Thursday, December 3, 2009

Abuse Without a Bruise

I have been unable to write about this topic for some time, but I feel in my heart that there is something I can add to all that has been said about abuse. I will probably be doing several posts on this topic, as I have learned far more than I ever cared to know about abuse and how our society, culture, and government deal (and not deal) with it.

Although there are pages and pages of information about abuse, and many organizations to help women escape from abuse, I feel there is a huge gap between the reality of abuse and popular understanding of it. Much of that gap can be filled by understanding the mechanics of what abuse really is and in using gospel principles to heal.

Putting hands on a person, which tends to be the only recognized sign of abuse, is only the pinnacle of the problem. Like the worn-out analogy of an iceberg, the reality of abuse, the substance of it, lies far below what can be seen and measured.

There is a problem with this, however. A government or organization cannot deal with something unmeasurable. The government can only punish for what it can see, it cannot protect. It cannot stop abuse in time to save the hearts and souls of the victims. By the time bruises can be seen, the pattern of abuse has progressed too far. Lives are often irrevocably damaged, and people are left to live with some element of fear in their hearts for the rest of their days. No, the government cannot see, understand, or stop abuse.

There is only one person who can free a victim of abuse, and that is the victim.

Unfortunately, there is little information about all that lies below the surface until a person lives it. If you are like I was, you believe that abuse is easy to define and then to stop. If a person hits you, that is abuse, and you can get out.

Unfortunately, all the hard work of abuse has already been done by the time a finger is laid on the victim. An abuser spends a great deal of time and energy emotionally and mentally destabilizing a victim. Much like a torturer, the abuser carefully manipulates a victim into a state of mind where the victim believes their pain is their own fault. They come to believe that if only they were (good, smart, strong, beautiful, giving, obedient, hard-working) enough, they wouldn't hurt any more. An abuser creates a world for the victim where the victim continually searches for something—anything—to change in themselves to make it better. As soon as a victim finds a way to comply with the demands of the abuser, the abuser changes the rules and the victim is left standing on shifting sands, with nothing they can do to make things better, mired in a downward spiral of self-recrimination, desperately searching for the magic change that will never exist. Then, when the physical blows come, they are left with no strength of mind to resist, and they are at the mercy of the abuser.

Yes, the substance of abuse happens long before the first wound is inflicted. Otherwise, no one would tolerate being abused.

The only way to stop abuse cold is to educate people. Neighbors and friends who recognize signs of isolation will not allow a victim to be isolated. Victims who recognize the struggle for control that abuse really is will be able to identify the problem where it really lies: within the abuser.

I intend to educate as well as I am able, within the small framework I have been given, and in the light of gospel principles. If I can help one person recognize that they are in an abusive relationship before they actually get hurt, it will be worth it.


  1. I will be interested in this. I have a Sister in law who deals with a pretty near constant abuse from her husband. This is difficult because she feels obligated to stay because of the kids and her view of her temple covenants. She hopes that in the resurrection everything will be solved and resolved. So....what to do?

  2. Silver Rain, thanks so much for posting this post, it is very astute, and may serve to help someone else awaken to their awful situation before it is to late.

    Abuse is such a sad thing, I have watched some very dynamic women (my sister and my sister-in-law to name a few) be reduced to just shadows of their former selves, when they could have been even greater had their husbands chosen to nurture them instead of break them down. I’m sorry that this was your experience also. I am grateful to you that your daughters will not grow up being victoms of that same oppression; Even though I can tell that that choice was very hard on you.

    Personally I too think that the verbal/mental abuse is far more damaging than the grabbing/hitting.

    People, If you feel that you always have to be very careful in everything you say or do so you won’t make your spouse angry (again) or incur their wrath, or if you have a constant underlying fear of your spouse; get help now! this is not a healthy relationship. Love doesn’t feel like that.

    Your spouse is using anger/intimidation to manipulate you into compliance, it is their tool to get/keep power and control over you. Silver Rain said “Much like a torturer, the abuser carefully manipulates a victim into a state of mind where the victim believes their pain is their own fault. They come to believe that if only they were (good, smart, strong, beautiful, giving, obedient, hard-working) enough…. “ they try to keep you convinced that you are solely responsible for their anger/behavior. They have to make you responsible for their anger because their ego/pride is to fragile for them to accept responsibility, if they did they would have to admit they have a problem and their ego couldn’t take it. Silver Rain made a key statement….“As soon as a victim finds a way to comply with the demands of the abuser, the abuser changes the rules” this is so they can stay in denial and continue to make you solely responsible for what they are doing to you, again so they can protect their fragile pride/ego, they have to keep justifying their actions in their own mind, they have such a small/fragile self esteem they cannot afford to be wrong or even allow you to be co-equals or companions, they have to protect themselves by being in control ALWAYS, keeping in control means always being right, even if it means changing the rules, even if it means convincing you with violence when oppression doesn’t work. Understand that in their minds they can never let you be acceptable or “enough” they perceive this as giving up control and they cannot do this, what they base themselves on is to fragile/fraudulent for them to allow this.

    Compulsion, power, control, this is Satan’s plan, this is what we fought against in the pre-existence and are still fighting.
    For those of you who feel they have to stay in an abusive relationship for the covenant’s sake, those covenants are only in effect in righteousness. Personal revelation is the only way to know what is right for your situation.
    but you may have to be a martyr for your childrens sake and leave not stay.
    Sorry for the soap box as you can tell I feel a little passionate about this subject.

  3. SilverRain, physical abuse, as you indicate, is more obvious than other types of abuse. I hope that those of us that are not prone to physical abuse do not overlook the fact that we may even unknowingly perpetrate other types of abuse.

    I think we will be surprised- hopefully pleasantly so- to find out at some point how seemingly insignificant things that we say and do in some cases have a profound impact on others. A smile. A kind word. Even a glance of approval. I think we rarely understand how such small things can really make a big difference to others.

    But the same is unfortunately true as well for the less positive things that we do- a scowl, an unkind word, a look of disapproval- these and other seemingly minor events can often be harmful to others.

    Unfortunately much abuse is more harmful than words. Thank you for having the courage to share and to educate others about this difficult topic.

  4. Although your post seems aimed at marital abuse, you have more fully opened my eyes to abuse that was developing between my daughter and a friend - a troubled boy her own age.

    We had him into our home and felt all was safe if we were here. It was not. Nothing happened physically, but I see now that he was grooming her for abuse, or just abusing her mentally and emotionally first. He had made her feel bad about her weight and had encroached on her personal space. It was changing her personality. It sickens me to think of what happened, and it never got to the point of something that could be legally prosecuted.

    His caregiver denies the seriousness of the events and is waiting until we'll let him come over and play again. This woman is a friend, someone I care deeply about, and I care about the boy and all he has been through. But my first responsibility is to my daughter.

    The problem I now face is that soon we'll be attending the same ward as this boy. We are concerned about protecting our daughter. We will talk to the bishop and primary president but worry that it won't be taken seriously because it wasn't physically manifested abuse.

    I am so grateful that my daughter talked to me about this. We want to honor her trust by protecting her.

  5. But what can you possibly do when the victim doesn't see or doesn't want to see the problem? What can you possibly do when someone you love is in a terrible, manipulative relationship, made to fill like dog crap over and over again, but when told, "You deserve better", responds by telling you that you don't know what you're talking about, that her husband is the most wonderful man in the world and that you are a terrible person for criticising him?

    I am asking because you say friends and neighbors can stop the isolation - but how, when the victim plays a willing or not so willing role in it? On a practical level - How? What do you say?

    My husband's lost his sister because of abuse. He told his sister she deserved better and she cut him off dead. What can he do? He can't make her see what she doesn't want to see. So we watched from the sidelines as her husband destroyed them, and then we turned around because we couldn't watch it anymore and we couldn't stop it either. What else do you do?

  6. Silver Rain, you had an insightful comment:

    "There is only one person who can free a victim of abuse, and that is the victim."

    In your future writings would you mind expounding more on this? I think focusing on that is where personal growth can assist the victim.

    There is a saying I heard once that there could be a room full of people and a victim and victimizer will always find each other.

    Being a former victim, when I first heard that it caused me to ponder how I attracted my victimizers.

    Some personal insights I can share from being a reformed victim is to take a look at one's past and how those experiences shape one's thinking patterns that can draw them to a victimizer.

    When I learned my role in creating those circumstances either directly or unconsciously, it gave me the insights to transform my future relationships to healthy ones.

    A most interesting insight was discovering that I also got a payoff for being a victim in that "I didn't have to be so responsible for my life not turning out in various ways, because I could blame the difficult circumstances (the victimizer caused) on the abuser".

    I was actually quite surprised by this self-discovery because I think of myself as both responsible and capable, yet it was serving a purpose. When I realized how my own thinking had it's own part in disempowering myself, I could catch myself when I had self-pitying thoughts and shift the focus back to ways I could create positive personal change about my situation. I experienced when the victim (myself) was no longer playing that role, the victimizer's didn't find me anymore, or I could quickly send them away.

    Sharing these self-discoveries (which can be hard to do, because it's easier to focus on conflict outside of ourselves) are not to make light of the abuser or lessen any sensitivity to the abused, but to encourage and enable positive shifts within oneself to better empower one's situation.

    I look forward to reading this blog in the future and anxiously await updates on your personal progress.


  7. "What to do" if you observe abuse is the hardest question. It really doesn't have one great answer.

    My best answer is to listen. Listen to the Spirit, and listen to the victim. Most of the time, victims know in their hearts that something isn't right, but they don't believe it. Having another person acknowledge that something is wrong is a lifeline to a victim.

    If you criticize an abuser, the victim is likely to stand up for him. Remember that the abuser has tied up a victim's sense of worthiness in the situation. Rather than telling, try to let the abuser talk. Often, when they say things out loud they hear how ridiculous they sound.

    If they won't talk, soften your comments as much as possible. Rather than saying "he is horrible" say, "maybe I'm wrong, but that doesn't seem like loving behavior to me."


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