Emotional Abuse, Hope, Pain and suffering, Uncategorized

The Truth About Emotional Abuse

We had been married less than a year the first time I found myself curled in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out.

“Why, God?” I cried out. “Why have I been a success at everything in my life except the one thing I want most?”

The tears streamed down my face as I tried to recover from the huge fight my husband and I were having. I don’t remember what the fight was about, but I do remember it was obviously my fault.

At least that’s what he told me.

As I poured out my heart to God from the safety of my bedroom, I heard the gentle whisper. “It’s not you.” In that moment, I knew God was telling me this fight—and so many after—were not my fault. It was not that I was a failure; instead, it was that my husband was using me as a scapegoat, to turn every argument into something I had done wrong.

A couple years later, we were outside with our then two-year-old son. He peddled around on his little tricycle as we stood talking. Then, Blake crashed.

“What were you doing?” came the angry outburst from my husband. After all, our son’s crash (which was nothing more than a few tears) was clearly my fault.

Just like everything else in our marriage.

Years later, the stakes were much higher. He had an affair. Eventually, when it became clear he was not turning from his affair, I drew the line and filed for divorce. During one conversation as we tried to work through the dividing of assets, the accusations came out yet again.

“It’s your fault we are in this situation,” he said. “You’re the one who kicked me out.”

Never mind the affair which was public knowledge. Ignore the online dating profile he had established and the numerous women he was dating. Forget the many lies he told me and that he lost his job.

It was my fault because I finally had the courage to stand up to him, to refuse to be abused any more.

Emotional abuse.

It’s real. It’s damaging. It is painful. It eats away at your self-esteem, your desire to live. It steals your life, your self-respect. It robs you of the opportunity to fulfill your God-given purpose.

You might think I’m being dramatic, exaggerating the impact.

I’m not. I never would have been allowed to write, to speak, to do the things God called me to do. My husband would have forbidden me from stepping out of the shadows and doing anything beyond being the faithful helpmate, the first lady of the church.

I was repeatedly told that “wives must submit” under all circumstances. Scriptures were twisted to keep me in my place, to support his agenda.

My job was to cook and clean, take care of the kids, serve him faithfully however he wanted. I was responsible for the yard work and the household repairs and the grocery shopping and everything else in our home. There was no partnership; my children and I were made into little more than his servants.

His job? To bring home a paycheck and rule his castle.

What if we didn’t do what he wanted when he wanted? The consequences were usually a fit of rage, a yelling, screaming, cursing tirade that left us running for safety. It was usually much easier—and safer—to simply go along with him.

I hear from men and women everyday who are living in a similar hell.

There’s the dear friend who took all the guns out of her house and slept in her car for fear of what her drunken husband might do.

Or the sweet lady who found herself scorned by the church because her husband went crying to the elders about how she just wasn’t willing to work on the marriage—after years of emotional abuse.

Or the precious pastor’s wife who put up with her husband’s ongoing affairs thinking she was doing what was best for her kids only to realize they wanted her to leave years earlier.

Or the husband whose narcissistic wife controls every aspect of their lives and belittles his attempts to be a leader.

Or the woman whose husband is addicted to pornography and only uses her to satisfy his lustful desires, repeatedly wanting to act out pornographic fantasies with no concern for her dignity.

Or the man who spends all of the family money on his addictions.

Emotional abuse is rampant in our culture, in our church. And sadly, the church rarely recognizes the damage it does to the victims.

When you think about emotional abuse, here’s a few things I hope you begin to understand:

Emotional abuse is an ongoing pattern of mistreatment. We’ve all fallen into the trap of emotional abuse. Maybe we attempted to manipulate our spouse to get our way. Maybe we wrongfully placed the blame on him/her. Maybe we’ve lost our temper and said things we later regretted.

But that’s not what I’m talking about when I refer to emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is an ongoing pattern, a regular way of relating to someone in an abusive manner. It’s about creating an atmosphere where our spouse must walk on eggshells, never knowing what’s going to trigger an outburst. It’s intentionally tearing down our spouse to build ourselves up, to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s a pattern of attempting to make our spouse the guilty partner while we never bear any portion of the blame. It’s a regular pattern of relegating our spouse to a lower position instead of an equal partner. It’s about using our spouse as an object to gratify our desires instead of selflessly putting our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

Emotional abuse is worse than it seems to the outsider. If you’ve never been in an emotionally abusive relationship, you might be reading these examples and thinking they are no big deal. Everyone experiences these types of circumstances at some point. You might be thinking I’m just describing human nature. But those of us who have lived through emotionally abusive relationships? We are probably shuddering, experiencing flashbacks to those moments. We are questioning ourselves, wondering if it really was us or if it was even abuse. We find ourselves shrinking back into our shell, seeing the hollow reality of who we became in the midst of the pain. We are reliving the worst days of our lives.

If you have never lived our lives, I ask you not to judge. It doesn’t matter how we describe it, it doesn’t do the reality justice. And, many well-meaning souls will turn it on us and further victimize us by making us think we truly are the crazy ones.

Emotional abuse is basis for a biblical divorce. I know many will disagree with me on this point. Some will say there’s no biblical basis for divorce. Others will argue only adultery is a biblical basis for divorce. Some will make exceptions for abandonment or even physical abuse (even though that one is not explicitly stated in scripture).

What happened to husbands loving their wives and wives respecting their husbands? Are these not the vows we take before God?

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:15-16

The infamous “God hates divorce” passage is actually about the husband who breaks his vows and mistreats his wife. It’s about elevating the wife to make her an equal partner, loving her the way Christ loves the church. Divorce was established in Deuteronomy 24 to protect the vulnerable women, to allow them to remarry so they had a way to support themselves and their children. And, I believe Jesus was continuing this elevation of women when he talked about divorce.

God has a daddy’s heart for us. He does not want to see us suffer, to see us locked in bondage in a sick, dysfunctional marriage where one spouse continually mistreats and abuses the other.

Emotional abuse leaves scars that take years to heal. Honestly, I refused to leave my marriage until he had an affair because I was going to stick it out until I had what I believed to be a biblical reason. I didn’t even recognize the dysfunctional patterns in our relationship as abuse until several years after our marriage ended. Sadly, I watched the emotional and mental abuse become worse as my husband sunk deeper into a lifestyle of sin in the years after our divorce.

Despite years of working on myself, I still find myself shrinking away from conflict for fear of an angry outburst. I have to watch myself as I relate to my sweet husband, and he has to be cautious to keep his passion in check. Now and then, he gets excited about something like football, and he can visually see my kids and I shrink back into our shells as we are reminded of our pasts.

Some people say victims of abuse just need to walk away; no one is keeping them in their prison. I so wish it was that easy. In reality, escaping the abuse is one of the most dangerous times for the victim. The abuser doesn’t like having his control challenged, and he/she can become very unpredictable and dangerous.

If you are/have been the victim of emotional abuse, please know you are not alone. And, even more importantly, know God can bring you healing. He can bring beauty from your broken life and put you back together and on your feet for good (1 Peter 5:10).

Lord Jesus, I know you look down on all the victims of emotional abuse with tears in your eyes as you weep with us over the pain inflicted on us. I know you hold us tight, loving us even in the midst of our pain. I know you are the God who sets prisoners free and I pray for those trapped in the bondage of an emotionally abusive marriage. I pray you would guide their steps as you set them free. I also know you are the healer of all wounds and I ask you to pour out your healing power on those who have walked this painful path. Give them a vision of the beauty you want to bring from their broken lives. Lead them to that beauty as only you can. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.



19 thoughts on “The Truth About Emotional Abuse”

  1. Spot on Dena. I was married 25 years. The last 5 were full of emotional and physical abuse from my wife. It tore my heart out. DEEP soul and truth searching. I really learned alot. NEVER imagined i would divorce. Ultimately scripture simply says have nothing to do with the unrepentant. Thank God, my daughters now have a sanctuary from all the accusing destructive hateful vile lies. I am perfectly willing to stand before God for my divorce. Im that confident He allowed it. And if you’re considering it, you need to know we all will stand before our loving Father.

    1. I’m in a wonderful, loving marriage now where I am cherished as I should be. But, my first marriage was not this way. Through it all, my Savior has been so faithful and kind. We beat our scars, but know He saved us.

  2. Thank you for sharing this and shedding light on this issue for people who may not be aware of it and for those who may not understand it. Really, it is a hard thing to understand if you haven’t experienced it and many(too many) are living in and do not know it. I lived in most of my life and though I didn’t know growing up what emotional abuse was because it was not a issue publicized, I knew something wasn’t right. Then trying to escape it I unknowingly entered a marriage to narssstic man and ended up right back in what I was running from. I totally understand the concept of walking on eggshells and it’s a horrible feeling and when you do get out of the relationship it still haunts you. You live in fear of everything and everyone always thinking someone is out to get you. I stayed in that marriage longer than I should have thinking if I just loved him better he wouldn’t cheat on me again, if I did things right then the anger wouldn’t come and he would be kind. And times I glimpsed that kindness and what I perceived as love,made me hope. But my parents had acquired custody of my daughter 18 hours away(we had lived on Army base stationed 18 hours away from my home town the last year before we separated) my parents had convinced social workers and the courts my husband was a danger to her and I wasn’t emotionally equipped to raise her. A few weeks after that I found out I was pregnant with my son,things had not improved and I was planning to leave him as soon as I was financially am but I was still fighting for custody of my daughter and I wanted to stay in the city we were in I didn’t want to go back to living near my parents. However, my husband gave little to no effort to get our daughter back and if I wanted her back I had to leave him. As I said I had already plans for that but I was still hoping for reconciliation because I didn’t believe in divorce I was taught it was a sin a6it also made me feel like a failure. I moved back, got my daughter back and raised my kids as single mom with my parents help because according to them the courts agreed to give me custody under their watchful eye plus I was financially stable yet. I had became financially stable, paying all my bills without my parents help then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and two years later I could no longer work my fast food job so I decided to go back to college so I could have a career to support my children on my own. For this I did need my parents help especially after my ex moved to a Country that the US could not force him to pay child support. I endured my parents continued criticism of everything I did, them undermining my authority of my kids,them bad mouthing me to my kids until my dad threatened to kill me if I told anyone about him choking me and shoving me up against the stove all because he was blaming me for my daughter’s school issues while she had been living with them,and because I fussed her for not packing warmer clothes so we had to go to my parents house who i knew would fuss me and she was going be late for school(the night before my son wanted to sleep at my parent’s so while I gave my mom my son’s clothes my daughter went pack her and i assumed my dad was helping her so i didn’t check what she packed). We lived 8 months with friends and at shelters til my parents promised if we came back they would undermined me and we wouldn’t have another incident because my dad “wasn’t really going to hurt me he was just acting in the moment of anger”. Well that didn’t last long and they started with the manipulation of my kids against me, bad mouthing me and undermining my Authority again but I was going to endure it to finish school and get a job far away. Well my dream was dashed by chronic illness and now that my daughter is an adult she sees my parents emotionally abuse and how they came between me and my kids and she’s had enough and is on the outs with my parents for telling my mom this realization. Which she is right but it has made things hard in the family since my parents still support me until my disability comes in and my daughter is moving in with me but she doesn’t get along with her brother since he doesn’t listen to anything i ask him to do which is only take out the trash and clean up after himself. I hurt myself last week cleaning up the living room and his back bedroom that he trashed because he won’t pick up after himself. I’ve been divorced for 15 years and still single and don’t understand why God still hasn’t brought me a Godly husband. I’m depressed, ridden with anxiety and just ready to give up on life because I can’t live like this anymore, I want to be free of emotional abuse and manipulation and negativity that comes from my parents. I want a clean happy home. I want to be well and free of depression, anxiety and chronic illness so I can serve God and be a better grandma. I’d like to find a loving caring Godly husband to share in that freedom, happiness and service to God together. And I want to be healed from the pain, fear and scars of my past and current emotional and physical abuse. Sorry this is so long and probably TMI but when I get emotional things just seem to pour out.

  3. Thank you Dena for your continuance through the years on writing on these issues. I’ve followed you these years and I’ve noticed how progressively you’ve made clearer, even in your own story, the truth regarding emotional abuse; because for some reason it seems much harder to see through the black smoke of all the destruction it leaves as a residue. I and my grown son still have issues that come up from living the hell. My son has reoccurring nightmares to this day. I feel like you finally peeled away the smokiness,-made it clearer to see that the ugliness was not my fault like I was also being told over and over again. I hope one day I can tower above the victim /me. And also for my son who now divorced, seemed to find himself in a similar situation. He as yet says he never wants to marry again 🙁

  4. Hello Dena

    Your story was well-written and relatable. Many of us grew up watching our dads abuse our mothers and due to the times, economics – we were all trapped with no way out. My grandfather abused his family and my dad became an abuser. Dad committed suicide when I was 21 which heaped more trauma on. At last I thought I found my peace in a wonderful marriage at age 33 – which turned out to be an abusive hell. My 2 daughters and I escaped early on – but the emotional, psychological and financial scars have to be worked on daily. I wrote “My Appeal to Heaven” to share what I and many others go through – as you did. I found that completely devoting myself to faith has helped a lot – God’s unconditional love and understanding is grace. I pray that my daughters will have healthy marriages, and stop seeing me juggle so much on my own – and that a Godly husband will bless my life and my latter days. Thank you for sharing! God Bless, Christina Rose

    1. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through. Like you, I pray my kids find happy, loving homes…and they allow the Great Physician to heal their many wounds. He is the only answer.

  5. I am still struggling in healing. I find I put myself down constantly. I pretend I’m joking. That’s exactly how he put me down – by laughing at me. I belittle my accomplishments and can’t take a complement.
    I know that God can bring me complete healing from this but the effects are certainly long lasting. I am thankful that you continue to validate those of us who have been in this situation. It’s not our fault.

    1. Hugs and prayers, sweet friend! Know that you are beautiful, chosen, redeemed, the apple of your Father’s eye, holy, beloved, a princess of the King of Kong’s.

  6. You are writing about my life while I still have trouble finds th he words to explain to others what happened. It’s been many years but I have trouble finding my words. The most difficult and damaging part of my divorce was the constant feear that “God hates divorce “. And I was committing the greatest sin. God would not take care of me as my husband completely destroyed me and my children. I doubted what God himself was telling me because of this stance by my church and every Christian marriage book I had ever read and the way the translators of the NIV chose to translate in a way that put women under men, every chance they got. I thought surely i must be I the wrong. God can’t be telling me that he values mercy over sacrifice. It took me many years and much study to find that I had been correct. 10 years ago there was no one like you. Not one voice agreeing with my idea that God wanted me free. Not living in torment. I hope you keep pushing this message all over the world. It is badly needed ❤ love to you me sister

  7. It has been 5 years since God lifted my burden off an emotionally abusive marriage. She would constantly belittle my achievements, ridicule how I looked and dressed, chide me for what my family members did or said, always telling me how I needed to step up and contribute more to the family. I willingly gave up the relationships I had with my friends. I did not see or speak to my own parents for 3 whole years so that I could commit myself fully to what she wanted.

    Throughout the 7 years I spent in an abusive relationship, I was lost, angry, confused and turned away from Christ. I attended marriage counselling where the counsellor asked that I trust my spouse and communicate with her better. I was told that I needed to work on all these areas. Boy was I confused, everybody was telling me to work harder. But everything seemed so much beyond my control. I could never make her happy. It was starting to affect our two young children.

    I am writing this to share my testimony on the power of Prayer and how Christ has a plan for all of us. I stopped attending Church for a long while, even before getting married. However, somewhere along the way God called me back to Him through my young son who has severe autism and started to attend a Sunday school set up for special needs kids. It was my duty to take my son to Sunday school while my spouse had the time off to do her own things. I was happy to be back at Church and I found myself turning to Scripture.

    One day after a heated argument at home, I found myself in Church overwhemed with emotion and the overpowering feeling of helplessness. There and then I looked up to God and I Prayed. I Prayed with all my heart and soul. I asked for forgiveness and to cast my burden unto the Lord. I asked Him to guide me in my broken marriage and to fix me.

    That Sunday after returning home from Church something just led me to turn on the home computer. I opened the internet browser and there it was, hundreds of pages of whatsapp chat logs which my spouse had automatically sent to archive on her yahoo webmail. Chat logs with her boyfriend who she was having an adulterous affair over months. Somehow she forgot to click log-off and there it was. God lifted my burden. My heart was shattered but my burden was lifted. Pray and Pray and Pray, God will Provide.

    1. Amen! So similar for me. I caught him in an affair but chose forgiveness and reconciliation. As the marriage continued to disintegrate and the abuse became more severe, I found an email address that led to an online dating site. I sat in my front yard laughing hysterically, thanking God for setting me free. He is faithful…always and forever.

    2. The bible is full of tragic accounts as well as wondrous testimonies I wonder where divorce sits on that scale of things? What you have highlighted is real as others testify too, the behaviour or feeling of walking on eggshells, the anxiety, the hurt, feelings of worthlessness these are symptoms pore and post divorce of a traumatic experience, which from a health perspective would be diagnosed and treated should we present to health professionals. A toxic relationship produces this kind of environment that eats away at ones self-worth. But for a traditional church community more often the response they advocate is staying in such situations!! Martyrs for the Faith?

      I get it I don’t blame whoever holds that view as we all want to succeed and not fail. Christians so want the glory of God to manifest in their lives as validation of their existence or measure of faith. But divorce to me is just like entering uncharted waters you can’t be sure you are coming out the other side in one piece, this is traumatic in and of itself. But times it takes greater faith to go even there.

      So why does divorce carry this stigma that is so hard to shift? The guilt?

      To me divorce I think is a process not much biblical basis for it but a process we have knowledge of, it happens as the culmination of steps taken towards rejecting an unwanted attachment contributed to knowingly and unknowingly.

      I’m thinking deeper now about the impact of my own divorce as a consequence of this discourse, which I thank you for the platform to air my view. In short I think it highlights that the process of divorce whilst a most valid conversation, as believers in Christ let’s not also negate our responsibility to talk equally of forgiving those who have wronged us……..forgive us our trespasses as we forgive….That too is a declaration before God is it not.

      Using an analogy of a tree, I say this purely to help me understand what happened in my divorce, whilst the legal system cuts away at the base of the tree of that relationship removing the “problem”. The root remains underground. The root took in the nutrients but also supported the tree. Where that root never received the best nutrients the tree was impacted equally so the roots are impacted they are somewhat underdeveloped compared to what they could be. Predicament!!!!

      What I’m alluding to is to grow and not be stuck beyond the experience of divorce, check our roots, our identity, our patterns of behaviour, our foundations and know that expressions of forgiveness are gift of healing in addition to new growth. At times it is so encouraging to hear about the power of our capacity to forgive even against a backdrop of being hurt God helps all.

  8. Thank you so much, Dena. This article is an almost identical recounting of my life! I went from one abusive marriage to another, the victim of 2 narcissistic abusers, all the years believing something was wrong with ME. God delivered me and my 4 beautiful children, but it took many years of healing, and coming into agreement with God’s Word to begin to embrace the freedom and truth He has for me. Now I minister to other women, and enjoy being His daughter. Thank you for confirming so much, God bless you, dear woman.

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