Why Abuse Victims Stay

I didn’t understand why he thought yelling was appropriate at the time.  I nestled our crying baby against my shoulder and headed for the rocking chair in the nursery.  He continued to yell, and then, he shoved me.

Shock.  That’s all I felt at that point.  Then he shoved me again.  And again.  And again.

The Face of Abuse

It made no sense to me.  The baby needed comforting.  Anyone with half a brain knew yelling and shoving me wouldn’t help the situation.  I would have shut the door on him, but he followed too closely to manage that.

After what felt like an impossible distance, compounded by stumbling every time he shoved, I made it to the rocker, sat down, and tried to comfort our daughter while my heart and mind raced over his actions.

But comforting my child wasn’t going to be easy.  Now that I was seated, he began kicking my legs.  It was summer.  I wore shorts.  For some unfathomable reason, he wore boots.  When he exhausted his anger, I had a bruise the size of a softball on my scrawny leg.

This is how the abuse started.

I know many of you reading this wonder why I didn’t leave.  To understand, you have to know more about my history with this marriage. as well as grasp the mindset of an abuse victim.  If you haven’t been there, you probably won’t ever understand.

Abusers cut you off from any support structure you might have before the abuse begins.  My family had become my enemies thanks to his efforts.  Second, I was eighteen with no real job skills to speak of, and I was recovering from an illness that overcame me after the birth of our daughter.  Close to death for a week following her birth, I lost all of my pregnancy weight plus another twenty pounds.  Those eight days robbed me of the usual bonding time between mother and child.  I was weak and exhausted and scared.

Plus, I felt guilty.  I had been laying the baby down on a quilt on the floor, and I let go a fraction too soon.  She hit her head and began to cry.  He erupted in rage calling me an idiot, and other unprintable names, and accusing me of giving our child brain damage.

Later, he cried and begged forgiveness, and I believed him when he promised it would never happen.

Three years, and another child, later, I divorced him.

Why am I telling this story today?  Because there are women dealing with this crisis every minute of the day.  Unlike the typical abused woman, I didn’t grow up in a home with abuse.  That means it was easier for me to leave…and it still took me three years.  Many abused women grow up with abuse in their household.  To them, it’s normal.  I knew it wasn’t, but I had to regain my self-confidence and self-esteem in order to leave.

Another stumbling block for me was my faith.  I believed that divorce was wrong. Once married, always married.  Many abuse victims struggle with this issue, and their abusers use that knowledge to their advantage.

Jesus never meant for us to stay with an abusive spouse.  Some people might not agree with what I’m about to say, but it’s what I believe.  It is my own opinion, but I will use biblical references to demonstrate my beliefs.

Many abusers rely heavily on one verse.  They know, love, and  preach it to their victims:

Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,
his body of which he is the savior. 
Ephesians 5:22-23

What the abuser fails to acknowledge shows up just two verses later:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  Ephesians 5:25

Did you catch that?  Love her as Christ loved the church.  What did Christ do for the church?  He died for it in a horrible way.  He didn’t beat up the church, he loved it enough to give his life for it.

Add to this the words of Christ in Matthew 19:9:

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.

What is unfaithfulness?  Does a man show faithfulness to God’s command to love his wife as Christ loved the church if he hits her?  Or terrorizes her?  Or threatens to kill her?

And if those two points don’t prove it to you, then consider this:  the Holy Spirit resides within our bodies.  Our bodies are temples.

Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body. 
I Cor. 6:19-20

How can anyone read this and believe a marriage that desecrates the temple of the Lord is right?  That’s not honoring God with your body!  That’s trashing it, treating it as something of little value.  It took me three years to remember that I had value.  I was lucky because I understood my worth at one point in my life.  I just needed to find it again.  Many of these women need someone to teach them this point. The church can help, but it’s often the church that stands in the way.  Will you be a helper or a hindrance?

There are many resources available for people stuck in this vicious cycle.  On Saturday, March 23, a friend of mine’s story of abuse will be told in Hub City’s Expecting Goodness Short Film Festival.  You can read more about her and her story of abuse here.


33 thoughts on “Why Abuse Victims Stay

  1. Thanks Barbara for sharing what I wish more people knew! I went through some of that as well…and he tried to use that same submit verse on me and I struggled with the divorce thing since I couldn’t even bare to say the word. It’s comforting to know others lived through the nightmare and got out, too.

    • Amanda, I remember when you went through your separation and divorce. I’m glad you made it through to the other side. You’re right. It’s hard to live through but easier when we meet others with similar stories.

  2. Powerful message, Barbara. I love the picture, and how you back up your message with relevant scripture. Indeed, the fruits of the spirit are not abusive; they are patient, loving, full of self control. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Barbara, you show great insight with your statement that you did not grow up in an abusive home, so you were able to leave sooner than most abused wives. So true! I’ve been teaching on abuse and the Bible since the 1980s, and I’ve asked many victims why they stayed. Most could not answer the question. You’ve done a great service here. I’d love to see a follow-up blog on how he turned your family into your enemy before the abuse started. Women have told me its very hard to analyze their situation. Reading real-life stories helps them see their lives more clearly. Thank you for a great job and your courage in sharing a painful story. Patsy

  4. Barbara, thank you for sharing. I am also a survivor of abuse. Like you it took me 3 years to leave, I’d been cut off from my family and my faith played a large part in staying. So glad you shared this and to know there are others out there that understand because we’ve been there. I will be sharing this with others.

  5. Reblogged this on Where the Winds Blow and commented:
    I’ve often had people ask me how I could stay in an abusive situation. It wasn’t easy, but there were so many factors. My Christian Communicator’s Conference sister, Barbara Evers, shares her story of abuse. In many ways this is similar to my story. I hope that it gives my dear readers some insight into what all abuse victims experience.

  6. Thank you so much for having the courage to speak out on this and to tell us of your abuse. All too often we hear of abuse and see the church take a passive stance in marital situations. Please read the following link: http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/bible_verses.html. It examines religion and abuse and tells how some women “have been told earnestly by their vicar that it would be better for them to die at the hands of their abusive husband than to seek a separation and protection for their children!” I truly think someone needs to educate Christians on the definition of marital unfaithfulness as you’ve done. Truly, marital unfaithfulness is so much more than adultery. Too many women stay to their and their children’s detriment because of the Church’s misconceived belief system. Church should be more like a hospital where the abused can find love and acceptance as well as gentle guidance. But often instead it is more of a social hall where so-called Christians gossip about others in the form of “Did you hear about so and so, we need to pray for them.” Who’s there when hard the time hits? Who’s there when the blows are coming down? Where is the church of Christ? My belief is in God and Jesus but we humans are fallible people. God save us from your followers!

    • Vickie, Fortunately, I’ve found that true Christians who seek to serve God don’t judge, but yes, I’ve dealt with my share of misguided believers. They mean well, usually, they’ve just missed the point OR are abusers themselves.

    • I love your sentence, Vickie, where you state: the “church should be more like a hospital where the abused can find love and acceptance as well as gentle guidance.” It would be a beautiful world if this were so. Hopefully some churches are beginning to turn from judgment and follow the path of true Christian love for abused women and their children. Seven years and again, 14 years into the marriage, my minister at the time told me that “it would be a sin to leave” even as I explained the extent of the emotional and spiritual atrocities that were occurring. I divorced, anyway! I saw this minister as blind to my reality and to my children’s and my lack of safety! I pray that the Lord removes the blinders from ministers who think this way…because they are in a powerful position, where young women tend to adhere to their advise. In my case, Pastor A’s advice was the wrong advise! God does not want our mental, physical and/or spiritual demise at the hands of a man (spouse) under the control of satan.

      • It is unfortunate that some Christians don’t see this. I’m thankful to be part of a church and congregation that understands that this is very wrong and should not be ignored.

  7. When the abuser is a respected member of church and community, it is very difficult to leave the situation. Often people don’t believe that such a person can be an abuser.

    • Julie, this is a problem when the abuser is in any position of prestige. No one wants to believe this highly respected person can be capable of such things. As in rape, suddenly they start blaming the victim.

  8. Pingback: Why Abuse Victims Stay | Diana Leagh Matthews

  9. Reblogged this on fighting for mei and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more with Barbara’s post. I do admit to being biased on this subject because of my negative experiences with the church and interpersonal violence, but the sad truth is that a majority of churches today are not supportive of abuse victims, and “Christian” abusers are notorious for twisting Scripture to fulfill their own agendas. In fact, many church leaders do this as well–I have heard stories of victims being counseled by their pastors that their being abused emotionally, physically and sexually by their spouse was necessary because they needed to “suffer for their faith”. Um, pardon my crudeness, but, WTF?! Spiritual abuse is, in my opinion, one of the most tragic and (literally) soul-crushing forms of abuse, because it takes a person’s most important and cherished beliefs and uses that all against them. It caused me to be disillusioned with God and His followers for years, and to temporarily lose my faith. God desires justice and freedom for the oppressed, and He certainly would never sanction the infliction and/or tolerance of violence in the most sacred bond two people can have. All Christians must decide where they stand on the topic of domestic violence amongst themselves. Yes, it is real. Yes, it is happening in your church, and I hope that after your eyes are opened to the reality of what abuse victims face on a daily basis, you would empathize with us and ask how you can help, rather than piling on more guilt for our considering breaking a “Biblical command.”

    • Thank you for your candid response. It saddens me so much that many in the church get this wrong. Our body is a temple and we should not remain in a situation that destroys that temple.

      • Thank you for writing, Barbara. Victims need to know what you have to say. I have treated vicitms in therapy extensive following formal education as well as personal psychotherapy to mend my thinking. I was emotinally and spiritually abused,myself, in a ‘marriage’ of 15 years. I place quotes around the word marriage because mine was not a marriage at all: it was an arrangement whereby one person bullied the other on a continuous basis while I (or the other person, allowed it). My story is much the same as yours. It is heart-wrenching to be attacked in such a manner that your very soul is at risk of withering…but praise God, He keeps our souls in tact and our lives in the palm of His hand, protects us from destruction and leads us away from that particular snare. God bless you, Barabara, in your endeavor to bring awareness to a still hidden assailant we refer to as Domestic Violence in the Christian’s life and home.

      • Thank you for your support. I’m sorry you spent 15 years in that life. I only spent 4 and that was 4 years too long. I’m glad you’ve found a way to help others with this tragedy.

  10. I can’t tell you how often my ex-husband quoted those verses, Ephesians 5:22-23, to me. He never physically “hit” me, but his words and other actions were so often so much worse. I, like you, believed marriage was forever. I’m surprised I made it 7 years with him. After my divorce, I discarded my Christian beliefs, my childhood faith. That’s what worked for me because I couldn’t reconcile all the contradictions. My spiritual well being is better for it. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • There were a lot of reasons why I gave up my faith, but my marriage most certainly didn’t help matters any. I don’t regret that decision. Finding my own spiritual path has been most beneficial and rewarding.

  11. Pingback: October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – The Workbench of Faith

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