Let’s Not Call it Abuse
Author: Leslie Vernick
Samantha had high hopes that something might change after she got an appointment with a Biblical counselor at her church. She had hoped that her counselor would stand with her and be her advocate. When she began to describe what was happening in her home, her counselor carefully listened to everything she told him.
Samantha recounted the names her husband called her when he got angry or she failed him. She described things such as not allowing her to give her own perspective during an argument, not allowing her to leave a room when she was feeling scared, and demanding she submit to his most trivial demands like cook him a full breakfast every morning even though she worked full time and had a baby to get ready to take to the babysitter. She told him how her husband lied, how he twisted Scriptures, how he bullied her and threatened her.
Samantha took a huge risk sharing these things with her counselor but she believed that if her counselor and church leaders knew what was happening, they would get behind her and lovingly but firmly tell her husband (who was active in their church) that his behavior was sinful and ungodly. She thought that once she got others to agree that his behavior was destructive, he’d be less likely to tell himself the lie that what he was doing wasn’t that bad.
Sadly the counselor became fixed on two words Samantha used when finishing her story. She asked her counselor, “Please tell him to stop emotionally abusing me.” Her counselor’s first response to Samantha’s story was, “Samantha, let’s not use the words emotional abuse. It’s such a trendy term these days.”
Samantha’s heart sank. It was hard for her to breathe. Her chest pounded, her head started spinning. Now what? She thought to herself, If this isn’t emotional abuse, what is it?
Our culture is adept at watering down language so that it becomes vague, meaningless and doesn’t offend. For example the phrase termination of a pregnancy is softer than the phrase killing an unborn child. Terminating a pregnancy lacks the emotional wallop of the truth – a real baby is being killed. Termination of pregnancy sounds nicer and it whitewashes and sanitizes the true meaning of what’s happening to both the child and the mother.
When we refuse to recognize and name emotional abuse for what it is and instead describe it as marital conflict or mutual sin, it’s not that we’re incorrect; it’s that we are imprecise. We water down what’s really happening.
When a doctor tells a patient who has cancer he’s sick, that’s true. But if he doesn’t use the C word because it’s too potent, he’s not telling his patient the whole truth. As a result, the patient might not get the treatment he or she needs because he or she doesn’t see the full problem they face.
As biblical counselors our mission is not only to be truth seekers but truth tellers.
Naming things in Biblical days had special significance. Names represented a character trait, a special ability, a future expectation or a proclamation of what’s happened in the past. Names are significant and what we name things has meaning.
When we say to our clients, “Let’s not call what’s happening to you ‘abuse’,” that’s wrong. What we’re saying is that what’s happening to her is no big deal−and that is not true. Minimizing what’s happening in her marriage damages her, her husband, and their marriage. Abusive behavior is always bad, always sinful and always destructive.
The Bible repeatedly tells us that God comes alongside the victim. He is against those who seek to destroy and damage others. He never tells them it’s not that bad or calls it something other than what it truly is. We need to speak the truth about what is happening, without flattering abusers that their behavior is not as bad as their spouse claims (Psalm 12:2-3).
A picture is better than a thousand words. Sometimes emotional abuse can be hard for counselors and pastors to see or believe. Please watch this short French video(with English subtitles) about a couple named Fred and Marie and let me know what you think. If Marie were your daughter, how would you describe what’s happening to her?
Posted on July 18, 2011