover, the victim’s behaviour may seem contradictory: sometimes presenting as if everything in the marriage is all right, but then displaying moments of extreme pain, anxiety or volatility.

Tips for supporters

Bystanders may feel that their role should be to teach the biblical principles of relationships. Upon hearing someone disclose that they may be suffering abuse from their spouse, the bystander may privately wonder whether the disclosing person needs to improve her attitude and behaviour by practising the Christian virtues of forgiveness, submission, prayer, longsuffering, meekness, etc. That may be a reasonable thing to consider in a marriage where there is no abuse going on. But in the dynamics of an abusive marriage, the attitude and behaviours of the victim (the target) do not make any significant difference to the attitude and behaviours of the abuser.

The abuser chooses to abuse — to exercise power and control over his target — and no matter how much the target tries to modify her behaviour it does not prevent the abuse. In fact, when the target does things that might be helpful in a non-abusive relationship (e.g., forgiveness, submission, prayer, longsuffering, meekness) it gives the abuser more license to exercise power and control. So the “normal” marriage counseling does not apply.

When a victim discloses abuse it is not helpful if bystanders change the topic, for this will probably increase the sense of shame in which the victim is already engulfed. It is better to respond with empathic listening and open-ended, non-judgmental questions. For example: “That experience must have been awful for you. Would you like to tell me more about it?”

Taking the victim’s disclosures seriously, while refraining from knee-jerk advice, is very helpful. Victims get enormous relief when assured they are not crazy. And the very best thing to say to the victim is, “You are not to blame; it is not your fault.”

Generalised negative comments made in the presence of the victim may only cause the victim to feel more condemned. A victim of domestic abuse is usually entrenched in self-blame.

For example, after I separated from my husband, my daughter would return home from visiting her father in an extremely defiant mood. One evening of particular defiance, I asked a church Elder for help. He came to my house and said to my daughter and me, This shouldn’t be happening. He may have been trying to commiserate with both of us, but I automatically assumed his “shouldn’t” was directed at me for separating from my husband and so “bringing about” a situation where my daughter only saw her father every second weekend and came back from such visits in distress and defiance. Because the Elder did not use words which specified who was responsible for the angst of my daughter, I assumed by his indeterminate statement that he was blaming me, the one who separated, instead of blaming my husband whose behaviour caused the separation.

To avoid such interpretations by the victim, supporters who make value judgements should take care to specify where the blame for the situation lies, rather than make generalised judgements. From a linguistics point of view, the rule is: use active verbs and always make it clear who is the agent of the verb.

Most victims are tormented by self-doubt. The ongoing abuse has undermined whatever confidence they once possessed, and they are too afraid to articulate their feelings or ask for fair treatment. To a non-abused person some of the suggested responses below may seem patently obvious, but to a victim they may be revelatory.

Perhaps you are reading this as sensitive supporter who knows not to blame the victim. If so, what you can glean from this post is an appreciation of the anguish which unhelpful comments commonly afflict on abused people. The suffering of the abused arises not only from the abuser’s conduct, but from other people who have (unawares or wittingly) said unhelpful things to the victim.

Tips for victims who are disclosing abuse and seeking help

When surveying a pool of potential supporters, a victim often has a gut feeling about who will be judgmental and who will listen non-judgmentally. Such gut feelings are often right (but not always). Many people will never really understand the painful dynamics of domestic abuse unless they have been through similar situations themselves. Some who have been abused (in childhood or by a partner) don’t want to face their own woundedness so they may encourage another victim to bottle up their situation and not seek help. However, some people are willing to learn how better to respond to victims of abuse, and a few are excellent listeners.

Recipients of unhelpful comments may (if they wish, if they have the energy) seek to educate those who make unhelpful remarks so that such remarks are not made in the future. Occasionally it helps to be more specific about the conduct of the perpetrator so the listener / bystander takes the disclosure more seriously. Doing this is not easy for a victim who is already emotionally overloaded, but sometimes it can be accomplished.

In all of this, Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor, the only one who will always respond to us with full compassion and understanding. He knows first-hand the horror and evil of a covertly aggressive, malignantly narcissistic spouse. The church, our Lord’s future bride, continues to have multiple idolatries, worldly methodologies and alliances etc.

He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4) implies that He feels our griefs with us, rather than commanding us to deny or suppress them.

The unhelpful comments, with possible answers

These answers are not intended to be repeated parrot fashion. Victims may use them to gain confidence so they may respond to unhelpful comments in their own words.

What did you do to deserve that? What did you do to make him so angry?

  • I’ve been asking myself that for a long time, but my behaviour seems to bear little relation to whether he explodes or not. On several occasions I might do something and he doesn’t react; another time I might do the same thing and he explodes. And no matter what I do to change my behaviour, it never seems to prevent another eventual explosion.
  • It sounds like you are blaming me and I feel hurt — please stop blaming me.
  • I don’t believe I did anything to deserve it. No one deserves violence in an intimate relationship, just as no one deserves child sexual abuse.
  • (To make it obvious how unfair the abuser’s criticisms are) — I put the peas on the wrong part of the plate….  His dinner was cold when he came home two hours late….  I phoned my mother….  I got a little mud on the car when I went out….  I fell pregnant even though (at his demand) I had been using contraception….  I asked him to hang out the washing….  Do you think I really “deserved” it for such a thing?

You provoked him.

  • Why would I do that? This whole situation is causing me shame, humiliation, fear, embarrassment and rejection by my church acquaintances. Would anyone deliberately bring such distress on themselves? I walk on eggshells to avoid irritating him. If anything, I sometimes think I let him get away with too much.
  • Even if I had provoked him, would that excuse his violence?

No matter what you might have done to provoke him you didn’t deserve to be hit.

  • What if I did nothing to provoke him? It sounds like you’re implying that I did provoke him in some way, and that hurts me, because I don’t believe I did.

If you took more care with your washing and got it whiter, your husband might have less to be unhappy about. [1] (Implying: my husband does not have to hit me because I am a “good girl”.)

  • Please believe me — I have worn myself to shreds trying to be a good wife. It makes no difference. He still finds excuses to get angry.

I can’t imagine Bill behaving like that. (No Christian man would do such a horrible thing!)

  • Well he does. He is both Jekyll and Hyde; most abusers are.

If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. Don’t run your husband down.

  • Jesus never followed that rule; He named sin as sin.
  • I’m sorry you feel this way. How can domestic violence be exposed if we have this attitude? How can people like me get help?

It’s all in your mind. You’re oversensitive. You’re letting your imagination run wild.

  • No, that is not true. Please don’t accuse me of something so unfounded. It sounds like you’ve just believed what my husband is telling you.

Why did you marry him if he was like that?

  • For the courtship and the first few months, he was nice. Then he changed.
  • His abuse was infrequent and subtle at the start so I didn’t see it.

You can go home now. It will be all right. He’s asleep / he’ll be calmed down now / he’s sorry. (Said to a woman who has fled for her safety in the past few hours.)

  • It may be all right for a while, but it always happens again sooner or later. Please understand: he hasn’t really changed.

An abused wife must have entered marriage with unrealistic expectations.

  • I concede I might have been naïve to trust that because I was marrying a Christian everything would be fine. But could that have caused the abuse? Was it wrong to expect him to at least respect me, when he had vowed to love and cherish me?
  • Should I have expected my marriage to be hellish? Why would any woman marry then?

We would like to send you away on a holiday together, paid for by the church.

(This was actually done, more that once, to remedy the marriage of a man in ministry. Note: such conduct by the church may be criminal — if a further assault ensues the church could be considered an accessory before the fact.)

  • Don’t you think that will be like rewarding him for being abusive? Besides, I think I’ll only be more at risk if we are completely out of sight of any people we know. Surely the church needs to make him accountable for his behaviour, not give him greater freedom to indulge it. Can you help me to feel safer, please, not more endangered?

You can put up with it. I did!

  • Yes, but at what price? Just because you put up with it, does that make it all right? Should we put up with burglars, or lead poisoning or cigarette-induced illnesses, just because it is possible to put up with them?

Trust in God. Put your marriage in God’s hands.

  • I do trust in God, but does that mean I should not have any feelings of pain or anxiety? It sounds like you’re blaming me for feeling distressed about my situation, and that doesn’t seem fair. Wouldn’t you feel distressed if it was happening to you?
  • It sounds like you’re saying that if I seek help from others, that means I’m not trusting God. Doesn’t God use many means to help us, including helping us through other people?
  • I do trust in God, but I also need to analyse the difficulties of my situation so I can understand it. Are you saying that if I even think or talk about the problem, that would be a sign that I would not be trusting God? Are you advising just a blind optimism? I am not leaving God out of my attempts to understand and deal with this.

You just need to feel how much God loves you! He will supply all your emotional needs Himself if you would only believe that. You would be happy if you knew God better.

—Said to an ACFJ reader (see comments thread below).

  • My husband doesn’t speak, touch, explain, or offer tender and personal partnership. I don’t see how God is a great Person to fill that gap.
  • When God created Adam in the garden of Eden, did He say to Adam: “You just need to feel how much I love you! I will supply all your emotional needs — all your desire for companionship and relationship.”? So why do you believe that’s the right advice to give me?
  • Is it wrong to be sad for the lack of human closeness? Is it really a lack of faith? Wasn’t Jesus sad when the disciples allowed themselves to sleep while He was praying in agony?

Have you prayed about it? Have you asked God for more faith to believe that your husband will change? A variant is: Families that pray together stay together.

  • Yes I’ve prayed; but I’ve rarely heard prayers about domestic abuse during church services. Why doesn’t the corporate church pray about these things? It wouldn’t be necessary to give personal details. Just something like “We intercede for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, incest, bullying and abuse.” If those sorts of prayers were heard in church, people like me would be more confident about seeking help.
  • Yes I’ve prayed, of course. But when you ask me that, I feel that you only want me to keep silent about it. Is that true?
  • Yes I’ve prayed and I intend to keep praying, but I may do other things too, like finding a safer place to live. I can pray from there.

Don’t try to change him. Go along with what he says or does, then at another time you may be able to talk his behaviour over with him.

  • I don’t think you understand what he is like. It is not easy to talk over his behaviour with him. If I try, he either blames me, changes the subject, minimises the problem, deliberately misunderstands me, twists what I’m saying, intimidates me, belittles me, ignores me, or makes promises that he never keeps. He cannot be reasoned with. He isn’t like your husband. It is like talking to someone in a different reality.

Accept him the way he is.

  • Should I accept whatever he wants to do to me? Am I meant to be a doormat for any kind of disrespect and cruelty?

You must give and take.

  • I have done that, but it doesn’t help. He is not like normal people. He just takes, and twists things further to denigrate me.

Jesus has borne all the sin of this abuse on the cross.

  • I need forgiveness for all my sin (including wherever I’ve made ungodly responses to having been victimised). However, when you reassure me of God’s forgiveness for the sin of abuse, you may not realise it but you’re implying I’m the abuser. Please clarify who owns the guilt here. Just because I feel shame doesn’t mean I’m responsible for this abuse.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7). Implying: Don’t judge your husband.

A variant is: Each time you point a finger at someone you have three pointing back at you.

  • That sounds like you’re saying I have to be perfect before I criticise anyone. But isn’t the text talking about punishment of a person, not criticising a person? The Bible says to reprove a fellow Christian who offends me. And although there is the “log in the eye” Scripture, there is no requirement to be totally sinless before we reprove someone who has sinned against us.

You must forgive him. (To err is human, to forgive is divine.)

  • Why do you emphasise my forgiving him, when you don’t seem to put much emphasis on him showing lasting fruits of repentance?
  • It sounds like you’re implying I must let him back even though there is a high chance that he will do it again (as has happened so many times before). Are you saying I should extend cheap grace to him?

Everybody sins. Don’t you sin too?

  • Yes; but I don’t commit crimes and I don’t try to completely control and demean another person.
  • Yes; but I confess my sins, repent, and try to make amends if I have harmed anyone. He just minimises what he does, shifts the blame, never really repents and never makes amends.

What about marriage counseling? If you haven’t tried that you have not given the marriage your best shot.

  • Well we did try, but the counsellor just told us we needed to improve our communication skills. I don’t think the counselor saw what the problem really was. In counselling, I felt too confused and frightened to talk about the abuse. I didn’t really understand it myself. Now I’ve read that joint counselling is not the right thing for abusive marriages. We should have mostly had separate counselling.
  • I tried to interest my husband in counselling but he refused to go (or only went once).
  • At counselling he manipulated the situation so he appeared innocent.

It will be such a feather in my husband’s cap if he can get you two back together!

This comment was spoken by the wife of a Christian therapist to a victim who was depressed to the point of suicide and had managed to leave the marriage. [2])

  • Are you saying that your husband’s kudos is more important than my safety and my life?

If you stay with him you may be able to bring him to salvation.

  • Maybe. But perhaps he will just wear me away until I cannot go on or until the children and I are badly injured or killed. He has heard the Gospel and rejected it. When people openly rejected Paul’s message he went to preach elsewhere. How can you be sure it is God’s will that I remain with my husband? Isn’t that taking one Scripture out of balance?
  • It is not me who will bring him to salvation. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

You must be letting this happen because it fulfils some unconscious need of yours.
(What is the 
pay-off for you? You must be somehow attracting it.)

  • I hope you’re not saying that I’m a masochist. I don’t have any need to be abused. But I do need to learn to be more assertive rather than taking on every guilt trip that others lay on me. I need support to become strong enough to leave him, to risk the very real dangers that arise when I tell him it’s over. I know this because of past experience: I’ll have to run the gauntlet of his retaliation, the housing and financial crises, possible police brush-offs, legal battles, etc. Will you help me?

Maybe you need antidepressants.

  • Why do I have to be treated with medication when he has the problem? Me taking antidepressants is not going to stop him abusing me.
  • I doubt I need medication; I just need to be believed and to be treated with courtesy and respect.

Your self-esteem is low. You need to improve your self-esteem. Then you will have a better relationship.

  • How do you know that my low self-esteem is the cause (rather than the result) of the abuse I’ve gone through?

To love someone you have to love yourself first.

  • Isn’t that a secular belief rather than a biblical belief? The Bible says we love God because He first loved us, not because we valued ourselves highly to start with.

Your husband loves you.

  • How do you know he loves me? Maybe he tells you that. But if he loves me, why does he treat me like dirt?
  • How does the Bible define love? Doesn’t it say actions speak louder than words?

Do you love him?

  • Surely my getting and keeping safe is the most important thing right now?
  • If I say I don’t love him, does that imply that I’ve fallen short somehow? Yes, I care about his welfare, and I wish him a life of godly blessing, but as far as emotions go, I am so full of fear, anger and pain that I can’t feel anything else at the moment.
  • Yes, I love him; but does that mean I should let him continue to terrify me?

He is God’s representative in your home and you must obey / submit to him.

  • Yes, the Bible says “Submit to your own husband, as unto the Lord,” but should I obey his instructions when he requires me to sin, or to comply with his sin? If my husband wants me to comply with sin, he is not being God’s representative. And doesn’t the Bible also say that my husband should love me as Christ loved the church? Does the Lord abuse, beat, rape, put down His church?
  • Did you know that violence intensifies when women submit to it? Probably the single worst action I could take is to submit to his abuse. [3]

Wives should be in subjection to their churlish husbands, not from dread and amazement, but from a desire to do well and to please God.

—This ^ is Matthew Henry’s comment on 1 Peter 3:6. “Churlish” means brutal, surly, ungracious.

  • That word “should” sounds like you are telling me that I’m in sin if I dread and am terrified of his violence. It lays more blame on me.

If you submit properly, he will treat you properly. The responsibility for a good relationship belongs with the wife. Good husbands are made by God; good marriages by women.

  • Where does the Bible say that, or give such a guarantee?
  • Are you are saying his violence is my fault? Frankly, I’m tired of being told that this is a relationship issue and that if I behave in a certain way, he will stop doing what he’s doing. It isn’t a relationship issue, it’s a criminal issue.

What were the issues in the marriage?

  • Domestic abuse isn’t about fighting over issues of disagreement. It’s about power and control exerted by a very selfish person.

It takes two to cause an argument.

  • If someone defrauds you in business, does that “take two”? If someone assaults another person in the street, does the victim always share in the blame?

It takes two to contribute to a marriage break down.

  • Not necessarily! It takes two to make a marriage work, but only one to make it fail. Nothing I have done to try to adjust to his demands has stopped the abuse. I’m prepared to examine whatever I might still need to change about my own conduct, but it will be pointless unless he addresses his abuse.

If your husband hurts you, imagine that it is God punishing you because of your sins, and that in this way you are doing penance for your sins.

  • Where is penance in the Bible? Jesus took the punishment for my sins; why should I have to be punished for them as well? There is no purgatory in the Bible’s teaching either, so my present ordeal cannot be gaining me remission from suffering after death. [4]

It is your cross to bear, but God has promised never to give you more than you can handle.

  • Does that mean that if I can’t handle his abuse, I have failed?
  • Yes; Jesus gave himself up to cruel persecutors in His death on the cross, but that was because far bigger things were at stake. God was pouring the wrath of His justice on His innocent Son, so we (who are not innocent) could be forgiven without having to suffer that wrath. Yet even the crucifixion had an end point. Surely domestic abuse and violence may have an endpoint too? Jesus said we might suffer persecution, but He also promised us life and life abundantly.

Each time your husband hits you just think of it as an opportunity to be a little closer to Jesus and the angels.

—Spoken by a priest at the hospital bedside of a dreadfully battered woman.

  • Is it all right for me to hit you, so you can have that opportunity too? Your doctrine only justifies abuse, but doesn’t the Bible imply we should confront maltreatment and protect the weak?

It must be part of God’s plan for your life.

  • Certainly God will be able to work all things together for good, but is it His plan for me to suffer indefinitely? How could that be “good” — for me, or for my husband?
  • God is not the author of sin.

This must be God’s way of teaching you a lesson.

  • OK, but what lesson? I’d like some help in working that out but I don’t feel I’ll get it from you — I feel judged by you.

If he does kill you, the worst that can happen is that you go and be with Jesus.

—Said by a pastor to a victim who consulted him for advice.

  • But wouldn’t it be better to prevent our kids ending up with a murderer as their only living parent?

Perfect love casts out fear.

  • Fear can be a God-given response to danger so that we will act self-protectively.
  • Are you saying I should have no fear when I’m in danger of being assaulted? That I am a failing Christian if I feel afraid of him?
  • Surely “perfect love casts out fear” refers to our freedom from God’s condemnation and wrath, rather than our never being supposed to fear our persecutors.

I’d never put up with that from anyone.

  • That tells me you don’t understand much about domestic abuse. How do you know what you would do in my situation? Abuse is subtle: it wears you down so you have virtually nothing with which to resist it. Also, you think you have plenty of reasons to stay.

You chose him. Now you have to live with it. (You made your bed, now lie in it.)

  • He didn’t seem abusive at the beginning.
  • Even if I lacked judgment or sinned during my initial involvement with him, does that sentence me to misery now? If you accidentally injured yourself in a driving accident, wouldn’t you hope that others would help you out of the wreckage and assist your recovery?

Try to understand how difficult his childhood was.

  • I do, but does that excuse his current behaviour? Lots of people had a difficult upbringing but not all those people abuse their spouses.

Is it caused by alcohol or drugs?

  • No, he can abuse me stone cold sober.
  • No, that lets him off the hook by blaming something outside himself.

He has had a lot of worries lately / he is out of a job. You owe it to him to help him through this. He needs you. Stand by your man.

  • Yes that’s true, but does that excuse it? Lots of men are unemployed or burdened with worries but don’t abuse their wives.
  • You say “stand by him”, but who will stand by me?

It isn’t that bad. You’d leave if it were really that bad.
You seem too calm for someone who has had all that happen to her.
It doesn’t happen often.
He doesn’t hit you. There are no bruises.
Be grateful he doesn’t hit the children.
All marriages experience valleys.

—Minimization and disbelief can take many forms.

  • It is that bad. The violence may not happen often, but the other parts happen regularly — the intimidation, threats, isolation, financial abuse and emotional abuse. A little violence goes a long way, when all the other control techniques are in place too.
  • Even if violence doesn’t happen, does that make it OK? Are other forms of abuse acceptable?

Maybe he just needs to learn to control his anger.
Or, in psychological jargon: He has a deficit of interpersonal skills. There is an inhibition in his anger control mechanisms.

  • I don’t think so. He can control his anger well enough at work, on the street, at church, in public. He chooses to let himself be angry just at me, in private.
  • The fact that he hits me only where the bruises won’t show indicates he is still in control of himself, even when he is angry.
  • He could be beating me….the doorbell would ring and he’d be all calm and civilised….then when the visitors left he would get straight back into beating me. Doesn’t that show quite a degree of control?
  • Someone who stores up facts I trustingly confided in him about my past sins, and then uses them to publicly humiliate me years later, displays purposeful and intentional abuse. That is no lack of control. On the contrary, such conduct displays complete mastery of himself.

He feels intimidated and frustrated by you. You are so intelligent. You could beat him in any argument.

  • But when he talks and threatens, he reduces me to jelly. I may look confident to the outside world, but at home I live in fear.
  • Even if I am somewhat competent and intelligent, does that give him the right to abuse me? Do you become violent when someone else is more competent than you? Surely he should protect and honour whatever good qualities I have, not try to stamp them out!

You are too professionally respected, you earn too much money, I can’t believe you would put up with abuse, as though you were stupid, a minority or poor. [5]

  • You seem to believe a lot of myths about abuse. Abuse occurs in every level of society.

Maybe he needs deliverance.

  • Maybe; but in his present state I feel it would be useless because he must first repent of his sin, otherwise he will go on “giving legal ground” to the enemy and the evil would just come back  (Matthew 12:43-45).

You shouldn’t run away from these things. You can’t just walk out at the first sign of trouble.
“No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:62)

  • But there is a biblical principal of fleeing. David fled from Saul. Mary and Joseph took refuge in Egypt because of Herod. The believers left Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen.

Are you going to reconcile with your husband, or go on being a floozy?

  • That really hurts me. I don’t think I’m trying to attract men; on the contrary, I’m deliberately dressing down because I’m afraid of attracting male attention.

Are you willing to let Satan destroy your marriage?

  • It’s not me who is letting Satan do it, it is my spouse.

Children need their father.

  • Yes, generally speaking that’s true, but what if their father does more harm than good?

We’re praying for you.

  • I appreciate that; but do you think you could listen to me too? Because I’ve got lots of people praying for me, but hardly anyone who is willing to just listen to me without judgment.

We’re praying for the two of you.

—Said after the couple had separated.

  • If you’re praying for reconciliation, I doubt it will help unless somebody is also prepared to hold my husband accountable. I prayed for years and it didn’t get him out of his denial.

We hope this (the separation) doesn’t go on much longer!

  • Why do you hope that? Does the separation make you uncomfortable?

You must reconcile with your husband.

  • Why must I, when he hasn’t shown solid evidence of changing?
  • Would you like to know why we are separated?

Marriage is “for better or worse”. Till death us do part.

  • Yes, but was the “worse” meant to extend to the cruel abuse that my husband is dishing out to me? God doesn’t condone sadism. God doesn’t condone unrelenting cold-heartedness. Surely “for better or worse” only means the ups and downs of life in the providence of God?

You are not allowed to take communion until the church forgives you. [6]

—Said to a woman when she told her minister her husband was hitting her.

  • What is your Scriptural basis for barring me from communion?

We suggest you don’t come to church any more because the rest of the church will feel uncomfortable about you and Jim sitting separately.

—Said by some church Elders to a woman who had recently separated from her abuser.

  • Well I mean no disrespect, but I’m coming to church anyway. There is no Scriptural reason why I shouldn’t, and if other people have a problem with that, that’s their problem.

Don’t get a divorce.

—Said when the victim is contemplating separation or shortly after separation.

  • I am only contemplating time-out from my marriage at the moment; why do you leap ahead and assume I will be getting a divorce?

What God has joined together let no man put asunder.

  • What God joined together, a man has already put asunder.

God hates divorce. It is a sin.

  • It is not me who is breaking the covenant — it’s my spouse. He is behaving like an unbeliever: pushing me away by his conduct. The fault in any divorce, if there is to be one, is his.
  • Would you give your daughter the same advice if she were in the same situation?
  • That’s based on a wrong translation. Malachi wrote “He who hates and divorces….covers his garment with violence.”

There’s got to be a time when you get beyond this. (Stop feeling sorry for yourself.)

  • I’m sorry that you don’t want to listen. I need to talk to come to terms with it all. It takes a lot more to recover from this than I think you appreciate.
  • Can I be expected to get over it while his abuse continues? For example, now we are separated the children visit him regularly. On those visits he concentrates on denigrating me so they come home disrespectful and ultra-critical towards me.

Final note to supporters and bystanders

Every stonewalling, every false accusation, every explosion, every jab, every icy barb from the perpetrator leaves the victim in shock. Shame penetrates every fibre of the victim’s being. If, when reaching out for help, a victim is stung by unhelpful comments, it may take a while for the additional pain to register slowly in the victim’s mind. Try to imagine how hard a victim finds it to face such a thick wall of unbelief and misunderstanding.

A victim may try to leave an abusive relationship but re-succumb to its snares many times before finally getting free. Appropriate support from others is often crucial for a victim to achieve long-term safety.

Final note to victims

There is a pattern in these suggested answers. The pattern involves asking your critic / questioner another question or challenging him / her in return. Turn the question around, so the absurdity and unfairness of their thinking is obvious. Parents often use this approach with their children, when dealing with difficult behaviour.

Jesus used this “answer a question with another question” technique on the Scribes and Pharisees many times (for example, Luke 20:2-8; John 8:4-7; Matthew 9:4-6; 15:3-9; 22:42-45; also see Paul’s examples in Acts 16:37; 22:25; and Tamar’s in Genesis 38:25). We may learn to do this too, respectfully and without hostility.


[1] Comment reported by an older woman in Two Lives, Two Worlds – Older People and Domestic Violence, vol. 1, (Morgan Disney & Assocs, Leigh Cupitt & Assocs, Council on the Ageing; Partnerships against Domestic Violence, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) p. 27.

[2] Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, p. 100.

[3] James & Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989; Guildford UK: Highland Books, 1989, p. 84.

[4] If you have questions about purgatory and penance you might like to read one of the many good books which examine Catholic doctrines from a Scriptural basis.

[5] Said by a white, male pastor to a physician who earned six figures a year and was being beaten by her husband. See Al Miles‚ Domestic Violence — What Every Pastor Needs to Know. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2000, p.63.

[6] See Two Lives, Two Worlds, ibid. p 65.

[April 18, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 18, 2023 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 April 18, 2023 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 April 18, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 18, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

Neutrality is not neutral

Are you walking on eggshells?

How easy IS it to spot an abuser, when he is both Jekyll and Hyde?

28 thoughts on “Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People: A coaching clinic for victims of domestic abuse and their supporters”

  1. From the endnotes:

    Two Lives, Two Worlds


    From the post title:

    Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People

    (Strikethrough done by me.)


    From the post (a heading):

    Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes (Job 13:12a NKJV)


    From the post:

    ….Shame penetrates every fibre of the victim’s being. If, when reaching out for help, a victim is rebuffed by unhelpful comments, it may take a while for the additional pain to register slowly in the victim’s mind….


    From the post:

    ….The unhelpful comments were made by a range of people….

    For me, ^That has applied to comments made throughout my life by secular / non-secular people. (Omitting details for my protection.)

  2. This is excellent advice. I pray that more people will understand the truth about abusers and their victims, especially in the church.

  3. Can anyone help with this one? A husband who has been not so much explosive or who speaks cruelly, but one who stonewalls, withdraws affection and communication, never offers understanding or resolution, doesn’t answer questions, leaves her isolated and ignores her in need. And a “helpful bystander” (who energetically cultivates a happy marriage, large family and social network) says, “You just need to feel how much God loves you! He will supply all your emotional needs Himself if you would only believe that. You would be happy if you knew God better.”

    I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis describing how a mother who lost a little son would still grieve all the mother of a young child sorts of love….that God would not Himself fill that specific loss, though He could be of ultimate comfort and hope. And I think of how God called Adam alone and provided another human being….someone “suitable.” God Himself did not think He was all Adam would need in way of relationships on earth.

    When the husband doesn’t speak, touch, explain, or offer tender and personal partnership, I don’t see how God is a great person to fill that gap. Just like C.S. Lewis didn’t think God was a great person to fill the gap of little child to care for. Not that knowing God offers no help at all in the situation, but is it wrong to be sad for the lack of human closeness? Is it really a lack of faith? Any suggested replies in such a case?

    1. Hello Sunshine commented SO many things that rang bells with me.

      Rather than copy all the bell-ringing parts of the comment and writing ^That, I will confine myself to a suggesting replies from my personal perspective.

      Hello Sunshine commented:

      ….but is it wrong to be sad for the lack of human closeness?….

      No. People from infancy through adulthood need human closeness to survive / thrive, though the closeness may not stem from physical proximity. Consider the number of people (like me) who have (for any number of reasons) limited contact with others except via the internet / email.

      Hello Sunshine also commented:

      ….Is it really a lack of faith?….

      No. Unfortunately too many “Christians” (and sometimes Christians) weaponize faith, leaving those (like me) who struggle with faith feeling less Christian and more “Christian”.

      Hello Sunshine also commented:

      ….God Himself did not think He was all Adam would need in way of relationships on earth.


    2. Thank you so much, Hello Sunshine. Your comment has prompted me to change the wording in my post a bit.

      Under the heading “Final note to supporters and bystanders” it now says:

      Every stonewalling, every false accusation, every explosion, every jab, every icy barb from the perpetrator leaves the victim in shock.

      I have also added to the post the unhelpful comment you received. Thank you so much for sharing it. It’s a doozy!

      You just need to feel how much God loves you! He will supply all your emotional needs Himself if you would only believe that. You would be happy if you knew God better.

      I hope you don’t mind that I’ve adapted your words into this suggested answer:

      My husband doesn’t speak, touch, explain, or offer tender and personal partnership. I don’t see how God is a great person to fill that gap.

      When God created Adam in the garden of Eden, He didn’t say to Adam, “You just need to feel how much I love you! I will supply all your emotional needs — all your desire for companionship and relationship.” So why do you believe that’s the right advice to give me?

      Is it wrong to be sad for the lack of human closeness? Is it really a lack of faith? Wasn’t Jesus sad when the disciples allowed themselves to sleep while He was praying in agony?

      1. Barbara, just wanted to say what a great job you’ve done with this post. I’m reading through it and am really impressed and blessed.

      2. Barb wrote:

        Wasn’t Jesus sad when the disciples allowed themselves to sleep while He was praying in agony?

        Without going too far down this road, I have wondered if the fact that Jesus was betrayed by one of His own was no accident. There was clear and defined intention involved. A way to personally and closely identify with the sufferings of those who needed Him to understand that particular sort of pain.

        Bear with me, Judas was and is 100% responsible for his actions—he was not “predestined” to choose his actions. He chose them of his own volition.

        My point is that Christ is well-equipped to understand what it is like, what it feels like, to be betrayed by someone close to you. Or, the one who is closest to you (which is often the case when we are abused. It is someone we know and trust).

        It’s always personal when we are abused. Always. Again, the betrayal aspect that accompanies the abuse is often just as painful, if not more so, than the actual abuse.

        It didn’t get any closer than one of His own disciples—-someone He hand-picked and taught and trusted and treated with especially strong affection and attention. The betrayal aspect is especially sharp and significant.

        How could you do this to me? You, of all people! (paraphrased from Psalm 55:12)

        And I got to read the post with Hello Sunshine’s inserts and the suggested answer Barb provided. Well done. Hats off to both of you.

        Is it wrong to be sad for the lack of human closeness? Is it really a lack of faith?

        Of course not! The chapters near the end of the book of John are so precious to me because Christ lowered His guard in a such a powerful and personal way. They indicated such a closeness and care for the human beings He called His friends, not just His disciples.

    3. Hi, Hello Sunshine; it’s great to hear from you again! Barbara is going to respond to you, likely way more beneficial than anyone else, but I just wanted to offer support and encouragement.

      A husband who has been not so much explosive or who speaks cruelly, but one who stonewalls, withdraws affection and communication, never offers understanding or resolution, doesn’t answer questions, leaves her isolated and ignores her in need.

      It’s not just what you described, but HOW you described it.

      (Let me preface right away that NONE of my comment is meant to criticize. I worked pretty hard to make that clear, but I want to be extra sure. You comment was excellent.)

      (And by the way, your observations were spot on. Incredibly well said. I’ve observed much of what you have said as well:)

      God Himself did not think He was all Adam would need in way of relationships on earth.

      I find neglect (as you described it) to be on par with indifference, which I find to be on par with hate. It sends that exact message (“I don’t love you”), even if it is not actually spoken with cruelty, or spoken at all.

      We generally tend to think of abuse as something that is actively on display, obvious to all, and can be seen or heard—-something that is outward and unmistakably clear.

      I don’t necessarily believe that. Abusers are incredibly good at abusing in ways that don’t even seem like abuse.

      The abuse you described in the first part (explosive cruelty) and added the “but,” then described abuse in the next part—-caught my eye. In the first part, you described acts of commission. In the latter part, you described acts of omission.

      I don’t know if it is good idea to describe abuse as either active or passive. I am now trying to separate my mind from that sort of thinking. All abuse is murder—-a series of intentional choices that destroy a person from the inside out.

      Not giving a drink of water to a person dying of thirst is murder. It was an intentional choice to hurt (or kill) someone by NOT doing something that needed to be done. And should have been done. And could have been done.

      It is just as bad as taking a knife and killing someone, but as a society I don’t know if we could arrest someone for NOT giving a person who desperately needed something as simple as water. We COULD arrest someone for killing someone with a knife. I don’t know how outraged we are at acts of omission, versus acts of commission.

      (By the way, I believe the Bible finds BOTH of those to be sin. As a church I am unsure if we are either aware of that, or implement that theology accordingly.)

      Our mind conjures up an image for both of those scenarios. The first one is wretched indeed, but how traumatized and sickened would we be, compared to the next one?

      When I was abused, I was often yelled at and horrible things were said. He NEVER said: “I hate you”, “I don’t love you”, “you are worthless”, etc. But I got those messages constantly even if those exact words were never spoken out loud.

      I was also NOT told that I was loved, that I was worthy, that I was cared for. But I got those messages as well. He never went out of his way to show me love, or say the words. So I knew what he was saying by what he said and what he did NOT say.

      Abusers know how to make things clear in a way that is also totally confusing. “So, you don’t hate me, but I can tell you don’t love me—–but since you never said EITHER of those things out loud (I hate you OR I love you)—I don’t have much of a case against you?”

      Humanity was never meant to experience abuse. Factor that into the discussion, and it’s more clear as to WHY we have such a hard time untangling the many knots that abuse causes. We were meant to love and be loved, and abuse has no place in that.

      Trying to wedge the reality of abuse INTO that statement, and again—this is a big reason why we are so blessed and benefit so much from a website like this, people like Barb and Reaching Out, and people like you (and everyone else) who comment and share.

      We understand that abuse sends us many messages, with or without words. With our without actions. We know when we have not been loved, or felt loved, and that breaks our hearts.

      The person you described in that first paragraph seems to fit that statement. She is not loved. She knows it, feels it and experiences it.

      Oh—the so-called advice given is 100% wretched in my mind. You explained it really well; I just wanted to chime in on that. For me, that woman (likely unintentionally) bordered a bit on blasphemy.

      Without Him, we are nothing. We are lost. We are spiritually dead and have no hope in this world, or in the next. He is our Everything.

      Then why did He create things such as marriage, or the very body of Christ? Powerful, Biblical ways for human beings to bond and lean on one another. And why is the 2nd commandment so adamant that we love one another? Paul’s descriptions of the body of Christ present a picture in that without it—-the church cannot survive and thrive.

      That is not true for marriage, of course. You will be just fine if you aren’t married, or never get married. But the body of Christ, with Him as the Cornerstone and Foundation—-is not optional to be a part of, and to benefit from.

      Side note: I know many of us either do not attend church or attend sparingly. The body of Christ is NOT necessarily church-based, to me. It can and does exist within the walls of a church, but is absolutely not confined to any walls, of any church, of any building.

      So to casually wave the hand and dismiss what Hello Sunshine described—-also casually dismisses God’s insistence that He work not only in us as individuals, but through us in order to bless and benefit one another.

      I would find it sick and sad if God’s love towards me put me in an isolated tower. Sure, He loves me and I love Him back—but perhaps that love He is giving me might be a blessing to someone OUTSIDE of that tower. And perhaps that very love He is giving me is actually encouraging me to do just that.

      I’ve been very, very lonely in my life. The persons who were supposed to love me chose not do. Yes, God stepped into that gap and made sure I felt loved by Him, and that saved me over and over again. But by NO means did that excuse or justify the choices of others to show me contempt as they chose to do. He made beauty of out my ashes, but He also never forgot HOW those ashes got there in the first place. Neither should we.

      1. Hmm, Hello Sunshine, your comment has so much to chew on. When the way modern day churches teach, approach, handle or dole out “truths” from God’s word actually provides whitewash for the exact opposite of love and mercy, so that someone who is living from a heart of selfishness is not only comfy in their sin, but has nothing to counter their justification of it, and someone being cheated is told God wants them to put up with it endlessly, something is terribly, terribly wrong. Which is why I am more convinced than ever that a genuine revival is needed; we need a steady, life giving rain on the barren desert that I suspect today’s version of Christianity is.

        What you described reminds me sort of, of the story of Onan in the Bible. If you can bear me musing out loud, here is what I see that compares with your description of a husband who outwardly looks good but who is majoring in sins of omission. Here is this guy who outwardly appears to be a very pious, God-fearing man, who has obediently taken the widow of his dead brother to wife, in order to provide for her, and raise up an offspring so that his brother’s name carries on. Outwardly he has fulfilled the letter of the law. He must have looked righteous indeed and obedient to the Jewish community.

        But it is a pretense, because the Bible records that he “spilled his seed upon the bed” each time he went in to his brother’s widow who was now his wife. Behind closed doors he was a different man who kept secret the intent of his heart and its contents. If he were an honest man he could have gone to the priest or the prophet and discussed his concerns and asked for help and wisdom but he did not. He did not want to create an offspring that would get any of what was his. The Bible says that:

        Onan knew that the child would not be his…. [Genesis 38:9]

        So here we have a guy who:

        —Seems to not believe that God is generous and trustworthy and would honor Onan for his attempt at honoring God, his brother and the widow he has taken to wife.

        —Thinks perhaps God does not really see and so does not know the intent of his heart or worse, thinks that God thinks like Onan does.

        —Is willing to access sexual pleasure from this woman but has no intention of providing an heir, so he is in effect treating her more like a built-in prostitute he can go in to when it suits him, than like someone he has a sacred duty towards and who is a person who deserves to be treated with respect and honor. He is intentional and deliberate about fulfilling his own needs while denying hers. The poor woman probably didn’t even get sexual satisfaction, let alone love and a child.

        —-Has a heart like the Grinch because he is only interested in doing good if it benefits him but doesn’t want anyone else to have it. Probably close relatives with Nabal who had a similar mentality, “why should he share what is his” with David and his men.

        What is significant to me is that from the outside, it all looks good, Onan looks God-fearing and obedient and if she said anything she would probably seem ungrateful. I can hear someone saying “Here your brother-in-law has taken you to wife provided for you and yet you complain against him”. Yet she is being cheated by someone who is using the very law itself as a cover for his selfishness. Was God cool with this? No. God’s opinion:

        What he did was evil in the LORD’s sight, so He put Onan to death as well. (Gen 38:10)

        If anything this passage shows that God is neither fooled nor impressed by someone who uses the outward appearance of law keeping to cover a selfish, evil heart. This is further backed up by what Jesus said to the Pharisees when He called them whitewashed tombs, men who made lots of outward shows of law-keeping but whose intent all along was to do their own thing and make God a cuckold in the process. God sees when someone though imperfect and lacking, truly loves their spouse and is trying honestly to make their marriage work and working at their marriage, and He sees when someone is an Onan or a Nabal with no intent to honor God or man. These types love the letter of the law but aren’t too interested in digging deeper for a grasp of God’s intent and heart in the matter. HE SEES.

        [A few paragraph breaks added to enhance readability of the asterisked —- points. Editors.]

    4. Thank you all for your kind and heartening responses. Wow, your suggested answer, Barbara, turned my questions into a powerful, life-affirming reply. I am thankful to be reminded of Jesus’ deep wish for human aid and friendship!

  4. This is a wonderful post. So many typical statements, that I’ve heard many times before. Thanks so much for writing it.

    However, it does strike me as disturbing that every single pronoun in this post assumes the abuser is a male and the victim a female. I was in an extremely manipulative and abusive marriage for many years. I served in multiple churches and there were almost no resources for me, as a male, when I finally hit rock bottom and faced either divorce or suicide.

    Almost every book and article on the subject assumes this gender basis. There are many men who find themselves without a voice and without representation when it comes to this issue. I hope that the same grace extends to men and women in abusive relationships.

    1. Jim,

      I have modified your screen name for your safety and protection, as you appear to have provided a name that might be too identifying.

      This post was written many years ago by Barb, and though we have a number of male survivors on the ACFJ blog, not many comment.

      From the definition of the ACFJ blog sidebar, there is a note at the bottom that states:

      Sometimes the genders are reversed — see our tag for ‘male survivors’ (tags tab in the top menu).

      Click Male Survivors for the Male Survivors tag posts.

    2. Hi Jim, I know that some men are abused by their wives. I wish English had gender inclusive person pronouns in the singular. All I can suggest is you switch the genders of the pronouns when reading it. Or you might like to paste it into a doc and then retype to words that designate gender.

      As you will see if you read the info in our sidebar, we recognise that males can be victims of domestic abuse.

      We also have a tag for ‘male victims’. Click our FAQs in the menu to find it.

      Welcome to the blog if this is your first comment. 😊

  5. Helovesme commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 10:48 AM):

    Abusers know how to make things clear in a way that is also totally confusing. “So, you don’t hate me, but I can tell you don’t love me–but since you never said EITHER of those things out loud (I hate you OR I love you)–I don’t have much of a case against you?”


    Barbara Roberts commented (12TH JULY 2019 – 1:51 PM):

    ….Or you might like to paste it into a doc and then retype to words that designate gender.

    ^That or whatever it takes to communicate. In my case, I hijack words until I understand the picture in my mind. Once I understand the picture in my mind, I have less / no need to hijack the words of another individual.

    I did not encounter any issues with communication until my walls crumbled and I started commenting on the ACFJ blog. Now, I am non-stop learning how a lifetime of abuse / the lack of knowledge I am high-functioning Asperger’s has affected me.

    Helovesme also commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 10:48 AM):

    Humanity was never meant to experience abuse. Factor that into the discussion, and it’s more clear as to WHY we have such a hard time untangling the many knots that abuse causes. We were meant to love and be loved, and abuse has no place in that.


    Helovesme also commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 10:48 AM):

    I’ve been very, very lonely in my life….


    Abuse / love / loneliness cannot simultaneously exist in the same place / time / relationship.

    Eliminating abuse leaves: love / loneliness cannot simultaneously exist in the same place / time / relationship.


    1. Finding Answers wrote:

      Abuse / love / loneliness cannot simultaneously exist in the same place / time / relationship.

      Eliminating abuse leaves: love / loneliness cannot simultaneously exist in the same place / time / relationship.

      Wow. Blew me away. Well said!

  6. Barbara, I have to say again what an excellent job you did with this!

    The flurry of thoughts and responses were all over the place in my mind as I read! I loved the variety of responses to those unhelpful comments.

    AND your above synopsis as to possible reasons WHY these unhelpful comments are so often generated. You offered a lot of grace for honest ignorance (my hand is raised there), but also firm rebuke to not remain in that ignorance (my hand is also raised there!).

    So much of what you wrote about how or why we do or do not get involved resonated with me, too. In fact, I’m going to read that part at least one more time. For some or most of it I felt as though you had either read my mind or gotten insight to some of my own experiences!

    I love how you gave “permission” to actually respond to those comments. Sometimes that is the absolute hardest part. When someone is trying to help (albeit badly, or making it worse), I know for me—I tended to sort of bow my head and just let them have their say.

    I have tried to explain myself to others when they would “try” to help or say all the wrong things, only pouring salt in my wounds. I would try to use details, use my words, use my tone, use my heart—-and in the end, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    Sometimes the main focus is on the helper, not the one being helped. They believe they are right to tell you this, or tell you that, or tell you otherwise—-to the point where you need their “permission” to think or feel for yourself. How is that helpful?! It’s not. It is only making matters worse.

    So, if you “talk back” to them, it’s as if you dared to infer that you are not under their authority. You ask: “why are you demanding and commanding me as if you are? I am a valid, valuable child and vulnerable child of His. Don’t treat me as though I am anything less than that.”

    However, I am with Barbara on this. Respond to them, if the Lord leads. Other times, I don’t even bother to respond. That is very hard for me to choose, because I do not like it when I am ignored and I do not like to do it others. But I will not respond unless He gives me the faith to do so. Anything not out of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

    The best helpers do not necessarily require a degree or training (although that is a great thing). But the best ones are the ones who realize that abuse has taken away a person’s individuality. They don’t even know who they are anymore, or can barely recall what they used to be like. The have been bullied and badgered and berated to the point there they cannot even sneeze without the permission of their abuser!

    Abuse is all an abuser’s insatiable drive to control, and to be in control, and to control his or her victims. They feel 100% entitled to do and maintain this, so any suffering caused does not faze him or her. It is part and parcel of their justified “mission” in life, so whatever it takes away from others is not his or her concern. In fact, it is part of the “thrill” of abuse. The more you take away, the more powerful you feel.

    So for anyone to help anyone in this sort of situation: speak and behave with that at the forefront of your mind. Encourage them to think for themselves, to make their own choices, to trust as the Lord leads them, not as their abuser demands from them.

    Think about all the ways abusers, ones who falsely professes Christ—-twist Scripture in wicked ways, and the persons around him or her that endorse, enable and engage in the same practices. Barb again did a wonderful job in outlining how to respond to such tormenting words, falsely described as Biblical.

    She is also encouraging those victims to bring to mind that you too know the Lord, know what He is and isn’t like, and know what He says is wrong or right.

    A LOT of those unhelpful comments assumed otherwise: “you don’t know the Bible very much or very well, or as much or as well as I do or we do—-so you need to be told what is in it, what it does and doesn’t mean, and how it should or should not be applied in real life.”

    (This has happened to me PLENTY of times. I can never catch a break because someone around me feels the need to “put me in my place” aka “put me down!” It’s extremely frustrating and not at all empowering or uplifting. It is demeaning and debilitating. I don’t mind learning and growing, but I do NOT like being lectured and looked down upon.)

    Put the Word aside for JUST a moment (and bear with me):

    Okay. No matter how well you do or do not know the Word, when you’re being abused, it messes with your mind. It’s hard to think straight or think clearly. Verses come in and out of your head, but none of them are telling you what you do or not do. You’re confused, feeling weak and vulnerable—-so you go to a pastor or an Elder. Surely their outside perspective, unclouded and clearer than yours—-will put things into proper perspective for you.

    That’s not always true. They might use the Word in all the wrong ways to lead you to the wrong conclusions. They may offer Bible verses, but nothing that gives the abuse the attention it so badly needs. They claimed to listen, but they really weren’t listening.

    Take a deep breath and ask yourself a few questions, and try to answer them honestly. Even if you cannot quite conjure up the right verses to comfort or instruct you just yet, start here:

    Am I really and truly being abused? (Lots of times you are told otherwise, but only you and the Lord know for sure.)

    If I am being abused, is this how He wants me to live my life? Is this what He intends for me, and my kids? (If there are kids. And those are not crazy questions.)

    Do I think abuse is a sin? (Believe me, that’s not a crazy question, either.)

    Is there someone, in OR out of the church, who will at least listen to me? And believe me? And not try to quote Scripture at me as I try to explain myself?

    I’ve been in all sorts of “fogs,” not always ones resulting from abuse. The Word DOES come back to your mind as that fog starts to clear. And not being able to recall Bible verses does NOT mean that the Lord is absent from your heart, mind and life. In fact, He is never more present and powerful than when we are weak, weary and worn out to the max. He is always working in you and around you—-and is especially working when you need Him the most.

    Two of my favorite quotes from Barb:

    Turn the question around, so the absurdity and unfairness of their thinking is obvious.

    Every stonewalling, every false accusation, every explosion, every jab, every icy barb from the perpetrator leaves the victim in shock.

    Barbara writes extremely well. I get all sorts of pictures and images and puzzle pieces that help me and others out immensely.

    The comments and questions and discussions as well only add to all of that, so thank you everyone!

  7. Barb’s answers are great advice and illuminate well what is wrong with each “piece of advice”. They illustrate the bad theology that is so prevalent in so many churches. But it is hard to come up with the right response ‘on the spot’ under pressure.

    The best initial defence is usually to ask a question of your own to the person offering gratuitous advice because it is hard under circumstances of distress to figure out the best (or even a good) response.

    So here is a good default question to flip ‘the script’ and give you time —
    “Has this (the advice given) worked for you in your life?”

    To which you can expect the answer to be “Yes” whether it is true or not.

    Then follow up with, “Would you tell me about it?”

    Now a deceitful person may start telling you how they have seen it work in other’s lives. Ask for details (lots of them) and / or reiterate that you want to hear of their personal experience.

    Regardless of the answers you are given, the process has given you the opportunity to break this set-up and to observe this “well-meaning” helper. You can now assess them and their advice as you are interacting with them rather than working it out later and kicking yourself.

    The first thing to do, I suggest, is practice having days when you pause before you answer any question from anyone because you never know when you might find yourself in this position and need a second or three to reflect before answering / defending.

    1. James commented:

      But it is hard to come up with the right response ‘on the spot’ under pressure.


      James also commented:

      ….it is hard under circumstances of distress to figure out the best (or even a good) response.

      ^Those statements. And for me, I would say best / good / ANY response.

      Kind Of Anonymous commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 4:03 PM):

      ….we need a steady, life giving rain….


      Helovesme commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 6:51 PM):

      I have tried to explain myself to others….


      Helovesme also commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 6:51 PM):

      ….But the best ones are the ones who realize that abuse has taken away a person’s individuality. They don’t even know who they are anymore, or can barely recall what they used to be like.


      James also commented:

      “Would you tell me about it?”

      ^That helps me learn / understand who I am and who I am not.

      Helovesme also commented (13TH JULY 2019 – 6:51 PM):

      ….I get all sorts of pictures and images and puzzle pieces that help me and others out immensely.


    2. Really great insights, James. I really liked:

      But it is hard to come up with the right response ‘on the spot’ under pressure.

      When you talk to or confide in anyone, you are likely unsure how they will respond, if they do at all.

      To be fair to the listener, they too are put on the spot. They may or may not be sure if the speaker just wants to be listened to. So they keep quiet. Or do they want advice, feedback or possible courses of action? Do they want to hear certain things, and NOT hear certain things? Do they just want to be comforted and consoled?

      Bear with me—-I am NOT condoning any of those unhelpful comments!! Barb was extremely generous in pointing out the various reasons why we stumble and bumble and respond in all the wrong ways.

      While everyone is different in what they want, need or expect when they open up to someone, I try to keep in mind the basics (as Barb wrote about). Listen to them, and believe them. Perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but if you don’t know what to do or say—-ASK them what they would like from you. And, if necessary—apologize that you have even asked and explain that you don’t want to make things worse by blurting out anything foolish. Reiterate that you are here to help but you don’t know how to.

      As James said, it’s hard for a victim to know, right then and there, how to answer unhelpful comments. On the other side, there can be a lot of pressure for the listener to know the exact right thing to say or do. This is where it’s better (I think), for both sides to realize that they are on the same side: they want to help, and they want to be helped. They are not and should not be antagonistic towards one another.

      Boy I recall, sometimes years later—-what I should have said in return when I was spoken to in such unhelpful, unloving ways! And I also wish I could turn back time and take back all the unhelpful, unloving responses I have made. So I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

      I loved all the helpful responses Barb and James suggested. One more thing to factor in, however, is the often extreme amount of emotion and vulnerability that is on display when a victim is speaking. It is imperative to allow that pain to express itself, but just as imperative to keep a clear and steady mind in order to deal with whatever is said to you.

      This is often where I have failed. I am “off balance” and I forget to let my mind and emotions work together, and one does not take over the other.

      If I let my emotions get the best of me, I can’t think straight. If I let my mind get the best of me, I neglect the relevance of human suffering.

      It is often the unknown and unexpected that knocks me off my game. You can be in real pain and others make it worse—-and you didn’t see that coming. So I try to keep that in mind as a very real possibility. Again, you can’t predict, but you can try to be prepared.

      1. Helovesme commented (14TH JULY 2019 – 12:02 PM):

        It is often the unknown and unexpected that knocks me off my game….


        Helovesme also commented (14TH JULY 2019 – 12:02 PM):

        ….can be in real pain….


        Helovesme also commented (14TH JULY 2019 – 12:02 PM):

        ….didn’t see that coming….


        I need to trust God to help me find my way through the unhelpful comments I say to myself.

      2. Thank you so much for that last line:

        I need to trust God to help me find my way through the unhelpful comments I say to myself.

        I could honestly write volumes and volumes and even MORE volumes in that department. Often times I am my own worst enemy. I listen to or validate the lies that these unhelpful comments are based on, and so I only hurt myself more.

        Bear with me, the struggle to resist repeating or generating unhelpful comments towards yourself is no picnic. I don’t mean to be insensitive or unhelpful (pun intended).

        Only to recognize that this is a really painful and ever present reality for those of us struggling with or still suffering from the traumatic aftermath of abuse.

        Often I feel like I’m being pulled in all sorts of directions. There are a lot of “cooks in the kitchen” trying to “help” as I try to make sense of a lot of “ingredients” and a lot of uncertainty as to what to do with all these “ingredients.” Throw some away, use other ones, and put others away for later?

        Some of them may really want to help. Others may just like to tell others what to do. Still more might just want to argue with each other, and so the focus is all on them, not on me!

        Meanwhile, I’m trying to think straight, focus on the ingredients and tasks at hand. But then I start becoming discouraged, depressed and utterly defeated. I start telling myself that I should just leave the kitchen and let everything work itself out somehow.

        I want to be helped, but I’d also like to help myself. I’d like to feel like I can learn along the way, actually accomplish something, continue to grow and mature and—-best case scenario: look at myself in the mirror and instead of a negative reaction, I tell myself that what I see is actually quite lovely to look at.

        My mind took some twists and turns here as I thought about her comment. But again, Finding Answers, thank for you that. I think you touched upon something incredibly relevant.

    3. James, thank you so much for your comment; I’ve been meaning to reply to it for days, but being a tourist in the European city where my daughter lives is taking a lot of my attention!

      When I get home I will be putting this on my fridge so I can mentally rehearse and embed it:

      —To flip the script of a person who gives unasked for or unhelpful advice, ask them:

      “Has this (the advice given) worked for you in your life?”

      “Would you tell me about it?”

  8. Kind Of Anonymous: really, really great comment. I am not familiar with the story of Onan, so thank you for sharing. It fit RIGHT in with this post and discussion.

    Would you mind explaining a bit more about:

    he spilled his seed upon the bed

    He did not want to have a child with her; had no interest in real intimacy or closeness with her?

    HE SEES.

    Truly, that is what stood out to me. Never think otherwise about the Lord. It will not go well for anyone dares to even attempt to delude Him.

    I also sympathize with Onan’s wife. She is in a difficult, already-defeated position. Should she dare to try to speak out, even privately to a priest—-the responses would likely run along what you suggested. “Just be grateful someone took you in. You were in a pretty precarious place. No husband, no child, no way to be provided for or protected.”

    Since there was no “single female empowerment” movement in those days, it does seem rather acceptable for a woman to just be grateful to HAVE a husband: he provides for her and protects her. Society was not a female-friendly place. Dangers lurked all about: within your own community, outside invaders—being alone or being left alone was not a welcomed chance for “me time” for a female.

    I don’t mean to suggest that “love” had no place in marriages back then! Onan’s narrative was NOT pleasing to the Lord. I am only suggesting that love, while just as much of a need as provision and protection—-may have been given a lower priority given the other needs that were more front and center.

    So it might be like: “Of course I want to be loved and feel loved and know I am loved. But I also don’t want to starve or be killed or kidnapped. So I’ll be blessed if have those needs met, but I will be super blessed if I am loved as well.”

    Barb’s list of comments, plus her wonderful responses—would fit right into Onan and his wife.

    “Isn’t it enough that God took care of you when you became a widow? Doesn’t that prove that He loves you? And doesn’t it prove that your husband loves you; he obeyed God by marrying you? Something is wrong with you if you are not content with this. Other widows would beg for what you have! Count your blessings and you’ll see how much you have to be thankful for. Perhaps if you keep showing him love, his heart will soften towards you.”

    I’ve been saying that if possible, we need to know HOW to respond when words like this are spoken. That is one of the reasons I love this post so much; it will hopefully get that ball rolling even more.

    The response to those comments might run along the lines of:

    “I DO count my blessing daily, regardless of what you are saying. That is what keeps me going every day, given what I am enduring. I have a husband who makes sure I am fed and housed and kept safe, but that is all. He does not cherish me. He does not comfort me. He does not communicate with me. He has fulfilled all my needs except for the one that I need the most: to be loved in return. I feel empty and dark and cold inside, even though I am warm and fed on the outside. I would not wish this upon you in a million years, but perhaps if you catch a glimpse of what life is like for me, you will see what I mean.

    And my love for him should NOT be seen or treated as a “bribe,” as if I am begging him to love me in return. What kind of love is that? If his love is not given to me freely and out of his own choosing, it is not love at all.”

    These are all personal, fairly generalized speculations that her comment got going in me! Nothing solid or definitive in them, and certainly not rock solid Biblical, either.

    1. Hi, Helovesme, thank you for your comment and I am glad that the story of Onan was helpful in some way. I hope I am expanding on the right part. 🙂 I believe Onan basically had sex with her but withdrew prior to ejaculation, so politely described by the phrase “spilled his seed”. Withdrawal of course is not the most reliable method of contraception but it worked for Onan! I believe or suspect that Onan probably had no interest in following the law-based custom of providing an heir for his brother but probably did it because there was no way he could decently avoid it without exposing his character.

      If I am recalling correctly, I believe Judah directed Onan to fulfill his duty to his brother’s widow. So it seems he did it under compulsion, not because his heart was moved with pity and compassion for his sister-in-law or her plight and not because he cared about her or providing an heir. It is telling, I think though, that he was willing to do the parts that were of benefit to him, though making sure she got nothing at all out of the deal. In short, he seems to be a selfish and base man with a hard heart who cruelly used and defrauded a person who was at his mercy.

      1. Kind of Anonymous, I think your analysis and interpretation of the story of Onan is excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it out for us here. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      2. Thank you for the explanation! I thought that was what that phrase meant, but thank you for clarifying.

        I also hope no one was triggered or re-traumatized by the description.

  9. What an incredibly heartfelt post you have written, on this often unaddressed subject. Thank you so much! When you’re in this situation, you’re so wounded, so raw, so uncertain….the toll it took on my heart, mind, body and soul…. Support, plus validation from others, is so very, very needed. But often we can’t get this from other people, including people who genuinely care for us. So this need we have, for support and validation, can go unmet…. It’s not because of you, and it’s not that you don’t deserve to have this need met, for we certainly do, but for all the reasons you stated, as well as other reasons people have for not being able to extend it, that support and validation doesn’t occur, as it should….or perhaps it occurs in part, but not fully.

    Domestic violence is frequently misunderstood, and misperceptions as well as ignorance, bias, insensitivity, personal reasoning that plays into someone’s overall attitude, etc, etc, are often the cause of a person’s inability to support and validate a DV victim. You’ve done an absolutely wonderful job of listing several possible reasons which cause or contribute to the creation of this divide, or “gap”, to exist, between the wounded victim and others. The reality is that sometimes we have to accept other people’s limitations. When I encountered that, it was very tough, and often felt like a “re-wounding” of the abuse from my then-husband. I rarely had anyone point out to me back then, that many people had reasons or issues, which prevented them from truly understanding me. I figured that out eventually on my own, by reading the Bible and reflecting on the fact that throughout all of time, many of the tragedies that mankind suffered then (and still suffer now), can be traced back to human evil, human frailties, ignorance, bias, etc. But had I read an article or post like yours back then, it would have gotten me to understanding this sooner. But no matter what, nor when – it is always timely to remind ourselves of human limitations. God always, always, always, knows our hearts and our suffering. He knows us intimately…. Whereas people, (since none are perfect), will disappoint us greatly at times – but God will never deny us His compassion, love or truth.

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