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
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
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.
All it took was a meme.
A simple combination of words.
And, here I am, weeping.
“Domestic violence impacts the entire family. Children who WITNESS domestic violence suffer the same long-term effects as children who EXPERIENCE it directly.”
I did not know that twenty years ago.
If I knew then what I know now…
I'm heard people say, "He's not a good husband, but he's a good dad."
A good dad is also a good husband.
Domestic violence is so much more than broken bones and bruises.
If a man puts his hands on his wife, the children will be affected.
If a man threatens his wife, the children will be affected.
If a man spews hate-filled words at his wife, the children will be affected.
If a man uses the Word of God as a weapon against his wife, the children will be affected.
If a man rapes his wife and treats her like a prostitute, the children will be affected.
If a man withholds finances from his wife and denies that her basic needs be met, the children will be affected.
If a man denies his wife and kids access to medical care, the children will be affected.
If a man sabotages every holiday or special occasion, the children will be affected.
If a man puts his fist through the wall or kicks down a door, the children will be affected.
I could go on, but I am certain you get the picture.
A man can do severe physiological damage to his children without ever laying a hand on them.
My heart is breaking for mamas and children today.
You may not see a way out, but there are so many who are finding safety and hope.
Ladies, please join us at Held and Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
In this group, I share hundreds of resources to help you on your healing journey.
You are not alone.