Here are links to this entire 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
Part 9: Cutting off communication
Part 10: How to choose sides in an abusive situation
Part 11: The strangeness of a spring break
Part 12: Filings for divorce and early rumblings at church
Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?
Part 14: The “repentance” game
Part 15: Isolation
Part 16: When the church goes off the rails
Part 17: When the church goes off the rails even further
Part 18: Final church problems
Part 19: How to neutralize an abuser
Part 20: The saga concludes
Part 21: Updates
Part 22: The very end
I am going to get back to the story in a second but before I do, I want to talk about the common abuser tactic of isolation. Isolation is an important part of abuse because it eliminates support groups and lifelines to reality. An isolated victim is greatly weakened for obvious reasons and is easier to control.
Obviously, abusers usually cannot tie up their victims and keep them in the basement. Their attempts to isolate usually involve mind control through pressure and intimidation. While you will never see exactly what is going on from the outside of the house, there will probably be clues if isolation is occurring. Here are some things to watch for in relationships that may otherwise appear intact and healthy:
- Constant checking in (texting and calling) when the victim is away from him with other people.
- Pressure and guilt when the victim wants to do things with friends and family without him.
- Trying to limit the victim’s communication with friends and family (through controlling her phone, etc.).
- Curfews and other attempts to curtail the victim’s activity away from him.
Let me give you a real-life example that caused our antenna to go up. A few months before this victim left her abuser, she was invited to a woman’s event at the home of a woman in the church. Marla was there as well. The abuser allowed her to go to the event grudgingly but within minutes of her getting there, started hammering her with texts and calls checking up on her. Apparently, at some point, to get him off her back, she finally asked the host if he could come over and even though he was the only male in attendance (other than the host’s husband), he came.
At some point during this silliness, she apparently showed some frustration to the other women there and made the mistake of telling him that later. To protect his image, he forced her to write an apology email to the other women bragging on her husband for caring enough to check on her. As was common, she had to have him approve the email before she could send it.
Guys, you need to understand something. When you observe this sort of behavior, your antenna should go up too. This is not the behavior of a loving spouse. It is not cute and it is not endearing though the abuser will talk in such a way that may make you think he is just madly in love with his spouse, unable to exist out of her sight. No, it is not love at all; it is more likely a morbid form of jealousy. Be wary when you start to sense these things. In the example I just gave, there were warning signs everywhere including the strange “apology” email that followed the event.
Now, I want to return to the story. The victim had returned to Georgia and I have already told you that the church’s response to her return was not only unhelpful but flat out detrimental. Frankly, the church did very little to reach out to her. One woman coincidently decided it was time to start a Bible study and invited her but we suspected (and later had confirmed) that the purpose was for indoctrinating the victim with her extremist views on divorce.
With few friends, no family in the area, and an ambivalent church, the victim was almost on her own. In fact, she had only a few families that she really could lean on. That low level of support was still not OK with the abuser. His goal (and the goal of all abusers like him) was to isolate her as much as possible even after she left him. He was still working hard talking to people she knew spreading his side of the story. Most of the bystanders ended up confused and not knowing who to believe and basically just stepped out of the way. To a large degree, he was successful in what he was attempting to do.
I talked in the last post about how the abuser was determined to get Marla and I out of his way. There were two reasons why. First, he hated us because he blamed us for her decision to leave him and second, he knew that we were very engaged in helping her with strategies for regaining control in their relationship.
It actually got comical watching the abuser cycle through one plan after another to try to keep us away from the victim. Even before she arrived, he sent her an email threatening to take her to court if their kids were exposed to us. Of course, we ignored that absurdity but he was just getting started. Besides the pressure he tried to put on her directly, he wrote her parents begging them to intervene and cut the “parasites” out of her life. He threatened to call the police because we were over there once when he arrived. He wrote her lawyer asking her to talk sense into the victim. He even tried to use her homeowners’ association.
And of course, he used the church. He worked on various people in the church, some of which fell for his story and questioned why we were involved. I have already told you in a previous post about how he started meeting with the deacons for counseling for the purpose of using them against us. Eventually, he went for his “Hail Mary” and sent a bitter letter to me that he copied the church leadership on, making wild accusations and demanding that I step out of his way. That particular tactic was so over the top that even the deacons (naive as they were) realized that he was out of control.
Much to his chagrin, none of those tactics worked. That is not to say he has given up however and nor do I expect him to. To this day, the abuser is determined to not only get us out of the way but pretty much everyone else she knows as well. Just in the past month or two, I have seen him make repeated threats to her that he is going to tell various people (the babysitter, a school counselor, and a former friend) how horrible she is. Just this week, he wrote another letter to her parents lambasting her and begging them to step in and pressure her to do things his way.
Again, here is the moral of the story and what I want you to remember: isolation is about control. He tries to isolate her because he knows that if she is alone, she will be susceptible to him. He wants to be surrounded by his adoring friends and family while she is here all alone. He will never quit trying to do that even though he has 0% chance of success. His need for control consumes him.
Eventually, I will discuss tactics to combat abusers who attempt to isolate. It has to be done very carefully. If the abuser had known what we were doing, he would have taken the family away from the church if not out of the state completely. If you push the issue too much, you just make the isolation worse.
I am going to move back to the church situation in the next post and the topic of spiritual abuse. See you then.