Thank you for all your additions and personal examples of what constitutes abusive behavior. I have been very sick this week and unable to work so I haven’t been able to comment, but I do want to add just a few more thoughts.
I think it’s important to make a crucial distinction between an abusive incident (one-time bad behavior) and an abusive relationship. A one time abusive incident such as verbally exploding in cruel remarks, throwing something in a fit of rage, pounding a wall, driving like a maniac, or even slapping, pushing or shoving or worse might be done by any one of us if sufficiently provoked, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or personally in a bad place. And the resulting consequences of such an abusive incident might permanently damage the relationship.
However, when a person acts in such a destructive way, if he or she is mentally healthy and spiritually mature, he or she will take responsibility for his or her abusive behavior. He/she doesn’t blame others or make excuses and doesn’t minimize the damage on others or invalidate their fears. Instead, he or she repents and shows change by making amends for the damage that was caused, AND does whatever it takes to not repeat this kind of behavior in the future.
When we look to define an abusive relationship, what we are looking for are repetitive patterns of behavior that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting another person’s growth. Patterns of behavior that demean, deceive, dominate, degrade, or dismiss the feelings, needs and thoughts of the partner.
When we look at one single incident of sinful behavior we may believe, “This behavior isn’t that bad, so what’s the big deal?” But like 1,000 bee stings, over time, when the behavior doesn’t change, the damage becomes more and more destructive to the individual and to the relationship.
Therefore, let’s be very careful (especially those who tend to be wary of the term “emotional abuse”, or neglect or indifference) not to minimize the damage of repeated incidents. This is true when even at face value, the actions may be more covert, or hard to define as abusive. When they accumulate, the damage becomes apparent.
I also thought it might be helpful to remind you how we should look at this subject biblically.
- Abuse of any kind is always sin. Malachi 2:16-17; Psalm 11:5; Colossians 3:19 Abusive speech or behavior is never an acceptable way to communicate, even if it’s very effective (Colossians 3:8).
- Abusive behavior is never an appropriate response to being provoked by someone else. People provoke us all the time but we are still responsible for our response (Ephesians 4:26; Luke 6:45). When Moses was provoked by the Israelites sin, God held Moses accountable for his temper outbursts.
- Biblical headship does not grant a husband unlimited power over his wife, the right to remove her choices from her, or the right to have his own way all the time (Mark 10:42-45; Ephesians 5:1,2; Eph. 5:21-29).
Therefore, how does a Christian respond to abuse when it is in an intimate or personal relationship? The apostle Paul encountered some spiritually abusive leaders in 2 Corinthians and he teaches us not to put up with it (2 Corinthians 11:20). He also encourages us in Romans 12:21 to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.
Below are biblical guidelines that help us understand how to respond to the evil of abuse with good.
- It is good to protect yourself from violent people. (Proverbs 27:12; Proverbs 11:9) David fled King Saul when he was violent toward him. The angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus because Herod was trying to kill him. Paul escaped from those who sought to stone him.
- It is good to expose the abuser. Stop pretending all is well when everything is rotten underneath.(Ephesians 5:11) Bringing the deeds of darkness into the light is the only way to get help for both the victim and the abuser.
- It is good to speak the truth in love. (Matthew 18:15-17) When someone grievously sins against us and will not listen, it is good to bring the matter before the church for additional support and authority.
- It is good to allow the violent person to experience the consequences of his or her sinful behavior. One of life’s greatest teachers is consequences. God says what we sow we reap. (Galatians. 6:7) A person uses violence at home because he gets away with it. Don’t continue to allow that happen. (Proverbs 19:19).
God has put civil authorities in place to protect victims of abuse. The apostle Paul appealed to the Roman government when he was being mistreated (Acts 22:24-29). We should do likewise. Sadly when many women appeal to their church leadership, instead of being supported, they are told to pretend. They are encouraged to put up with it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the marriage. This is never appropriate counsel. Lying to protect the guilty never gives God glory.
As we look at the entirety of Scripture, we never see God endorsing the misuse of power over another individual nor does he give a husband power to misuse or mistreat his wife. On the contrary, we see the opposite with the apostle Paul urging and cautioning husbands not to misuse their physical power or position of authority to mistreat family members (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:19,21).
Friends, what steps have you taken to overcome the evil of abuse with Biblical good?