I’m excited about a new organization I learned about at Pepperdine: The Mend Project. I heard lots of inspiring, thought-provoking talks, but the session on Covert Emotional Abuse was the most riveting. I felt like I was supposed to be there, that the Holy Spirit had guided me to hear it. Other people in the session also expressed later that they felt like it was the most important thing they had heard that week.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that covert emotional abuse happens in over 50% of relationships, therefore it’s relevant to us, whether we know it or not. Overt abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional) is visible to the victim and witnesses, but covert abuse confuses the victim, causing him/her to question reality and her/his experience. This is where we, the friends or small group leaders or church members or family, come in. If we doubt the victim, or ask questions that may subtly place blame back on the victim, or dismiss the victim’s concern or hurt, we are guilty of what The Mend Project calls Double Abuse®. When institutions, such as churches, schools, businesses, do not treat the reports of abuse with care, they are guilty of Institutional Abuse. This is what we’ve seen so often with the #metoo movement.
We as Christians need to be on the frontline in this. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe the victim because the abuser acts so nice or charming in public. Couples therapy can also be harmful: it’s actually contraindicated in this situation. The abuser has to have a separate counselor who holds him/her accountable. Abusers can railroad entire therapy sessions, doubly abusing the victim again.
I Corinthians 13:4-6 speaks truth to us here. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil (or injustice) but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Victims in abusive situations will often say their partner is not nice sometimes, but they’re not sure. This is because the partner is manipulative and can make it seem like the victim’s fault. None of us are nice all the time, but patterns matter.
Our responsibility is to support and believe the victim, even if we are not sure of the truth. If the victim is lying, the truth will become evident, but if they are telling the truth, we will damage them much further by not trusting them, by giving wrong advice, or by recommending couples therapy. Let us make sure we protect, trust, hope, and persevere with our friends.