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Focused Education Material Understanding Abuse

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The Focused Education Program will be presenting four quarterly articles on the subject of abuse. They are intended to inform, educate, and provide understanding of abuse issues. Our first article is on understanding abuse.

Abuse, in its myriad forms, is a problem of astronomical proportions in our world today. Community educator, Ellie Kimaro, of Seattle Rape Relief, confirms that in the U.S. one in four girls and one in six boys will have been sexually assaulted by age 16. In addition, other types of abuse such as verbal, emotional, and physical battering wreak havoc in the lives of millions.

Broadly defined, abuse is any pattern of behavior that threatens the physical, mental, or emotional well-being of another. Abuse is detrimental to the human spirit. The nature of abuse, as in all sin, is progressive if allowed to continue (James 1:13-15). The following behaviors illustrate how abuse progresses.

Attitudes Behind Abuse

To enhance our understanding of abuse, we must begin with its origin. Abuse began with the corrupting of God's truth and the breaking of His laws by Satan, the originator of all abuse. Genesis 1:2 describes the end result of abuse perpetrated by Satan against God's creation. In his rage and quest for power and control, coupled with his inability to direct it at God himself, Satan lashed out at God's creation, His entire plan, and the future home of mankind. The Bible begins with the end result of all abuse-confusion, ruin, destruction, loss, and emptiness.

Improper Treatment

Our present world groans and travails under the weight of its continued abuse. Satan has replaced truth with his principles of power, force, greed, lust, self-centeredness, selfish ambition, deceit, and pleasure-seeking, to the point of hedonism. He has successfully convinced the world to pursue these principles. Although we live in the world, we are not to accept its principles and practice its abusive methods. Paul warns the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:31 that while they must live in the world, they are not to abuse, overuse, or be controlled by the things in the world. Abusing the earth results in disease-causing and life-threatening environmental pollution.

Mankind has long fought personal battles against alcohol and other substance abuse. God encourages temperance and control in Proverbs 16:32. It states: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city."

A Deceitful Act

Deceit and manipulation are chief ingredients used by an abuser, resulting in the emotional abuse of the victim. Emotional abuse is the cruelest and longest lasting of any abuse. It scars the heart and crushes the human spirit, leaving the victim traumatically affected for life. Where trust and hope once flourished, there remains only a sense of dread, uncertainty, confusion, hopelessness and helplessness. Misplaced guilt and deep sadness shatter the victim's bond with the abuser.

The pain created from childhood experiences doesn't stop in adulthood. For some it worsens, turning into anger and imploding on itself. Abuse becomes repetitive and cumulative. It is very easily learned and imitated, perpetuating the cycle from one generation to the next (Exodus 34:7). It is only through education that the truth about abuse can be understood and the healing process begin.

If deceit in the abuse cycle fails to accomplish what the abuser intends, the means of persuasion intensifies and gives rise to the next behavior.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is vehemently expressed language that unjustly blames the other person. Verbal abusers squelch, put down, correct, criticize, belittle, trivialize, snub, sneer at, and when all else fails, put on displays of rage in order to dominate and control others. Verbal abuse always lowers self-esteem. The victim believes, at least on some level, what they are told, robbing them of self-worth. The abuser is often so good at control that he or she can turn his or her intimidating displays on and off so they continue to "look good" to the outside world.

Verbal abusers often use the following techniques.

  • Cruel joking and teasing, insisting such comments are humorous.
  • Accusing and blaming the victim for pain the abuser has inflicted upon them.
  • Judging and criticizing which sends the message, "I will tell you what is wrong with your thoughts and actions, and I will thereby maintain control."
  • Trivializing, to make the victim feel insignificant.
  • Purposefully undermining to erode confidence and determination.
  • Threatening and name-calling to imply the imminence of physical harm.
  • Convenient forgetting to maintain control over the victim and waste the victim's time and energy.
  • Denial of the inappropriateness of their abusive behavior.
  • Angry outbursts used in a scary and threatening manner to help the abuser get his or her own way.

After all the verbal abuser's techniques have been exhausted, he or she intensifies the quest for control and proceeds to the final phase.

Physical Abuse

This aspect of abuse often includes sexual abuse, battering, and the deliberate deprivation of human needs such as food and emergency medical care. If the abuser doesn't get his or her way, the result can be the death of the victim.

In God's Word, we find an example of sexual abuse occurring centuries ago, yet containing all the ramifications experienced by today's victims. Like today, the abuse begins in the family. Second Samuel 13:1-32 describes the incident and the consequences that follow. In verse two we see Amnon so consumed with his lust for Tamar, it results in his physical illness. Please notice Tamar is a virgin—completely inexperienced.

A plan is devised (deceit) for Amnon to be alone with Tamar (verses 3-10). Amnon then asks for her cooperation (verses 11, 14). When Tamar refuses and resists, she is raped. Notice the long-term effects she suffers as a result of the sexual abuse. Victims today suffer the same traumas. She is in shock and disbelief at Amnon's actions (verses 15-17, 19) which leads to feelings of undeserved humiliation, embarrassment, and self-blame.

As Tamar's emotional depression intensifies, she becomes regressively fearful, clinging, and needy—desperately looking for help, support, and understanding. Instead of encouraging her to talk about it, her brother, Absalom, insists she tell no-one. Tamar's fear and despair seize control of her life and render her desolate, lonely and emotionally damaged. Without a concerted effort to overcome the affects of incest, Tamar is to be robbed in her youth of ever experiencing a healthy male-female relationship.

Her brother, Absalom, as with family members of rape victims today, finds himself dealing not only with his own reactions to the assault on a loved one, but also forced to witness the psychological and behavioral changes he sees in the victim. For over two years Absalom witnesses the emotional decline of his sister and plots his retaliation (verses 23 and 32). As in many occurrences of sexual and physical abuse, death is the result.

Physical battering is the last desperate attempt by the abuser to gain control of the victim. The progressive nature and pattern of abuse requires an abuser and a victim. You may not be able to change the abuser, but you can quit being the victim. Here are fourteen suggestions to end the cycle of abuse.

  1. Don't accept abuse. The longer the pattern continues, the harder it will be to stop.
  2. Report any sexual or physical abuse to the police or to other authorities.
  3. Take abuse seriously. It is life-threatening. One reason abuse is accepted is because the victim's life has been devalued by self and others. Fear is another reason abuse is accepted.
  4. Take emotional abuse as seriously as physical abuse. Physical abuse can cause death, and emotional abuse can result in suicide.
  5. Don't believe it is your fault. No-one deserves abuse. Abuse is a statement about the abuser, not the victim.
  6. Don't accept excuses. This gives the abuser permission to abuse you under those circumstances.
  7. Don't confuse love with abuse. If you are loved, you will not be abused. If you are being abused, you are not being loved.
  8. Don't deal with conflicts when they are hot. When one or both of you is emotionally inflamed, judgment and reason are impaired. This is no time to attempt to solve problems. Calm down first.
  9. Don't use abuse to stop abuse. Countering abuse with abuse will guarantee a dysfunctional relationship. It will mess up your life and the lives of your children.
  10. Insist on professional help. The very first time abuse occurs tell your partner in no uncertain manner the abuse must stop. Talk out your problems, learn conflict resolution techniques, and get communication training from a professional who specializes in abuse issues.
  11. Consider the damage to your children. Many abused women who will not take action to protect themselves will at least take action to protect their children. If your children are not already being abused, the odds are they soon will be. An abuser invariably turns his abuse on his children. The damage is psychological and spiritual as well as physical.
  12. Consider the damage to the abuser. Abuse also harms the abuser. If you don't stop the abuse, neither of you will have a healthy relationship.
  13. Be prepared to leave. If you are an emotional or financial hostage, you and the others who depend on you for protection are vulnerable to continued abuse.
  14. Seek God's help and guidance through the power of prayer.

God's Word offers a clear perspective on godly friendships and marriages in which each partner submits to the other in love (Ephesians 5:21). It shows it is His will that all people do their part to live in peace (1 Corinthians 7:15, Romans 12:18). First Peter 2:17 and Philippians 2:3 emphasize treating one another with respect. Galatians 6:2 reminds us to bear one another's burdens.

The next article will discuss how preventing child abuse is an important step in the development of an emotionally and spiritually healthy person.