On What is Abuse, What is Not Abuse, and Why We Should Be Very Careful

Reader Question of the Week
On Monday I like to post reader questions and take a stab at answering them. Usually I post a question that came in by email or on my Facebook Page. Today I thought I’d do something different, and respond to some comments on some posts last week.

I suppose I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week’s two posts dealing with abuse drew so many comments and got me all riled up, and I thought something more needed to be said. I’m not sure I clarified well last week that I do believe abuse is real, and I’m not sure I was clear about what is abuse and what is not. I wrote that piece for a specific purpose–sometimes we use the word “abuse” too cavalierly. But the discussion veered from there in the comments, and I thought clarification was in order, especially since so many people were asking me about what abuse really is.

So I want today to talk about what is abuse, what is NOT abuse, and why we need to be very careful about labelling things as abusive. If we aren’t careful, then we’re not really taking abuse seriously.
What Is Abuse, What Is Not, and The Difference

Let me start with a story.

When my daughter Katie was 4, she and her sister had been bugging me all morning, being loud and fooling around and not listening to anything I said. I told them to clean up. They did not. I told them again. Rebecca did. Then Katie started messing it all up again. In anger I hauled Katie up by an arm and plunked her down on the floor, where she promptly fell and hurt herself. She burst into tears, I burst into tears, and we had a good hug. That’s the only time I remember really hurting one of my children (and it wasn’t that bad), but I felt terrible.

I was not an abusive mother, because that was not typical of our relationship. However, had I acted in exactly the same way, everyday of our lives, Katie would have been better off removed from our home. What I did was wrong. But it was not abusive, because it was not typical of our relationship, nor did it cause much harm. But if I did it everyday, even though it didn’t cause much harm, it still would be abusive.

The key in this case is two factors: first, the severity of the harm; and second, the overall context of the relationship.

I think much of what we call verbal and emotional abuse fits into this category. In some cases it rises to the level of abuse, and in some cases it does not. It depends on whether the behaviour is part of a larger pattern or not.

An abusive relationship is one in which the abused person spends much of their emotional energy trying to figure out how not to provoke the abuser.

They hide their true feelings and their true thoughts. They try to gauge the abuser’s mood. Their lives become characterized by fear. What makes the situation abusive is not just the behaviour, but the fact that the behaviour forms a pattern. And rarely is it only one behaviour; it is usually several. The spouse yells; the spouse is jealous; the spouse withholds affection unless you completely conform; the spouse goes behind your back and separates you from friends; the spouse demands an accounting of all of your actions. There are few behaviours which are automatically abusive in and of themselves (the exception being sexual abuse or real physical harm, which are always abusive), but the pattern of behaviour can constitute abuse. That’s why I don’t like the emphasis on “is what he did abusive?” Sometimes someone can be abusive without doing any one thing that’s particularly horrible. It’s a whole pattern where a spouse has to deny their feelings and placate the other, and be constantly told that they’re stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Let’s take the spanking-with-a-belt example, because that’s something that all of us can easily understand.

Personally, I don’t spank. I never thought it was a very effective method of discipline, and we used other methods when the girls were young that worked fine. I know some people do spank, and I understand. Most western countries, though, make it illegal to spank with anything other than one’s hand, and I agree with that.

However, pretty much everyone I know of my generation and those generations before me was spanked with belts, and the vast majority of them turned out okay. To say that spanking with a belt is abusive, then, to me, also says that they would be better off if they had been removed from the home, and that’s not so.

Do I think it was right for them to spanked with a belt? No. Do I think it was abuse? Not necessarily. In many cases it would be, and I’d point people to the critiques of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books To Train Up a Child, and the children who have been killed using their methods of corporal punishment, as examples. But at the same time, I’m supremely uncomfortable saying it always is abuse.

Let’s flush this out a bit using two different examples.

In Family A, this spanking happens for the slightest infraction. It is often arbitrary; sometimes the children get whipped for something, and sometimes they can get away with it. The children are often punished for their feelings–they aren’t allowed to be sad, or angry, and anything other than happiness is considered a betrayal. Even if they’re not punished, they’re ignored if they don’t behave perfectly and put on a smile.  (This, by the way, is quite characteristic of some of the harsh discipline techniques advocated in some parts of Christianity. In To Train Up a Child, for instance, the Pearls actually advocate that if the child is not misbehaving, that you set up a situation to tempt the child, so that you can then spank them with a plumbing line and teach them.) The children thus spend their lives trying to cover up their emotions, and trying to mollify their parents to prevent a spanking or to avoid entrapment. Whenever they want something, they second guess themselves, wondering if this will invoke anger. They thus have a difficult time figuring out what they think about anything. Their whole emotional and psychological well-being is affected.

In Family B, the spanking with the belt follows a large infraction. The child knows it will be the punishment for the specific instance of disobedience. It’s rare; it really is only used when something huge is done. The rest of the time, the relationship tends to be a loving one, where the child is able to share true feelings.

In both cases the spanking with the belt is wrong; in only one case is it part of the pattern of abuse.

And that, to me, is the issue: when we debate whether or not something is abuse, we’re usually not talking about severe beatings or sexual abuse (at least I hope we all agree that these things are automatically abusive, and you must take steps to keep yourself and your children safe). We’re talking about the grey areas: the yelling, the lashing out, the sulking, the controlling, etc. We often ask, “is this behaviour abusive?”

I think it’s the wrong question. It’s not whether the behaviour is abusive; it’s whether or not it forms a pattern of an abusive relationship. The same behaviour, in two different contexts, could mean something quite different.

I think the problem with our language is that we don’t have a word for behaviour that is WRONG, but isn’t part of a pattern of an abusive relationship, and so we call everything that is dysfunctional “abusive” to stress the severity of it. There’s two problems with that:

If everything is abusive, then nothing is. It diminishes the seriousness of abuse.

And secondly, it can make it difficult to deal with problems that aren’t as serious because we’re labeling someone as evil. That’s never a good way to inspire change.

There is behaviour which is absolutely wrong: blowing up at your family; manipulating family members; trying to control family members; getting overly jealous; picking at family members. It is ALWAYS wrong to do these things. But it is not ALWAYS abuse. It really depends on the nature of the rest of the relationship.

Abuse is a term which should constitute the sum total of the relationship and its effects on your mental and physical health.

I think we need a better word to denounce things like temper tantrums and rages and picking, when it doesn’t cross the threshold of abuse. We need a way to condemn it, and say, “it is not right to speak this way or act this way with your wife/husband/kids”. Instead we seem to have only one word, and that word is “abuse”. But as soon as you tell someone they’re being abused, it’s like saying “you should leave.”

What if the rest of your relationship is pretty good? You don’t walk on eggshells all the time; you just have hard periods occasionally. So you don’t want to leave. Or you decide leaving isn’t worth it. You now feel like you can’t complain about the behaviour, because it’s either abuse or it’s fine. And that’s not true.

There’s that middle, where the whole relationship isn’t abusive but someone is still doing wrong.

We need a word, like “abuse”, to mean:

The pattern of the way you are being treated is so harmful to your physical and/or emotional well-being that you need to distance yourself from your abuser.

And then we also need a word that means:

The way you are being treated is wrong and is harmful, and you have the right to speak up against it and to try to change it.

We need both words, so that we are able to tell someone:

You do have permission to leave. It honestly is okay.

But then we are also able to tell someone:

It is natural and right that you are hurt, and we all need to take action to change the behaviour.

If we don’t have both words, then we don’t really have the tools to help families in crisis.

In one case we may blow things out of proportion, which doesn’t solve the problem; and in the other, we may not treat things seriously enough.

I wish we had both words. If we did, I think we’d get into fewer arguments like the one last week, and it would be easier for us to address problems in the home without escalating them.

I think the reaction to articles like these largely depends on your own cultural framework. In some Christian circles, where an interpretation of submission includes never speaking up for yourself, abuse likely is unreported and not taken seriously enough. In other Christian circles, like the one I’m in, as soon as someone says the word “abuse” we all run around like  we have to protect someone from Evil Incarnate. It’s taken too seriously. Depending on which culture you’re in, you’ll likely read this article, and the one last week, with very different conclusions, and those conclusions likely relate less to what I’ve said than to what you have seen around you. Please keep that in mind in the comments!

I’m not going to participate in the comments today because I really said all I need to say in last week’s posts and in today’s, and I’m busy with other projects. But feel free to leave a comment if you’d like!


  1. Anonymous says:

    A friend of mine is in an abusive situation. Mental, verbal, and sexual.

    A little background on her marriage: they’ve been married for five years.

    They married because she was pregnant with a second child. Her first child was from a previous relationship. She and the husband both were part of a very crazy drug and alcohol laden lifestyle.

    Then they “found Jesus” together. And in my opinion, turned drug and alcohol addiction in to a God/church addiction. Neither of them are about being Christian. They’re about appearing Christian.

    A year and a half ago, she was contemplating and figuring out how to go about pursuing divorce. She was terrified of being broke with two kids and no place to go.

    I served as the sounding board and the shoulder. I guided her through paths she could take, gave her a little money to get started on, and counseled her through.

    She then sought counsel from a licensed “Christian counselor.” Who then proceeded to unravel the entire plan, because DIVORCE IS A SIN. and just because her husband is a manipulative SOB who had cheated on her twice, keeps her on lockdown, spies on her internet usage, cell phone incoming and outgoing anything, and gets jealous and makes her feel guilty if she leaves the house to visit with a friend, and then guilts her in to sex, or worse, forces her, because she’s the wife and that’s her job… That’s no reason to divorce him! Because DIVORCE IS A SIN.

    And because of her background with addiction and abuse, this person is very easily manipulated and very easy to convince of anything. And the counselor has forced their viewpoint on her instead of serving as a true counselor and letting her make her own decisions.

    Since then, she has chosen to stay in her marriage, and they are “working on it”. I voiced my opinion about six months ago, and told her she needed to seek new counsel. In my opinion, it’s the truth she needed to hear. Unfortunately it has ruined our friendship. She has not spoken to me since.

    I do not know exactly what my point is with all this rambling… But this is a cycle I have seen all too often in “Christian” marriages. Women (truly broken and desperate women) get bullied by the people around them to stay in truly abusive situations because she’s Christian, and divorce just isn’t an option.

  2. Mommaoffourbabies says:

    I think that this article really hits home for me as I examine my life and what relationships were, are and weren’t abusive. A persons ability to recognize it is important because cutting that type of thing out of their lives helps them get stronger and cut the toxins out of their lives. But tossing that word abuse around can really hurt a person who isn’t actually abusing you. It’s good to clarify. I think about my relationship with my mom when I was younger. When I was little, my mom would drag me by the hair and throw me against the wall with anger, best me with brooms, BBQ brushes and the like, choke me with a bar of soap if she didn’t like what I was saying, etc. She doesn’t believe it was abusive, but I have had a very hard time forgiving her because I lived in fear of my mother growing up. She didn’t see it as abuse and doesn’t understand and the relationship has always been strained. It’s been hard to let her watch my kids. Personally when it comes to the adult / child relationship, I think you shouldn’t discipline to release anger. Child discipline should be well thought out and calm. Taking out your anger on a child is abuse, plain and simple. Now I examine my marriage. My husband has never kept a promise to me that he’s ever made, he takes out his problems on me by being short with me or saying rude or crass things to me that hurt my feelings or he is extremely inconsiderate of me. We are in this pattern the last 4 or so years where he does something really hurtful, I have hurt feelings and tell him, and then he gets angrier that it hurt my feelings and refuses to apologize for days. He knows an apology would be what would make me feel better so he with holds it. For days he just won’t speak to me or sleep in the same bed and will treat me badly. Eventually he will feel lonely and apologize days later. Is that abuse though? I don’t know. It’s a cycle we are in. He loves me and I know he does. Is it right for him to take all his stress from work and finances out on me? No, I’m sure it isn’t. But he’s not tossing me around and punching me so I don’t use the word abuse. I tend to think that if you grew up in an abusive household that you draw in abusive people.

    • Jill Farris says:

      Mamaoffourbabies, what you are experiencing in your marriage is very real abuse. It is a different kind than what you grew up with but it is still abuse. You are right, we tend to attract abusive people if we don’t break the pattern. You will probably need help in your marriage because your husband is not listening to you and will not change on his own. It can be very painful learning to quietly and strongly draw the line and insist on being treated with respect but it is the Christian thing to do. God does not want you to be treated that way. You can lovingly insist on respect and it will probably make your husband even angrier because your calm strength will shine a light on his sinful anger. Again, this is the Christian thing to do because you are fighting for your marriage! Your marriage is sure to fail unless you break this pattern. If is so hard to break it on your own. Ask for help from wise people!



  3. Thank you for your descriptions, Sheila! Sometimes knowing the difference can help! Speaking from a little experience, I can say that any abuse (repeated pattern) needs to be dealt with appropriately. Sometimes the law needs to get involved. Then there are times that one or both spouses need to work on their relationship with God before working on their relationship with their spouse.

  4. Nice that you are not reading or responding to any comments today. This article is no better than the one posted previously, which also made me feel like you need to stop posting about things you really know nothing about. And your outlandish statements about the Pearls (whether true or not true) and categorizing sects of Christians who ‘keep their women submissive’ (my paraphrase) really show me you are opinionated and reading a few articles about abuse so you can post some definitions does not give you the right to flap about it. I will be unsubscribing from your blog. Keep in mind that all the outcry you received means something. You can take it and blow it off and act like everyone doesn’t understand you and ignore it, or you can take it and evaluate more carefully in the future what you post. I feel sorry for your friend that you hung out to dry here. Whether she was wrong or right, or whether she was abused or not, or regardless of what she is doing today (all said to justify your loathing of her because of your perceptions of what she did). With friends like that, who needs enemies. Not everyone who disagrees with you is wrong.

    • Hi Connie,

      I don’t believe I’ve ever read Sheila saying anything about those who disagree with her being wrong. I think what has been laughable the past week is that so many women are getting so “holier than thou” over Sheila and she is only giving her opinions. Where did she ever write that anything on her blog is pure fact? Or, furthermore, that it is Christian teaching, perhaps dogmatic at that?? I have to smile to myself, because there are not a large number of women coming out and complaining. Many more, like myself this morning, read the blog, note its interest and move on with their day. Not everyone who appreciated her blog commented either. I don’t think Sheila sounded as if she were “loathing” her friend. If I believed this was just “Christian” teaching on this blog I wouldn’t be on it as much as I am. As a Catholic (Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholic) I only receive my religious teaching from the universal Catholic Church. So, I am wonderfully spared from frieking out and arguing all day and night as to what the Bible “was supposed to mean. what St.Paul was REALLY saying, or so-and-so…..etc.” I use this blog (the only blog I subscribe to) because it has much practical and humorous advice for keeping our marriages valued and…..keeping them light and not so heavy (maybe the readers should practice lighter comments:)). It inspires me to try harder.

      Anyway, my point is, if you don’t like her opinion or it offends you, than by all means exit the blog. BUT I AM GLAD SHEILA CLEARLY SPEAKS HER MIND AND IS NOT IN FEAR OF OUR OPINIONS. She is always charitable and was quick to change last week’s post to help her readers more. She is trying to HELP our marriages. Sheila is probably familiar with Aristotle’s words, which went something like ” to never be critized: say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.”

      God bless!

  5. Sheila, I think you were really wise to bring up the whole context of the relationship. That’s really helpful in evaluating what someone did or said.

    Julie recently posted…Things I Cannot Explain…My Profile

  6. The difference between abuse and poor choices is something I still struggle with. I know that my actions are not always what they should be and so if my husband’s actions are not always what *they* should be, how can I judge that? I guess that if he would just admit that he’s done some things wrong and sincerely apologize- no “If you had/hadn’t” or “Sorry BUT…”- just a sincere apology and an effort to change and I would gladly forgive and move on. I find it hard to move on when the apology hasn’t been said nor the actions changed. But then there are times when he is respectful and polite, not loving mind you, but polite enough that I feel affection for him. It would be easier if I could hate him you know? Anyway. Just another rambling…:)

  7. Sheila,

    Thanks for the clarification. Over all I am right with you, but I would make one added comment for couples: family of origin differences can be a big factor.

    Some families yell – ALL.THE.TIME. Other families do not yell – EVER. If a woman from a non-yelling family marries a man from a yelling family, she may feel abused by his yelling. As you describe she might spend a lot of emotional energy trying to keep him from yelling, which will fail.

    Is the man being abusive? He is doing what he knows, and another woman would be right in there yelling back and not feel abused. However, by the definition you give his wife is abused. (We’ve dealt with this very issue, and gradually the couple found a place in the middle that worked for both of them.)

    I’m not trying to muddy the water here. I think this is one reason we see some calling things abuse that we don’t think are abuse. It is why some call something abusive even though the person on the receiving end does not feel abused and does not act abused. (Others excellent things that are not abuse to abuse for their own benefit, as you mentioned last week.)

    To use the belt example, if I have been so badly beaten with a belt as a kid that I still have scars decades later, I was clearly abused. I might conclude that any spanking with a belt is abuse – period, end of subject. If you have been spanked with a belt but never very hard, you could conclude that spanking with a belt is never abuse. And we would both be wrong.

    It is not an easy discussion, and as you said, we lack all the words we need to have the discussion. Thanks for helping people to kick it around!
    Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Twenty-nine Years LaterMy Profile

    • Hi Paul, Thanks so much! I know I said that I wouldn’t enter the comments, but I just wanted to clarify, if I didn’t in the article, that the example you gave of yelling was exactly the sort of thing that I hope people would see I don’t think is abuse (unless it’s accompanied by a whole string of other things and characterizes the whole relationship). That’s what I mean–often we call people abusive when they just have very different methods of resolving conflict than we do, and that’s just not right.

      The thing about real abuse is that it’s often arbitrary–you can’t predict it. That’s why it takes so much emotional energy. I would hope in a family where one is a yeller and one is not it wouldn’t be arbitrary. But it is really confusing, isn’t it?

      In short, though, I totally agree–not abusive!

      • This is exactly what I have thought on and tried to figure out in my brain. Especially the spanking debate, and different ideas with spouses about it, and how it is done and is a certain way of spanking specifically abuse or is it the overall discipline and feel of the house. Good food for thought!

  8. This is absolute nonsense.
    In many states in the US, there are mandated reporters. People who work in social service field, educators, childcare workers, healthcare workers, law enforcement, state officials, religious leaders, etc are mandated reporters. And thank God we have mandated reporters when there is nonsense like this spread.
    If you suspect abuse, it is not your job to investigate it. (Unless that literally is your job as an investigator… which I’m assuming is not the case.) It IS your job to report it. If there is even a question in your mind, then you report it. If its nothing, then great. No harm, no foul. But if it is something, then you could have just saved a life.
    I urge anyone reading this to not follow this ridiculous post. If you think abuse is a possibility, tell someone! Don’t try to use these guidelines to figure out if it abuse or not.

    • Okay, this one I have to respond to!

      Of course if you suspect abuse you are mandated to report it. Many professions are mandated to report it.

      But just because there are people hired to look into it does that mean that no one else can ever be educated on what abuse should be? Only a physician is allowed to diagnose a bladder infection, but does that mean that any website that has a description of a bladder infection should be taken down?

      The problem that was originally brought up last week was that people are labelling as abusive behaviour that they simply don’t like. “My husband yells, so he’s abusive”. I’m attempting to put it into a broader framework. That’s what blogs do.

      At the same time, my husband is a pediatrician and he is mandated to report if he suspects abuse. I have a Master’s in Sociology in abuse, so I’m quite familiar with all the literature. But I think that it’s time that we stopped making “abuse” into something which is so hard for people to understand and something which is so confusing for everyone, and just start a conversation about what it is and what it is not.

      It doesn’t help for people to say, “you’re not allowed to talk about this; leave it completely up the experts”. I think we SHOULD be talking about it, and starting some major discussions, because the word “abuse” is misused in both ways that I showed. And I think that is a perfectly valid discussion to have.

      • Just because there is WebMD to describe a bladder infection, does that mean I should go there for medical advise when I think I have a bladder infection? Of course not. That would be irresponsible. I would seek professional medical advice.
        I didn’t say your blog should be taken down. I’m simply encouraging readers, if you suspect abuse, seek professional advice. I personally believe it is irresponsible to tell people to do otherwise.

        • Kishia, point taken. But your initial comment really sounded more like “you have no right to be talking about this at all! The only people who can ever talk about abuse are professionals!” I completely disagree. We all need to be talking about it, and thinking about it, and dialoging about it. And there is nothing at all wrong with that. And I never told people not to seek help. Never once. In fact, I said that even if there is behaviour that you DON’T think qualifies as abusive, it could still be wrong, and you STILL need help dealing with it.

    • I, too am a mandated reporter as is my husband. But I have also been turned into Child Protective Services. Once as a single mother by a vindictive neighbor and once by my child, who later recanted everything he’d said. The problem with CPS is that they don’t look at the big picture of the relationship. Sheila, you have made some very valid points. Call everything abuse, and then nothing is abuse is right on!

    • Charlotte says:

      That’s only for children. You are under no obligation to report abuse that is happening to adults unless it is of a vulnerable adult (i.e.–elderly, mentally or physically handicapped in some way). This is why it’s so important for everyone to be educated on what abuse is, so when we see it happening we can recognize it and act on it. I would hate to think that people are so uneducated on what abuse is that if they saw me and my husband fighting they might call the police for abuse over some harsh words.

    • Kishia,

      I was a mandatory reporter in the last two states I lived in, but am not in my current state. Who is and is not a mandatory reporter varies by state to state. Each state is a bit different, and the state I live in now does not have laws requiring the mandatory reporting of acts of domestic violence (one of four such states).

      I formerly lived in a state that required only the reporting of gun shot wounds with regard to adult abuse. All states reporting of sexual abuse against minors, but even with that there are variations. Two of the states I have live in have reporting for “vulnerable adults” – the elderly and those who are developmentally disabled – this includes sexual and physical abuse, as well as neglect and financial exploitation. *We really need a national law for this.*

      “Suspect” is a tricky word. Some folks get reported because someone “had a feeling”. I have know families to be torn apart because of this – kids removed, or dad forced to leave and not see his kids for months. If there was no abuse, then what the state does to the kids is abuse. Imagine a five year old being carried from his home screaming while his mother cries and begs to leave him. How much damage does that do? How much therapy does it take for that child to recover? I realise these are the extreme cases and not the norm, but they happen. Most parents do not know their rights and can be bullied into letting their children be taken when the law does not actually have the right. A caseworker who is new, zealous, or just over worked can easily make a mistake. The tenancy is to err in the direction of assuming abuse, but when we are talking about taking a child from his or her home by force that is a very dangerous thing to do.

      I do not mean to come down on CPS workers – I have friends and relatives who do or have done that job. It is an impossible no win job. The system is badly broken, and kids get hurt because of that.
      Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Twenty-nine Years LaterMy Profile

      • I agree the system is broken. But statistics show quite the opposite of your argument. Too often children are left in abusive homes because the division of family services interest is in that of the family. Their goal is reunification. Im not saying that is good or bad. That is just simply the facts. The state does not remove children without just cause. There may be a case or two to contradict this, but the state cannot afford to remove every child based on someone who “had a feeling.”

        I agree there needs to be national law. However, even for those that are not mandated, they can still report.

        • Kishia, actually statistics when it comes to divorce do not bear out your argument. Often a parent is denied custody while abuse things are looked into, even if the abuse accusations aren’t warranted. This is widespread among family lawyers. Look, there are two types of wrong here: Abuse, and accusing someone of abuse when there is no abuse. All I’m saying is that BOTH types of things happen. Whether it’s 70/30 or 30/70 or 80/20 or 90/10 it makes no difference. They both happen. And so we need to be aware of that, because BOTH need to be stopped. I’m not sure why saying that there can be such a thing as false abuse accusations means that you don’t take abuse seriously. We need to fight against wrong in all forms, and calling one thing wrong does not mean that something else cannot be wrong as well.

        • It happens both ways, and both are very harmful to children. Making a report “just in case” runs the risk of a child being horribly damaged by the system when there was no actual abuse. There are a huge number of children removed where no abuse is ever proved. It is a judgement call, and all manner of errors and biases enter into that. The system tends to treat reports of abuse as fact until proven false. Imagine a young child being interviewed by a stranger, asked scary questions while being denied their parents. The situation causes fear and it is very difficult to know if that fear is just about the situation or about some abuse.

          Both reporting and not reporting risks harming a child. The person who understands this is more likely to make a wise decision.
          Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Why he wants her to climax every timeMy Profile

  9. Just got on my Feedly today to catch up on this past week, so I got all three abuse posts in one day. I usually lurk, but I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you tackling this subject, and I agree 100%. Maybe it’s my English degree background, but I’ve felt the frustration for a while that we use some words so indiscriminately they lose their meaning. As I’ve said to friends, “If we call out “Abuse!” because a parent insists their child try a few bites of food they don’t like, then how do we describe the evil of a parent locking their child in the closet for a weekend?” I’m not a fan of the phrase “every family is dysfunctional” because again, it minimizes real dysfunction.

    On the other end of the scale, I remember having a conversation with a friend who homeschools and is passionate about it and came home from a conference where they taught “every child is a genius.” Again, my response was, “But if you say that, the word loses meaning. And then what do we call a child that can do calculus by the time they’re five?”

    Your description of context was spot on and well-thought out. Kudos.

  10. “Do I think it was right for them to spanked with a belt? No. Do I think it was abuse? Not necessarily. In many cases it would be, and I’d point people to the critiques of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books To Train Up a Child, and the children who have been killed using their methods of corporal punishment, as examples.”

    Sheila, You may not agree with the Pearls, but your statement mischaracterizes what they teach. I know, so do many others, but the bottom line is that the Pearl’s do not teach anything close to abuse, so to say “children who have been killed using their methods of corporal punishment” is not fair to them.

    We used a small strip of leather to swat with, instead of a small piece of rubber hose that the Pearl’s advocated. If these insane parents had been taught by us to discipline their kids almost exactly what the Pearl’s teach, and with a strap, the children would have died. It is not the instrument, or as you rightly point out the belt, that is abusive, but the parent who can be abusive.

    The Pearls have many many statements in their book against excessive discipline and it should nerve leave a mark or bruise. To accuse someone of using a part of a technique to a 1000% excess and not using the rest of it, is like blaming a the recipe book when you make a lemon cake yet forget the sugar, or person who hops into a Porshe and crashes at 120 miles an hour and blames the manufacturer because it is built for speed. Neither turn out right, yet we are going to blame the book and then the author? Does there not have to be some standard of common sense and decency assumed by every author?

    No child was killed using the Pearl’s methods, and nobody got divorced by reading your book and following its advice half way. Sorry, this gets me that a great Christian couple keeps getting brought up in these discussions, and they have done nothing wrong, but help thousands of sane people raise godly kids through proper discipline. They cannot help the insane, or the weak minded or abusive people.

    • Ken, I understand that you agree with the Pearls and respect them.

      However, while I do believe that few things are automatically abusive, there are still some that are. And hitting or swatting an 8-month-old baby automatically qualifies.

      There are three things in To Train Up a Child which are so beyond the pale that I believe that the book is basically a handbook for abuse. First, they advocated spanking babies; second, the aim of the parent is to “totally defeat” the child; and third, the aim of the parent is to “break their spirit”. That is the definition of abuse, in my mind. The parent says, “your feelings are illegitimate. Your thoughts are illegitimate. The only thing that matters is what I want for you.” That contravenes a child’s boundaries and a child’s personhood, and therefore is abusive.

      There really is no other word for it, in my mind.

      And I won’t debate the Pearls anymore, because to debate it insinuates that it MAY be okay to spank a baby. And it just simply never is.

      I understand that you feel differently, but I would urge ANYONE to think twice before reading the book, and ask yourself, “would Jesus advocate spanking a baby? Would Jesus say, “I have to totally defeat you”? I have heard people say, “but some of what the Pearls say is good!” It doesn’t matter if some is good (and I think there is very little that is good) if the overall context is to ignore the child’s personhood and break their spirit.

      I appreciate you and your wife, and know that we come from very different perspectives. I mean absolutely no disrespect to you, and I do value what you do for marriages.

      However, sometimes there are things that you feel so passionately about that you can’t let them go, and this is one for me. I said I wouldn’t enter the comments today. But I see so much honest to goodness abuse happening in Christian families–especially homeschooling ones–who have followed this book, and if I do nothing else in my life except for tell people to please, please stop reading it and following it, then I think I will have done a good thing.

      • Thank you for your answer Sheila and I very much like how you have treated the subject today with good balance on an important subject. I especially like when you state so accurately:

        “There are few behaviours which are automatically abusive in and of themselves (the exception being sexual abuse or beatings, which are always abusive), but the pattern of behaviour can constitute abuse.”

        The same applies to the Pearls book. If you have read it you know that there is no spanking per se of 8 month olds, but they did use a swat perhaps, and a twig that gives no pain on a 5 month old. Why? Because they were beginning the training process. Funny how almost all of us have wacked a three month old puppy to get them to stop biting, or tearing apart furniture or peeing on a carpet. The newspaper does not hurt it, but gets its attention… same with a small baby.

        My Dad was asked how he and Mom raised 5 kids who could sit through three Sunday sermons and behave on a Sunday listening to him speak, and he said, “We taught them early that they could never win.” We all have the most healthy of self egos, and never felt defeated. We simply knew when Dad said “no” it meant “NO” and if Dad said behave, or just looked at us, we behaved, or we got some swats when we got home. My brother’s biggest regret… that Mom and Dad were not tougher on him.

        Anyone who has read the book and followed the advice contained therein, and is not an idiot, is not spanking an 8 month old, nor are they defeating their child. Yes, we defeat their strong sinful will, nit their good will or drive. They are making sure the child knows they cannot win against a parent, and that is a good thing to establish by age 2-3, max 4 if possible, but some kids will never completely let a parent win. In those cases the many admonitions in the book against excessive discipline is heeded by those who read it all, and are sane.

        Ok we disagree… but I still appreciate your ministry and willingness to dialogue. I am counseling a man right now who appears to be being controlled and manipulated by an angry and very difficult wife. She has him in tears all the time, calling him names, telling him she wants him dead and threatening to throw hot water on him. Last night while he was sleeping she turned on the light, and told him that she is afraid of him, and that he must sleep in the corner on the floor, which he did.

        Now what does he do? The police have come and she was so nice, turn the tables on him with accusations and only her cousin saved him from going to jail on false accusations by talking to the police on the phone and telling him what she had seen and heard. Of course the wife is furious with the cousin and they are no longer talking.

        So what advice do I give him? The complication is a three year old child they have in common who he loves and he knows that if he goes to a social worker the child will be placed in foster care and neither of them may ever get him back again. Both claim to be Christians. But she is messed up, and I am told she is just like grandma as it runs in her family.

        I sent him to your blog today…. Any advice? Thanks!

        • Ken, you said:

          Anyone who has read the book and followed the advice contained therein, and is not an idiot, is not spanking an 8 month old, nor are they defeating their child.

          Yes, but that is what the Pearl’s advocate. That is what they teach. I agree; anyone who is not an idiot will not follow what is in the book. But then why read it, when there are so many other GREAT books on discipline which don’t teach abuse?

          As for what the husband should do, I would tell him that as soon as she starts speaking that way to him, he stand up, say, “you may choose to speak that way to me, but I do not choose to listen. I’m going to another room, and I’ll only have a conversation when you stop saying horrible things.”

          If she continues, I would tell her that they both needed to start seeing a counselor together. Even if she refused, I would advise him to start going himself to learn how to set boundaries. It could be that they need to separate for a while for her to get counseling so that she learns why she says these horrible things and so that she repents and learns how to speak appropriately.

          As for the 3-year-old, that makes separation very difficult if he will not get custody. That’s why it’s better if he brings all of this behaviour to light so that others can see it and intervene and help him, before the 3-year-old starts bearing the brunt!

          • Thanks for the advice Sheila, all good, and similar to what I have told him. It looks like he has a tough one on his hand, far outside the norm. He tell her that he will not respond to her anger and unkind words and then she really flies off the handle and starts chasing him down, belittling him and calling him names. It’s a weird one, but he does have to stand up to her some time.

            Concerning the Pearls, I will only say that I cannot believe you have read the book??? :). You say, “That is what they teach” but it is not what they teach. They teach a full book, not a sentence or a phrase, and they teach in context with illustrations. As you know, anyone can go to most books and pull out a sentence or two, but read in context of the passage and the whole book, the sentence makes much more sense or becomes sensible. Read the whole book sometime, cover to cover with a little bit of an open mind, and most of all remember the context. This book was written some 20 years ago when spanking was the norm and almost everyone was familiar with it, how to do it properly, etc.

            OK… we won’t see eye to eye on this one :), but I have read the book, and met the Pearls personally. Neither the book nor the Pearls are monsters, but fine godly people. What I would like them to do is come out with a new book on child discipline that clears up the misconceptions and mischaracterizations. I am sure that they could write something for this PC world of ours that could again become mainstream for today, yet blasted in 20 years from now. Thanks! Ken

          • Ken, it is not a sentence. It is that their whole philosophy is that you have to “break their spirit”. You tempt toddlers into sinning. You wear a plumbing line around your neck to remind your kids they could be spanked at any moment. If they don’t conform, you spank harder. That’s not normal, and it’s not loving, and it’s not Christian, and they give Christ a bad name.

            I am against political correctness as much as anyone. I’ve written at length about it before. But this is not about political correctness. This is about a stream of thought that says that kids must be taught to bend to your will, to only display feelings you deem appropriate. That is simply wrong, though it is widely taught in the Christian world today.

            I do hope and pray that your friend finds the help he needs!

          • Sorry, Sheila, but you’re wrong about the Pearls. That is not what they teach. You really should read their books and magazines.

          • Some things cannot be made right by context!
            Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Twenty-nine Years LaterMy Profile

      • This is exactly why we should let professionals investigate. What is abuse to you is not abuse to another. I feel strongly that spanking a baby is abuse. ThenPearls may not. I feel that its obvious that spanking with a belt is clear abuse. You may not. I feel strongly that spanking is the same thing as hitting. If i hit you, you could press charges. So the same should apply for a child. You may not feel the same way. That is why we have laws around this and should leave it to the professionals.

    • Debi Pearl has advised using “a 12-inch piece of weed eater chord” on babies under 12 months. I worry about anyone who does not call that abuse.
      Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Twenty-nine Years LaterMy Profile

      • I became so sick to my stomach after reading Ken’s comment, I had to stop reading the rest. I had never heard of that book before, and I cannot even IMAGINE that people truly use those methods. Hitting, flicking, swatting, punching, kicking, tapping, whatever the hell you want to call it, it is abuse. Then the “breaking the spirit”. That brings tears to my eyes and my heart aches for those children. Anyone who doesn’t think that is abuse is disgusting to me. SICK people out there. Ugh.

  11. I grew up knowing my father was physically abusive to my mother, & then my stepmother, though she emotionally abused him right back in her only form of retaliation, as she refused to leave.

    My stepfather verbally & emotionally abused my mother & I for years. His job kept him away from home a lot, so we didn’t see it as that way at the time. But I realize it was a frantic scrambling to have the house a certain way & certain foods in the home when we knew he was headed home. And stupid & ignorant were frequent terms used in reference to ourselves.

    I didn’t LIVE with the physical, but I knew it was there & am familiar enough to recognize the “tendency” to possibly be that way myself. I have a short fuse, especially when I’m already tired or frustrated about something else. But I also feel that a spanking is sometimes a needed punishment to get the point across. So I felt compelled to set up very firm restrictions for even needing it.

    #1…lying. And I mean getting the chance to redeem yourself several times over but just won’t admit it.

    #2…physically endangering yourself or siblings (especially if it’s something that’s already against the rules).

    #3…defiance. And I don’t mean “no” with a stomping foot. I mean I just told you not to turn on the TV & you look right at me & walk over & do it regardless.

    That’s it. And even receiving it has it’s own rules.

    Never on a child that doesn’t understand they did something wrong. They have to know they are even committing an offense before it’s punishment worthy. (A 2yr old lying vs a 12 yr old lying. BIG difference!!)
    1-3 spanks. PERIOD. No more.
    5 minute minimum wait from when I decide you’ve earned it til it’s carried out. I REFUSE to punish my children in anger.
    Child must verbalize the reason for why they are getting punished.
    Hugs & snuggles afterwards. With a reassurance it’s their behavior, not THEM as a person that is wrong.
    Make sure that’s IT!! NO additional punishment or consequences.

    I’ve given my kids the option of a now spanking vs a week of losing a favored toy…they choose the spanking. It’s a consequence, but it’s over. Very rarely do we have repeat situations. Very rarely do we have more than 1-2 instances a year where it even gets to that point anyway. It’s not meant to be the main punishment. But it’s “feared” enough that it’s a deterrent, even if I only ask “do I need to spank you?” & end up not having to.

    I feel that the adults in Train Up a Child were sick & deluded. I’ve never read it fully, & I was disturbed enough by the excerpts that I can’t imagine being able to, especially with my personal history.

    I NEVER belittle or refer to my kids as stupid or anything of that nature. I ask them if they’re thinking some days. Because they are VERY intelligent, so when they make stupid decisions, it’s hard to understand their reasoning. It’s possible to berate a child & provide discipline without abuse of any kind & still not have a “brat” as some people think. It’s a fine line. And some days it takes a lot of prayer for patience & understanding.

    (On a lighter note, watch praying for patience…I did that with my VERY COMPLIANT boys…God gave me a strong willed girl!!)
    Karen Y recently posted…Gonna try this!!!My Profile

  12. All dysfunctional relationships are not *abusive*…however, all abusive relationships *are* dysfunctional. I completely agree with the need for an additional word to describe those that are the former.

    As for corporal discipline, as the parents of four kids, there were certainly occasions that called for spankings in our home. Not often (for most of our kids, though one earned more than the others), and with precisely those parameters set out by Karen Y in her post. Because I have veins that ‘blow’ easily, and will do so from simply wringing out a washcloth, I used a narrow strap instead of my hand. Using an implement is *not* always wrong, though it *can* be, in the wrong hands.

    Just as our kids have different love languages, so they also have different responses to discipline – what merely infuriates one may get great results with another.

    If I had had only one or two kids, I might have agreed that spanking was wrong and no one should ever do it… and especially not use an implement of any sort instead of a bare hand… but having experienced a wider range of personalities in my four children, I will not be so quick to make hard and fast recommendations for others. For our family, we did what we needed to do, after prayerful consideration and lots of reading/looking for alternatives.

  13. I appreciate the follow up and your clarifying, Sheila. It puts your previous post in a better context for me. I cannot imagine abuse being taken “too seriously” though. If the people around me had taken my abusive situation any less seriously (and it qualifies, even by your definition), I would be back in that situation right at this moment due to the insecurity and self-doubt which was magnified by the abuse. :/ I needed people to take it *very* seriously.

    Certainly, we all need to be aware of our own sins and our own unhealthy ways of dealing with situations. But again, I think we can do that without brushing off genuine abuse. And again, the “cultural difference” thing is yet another string in the web that kept me stuck in abuse for too long. “In his family beating and neglect was the norm. At least he doesn’t beat me black and blue. at least he’s trying.” But you know what? He’s a Christian. I’m a Christian. We have some pretty darn specific commands about behavior. Gentleness, kindness, love, compassion, self control…habitual yelling doesn’t fit in there in any way, even if your family did it and you think it’s fine. Habitual name calling, no. Stonewalling/silent treament, no. Whatever it is that your family did, if it wounds your spouse and you do it consistently, you are in a state of sin. And if you are aware that it hurts your spouse and continue, all the more shame on you. Culture and family background may mean that we struggle with these issues and stumble back into them on occasion. But if it’s habitual, there is your pattern of abuse. And it is abuse even if you grew up with it and think nothing of it. Plenty of people grew up with beatings, severe beatings, and think they are fine and acceptable punishment. The same applies to methods of abuse that may not leave bruises but can destroy the victim mentally and emotionally.

    Forgive my passion on this issue. I am newly awake to how wide this problem is and how horrifically damaging abuse can be, even, or especially, when there are no physical bruises to “prove” it.

  14. This has been an interesting discussion and I think it benefits those who have never been in an “abusive” situation more than those who have lived through it or are going through it. As Christians, we know abuse happens and even though we may not have the right words for it contextually, it happens. I do think its hard if you’ve never gone through it to write sensibly about it as it minimizes what someone has gone through – but that’s not a reason not to write about it. Maybe the empathy is missing, but this certainly has been food for thought.

  15. I have loved your blogs and books and have appreciated your point of view because up until today it has been Biblical. You need to do a little more research in God’s word about what he has to say about spanking! You are WRONG if you did not spank your children, the Bible says to do it! And you should always use something OTHER than you hand, so that your child does not associate your hand as the tool. The last thing you want is to have your child scared of your hand!*!* I will say that my children are only spanked for two things; willful disobedience and for purposely, physically hurting others. All forms of discipline are followed up with discussion, apologizing, asking for forgiveness, forgiveness, and a hug with a reminder that we want them to grow up as awesome you ladies (men) that love the Lord.
    PLEASE, go back and properly re-write this blog post from a Biblical world view!

    • Elizabeth says:

      If your children are afraid of you (or of the thing you use) after you spank them, you’re doing something wrong. End of story.

      FYI, I do spank my daughter. It doesn’t hurt her at all, but it is something she would rather avoid. I want her to know that actions have consequences, sometimes unpleasant consequences. THAT is the purpose of spanking. It’s not to punish or to make your child afraid. I don’t care how much kind follow-up you do. If your goal is to make your children afraid, that is 100% wrong.

      • It’s a good thing my kids aren’t afraid of me! I have a great relationship with my children. They respect myself and my husband, alone with other adults. They also understand that all disciple is a consequence of their actions and the importance of learning to obey.

    • Do you think it is a good idea to punish hurting someone by hurting someone? Doesn’t make much sense, and it only teaches impressionable young children that its OK to hurt people. If you spanked me, I would call the police and you would be charged with assault. So why is it ok to spank children who don’t have a voice?

      • Kisha,
        You reframe the argument by mischaracterizing spankings as hitting and then think your conclusion must be correct.

        If someone spanked you without your consent as an adult you might turn them into the police because it is illegal. My child is my child, not your child and not the child of the State. I get to raise my child as I feel is best before the Lord without interference from you or the State. Certainly the State can impose limits to my parenting, but to say that the time tested and proven method of spanking as discipline is somehow “hitting” and if hitting an adult is wrong it must be for a child also, is a ridiculous and unsupported conjecture. It actually is inflammatory as there is a big difference between a loving parent using spankings, and an adult hitting another adult.

        You are against spankings period, we get it. But why do you want to come into my home and tell me how I am to raise my four godly kids. They all turn out fantastic using modest discipline with spankings. It was efficient, effective, loving and long term has proven to produce terrific results. So much so that all of my kids plan on doing exactly the same with their kids. Shouldn’t the kids like me, and billions of others who were spanked beneficially have something to say about how we choose to raise our kids?

    • The bible also says “an eye for an eye.” Do you take that literally? Of course not. Jesus came and died for our sins and taught us to turn the other cheek, love and forgive. What do you hit your child with? If its anything either than a rod, then by your argument, you need to do a little more research in Gods word.

      • Hi everybody! Thanks for chiming in.

        I think we’ve had a lot of debate here about whether or not spanking is abuse, and as I said in the original article, that’s not what I want to talk about. The point was not to debate spanking; the point was that someone can do something wrong without it necessarily being abusive. My article was not meant to focus on spanking but on the theoretical concept as a whole.

        I think both sides have had a chance to air their feelings about spanking, and that’s good. But I really don’t want the comments to go on a long tangent about spanking, when that wasn’t the point of the article. Everyone’s had their say, and so I’ll delete further comments that pertain just to whether or not spanking is abuse so as not to see the comments get derailed into another issue and have it go off track.

        Hope you all understand, and thanks for commenting!

      • (This comment has been removed as per my comment above. I think everyone has had their say about spanking, and since spanking wasn’t the main focus of this article, and since I asked for the comments not to become just about spanking, I’m going to stop any discussion here which focuses on whether or not spanking is abuse.

        Everyone has already had their say, and I don’t want the comments to get hijacked away from the original focus of the article.

        Thanks, and I hope you all understand).

  16. This is another Tonia here and I just need to share something. I was spanked by both parents growing up. One of them was abusive. That parent took pleasure in dealing out painful punishment, and felt that it gave them power. That Parent would LOOK for reasons to “spank” all of us children (there were 5 in our house) & often left marks.

    The other parent handled things differently. The second parent used spanking as a last resort & it was only for serious offences (such as causing harm to ourselves or others). The second parent would always talk to us about what we did wrong, would be willing to hear us out if we had anything to say, and would spank us if that was decided as the punishment.

    Even as I child I could see and feel the difference. With the first parent I never felt that I could be myself, ask questions, or even that I was loved. I always believed that I had to be very quite, stay out of sight (out of sight is out of mind), and I and my siblings and friends had to cause as little disturbance as possible. To this day, and I’m now an adult with children of my own, I am not close to that parent & I do not trust that one with my kids.

    As for the second parent, when that was the only one at home it was like the window’s were open and fresh air was blowing through. I could ask questions, try new things, and share ideas. Yes some of my childlike idea’s were wrong, but instead of being punished for having them, they were discussed & the reason’s why were explained. I felt like I was free to learn & I felt loved. I am still close to the second parent & my children are very close to that one as well.

    My parents remained together because, divorce is a “sin”. Before getting married, I was truthful with my husband about my childhood & I told him clearly that if He truly became abusive I would take our children and leave. It may be a sin, I’m not sure about that one, but it would also be a sin to allow our children to spend a lifetime being abused. Sometime there are no good choices, just some that are not as bad as others. That can happen when sin enters a world. Things are perverted and destroyed.

    My husband was very understanding, and we hold each other accountable for our actions. Both of us have made mistakes. Both of us have lost our tempers, and yelled things that we shouldn’t. That is not a habit in our home though, that is part of being flawed humans. When that happens, we take time out, we apologize to all involved and we explain to the kids why that is wrong and what we should do better.

    Because of my childhood experiences & because I don’t want to ever be the abusive parent I always take my own time out before deciding on punishment. I don’t believe all spanking is bad, but I’m going to be extra cautious. I want my kids to have a better childhood then the one I had.

  17. Thank you so much for this post Sheila! I didn’t expect you would grant my request, but this was exactly what I needed. You hit the nail on the spot… I sure wish you could string up some more series about this, as a lot of us women seem to be hungry to know more about this uncomfortable but clearly important issue.

    • You’re so welcome! I’m not sure what else to say on the subject, but if anyone has any specific questions, you can leave them and I’ll see. I have quite a backlog of Reader Questions, but I’ll try to get to it!

  18. I have been physically abused by my ex-husband, as well as emotionally and verbally abused by my current husband. This article was a trigger for me. I am going to tell you something that is very hard for me. I am not sure if you have ever been psychologically abused (I pray to God you have not), but those of us who have are usually always second guessing ourselves. I could barely read through the article without feeling like everything I have been working on for years – YEARS AND YEARS – was crumbling around me. It took me several years to realize and admit I am being abused – YES ABUSED – now. Articles like this take domestic violence awareness several steps back. I am now questioning – am I over reacting like he says I am? Am I just the drama queen he says I am? Am I just too sensitive like he says I am? Because the abuse was so overt and so calculated, by someone who is possibly a narcissist. PLEASE, be careful what you type. It’s your blog and you can throw words up on a screen but please remember people read this and it can effect lives. It’s not always a specific perfectly molded “pattern”… it can be covert and crazy making. Thank you for listening.

    • Lola, I am so, so sorry that you were abused in your first marriage, and I truly hope that you are getting help for your current marriage. I hope that you are seeking out someone to talk to who can guide you through this process, because we really can’t do it alone.

      However, I don’t think it’s okay to say, “we can’t talk about these things like this.” I understand that some people are really sensitive to this information depending on where they’re coming from, but I still think it’s vitally important to address this subject honestly and objectively. Not everyone can see it objectively, depending on where they’re coming from, and I understand that. That’s why it’s so crucial that we have someone else around us who can help us navigate this, as I said.

      But we still simply MUST talk about it, and I think this tendency to say, “anything that even questions whether someone may be abused or not is not allowed to be said” is not really a healthy thing, either. The simple truth is that there is a difference between someone who is just angry at times and someone who is abusive, and we must be able to draw that distinction. Otherwise we’re not taking genuine abuse seriously enough, and we’re not giving couples in marriages that can be salvaged the tools to do so.

  19. So I have a question. From what you’ve described, my boyfriend definitely falls well within the emotionally abusive category. However, he has only hit me a handful of times, and only on one of those occasions has he left a mark on my body (some pretty nasty bruises when he was drunk) so does this mean I am suffering physical abuse as well, or was that just “wrong” and not “abuse” because it is not a pattern of him hurting me “badly”? Also, what constitutes being hurt “badly”? He punched me several times on purpose while I cowered and cried and begged him to stop and he left bruises, but I didn’t need to go to the hospital or anything so does that mean that he didn’t hurt me badly? Does he not hurt me badly enough or often enough to be called physcially abusive? These are legitimate questions, not sarcasm, and I am not trying to make a point. I am just like… lost and confused and scared and unsure of what is going on. I am 18 and I just moved in with him. I have never lived away from my parents before.

    • Hi, I’m so sorry that you’re in a relationship like this, and I would absolutely encourage you to call the police and get out. If someone is hitting you, that is always wrong, and you need to get out. Please call the police, and get some people around you to protect you so that you can have the emotional strength to make the break you really need to make. This man does not sound safe, and you do not want to be with him long-term. I pray that you will have the strength to get out.

  20. I’m confused. I have read To Train Up A Child several times throughout the years (my parents used it to raise my siblings and I) and I do not recall anything about hitting an 8 month old with a weed whacker string. Are you sure you have read the book in it’s entirety and not just all of the biased, freaking-out reviews? What I got out of the book is that most importantly we MUST have a good relationship with our children to discipline them or it will not work. In the beginning they do talk about making a connection with bad attitude and discipline so that it is engraved early on into little minds that bad attitudes never lead to anything good. And it’s true. There is no “defeating” your children. I’m just kind of confused. I was raised by this book and I am an adult who is very opinionated, strong-willed, yet content and more joyful in bad situations than most people I know. So is my son. I still respect my parents and boast of how well they raised us. And their book “Created to be a Helpmeet” is the most amazing marriage saver ever. The Pearls definitely don’t sugar coat anything, but they don’t encourage abuse. It says clearly in the TTUAC book if you leave a mark on your child, it is ABUSE. I know there have been children tragically killed by parents who happened to have this book in their house. But they obviously were not following the book. They clearly state, NEVER to discipline a child while angry, and NEVER leave a mark. I know people who have used “Growing kids God’s way” and have stuck their crying infants strapped in car seats in closed closets. Did the book recommend it? I highly doubt it. Some people are just crazy. I just hate when people condemn things either they have little understanding of or just simply haven’t thoroughly investigated. I was enjoying this blog and scrolling through all the parenting stuff but this just kind of irked me. I have enjoyed everything else though!

    • Anonymous, I guess here’s what I would say. The issue is not discipline in anger; the issue is disciplining for what purpose. Lots of people can discipline very harshly while not being angry–and indeed, I find that far scarier. Here’s a quote from p. 79:

      A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.”

      And the reference to “switch him” means a plumbing line which they call a switch, and which they recommend wearing around your neck to remind your child that you can switch him or her at any time.

      They also say on p. 49 that we are to defeat our children totally:

      At this point, in utter panic, he will rush to demonstrate obedience. Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.

      Those are the things I have difficulty with. And I have great difficulty with Created To Be His Helpmeet, which says just plain wrong doctrine–that a woman was created to help a man, and therefore her identity is in her man. No, her identity is in Christ, and single women are fully Christian and fully human and can be fully fulfilled. In that book she says she doesn’t countenance abuse, but she also doesn’t call the police when a woman who comes to her for advice says that her husband attacked her with a kitchen knife. I just find all of this very disturbing.

  21. I think you bring up some great points about patterns and context. But, I think boiling it down to “is the kid better off being removed from the home?” Is too extreme. I was emotionally abusive by a step mom and I just needed my dad to do something about it. Or any adult.

    • That’s a good point, Addie. Sometimes having an intervention by another adult is really helpful, and I should have emphasized that.

  22. Hi. This is the first time ever reading anything by you. However, I have to say that you honestly said every word as the way I see abuse as a whole. I was spanked as a child & still turned out as a very productive & mentally healthy adult, as are my children. My oldest daughter says “spanking was good enough for me & my parents when they did something wrong it is good enough for my daughter” To clarify she rarely spanks her daughter & always with just her hand. (just to for stall anyone thinking she is abusing her daughter) I was raised & continue to be a Christian woman who believes submission is not abuse if you read the bible correctly it also says that the woman is the man’s helpmate! For those who don’t quite get the difference, a helpmate is & always will be an equal partner in the relationship!

  23. Your final paragraph gives some good context to your post that helps me to understand you more. That said…I disagree with you.

    I do agree that it would be helpful to have different words to describe relationships that are “abusive” vs those that are just “unhealthy”…wait…look at that…we DO have different words to describe them!

    A relationship that is “unhealthy” will have occasional abusive elements. A relationship that is “abusive” will have frequent abusive elements. It’s a fuzzy line where the difference is to be sure. But an action is either abusive or it is not. You can’t say that a wall is red if it is next to a purple couch, but it’s green when it is next to an orange couch. The wall is either red, or it’s not. Whether the whole room could be described as being red though, depends on the context–how many of the walls are red compared to another color. Likewise, an action is either abusive or it is not; but the relationship is abusive if the context is frequent abusive actions.

    You seem to be coming at this situation from the perspective of thinking that the ONLY way that abusive actions in a relationship can be handled is by terminating the relationship, but that simply is not true. I grew up in an abusive home. My parents frequently beat me and my siblings until we were black & blue on a regular basis. They deprived us of food frequently for up to a day at a time, one time my brother was deprived of food for THREE days…for eating pickles from a jar in the pantry. They told us we were worthless. They isolated us from other children our own age. They deprived us of medical and dental care. And yet when this became known to social services, the recommended course of action was initially to get family therapy, NOT to remove us from the home–even in this clearly abusive environment. Family therapy didn’t end up working since my father insisted that the therapy be done by the new pastor at our church–seriously, he’d only been at the church about a week when the report to social services was made. My father was rather influential at the church. There was no way that pastor was going to tell my father he needed to change. So my sister and I had to leave the home for the sake of our health.

    Also, the test of “it was done to me, and I turned out okay” is not a good one to judge if a particular parenting behavior is abusive. I think I turned out pretty much “okay.” And I was abused. My father thinks he turned out “okay.” But in reality, he turned into the kind of person who beat children until they were screaming in pain & terror, and were black & blue. He became the kind of guy who is estranged from all of his adult children, and rarely sees his grandchildren–he’s NEVER seen my youngest son, who is 2.5 years old.
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  1. […] this month I created a bit of a furor when I wrote about what abuse is (and what abuse isn’t), and the comments section went off on a bit of a tangent about whether […]

  2. […] you, hold you accountable, and also tell you when it’s just too dangerous to stay (because in abusive situations, or situations where affairs or porn use have become too rampant, it just may […]

  3. […] this post, I’m not talking about abuse–though this, too, will not get better on their own and will need a third party. Here’s […]

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