A few weeks ago I deleted a podcast I did for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
In it, I told a story of something that happened to me when I was 18, and I was raged at in public. I tried to tell a story which was nuanced–I had done something wrong as well. I tried to show how, when you are raged at, you feel shame. You take responsibility for fixing the problem, even when it wasn’t yours to fix. You ask others for help, and others often aren’t helpful.
But in telling the story, I ended up muddying the waters. I told it wrong, and people felt that I was the one primarily at fault. So I took it down. I only ever meant to use it as an illustration, but it became a big problem.
This week, Rebecca and I revisited it–not to tell the story again (I’m really never touching that one again!), but instead to raise some bigger issues about what the whole thing taught us about the difficulty in talking about these issues.
So tune in!
And here’s the YouTube version! (For some reason we were dumb and it wasn’t focused for the first 25 minutes. I’m really sorry. But the latter part is. And you can still listen!)
Timeline of the Podcast:
0:50 Addressing My Podcast Mistake
3:30 Should we expect victim’s stories to be told perfectly?
7:00 Victims don’t have to be faultless
9:55 An Excerpt on Abuse vs Normal fights & dysfunction
12:18 You don’t deserve it, even if you trigger it.
15:35 Rage vs Anger
22:03 How we talk about abuse can confuse victims and harm them
30:01 It’s all about dynamics!
35.52 It’s not always clear cut, so we need to dig deep
A few things I learned since that podcast:
1. We shouldn’t have to tell our stories perfectly
32 years have passed since that incident happened, and it really triggers no emotion in me. I have no ongoing connection with the guy in the story, and he was never even that close to me. This is about as emotionally distant as one can get from a story like this.
And yet, even I, at that much emotional distance, didn’t tell my story well. I used words that had people picturing something that didn’t happen.
Now imagine that a woman in an abusive marriage is trying to seek help. She IS emotionally involved in this. She’s very confused, very shameful, very desperate. How likely is it that she will tell her story perfectly?
Instead of trying to pick apart people’s stories, or automatically discounting them (as I have done to others in the past), what I’ve learned is that if someone thinks something scarring happened to them, it probably did.
2. There often aren’t perfect victims.
That’s why I chose the particular story I did. I was at fault. I did something wrong as well.
When it comes to abuse, the abuser almost always tells the victim, “you made me do it.” They triggered it. Just because someone is not a perfect victim does not mean they weren’t victimized.
3. Just because someone triggered another person doesn’t mean that they deserved what happened to them.
Many people commented after the original podcast that likely the person who raged at me had been abused as a child, and I triggered that. I agree. That is likely what happened.
But that still does not make it okay.
Just because we trigger someone’s insecurities or pain does not mean that they have the right to treat someone badly in response.
One of the characteristics of abuse is that the victim spends her (or his) life walking on eggshells. You’re always wondering if you’re going to trigger something or set someone off. Before any conversation, you try to judge their mood. How are they feeling today? How safe are you?
That’s not normal. Most wives don’t spend their lives trying to read their husband’s mood to see what kind of night they will have. If you’re walking on eggshells, that’s a bad sign.
4. We don’t give enough credence to what rage does.
I want to spend some time in December talking about anger and rage, but if you have never been on the receiving end of someone’s rage–let me tell you, it’s scary. It’s humiliating. It makes you feel like you want to fall into a hole, but it also makes you extremely fearful. Being the victim of rage is different than merely having someone yell at you.
I’ve had several emails lately from women whose husbands rage at them, and I do want to talk about this more. It isn’t okay. And those of us who have never experienced it may not understand how different it is from regular anger.
5. Dynamics tell the bigger picture which need to be paid attention to.
We often focus on the WHAT: What actually happened?
I think we should focus on the WHO: Who is the one walking on eggshells? Who is the one apologizing? Who is the one trying to change their behaviour? Who is the one searching for solutions? Who is the one doing the blaming, and who is the one accepting the blame?
When we look at dynamics, it often becomes very clear whether a relationship is safe or not, or whether it’s abusive at its core.
Finally, let’s remember: abused people are often the ones desperate to seek help for their relationships.
That’s why women like these are more likely to buy marriage books and go to women’s Bible studies and go to conferences.
Marriage authors, then, have to always understand that a large proportion of those reading their works will be in destructive relationships. People in trouble look for help. And often they don’t realize they’re being abused, so part of the job of marriage authors is to help people identify when something isn’t right.
I think that’s why so many people have told me that I helped them get out of an abusive relationship, even though I don’t really write about abuse primarily. Because I try so hard to help people see when “this is not normal” or “this is not right”, people who come here searching for help for their marriage are finally able to name what is happening to them. And then I point them to others who can help, including:
- Natalie Hoffman at Flying Free (and check out her book Is It Me?)
- Leslie Vernick, with a great blog and support group, author of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage
- Sarah McDugal on Facebook, with a large community of women getting free from emotionally abusive relationships
- Gretchen Baskerville at Life Saving Divorce (for those in dangerous marriages)
And also check out these books, which I’ve read in the last few months and found very helpful:
- The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So by Helen Paynter. If you’re in an abusive marriage, but you feel as if you can’t leave because of what the Bible says about marriage and about how wives should submit, this book takes you through all the Bible passages that are commonly used to tell women they must stay, and shows how that isn’t a correct reading of them.
- The Headship of Men and the Abuse of Women by Kevin Giles. A great book looking at how certain theologies are correlated to abuse, and how we can see more clearly what God’s heart for marriage is.
Other Things Mentioned in This Podcast:
- Message to a Baptist Church: You Preached Death to One Hundred Women Today (the article I read an excerpt from)
- Join the Launch Team for The Great Sex Rescue!
- Sign up for the Email List
- Pre-Order The Great Sex Rescue
Other Links You May Find Helpful:
I know in the past I’ve heard people’s stories of abuse and dismissed them, because they didn’t add up to me. Later, I realized that I had missed telltale signs.
What about you? Have you ever had someone ask for help, and only realized later that it was abuse? Or have you tried to tell your own story of abuse and not been believed?
Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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