13 Systems/Patterns of Abuse
Systems/Patterns of Abuse  
 For more information about the systems of abuse, I recommend the book Safe Churches, written by Sarah McDugal, Jennifer Jill Schwirzer and Nicole Parker. In this post I am going to share several examples of each form of abuse (these come straight from the book). This is by no means an exhaustive list but is intended to help bring clarity to those who are living with an abusive person and/or to help those who know someone who is living with an abusive person.
 From Safe Churches (page 66): “Sarah McDugal has documented 12 fundamental patterns of abuse, which all revolve around a thirteenth pattern: the core attitude of entitlement and the right to take power over another person.
 Before we delve deeper, it is important to acknowledge that every human alive has capacity to be abusive, given the right circumstances. If we define abuse purely as a single action or one discrete occurrence of a behavior, then every time you behave badly, you could be labeled an abuser. That isn’t how abuse is defined. People don’t automatically become abusers every time they feel self-centered or act impatient.
 Rather, as we discuss later in this chapter, abuse is defined as a system or power of behaviors in which someone with greater power uses their advantage to exploit or cause harm to someone with lesser power. When a system of persistent power exploitation exists, you are now dealing with an abuser.”
 These systems are explained on pages 68-77 of Safe Churches. I encourage you to buy a copy of this book as soon as you are able and share it with other Christians that you know. For shareable infographics on patterns of abuse, visit Sarah's website.
 1. Child Abuse may include:
 Threatens to harm children
 Doesn’t pay child support
 Belittles you in front of kids
 Leverages kids to keep you silent
 Abuses other people’s children
 Scares or hurts you in front of kids
 2. Cultural Abuse
 Mistreats you and blames it on culture
 Demeans your heritage
 Forces you to embrace their culture
 Isolates you from mainstream culture
 Uses expectations or shame to keep you silent
 Isolates you through language barriers
 Insults your family culture as inferior to theirs
 3. Emotional Abuse
 Invalidates your perception of reality
 Insults you then says, “I’m joking!”
 Denies affection, goes silent
 Manipulates you with false guilt
 Flips arguments back on you
 Acts possessive (calls it protective}
 Vacillates—creates relationship rollercoaster
 Blames you for things that aren’t your fault
 Refuses to take responsibility for what they did
 Says “sorry” and promises to change, but doesn’t
 Withholds nonsexual affection
 4. Financial Abuse
 Limits your money
 Refuses to share accounts
 Tracks every penny you spend
 Spends impulsively, incurs debts
 Interferes with welfare or state aid
 Makes all financial decisions
 Lies about money, time, activities
 5. Intellectual Abuse
 Demands perfection
 Insists on proof of your right to opinions
 Dumbs you down
 Intimidated by your mind
 Attacks your ideas, devalues your convictions
 Refuses to allow you to disagree
 Manipulates information flow
 Invalidates others if they point out abusive behaviors
 Judges others for small mistakes but gives self grace for moral failures or rule-breaking
 6. Pets and Property Abuse
 Confiscates your keys/ID/Driver’s License
 Damages your car, refuses to keep it maintained
 Trashes your favorite things, says it was accidental
 Harms your pets, gives them away
 Punches walls, slams doors
 Controls your access to electronics
 Threatens to do any of the above
 7. Physical Abuse
 Drives recklessly, road rage
 Disturbs your sleep
 Chokes, restrains, controls breath
 Blocks exits, won’t let you leave
 Prevents you from getting medical care
 Throws things, uses items other than hands to cause you pain or fear
 Locks you out of the house, makes you sleep outside
 Doesn’t control own strength when being playful, is indifferent to pain caused
 Postures aggressively to intimidate you
 8. Psychological Abuse
 Gaslights you—says or does things, denies it later
 Terrorizes you—then acts like it never happened
 Controls minute aspects of your life—food, fun, friends, etc.
 Projects responsibility for addictions on to you or others
 Claims you misunderstood when you quote back their threats
 Displaying weapons as a way to keep you afraid
 Convinces you they know better than you do
 Controls your access to food, freedom to eat
 Tells bold or white lies
 Reverses questions to make you feel paranoid
 Demonstrates lack of empathy
 Can’t discern your emotions accurately
 Threatens to hurt or kill themselves or others
 9. Sexual Abuse
 Forces or withholds sex
 Criticizes your body or sexuality
 Demands sex as payment
 Uses pornography or makes you use porn
 Has affairs or threatens to cheat
 Pays for sexual services from others
 Shares sexual fantasies about others/your friends
 Lacks intimacy and connection
 Sexually abuses or molests others
 10. Social Abuse
 Monitors your communication (phone, email, text)
 Tracks your social media
 Monitors your milage
 Discourages your friendships
 Dictates freedom for education/employment
 Obsesses on body image an appearance
 Limits equal social access
 Expects others to keep secrets, maintains glossy public image regardless of reality
 Keeps you at home
 11. Spiritual Abuse
 Twists Scripture to avoid accountability
 Uses beliefs to gain advantage
 Leverages spiritual leaders against you
 Silences you with Bible verses
 Puts down your convictions or beliefs
 Isolates you from your faith community
 Dictates your access to counseling/mentorship
 Believes you need them to teach you about God
 Soul-destroying behaviors
 12. Verbal Abuse
 Tells you how to do everything
 Cuts you off in conversation
 Puts you down
 Forbids you from talking to others about issues
 Shames, silences, or insults you
 Ridicules your appearance, abilities, etc.
 Jokes condescendingly toward others
 Intimidated you with words or tone
 Yells/screams/swears/calls you names
 Demands that you keep secrets
 13. Core Mindset of Power Abuse and Entitlement
 Creates chaos—gains control by turning people against each other
 Credit hog—takes others ideas, doesn’t share glory
 Delusions of grandeur—believes they’re smarter/wiser/stronger/more powerful than reality
 Dictates belief system for everyone in the household
 Entitled—acts as if others should give way to their preferences, or take care of their needs
 Supremacist—looks down on culture, color, gander, age, status, thinks own identity is superior
 Obsesses with “respect”—may get aggressive to peers/children/elderly who act with perceived disrespect
 Fixated on appearances—expects other to keep secrets, maintain glossy public image regardless of reality
 This list is not exhaustive, but it is certainty a tool that will turn the light on for many. As I typed this, I had a few additional thoughts. Remember, this is describing patterns of abuse. Every single person is capable of hurting others. But, when a normal, healthy person hurts another person and realizes the damage that was caused, they want to make things right. An apology and changed behavior go a long way in these situations.
 Also, if your husband has had an affair and/or is a porn addict and you ask to see his devices or hold him to account, that does not make you an abusive wife. If you do not feel safe being sexually intimate with your husband for the same reasons, that does not make you abusive. You are experiencing trauma from sexual betrayal and I advise you to seek the counsel of a trauma informed therapist who specializes in this area.
 If this post gave you clarity that you did not have before, I encourage you to take deep, cleansing breaths and do not panic. You are not alone. There are countless women who have experienced many of these forms of abuse. There are amazing survivors, advocates and therapists who are rising up to speak truth and to walk with you from darkness into light. Join us on Facebook at 
Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse. I have organized hundreds of healing resources for you into guides so that you can search out the topics that most affect you and begin learning, healing, and growing.
 If you are a woman who loves other women who are walking this road, please join us at Held & Healed. If you are man and/or a pastor who genuinely cares about these women and wants to learn how to help and not further hurt, feel free to contact me through my website, 
HeatherElizabeth.org. There are several ministries that I can recommend who have created training tools to help ministry leaders make churches safe for survivors.
 Abuse is rampant in the faith community. These systems described in this post are in place in more church homes than not. We must not ignore this epidemic any longer. It is not going away until we begin to take a stand for truth, righteousness, and justice. Jesus came to set the prisoners free. If we are His followers, that is our call too. 

1 Comment

  1. WOW...

Leave a Comment