Helping The Abused
How do I help someone being abused? On FamilyLife Today, hosts Dave and Ann Wilson talk with counselor and author Darby Strickland about understanding the truth and walking in love with those in that situation.
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Counseling Abusive Marriages. She has written two booklets on abuse and worked with a team to develop the curriculum, Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, a free web-based training for leaders who minister to abuse victims.
How do I help someone being abused? Darby Strickland talks about understanding the truth and walking in love with those in that situation.
Helping The Abused
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, 26 th. Our hosts are and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What if you’re married to an oppressor? What do you do? We’re going to talk today with Darby Strickland about that. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Ann, I know you have talked to women throughout the years—both in the church/in your interaction with football wives—at Weekend to Remember® getaways, women who have come up to you and have maybe been bold enough to say, “There is stuff happening in our marriage that I’m uncomfortable with; I’m being abused by my husband.” In that moment, you find yourself going, “What do I say? How do I help somebody in this immediate situation?” What have you said in those situations?
Ann: It is interesting; at the Weekend to Remember, we have had a booklet, for years, that we put on the stage called “A Way of Hope.” We say up-front, “We’re going to put these little pamphlets on the stage. If you know someone that is being abused in any way—physically, domestically, spiritually—pick this up.” Almost every single time, all of those booklets are gone.
Bob: Yes; Darby Strickland is joining us this week to help us think rightly about these things. Darby, welcome back.
Darby: Thank you.
Bob: Darby has written a book called Is It Abuse?
Have you had women come to you and say, “Here is what’s going on,” and you’ve smiled and said, “Oh, sweetheart, that’s not abuse. That’s/what you’ve got going on is just—you just need to buck up and move on”?
Dave: “That’s marriage.” [Laughter]
Darby: I would say I’ve probably had one woman approach me out of the hundreds that I talk to that, not only was it just not abuse, but she was more angry and entitled than her husband was.
Bob: We think of that sometimes, where a wife will say, “My husband is so abusive; he’s so controlling.” What she is saying is: “I don’t get to do what I want.” Well, I go, “None of us gets to what I want.”
Bob: So where is the line in emotional abuse?
Ann: I want to ask that, too; because probably more than any other statement that I hear, it’s that: “I am being emotionally abused.” I don’t always know; like: “Is that emotional abuse?” “Is that normal?” If somebody says that to me, do you think it usually is?
Darby: I go with the premise that it is; then I am going to verify that. Again, I’m just going to slow the person down; I’m going to ask them a question. Maybe, they are reporting to me that their husband is ignoring them; so, then, I have to ask them a series of questions: “How long has he been ignoring you?” “What does that gain him when he ignores you? What effect does that have on you? How does that change your future behavior?” “Who repairs the relationship? When does that happen? What does that look like?” “Can you say to your husband, ‘This hurts me’? Does he receive your complaint?”
You want to find out how a particular behavior functions in the relationship. It could just be that he’s really stressed after work, and he needs a little down time. It could be that he is ignoring her to pull back because he’s displeased, and he is trying to shape her behavior so she’s performing in a way that he desires.
Ann: I was just about a woman, whose husband didn’t talk to her for two weeks. She was begging him: “Please talk to me. I don’t know what’s happening. I need you to talk to me.” Finally, he said, “I don’t want you. I’ve never wanted to be married to you, and I want a divorce.” She’s like, “Okay; let’s just do that.” Then, they followed through with that; then, he came back the next day and said, “I don’t want a divorce. I don’t know why I said that.”
This has gone on, over and over and over, where he won’t talk to her. He wants a divorce; and then he says, “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. I really don’t want a divorce.” She has no idea what to do. What would you say to that person?
Darby: I would want to sit with her and say: “What is he gaining when he is pulling away from you?” and “What happens when you are drawn back to him?” “Is he repenting?—is he saying, ‘I’m sorry. I acknowledge, when I’m saying this to you, I see the amount of damage that that does to you’?”
Ann: Yes; he does say that; but then it happens again, and again, and again.
Darby: Yes; so then, we look at—Scripture talks about: “We know a tree by its fruit.”
Bob: —difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow; right?
Darby: Amen; amen.
Bob: This is a common pattern with abuse and with oppressors. You use the term, “oppressor,” as opposed to abuser in your book; but it is common for somebody, who is an oppressor or an abuser, to feel remorse pretty quickly after they’ve been abusive—and to be sorrowful for it, and then have a period of time where they reform their behavior—and then they lapse back into it. Is that not a common pattern?
Darby: Yes; and I would say that it’s not that they lapse back into it; it’s just they never really repented of the underlying attitude of entitlement. Actually, apology, and the contrition, and the gifts, and the sweet words are all a way of reestablishing control over that person. It’s not so much that it is cyclical; it’s that the form of control changes.
Bob: When somebody does come back, and appears contrite and sorrowful, what should her response to that contrition be?
Darby: Well, I think the first is for her to do a good job listening—and to invite somebody in, who is wiser, who can listen more objectively—“Is the contrition/is the sorrow for themselves for how their world is being disrupted/for the consequences they are facing for their own embarrassment?” or “Are they saying, ‘I’m really panicked that I could do this, and be this way, and I want to get help’?”
Are they naming their specific sins—a lot of them in detail/ in concrete—saying, “This is the way I am going to walk out repentance. I’m not—I promise that I’m not going to interrupt you anymore.” That’s nice; but then, how does that play out?—does he really stop interrupting her? There are words; and even sometimes, the words are very insufficient when we measure them against what Scripture requires for repentance; but then there also has to be fruit. That should be sustained long-term fruit.
Dave: If there is no fruit, when do you tell her or encourage her—it’s going to be her decision—“This is ain’t changing, girlfriend. It’s time to take action.”
Ann: I’ll add this too, Dave; because this person that I was talking about—I would say, “When you say to him, ‘We need to get help; we need counseling,’—he’ll say, ‘Yes; we’ll do that’; but then it never happens. He’ll never go through with that.” Is that a sign too?
Darby: Sure, that’s somebody who is really not committed to changing.
Darby: Those are the types of things I like to say: “What are you looking for?” So, ahead of her receiving the apology—or maybe she’s had an apology before, but then the actions didn’t happen—I’d say, “Let’s just brainstorm together. What would real repentance look like here? What change should you start to see happen?” I mean, it’s good—we want to see somebody inching along—but not when it’s one step forward and two steps back into abuse.
Again, I often have to remind women of how they were treated; they don’t remember. That’s what’s really hard. I will serve as the timeline; and I’ll say, “Six months ago, when you had to leave because he was following you around the house, the children were scared; and you spent the night at your mom’s. He felt like you abandoned him.” “Oh, right.” “We’re hearing the same language that we were hearing then. Do you remember eight months ago?” They just don’t have the capacity to hold all those horrible truths together. Sometimes, it’s creating a pattern.
But also, I say, “What has to happen for you to do something? What has to happen for you to tell the pastor?” and “When do you think you need to make the next step?”
Bob: Next step commonly is going to involve bringing other people—this is
Matthew 18—we bring two or three witnesses into the conversation?
Darby: In a sense—right?—Matthew 18; she’s probably already told him dozens of times; right?
Darby: Ideally, we want to bring somebody else in; but it has to be safe. Sometimes, we need to extract her—she has to separate, and she has to flee—then we have that confrontation. By doing a safety assessment, or working with the victim and finding out her level of safety—we can’t just go and say, “This person is behaving in an oppressive way, and we’re going to come and confront him,”—because oftentimes, her life is made miserable.
Bob: This is really Explain what is going on here, and why it is so critical, and how you can make sure there is safety before you bring somebody else in.
Darby: so in my book/in the back of my book is the domestic violence hotline; you can do a safety assessment. There are certain behaviors that you are looking for if someone is being stalked or strangled—there has been sexual abuse or certain things that put women at a higher risk—you want to know what those are; “Has the violence been increasing in intensity or in frequency?”
Anytime a woman leaves, or is planning to leave, she is in the most danger—right?—because that’s when I’m [oppressor] going to amp up my—“I can’t control, so I’m going to escalate the violence,”—even if I’ve not been violent before. I think that is something that we don’t understand.
I counseled a woman, in particular; her husband was extremely controlling and cruel to the point, where she couldn’t have five dollars in her wallet. Every trek was premade; she was monitored. He was never physically abusive. She started talking about separation. Within two weeks, she had a gun pointed at her. He had never—so we often think there is this progression.
We want to work with experts. If we have a friend, and we’re not sure this person is dangerous, call the hotline with them; invite an expert in. You don’t know a lot. What you don’t know can really put someone in danger.
Dave: So tell me you have success stories. I’m sitting here, listening, like, “Please tell me there is success; you’ve seen God show up and do miracles.”
Darby: God shows up and does miracles. It depends on what we define as success. If I have a woman, who has children/female children in her home, who are no longer watching her being abused, that’s success. Those children now know what a godly husband should look like; that’s success. They don’t leave the church in their early 20s, because of the hypocrisy; that’s success. If I see a woman reconnecting with the Lord—because she knows her worth in Him; and she knows who she is, whether or not that marriage survives or not—that’s success.
Oppressors are hard to change; they have their world the way they want it. What would propel them to make things different?—it’s not likely. It can happen—that’s the great thing about it—the Holy Spirit can do anything at any time, and we root for that. But I just tell the victims what success is: “…is glorifying God in your life, before your children, and knowing who you are in Christ.”
Ann: That is good.
Dave: I mean, what a great, great answer.
Bob: You “Oppressors…it’s hard for them to change.”
Darby: Sure, drives an oppressor is they have a heart that is entitled; they want things the way they want them. They believe that they are right; they blame shift. They don’t have insight that they are sinners; they make rules that don’t apply to them.
I’ve had women tell me: “I have to stir my tea a certain way,” “I have to load the dishwasher a certain way,” “I can only wear this hairstyle”; or there will just be these cruel things happening. If you think about—“If I get to have, as a spouse: ‘I get to have all the latest technology,’ ‘I get to eat all the foods that I want,’ ‘I get to reap all the benefits, but I don’t have to do the hard work of maintaining the home,’”—I say, “Oppressors usurp God’s position.”
They really demand to be worshipped. When they replace themselves as the center—which everyone has to revolve around—they don’t have anything externally referential that they defer to authority-wise: they don’t have insight that what they believe is wrong; they feel self-righteous; they don’t have a need for Christ; they are really in a very dangerous spiritual position.
Dave: I mean, I looked at what you wrote in your book, these six beliefs. You sort of said—let me read them. These are scary, because I think we can see them in ourselves; like, “If we’re not careful…”
Darby: We’re all entitled; right? But the difference between you and me, I’d like to think—I mean, an oppressor—is when someone confronts me about my sin, I’m sorrowful; I’m broken; it bothers me. Maybe, they have to confront me more than once; but I have empathy for the other person. I want to be pleasing to the Lord; I’m influence-able, and I know I have a need of Jesus.
Dave: That’s big. Here they are; maybe, there is one of these you want to talk—
Dave: —or several:
Key belief number one: “It’s all about me.”
Key belief two: “You need to listen only to me.”
Number three: “Rules are not for me to follow; they are to keep me happy.”
“My anger is justified.”
“Other people attack me.”
The last one is: “I don’t have to appreciate what you do, but I demand that you appreciate what I do.”
Dave: In some ways, we have that sin bent in us; but when it gets out of control, it’s dominating; right? You become the oppressor.
Darby: it becomes toxic. It becomes the ruling force when it becomes a closed system; that’s when it becomes oppressive.
You think: “You and I only have to listen to me”; right? We can see it in an abusive argument, where some is constantly interrupted: they are mocked; their eyes are rolling. Or an argument hits a certain dead point; but then, the oppressor is following the abused woman around the house: “I will be heard”; right? That’s how those things become toxic and damaging.
Ann: Well, it’s interesting, too, Darby; because as we’re talking about this oppressor, they are kind of—it sounds slimy—it’s like this Lifetime movie kind of guy; you know?
I know that there was a couple that we knew—we were friends with them—he was the nicest guy, and she was coming to my Bible study. One week, she came. She had on sunglasses; and we’re like, “What’s up?” She said, “Oh, I have an infection in my eye. It looks super gross. I don’t want anybody to see.” I was only in my 20s, and I just/I didn’t think about anything more than that.
Later, they moved away; and it was in the paper that she left him, because he was physically abusive to her. I was shocked; because I thought, Nicest guy ever.” Can that be typical?
Darby: That is typical. Right; if oppressors want the world to revolve around them, they want everyone on the outside to think that they are wonderful. Typically, they are the best deacon. A man that I knew: he would do every airport run you could; he’d take kids to Philly games; he just did all these outward works, where he was adored on the outside world; but the private life of an oppressor stands in great contrast to the public life.
That’s what makes it so difficult for us is, again, we’re being asked to believe something that doesn’t match up with our experience of this person. That’s why women have a hard time coming forward: “Who would believe me?”
Ann: Right; and then you can take Scripture, like, 1 Peter 3, “Likewise, wives be subject to your own husband so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” I’ve used that Scripture a lot for women who are married to men who are not believers: “You just live that out. You just show them what it looks like to be a believer.” Yet, I wonder, sometimes, if women are bearing some of the things that they are going through.
Darby: Yes; if you about an oppressor, he’s about his entitlements. If you tell a woman the way to win her husband over is to serve those needs—right?—his needs are going to be ever increasing. There is nothing that she can do that he is ever going to be satisfied.
Bob: Is an oppressor a narcissist? Are all narcissists oppressors? Are all oppressors narcissists?
Ann: a good question.
Darby: I wouldn’t go that far. There are very close cousins—right?—so there tends to be overlap.
What I would say is that there is never an excuse to oppress, whether you have a narcissistic diagnosis or alcoholism. It is behavior driven; those are behavior choices about who to put in the center of the relationship—it’s not the Lord, and you are not serving Him if it’s all about you—and “I’m going to punish you”—right?—that’s more than narcissism.
Dave: What a guy do if he thinks or senses that one of his buddies is one of these oppressors?
Darby: Yes; two things actually. One, you want to enlist your wife to pursue that woman. You want to just say to her, “Just keep pursuing her.”
Then I think it’s really helpful—men often think they shouldn’t talk to women, who are being oppressed—but I think pastors and elders, once it comes out, it’s so vital for a pastor to say to a victim, “I see what’s happening to you; it’s wrong. This goes against God’s Word and against His creation of marriage. It grieves me.” Women make so much more progress when their male leaders say to them, “I’m broken with you, and this is not okay.”
With that said, you’re asking me, “How do you pursue these men?” Again, “Is it safe?” You might pursue them in low-level discipleship: “Hey, I see your kids; it looks like they are struggling in Sunday school.” Build a relationship; go after something else. Create a value for that gentleman that you love on him/that you want to see him do well in the Lord; and then, hopefully over time, as things come forward, you have nurtured a relationship, where you can speak hard things. But if you speak hard things directly, you could be putting her in danger; they might never come back to church. You really want to be thinking about her.
Ann: Well, I just want to add this, too—any women that are listening to this, and their hearts are beating; they are starting to wonder, like, “I’m going through this,”—I want to remind you that: “God loves you; God sees you; you are an image-bearer. Maybe, you feel like you deserve some of this that’s going on; and you don’t. That was never what God intended for you, because He loves you.”
Darby, would you say/add anything else to that?
Darby: I would say one thing is—God promises a rescue—we, often, in the church think that Christ came for our sin.
We think about God introducing Himself to the people in Exodus; He says, “I have heard the cries of my people, and I have come to deliver you from the hands of your oppressors.” His rescue is also when we are being sinned against. Other people sinning against us matters to Him. It moved Christ, and that was His opening words of His ministry: “I’ve come to free the oppressed.” So, yes; you probably don’t feel heard. Open a Psalm; it says, “I don’t feel heard.” Believe that He is coming with a rescue.
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: There is a part of me that thinks, “You’ve got to put your hand up in the water; because somebody, maybe, doesn’t see you are drowning. Put your hand up so the people of God can come and be the rescue of God.”
Darby: I say: “Go to someone and ask a question. If you don’t get a good answer/if they are not drawing you out, trying to find out more of your story, find somebody else.” “Bring them a book on domestic abuse and ask a good friend, ‘Would you read this, so you can help me?’”
Dave: I don’t do you know a good book on domestic abuse?
Darby: I’m favorable to one. [Laughter]
Bob: This has been very helpful. I’m imagining, as you said, there are people who’s hearts are beating faster/people, who are recognizing, “They are talking about my story; I don’t know what to do with it; I don’t know if I feel safe talking to anybody.” I just think we need to pray—
Ann: Yes; me too.
Bob: —for those people. Would you pray for them?
Oh, Father God, I do/I know You have a heart for victims, that You see them. Your heart is moved by the pain that they are in, and Your Word is clear; it hates sin. It seeks to drive out sin, and it seeks to protect the vulnerable.
For any woman here, listening, that feels vulnerable, that feels afraid of their spouse, that is confused—“Is this my story?”—is afraid to even ask that question, would You just give them courage to take one step toward somebody, who might help?—one step toward a book—one step of just of lifting/bringing the light and hope into their world.
I just ask that You would make them courageous. I have seen how You have rescued many by small acts of courage; and I just ask that these women, in faith, can do something small, knowing that You are on the move in huge for them. We pray these things in Christ’s name.
Bob: Darby, thank you. Thanks for the conversation. Thanks for the book.
Darby: Thank you.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Darby’s book, Is It Abuse?, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Let me just suggest—if you know someone, who is in a situation like this—maybe, get a copy of this book and go through it with them; invite them over for lunch, and just a chapter at a time, go through this book together. Again, the title of the book—Is It Abuse?—by Darby Strickland. It’s subtitle is A Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims . Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy of Darby’s book.
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when you’re going to meet a remarkable woman. Her name is Veneetha Risner. Veneetha has lived through a lot of trial/a lot of challenge, and she’ll share some of that with us on Monday. But you just/you’ll want to tune in to hear the joy in her voice, even with all the circumstances she’s lived through; so I hope you can be here to meet her.
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