Here are the other parts of this series:
Part 1: My story of abuse (Introduction)
Part 2: Seven things you need to know about abusers
Part 3: Dealing with victims of abuse
Part 4: It started with a crossword puzzle
Part 5: Getting help for an abuse victim
Part 6: Taking the next step
Part 7: My church’s initial response to abuse
Part 8: Your marriage counselor may destroy your marriage
I wish all of you could see my email these days. I hear from people nearly every day who write in to thank me for this series and to tell their stories about their abuse and the subsequent abuse they got at their church. Every time I think a story can’t be topped, someone does. It is a wild, crazy, and evil world out there.
Not all of the correspondence has been pleasant. It does not appear that things are very healthy at my former church and predictably, many have swallowed the stories of those who are responsible for the nuttiness. Some members have thrown their grenades, usually anonymously. One woman who is a very active member there wrote immediately after a recent post and said if I did not change a particular thing I wrote that indirectly involved her, she would commit suicide that night. I looked at what she was concerned about and decided that until I knew more about what was driving her hysteria, I would pull it. I then called 911 and sent the police over to her house for her own protection. (I took this seriously even though I am/was quite sure that she was just trying to strong-arm and manipulate me.)
My reason for telling you that is to demonstrate that this topic is a very uncomfortable one for a lot of people. Even people on the right side are scared and with good reason. If they stand against the evil I am discussing, they are too often attacked and vilified by Christians and their own churches. The fact that so many people on both sides are scared to give their name when they write is very telling. Fear is everywhere. However, please know this: if you write me or post here anonymously, I respect that. I am not blaming you. Rather, I am blaming the evil environment that makes you fearful.
You might think that what I have written thus far has been strange but I assure you, after this post, as Emeril Lagasse would say, we are kicking it up a notch and things are going to take a turn for the really bizarre. We are going off the deep end, both from the standpoint of the abuser and also the abusive church. However, before we get there, I want to talk about another thing that some of you may find helpful when you deal with similar situations: the issue of communication between abuser and victim.
For an abuse victim, interaction with her abuser tends to be dangerous after steps such as separation have been taken. Once an abuser starts to lose control, he goes into full blown damage control mode and that means a return to full-blown “love bombing” in an attempt to get the victim back under control. Interacting with an abuser during this time reminds me a lot of the field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz. It might be a pleasant way to lose your life but is deadly nonetheless.
In the situation we worked with, the abuser followed that playbook and for a long time had success. The victim talked to him from her parents’ home for hours a day as he very skillfully tried to convince her he had changed. He wooed and wrote love notes. He made promises of how life would be different when she returned. He confessed all his past failings, apologized repeatedly, and told about all the progress he thought he was making.
You cannot imagine how effective abusers are at this. They are skillful at manipulating people but remember also that victims are predisposed to believe them because they want to believe them. They are hoping for real change and reconciliation.
Eventually, after weeks of her counselor, family, and friends telling her that she had to cut off the love bombing, the victim was able to summon the courage to stand up to the abuser. She says it was the second hardest thing she ever did (the first was leaving in the first place). However, she called him one night and told him she would only be talking to him once a week. She also requested an end to the endless texting and other correspondence except for email.
This step is necessary because without it, it is hard for a victim to clear her head. It is just like the field of poppies. Victims need to get away to start to heal. Just as importantly, taking that step takes control away from the abuser and usually, their masks drops and they show who they really are.
All of a sudden, the abuser was not so nice anymore. He ignored her boundaries on communication, always finding some excuse to call or text her when he was not supposed to. He started cycling between love bombing and nastiness, often in the same day. He started to sermonize and blame her for the trouble, accusing her of destroying his life and taking his children from him. Rather than his previous posture that her leaving was a good thing for their marriage, he began to accuse her of malicious motives. He started to accuse her parents of harboring her and demanded that they send her home.
She had been trained by him for 15 years that it was “rude and mean” to ignore his calls and it was not easy for her to change that mindset. However, step by step, the victim was able to shut down the communication. Escaping the constant phone calls and starting to see the cracks in the abuser’s facade was enormously helpful and at that point, the victim began to get stronger. On top of that, evidence began to emerge that the abuser was not behaving well in other areas in her absence and that helped her see things more realistically as well.
About three months into the separation, the abuser had time off from work and was invited up by the victim and her family to spend time with the kids. I am going to discuss that next because while that turned out to be perhaps the worst week of her life, it also was the week where certain things started to really become clear.
We are now up to early April, 2016. This is where things are going to get extremely strange. Stay tuned.