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Can you identify a symptom of emotional abuse? More importantly can you define emotional abuse or identify any of its forms? After you finish reading this article on emotional abuse, you will be better acquainted with this epidemic of the so called "abuse underneath abuse."
God created marriage and the family as a haven of safety and security. Too often however the marriage relationship and the Christian home has been turned into a house of horror.
There are too many Christians whose behavior in their home is 180 degrees opposite the Christian virtues they display in the church environment. Some statistics state that 1 out of every 4 women in church is currently being abused or has been abused. How many women does that make in your church?
This article focuses on the husband as the abuser. This however is not to suggest that woman cannot be emotionally abusive...they can be. The signs and symptoms are very similiar. And whether you are a husband or wife, this article on emotional abuse should serve to help clarify the issue for you.
Husbands are called by God to be servant leaders to their wives and children. God calls them to love sacrificially, to be kind, not harsh, to deal with their wives according to understanding and to show them consideration as equal heirs of the gracious gift of life. If husbands fail to do this, God says their relationship with the Lord is hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
Its important to understand that most abusers are not intending to be abusive, however, they do intend to get their way. Sometimes they will use whatever means it takes: Fear, controlling, intimidation, aggression, violence and so forth. Husbands who are abusive often have the mind set that they have a right to their own way. "After all", they rationalize, "God gave me headship over this family."
Rather than feeling like the leader God called them to be, men who abuse their wives often have such a profound sense of inferiority...they may feel worthless and unsuccessful, they greatly desire the approval of their peers and leaders. They may be hypersensitive to the words and actions of their wives often interpreting their actions and words as disrespectful. The man who emotionally abuses his wife demands respect and feels no need to earn it. He dismisses the reality that his behavior does nothing to foster his family to respect him. On the contrary, his behavior only conditions his family to fear and despise him.
In a recent article by Barbara Shaffer, Ph.D. in Christian Counseling Today Volume 13, No 3, she shares the definition of emotional abuse, the consequences and various forms of emotional abuse.
First the definition of emotional abuse: Shaffer says emotional abuse is "an attitude of entitlement and profound disrespect that discounts at every turn the inherent right of the other person to dignity, separateness and autonomy. Out of entitlement and disrespect spring various overt behaviors that use anger, violence and/or contempt to induce fear, guilt and shame. The other person is controlled, punished or demeaned."
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7
Now the symptoms of emotional abuse. One consequence or symptom of emotional abuse is that the self-worth and self-confidence of the victim is completely worn down, sometimes to the point of total hopelessness and despair. The victim may have difficulty discerning the truth. They may begin to wonder if they really are a failure, confusion is rampant. The victim begins to wonder who she can believe or who she can trust.
Another symptom of emotional abuse is depression. Because emotional abuse creates anger, this anger is often turned inward and develops into depression. Depression has its own symptoms in addition to hopelessness and despair, there can be concentration issues, sleep disturbances, poor appetite etc.
Finally, as Shaffer says, if the negative messages of the abuser take root the victim may begin to believe what the abuser says. If so, she may end up becoming more dependent on him, minimizing the abuser's actions and placing the blame on herself.
There are several forms of emotional abuse Shaffer identifies. One form can be sexual. A husband who for example treats his wife like a sex object, who is rough, self centered, degrading, or forceful in expressing his sexuality. When a husband is exerting his power and control sexually, it is both physically and emotionally abusive.
Verbal abuse is also emotional abuse. Reckless words pierce like a sword says the writer of Proverbs. Verbal abuse includes exercising power and control by criticizing, name-calling, demeaning or using trickery to confuse and confound the victim.
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
Other forms of emotional abuse can be in inflicted in financial control. Insisting the spouse track every penny of expenditures, not having any freedom to make any level of financial decision independently, while the abuser makes financial decisions routinely without the victims knowledge or input.
Finally, controlling time. Badgering one's spouse regarding how they manage every second of every day is another example of emotional abuse. The abuser may seek to control their victim by showing criticism or making caustic remarks about how their time was spent.
Another issue, that has muddied the waters of recognizing and dealing with emotional abuse in the church is the issue of submission. Many wives have been encouraged that they should respond to abusive husbands by simply fostering "a quiet and gentle spirit". Unfortunately, many women wrongly believe that if they were truly godly women according to 1 Peter 3 then their husbands would not treat them so poorly. This of course is untrue and unfounded.
We are each responsible for our own behavior and God specifically admonishes husbands to love their wives and be considerate of them. Wives who adhere to this path perhaps need to revamp their idea of love. For as Barbara Shaffer says, "Every time a husband chooses to use his strength, power and authority against his wife, instead of for her benefit, his heart is further hardened against the Holy Spirit, and sinful attitudes are further solidified in his character."
Within the church the reality is "to practice, ignore, minimize or privatize the sickness of abuse is to weaken the heart, hands, feet and glory of Christ in this world. (Barbara Shaffer, Ph.D.)"
May the Lord raise up more men, more pastors, more true leaders in the church who will stand against abuse of every kind and lovingly come along side both victim and abuser and minister to them the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ.