What Is Domestic Violence?

Diana WinklerDiscussion, Domestic Violence

It Is Much More Than Bruises And Broken Bones.

What comes into your mind when you hear of domestic violence or spousal abuse? An episode of COPS? Let’s talk about some of the common myths about domestic violence and abuse. We’ve had a lot of news media coverage about all kinds of abuse. It’s a good thing that the awareness is getting out there, but I am finding that there are a lot of misconceptions about abuse and trauma.

#1 It only happens in “bad neighborhoods” and poor communities.

Did you know, domestic violence and abuse is present in every culture, race, and social economic group on the planet? I have lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. Poor, rich and middle class. I can assure you that abuse goes on in all neighborhoods. Some “bad” neighborhoods or poor neighborhoods may not have the resources to help abuse victims, but the wealthy neighborhoods are just as bad. Just some neighborhoods are able to hide it better than the others, and keep up the appearance of having a perfect life. TV shows and pop culture all want you to believe that it is only in the trailer parks and inner city slums.

I’ve had plenty of children of wealthy or high profile people in my small groups that have endured a lot of horrible abuse inside fancy Hollywood mansions. You would think that if you had all that money then you would never suffer again. Not true. Money can’t protect you from abuse, unfortunately. Money just gives you more access to ways to numb the pain of abuse. Money gives you a lot of perceived power. You can buy lots of alcohol, drugs, sex, and fast cars. Wealthy abusers can hide their abusive behaviors from the public with high priced slimy lawyers, and pay off the whistleblowers.

But you can’t buy your way into healing with money. Sure, you can afford a good therapist, but when it comes down to it, you still have to do the work by showing up and facing the pain and trauma in order to get past it. Abuse doesn’t care how much money you have in your pockets. 

#2 Abuse is a woman’s problem.

The world has always been at an imbalance with the sexes. History shows abusers have taken advantage of women’s vulnerabilities from the beginning of time. Women’s emotional makeup was designed to nurture relationships by bringing tenderness, empathy, trust, and unconditional love. Abusers manipulate women by using emotions, held hostage by a monthly cycle (which runs the spectrum of a roller coaster ride) against them. Those qualities are not weaknesses. Those are strengths. But those that seek to abuse women have used a women’s admirable qualities against her in order to get what they want.

With the #metoo movement being in the forefront recently, women have finally been able to make their voices heard. Too many women have been intimidated and threatened into silence for far too long just for being a giver of life.

But ever since I left my abuser and I started my ministry 10 years ago, I am finding out with horror, that it is not just women’s problem. I have heard heartbreaking stories of young boys, teenage boys and adult men who have been horribly abused. Since men are expected to be tough and manly, they hide the abuse from everyone. They felt ashamed. They have been groomed, manipulated, blackmailed, fondled and raped, just as the women have. The statistics are 40% of males are abused in some form or fashion, but I think the numbers are actually higher due to some not reporting it.

It is wrong and unfair to put all the men into the abuser category. Women are just as capable and able to dish out devastating abuse. I always believed that every woman would want to nurture and protect her child at all costs. I have learned that this is not always the case. It is the highest order of betrayal there is. There are some mothers that are monsters out there. Males are abused by siblings, grandparents, nannies, cousins, and any other person in the family they trust.

I personally know 3 men close to me with tales of abuse. I hear more stories every day. It’s not just a women’s problem. It’s a human problem. Guys we do see you and acknowledge you too.

#3 It would never happen in your church.

This myth more common than the other myths. Everyone wants to point fingers at the Catholics for all the abuse and sex scandals in the church: The violating of altar boys, the shocking confessional secrets, the hushed affairs with priests. But the truth is, every world religion and every Christian denomination has abusive people lurking within its walls. Sex is power and power corrupts.

I thought I was the only one who suffered spiritual abuse and spousal abuse within my church. When I left, my eyes were opened to others within my denomination that had gone through the same thing. As I heard stories from other victims, I learned that pretty much every church I had been a part of (17 to be exact) had the same dark secret. You may be thinking, “Not my church! Pastor so and so is  such a godly man!” or “The youth director is so dedicated to those kids. He could never do such a thing.” Be warned. Anyone can fall into some horrible sin. We are all sinners, dependent on a holy God. The enemy of God is always looking for a foothold to destroy someone, especially a church leader. Each day, we have to choose whether to live for God or our own fleshly desires. We do need to pray daily for our church leaders every day

It is very easy to hide abuse in a church. We are raised to trust people in church leadership, men and women “of the cloth”, so to speak. We preach forgiveness and trust to our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. We put up these false fronts that everything is great, God is good, I don’t have any problems etc. We take great pains to hide our flaws, our sin, and dark side.

A church environment is prime fertile ground for abusive people to get away with committing unspeakable acts, and then get away with it. We have single women looking for a husband. We have elderly people with a variety of needs, lonely for companionship. We have lots of impressionable children who need to be brought up to love Jesus. We have hormone fueled teenagers, searching for direction, love, acceptance. Most churches are short handed and need able bodied, nice Christian helpers to serve in the church. A lot of times, no one does a background check, checks references, or asks any questions. Unless you’re a flashy televangelist, serving in the church is not a glamorous job, especially in the children’s ministries. So if someone volunteers to watch the ornery kids in the nursery, we eagerly let them in. Never mind that the individual was inappropriately touching the kids in the last church.

The problem has always been that the victim is never believed. The perpetrator’s reputation is upheld. The church wants to hide the abuse to avoid scandal. Then there’s the pressure towards the victim if the church even admits the abuse happened, “You have to forgive and forget.” The abuser is then usually sent to some other church where the abuse is repeated again.

Hopefully the tide is changing now with the #church too movement coming to light. Church leaders are getting serious about protecting the congregation in their care. Cameras are cheap now. Get a few installed. Mandatory training should be given to all those serving in any capacity. No church leader, paid or volunteer, should be allowed to be alone with a minor-EVER. Anyone in the church that reports abuse should be believed and protected. The police should always be called.

Do not think for a moment that your church doesn’t have an abuser in its midst. Sometimes it is the leadership. Sometimes it is another member in the church. Wherever you worship, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open, put safe guards in place, and hold your church accountable to do the right thing if the unthinkable happens.

#4 If he didn’t hit you, then it doesn’t count as abuse.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “But he didn’t hit you, so you should have stayed.” I’d be rich. They didn’t care about my suffering or pain as a person. They only cared about preserving the “institute of marriage”. They didn’t even ask me about what I went through. All they heard was that I left my husband. There are so many other forms of abuse that are just as valid and damaging.

The Common Denominator Of All Abuse is Control

Not hitting. Not bruises. Not broken bones. Surprised? My abusers made my life a living hell without laying a finger on me. Mind control is very powerful. Your body can heal from the physical abuse, but it takes years, even decades, to heal from emotional or mental abuse. This kind of abuse effects:

  1. Your self-confidence and self-worth
  2. Your perception of reality
  3. How you relate to others in your life.
  4. How you perceive God.

While physical abuse is a vile and horrible violation of someone’s body, the threat or fear of violence is just as powerful and scary. I will tell you about the time when my ex tried to commit suicide. He got upset that he couldn’t have a second piece of pie. He marched up stairs and announced that life wasn’t worth living anymore. He said he was going to blow his brains out. Now, he had bluffed on other things many times before. He was a master manipulator. I stood at the bottom of the stairs for what seemed like an eternity. What will I find when I get up there? Is he really going to kill himself? Or is he bluffing? Experts always say that you should always take any suicide attempt seriously. So, I walked upstairs to our bedroom to find him holding his gun to his head. I wondered if he was going to turn the gun on me. What would happen to me if he decided to die today? After an hour of talking him down, He finally put the gun down. That shook me up for a long time. The mistake I made was not getting any help. He minimized the whole event at the time. Looking back now, it was not about the pie. There was some major mental health issues that needed to be dealt with. Make no mistake, that event was extremely traumatic even though nothing happened. I always had in the back of my mind, Was he going to do it again?

It Is Tragic That Abuse Is More Common Than You Think

It’s everywhere. I notice it now more than ever since I started working with abuse survivors in my My Mending The Soul groups. I hear stories of abuse that would make your hair curl. A family without some sort of abuse in the family tree is seemingly rare.  Every time I think I’ve heard it all, something else comes along and disturbs me to the core. Most recently, I can’t fathom how a father can sexually abuse his own one year old daughter.  Be warned, the rumors about the perverted crazy uncle in the family you hear are probably true.

Children who do not get their basic needs met at home, go searching for it somewhere else. They have a huge black hole to fill. They fall for the trap of anyone who shows the slightest amount of love or care towards them, no matter what the intentions of the abuser are. This kind of trauma spills into the volatile teen years, and into adulthood. Then when survivors go out into the world, they are a prime target for reoccurrences of abuse piled on top of whatever they just went through: Spouses, coworkers, teachers, coaches, counselors, religious leaders, neighbors, and boyfriends.

What Are We Supposed To Do?

This is dark stuff. This is not easy to deal with. You can’t ever hope to heal from abuse by pretending it isn’t there or covering it up with destructive behavior. The only way to heal from it is to acknowledge that it is there, bring it out into the open, and process these events. You have to go through the fire, not around it. Denying your feelings or emotions connected to these memories just creates other problems.

People try to cover up the pain with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, working too much, gambling, and sometimes crime. They don’t want to deal with the feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, pain, and hopelessness.

Many victims don’t even believe they deserve to be treated with respect, so they put up with it for years. Are you one of those people, friend? If you don’t hear anything about what I said today, remember this one thing: You are loved by God, you are precious in His sight. He created you for a purpose. There is no one else in the world like you! You are worthy of love and respect.

Over the next few months, we will talk about the many paths and methods of healing. There are lots of great organizations and shelters that help victims escape abuse and start over again. A basic Google search will bring up some in your area to get you started. There are more choices now than when I left my abuser. Pick one that works for you.

Of course, I personally recommend Mending The Soul. It is a faith based small group that helps people to heal from domestic violence, abuse, and trauma.

It is a confidential safe place where you can tell your story and be believed. As a facilitator, I journey with you in your healing. I am in the pit with you, crying with you, being angry with you, and rejoicing with you. You are in a group with other survivors that understand what you went through and are there to support you. When you have completed the group, you will have tools that will help you to move forward in life with hope and victory.

I do not make a dime off Mending the Soul. Joining a group is free. The only cost involved is purchasing the workbook and the textbook. You can get those from most websites, like Amazon, that sell books or you can buy directly from Mending The Soul. If you can’t afford the books, you can ask  your facilitator if they offer help with books.

Go to the Mending The Soul website to find out more about joining a group near you.

If you have any questions on anything we’ve talked about today, please reach out at diana@dswministries.org.