Tag Archives: Abuse

Turn the other cheek? Does this apply to abuse victims?


The Christian Scriptures teach followers of Jesus to forgive as we are forgiven, to love our enemies, and to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge when mistreated. Does this mean that victims of domestic violence and abuse need to, sometimes quite literally, take it on the chin without seeking protection or justice?

There are a good many resources out there right now that help teach Christians how we should respond to domestic violence and abuse. If you want some in depth argumentation why victims do NOT need to just take it, you can consider my top 3

  • Leslie Vernick (website and books)
  • No Place for Abuse (Book, and when you follow the link, notice the many suggested books on the same topic; books by Brancroft, Roberts, Crippen, and more!)
  • G.R.A.C.E (website with information about the moral requirement to report child abuse)

Rather than repeat the good advice in these resources–biblical foundations for protecting victims and calling out offenders–I want to point you to an older resource given to me in the past week. Older resource as in from 1840! Henry Burton, in chapter 22 (“The Ethics of the Gospel”) of his Expositor’s Bible: The Gospel of St. Luke discusses the application of Luke 6:27f to those inside the community of Christ as well as to “enemies.”

First he reminds readers to love enemies,

We must bear them neither hatred nor resentment; we must guard our hearts sacredly from all malevolent, vindictive feelings. We must not be our own avenger, taking vengeance upon our adversaries, as we let loose the barking Cerberus to track and run them down. All such feelings are contrary to the Law of Love, and so are contraband, entirely foreign to the heart that calls itself Christian. (p. 344-5)

I suppose his words capture most Christian teaching on what it means to love our enemies and to use the Golden Rule as our measure for how we respond. And yet, listen to his very next sentence:

But with all this we are not to meet all sorts of injuries and wrongs without protest or resistance. (p. 345)

Did you catch his point between the double negatives? We MAY and OUGHT to meet all injuries with resistance and protest. Burton goes on to answer why we should resist wrongs done to ourselves and to those around us,

We cannot condone a wrong without being accomplices in the wrong. (ibid)

There you have it. Complicity with evil, especially evil within the community of Jesus, is tantamount to approval and support of that evil act. Thus, telling a victim of abuse to “turn the other cheek” is essentially the same as abusing the victim yourself.

Burton extends his argument in the following way,

To defend our property and life is just as much our duty as it was the wisdom and the duty of those to whom Jesus spoke to offer an uncomplaining cheek to the Gentile [outsider] smiter. Not to do this is to encourage crime, and to put a premium upon evil. Nor is it inconsistent with a true love to seek to punish, by lawful means, the wrong-doer. Justice here is the highest type of mercy, and pains and penalties have a remedial virtue, taming the passions which had grown too wild, or straightening the conscience that had become warped. (ibid)

He completes his thoughts on this by reminding the reader that none of this justice seeking activity (to the point of excommunication if necessary) negates forgiving when the offender repents. We still love, we still forgive, we still treat others by the Golden Rule. But we do not avoid justice and protection seeking behavior, both for the sake of the one being harmed and for the one doing the harm. Both need rescue. The means of rescue differ for sure and may not be viewed as rescue when it comes in the form of sanctions and restrictions. But to look away from abuse and cover it up with “turn the other cheek” does not do right by the true meaning of love.

 

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Uncategorized

Why are Some Trauma Victims More Vulnerable to Re-Victimization


For those who have not suffered a chronic trauma reaction it can sometimes be hard to understand how a victimized person gets situations where re-victimization can happen. Wouldn’t one trauma at the hands of another cause you to be vigilant against any subsequent danger?

You might think so, but here’s how it happens in simplistic terms:

  1. Interpersonal Trauma leads to confusion, self-doubt (and hatred), loss of voice.
  2. Vigilance against one kind of victimization leads to making decisions to give up other values/interests to avoid the trauma
  3. That decision (or impulse) leads to opportunity for exploitation

Still doesn’t make sense? Consider how a societal trauma preps a community or country for re-victimization. Dave Zirin writes about the use of “Shock Doctrine” in his 2014 book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. Shock doctrine is opportunist moves by governments interested in taking advantage of a traumatized population

Left to their own devices, people tend to vote for things that make their lives better, like sharing wealth and resources and ensuring quality health care and education for all. Nobody wins elections by promising to turn the country into a sweatshop zone. So in order to put neoliberal policies in place, the world’s elite need a strategy—some clever sleight of hand to get what they want before anyone can object. Enter the shock doctrine

The idea is simple: people who are traumatized are more likely to agree to authoritarian measures, to suspending democracy, to doing whatever it takes. The trauma can be unexpected, like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or planned, like a massive budget cuts or a military coup—anything that

‘puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up the things they would otherwise fiercely protect…’

While people are reeling, trying to figure out how to survive, corporations and the corporationist state walk through the open door and take what they please.” (p 73-4)

Zirin illustrates this by pointing to countries who take privacy rights or freedom of speech from citizens in the name of protecting the people (state) from outside attack. Or corporations who find ways to take land from poor citizens after a natural disaster—to use for their own benefit.

My point is not to attack political ideologies, corporations, or governments. Rather it is to show that trauma sets us up to give up rights and boundaries more easily in order to avoid a terror. That same willingness is more easily exploited by one who sees the vulnerability. The authority will protect us we think. But if the authority is only interested in its own protection, the victim is prone to re-victimization.

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“We Don’t Want Facts, We Want the Truth”: Temptations Online Justice Seekers Face


Listening to Terry Gross (NPR: Fresh Air) interview Ava DuVernay (director of the new movie Selma), I heard Ava attribute this to Faulkner,

We don’t want facts, we want the truth.

Not being aware of the context of this line (see the bottom of this post for more on Faulkner’s actual words), I immediately latched on to this as being exactly the sentiment most of us have when we want injustice both acknowledged and corrected.

Don’t give me facts, tell me what I already know is true!

When we experience injustice, it is natural and right to want wrongs to be made right. The first step of righting wrongs is to admit the wrong has taken place. God seeks out Adam after his command “Do not eat of that tree” is violated. But instead of admission, God gets “facts” from Adam: “I was naked…that woman you put here gave me.” All real facts…but not the truth.

Today, we can find similar problems between facts and truth. Whether Michael Brown sought to harm Officer Wilson, African American males know the truth–they are all-too-frequently profiled as dangerous and discriminated against. Defenders of Michael Brown know that Black males do not receive equal treatment and are overly represented in prison populations. This is the truth–whether the facts of the Brown/Wilson tragedy bear out these truths in a clear way.

Or consider this vignette: a Christian institution that has ignored or suppressed voices of those abused within community in order to maintain the appearance of purity. Imagine that in this community a report of possible abuse happens. Instead of seeking transparent investigation, the leaders of the institution investigate privately and determine that no abuse took place. If you were previously victimized at this or a similar institution, you would recognize that something was not right, no matter the facts of the most recent case. The truth is this organization has not (a) acknowledged past failings nor (b) changed behaviors indicating that want to rebuild trust. You might rightly say, “don’t tell me the facts, tell me the truth!” Tell me that you see you aren’t ready to be in the driver’s seat to determine whether abuse took place in this current case.

Temptations of the Internet Prosecution

Prosecutors (Justice seekers?) know an injustice has taken place but have to put facts together to prove their case. The defense uses facts to get an acquittal or a reduction in penalty. If truly guilty, the defense works to shift blame and hide the truth. Given this common dance, prosecutors face the temptation to neglect facts that might lead to an acquittal. That dirty copy, that coerced confession, ignore it. Assume guilt, only look at what proves your point. Read ambiguous data in the way that makes your case.

In the world of the Internet prosecutions, we see similar challenges. If you know an institution or person is guilty of injustices, you know the truth and you might demand that they admit it. This is good! But often we expand our prosecutorial role when the offender confession is lacking or missing altogether. While understandable, we may commit the following sins (impact in parenthesis)

  • Always assuming guilt (notice the damage done when a petty criminal is falsely accused of capital murder)
  • Failing to recognize differences between naïve and intentional offenders (present all offenses as capital offenses deserving our worst punishments)
  • Dismissing substandard apologies rather than encouraging an ongoing and growing apology (tempting the offender to give up)

The bottom line is we justice seekers, knowing how rampant deception exists, can turn to pessimism and use it to assume (judge) all suspected offenders. I don’t know about XYZ person or institution but because they are like ABC then they must be guilty. Let me just pass on this post with a snarky comment.  This pessimism does terrible damage in two ways.

  1. It harms our defense of victims because others no longer hear us as truth tellers
  2. It acts as thorns choking out tender growth in the very institutions we wish to see change.

Let us endeavor to speak the hard truths to friends and enemies in love.

**Faulkner quote:

“The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.
Faulkner, William. The Town. Random House. 1957. Paperback, Language English, 348 pages, ISBN: 0394701844.

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Overspiritualizing invisible wounds?


When someone suffers an obvious injury to a leg it is clear to us that this injury limits prior capacities for walking, running, standing, and other things we do with our legs. If the injury is slow to heal, would we be likely to tell them to act as if the injury never happened? No. We can see the injury, its effects, and we recognize that recovery may be limited. We would be unlikely to judge the person for failing to run like they had prior to the accident. Of course, physical wounds will prompt spiritual concerns, from “where was God…?” to trusting God for the future even while continuing to experience pain symptoms and the inability to complete tasks that used to be easy.

But what about the wounds we can’t so easily see?

Sadly, I think we spiritualize them and do judge others for having them. Take for example a victim of abuse or trauma that results in a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We see no obvious wound. The body looks sound and fit. So, the anxiety we see, the hesitancy to trust others, the mental confusion, the inability to sleep well…these symptoms must be primarily evidence of a spiritual problem, right?

Wrong, at least in part. While we rarely see the damage done to victims of trauma, changes to the brain are nonetheless present. Here’s a couple of things we think we know about trauma and the brain:

  • The brain is an adaptable organ and use-dependent. Activity along neural pathways can become more efficient with practice (i.e., the more something happens, the easier it is for the brain to respond). So, certain pathways and structures in the brain become more easily activated
  • Observing activity brain scans in those who suffered severe traumas such as child abuse, we see evidence that the part of the brain that processes emotion seems to be routinely overactive. Likewise, the part of the brain that provides conscious analysis of where we are in time and space, seems underactive when emotional processing increases. This activity problem (too much in some areas, too little in others) appears to cause individuals to relive/re-experience trauma and have less capacity (in the moment of reliving) to talk back to their feelings (analyze what is happening) or explain it to others
  • Along with these structures, hormone feedback systems appear to produce fight/flight hormones in the presence of triggers

Simplistic as my points above are, I hope you can see that a person has little conscious control over these reactions in any given moment. Now, there are things that can be done to help the brain adapt and respond better, but the fact of being triggered is not the result of not trusting God.

So, consider the multiply-traumatized man in your church who reacts negatively to well-intentioned requests to join a small group or to be prayed over with the laying on of hands. Is this because they do not trust God, are sinfully fearful, or evidence of invisible wounds of PTSD? I suspect some would be inclined to assume this man had a spiritual problem. In fact he may, but the reaction he is having is most likely not that problem.

A Better Question

Recently I asked my students to consider this question: What does faithfulness look like for the Christian who is suffering pervasive panic? Does it mean an absence of fear? Forcing themselves into situations that will flood them with panic? How would you answer this question? Are the evidences of fear in your life a sign you do not trust God? Can you acknowledge fear and still trust God? What does that look like for you?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims of Trauma


This afternoon I will be speaking at Chelten Church on the topic of “Making the Church A Safe Place for Victims of Trauma.” This 3 hour continuing education seminar (co-sponsored by Biblical Seminary who provides the NBCC approved CEs) will focus primarily on trauma resulting from child sexual abuse. However, other forms of sexual violence and traumas (domestic violence, military trauma) will get a bit of attention as well. If you can’t make it or wish to see what I am talking about, you can download and see the slides: Making the Church A Safe Place For Victims.

Tomorrow, Mary DeMuth will speak on a topic similar to her book. Her talk is entitled, “Unmarked Marriage.”  I suspect the conference organizers will take walk-ins!

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Join me in Brazil, March 23-27, 2015!


UPDATE: Conference registration cut in half! Now only costs $250 instead of $500.

I will be attending and speaking at the 2015 General Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship in Sao Paulo, Brazil (March 23-27, 2015) on the topic of recovery from child sexual abuse. Boz Tchividjian, Diane Langberg, Jim Gamble (N. Ireland) and Beatri Kruger (S. Africa) will also be covering topics such as preventing child abuse, sex trafficking and counseling.

These conversations are important everywhere, but this audience will be representing Reformed church communities worldwide, and that makes it very important conversation since churches worldwide need to keep talking about abuse that takes place within Christian environments. ! If trauma and abuse aren’t your cup of tea, there are parallel tracks covering everything from transdenominational ministry, Islam, church ministry and sexuality, church planting, and prosperity gospel.

See WRF GA Assembly for more information about the conference program and how to register for the conference.

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Why are we surprised when we hear of systemic abuses?


Today on my ride home I heard a sports commentator discussing a recent abuse scandal on a high school football team. While the commentator did not dispute the evidence of abuse, he asked another whether he had ever heard of such behavior before by a football team. It seemed he was a bit surprised a team or a coach would tolerate systemic abuses of other teammates.

Why are we surprised when an organization tolerates harm done by one set of members to another set of members?

Whenever an organization (football, school, fraternity, or religious community) seeks to best the competition, limits membership, rejects all who would support other groups, maintains secrecy a strong hierarchy, you have a recipe for systemic abuse. Look closer at this recipe:

  • A population of individuals who deeply desire inclusion, who want to be in the inner circle
  • A population of individuals already in the inner circle and feeling mighty proud of it
  • Everyone feeling the need to protect the organization over individual needs/concerns
  • Secrecy about decision-making processes
  • Leadership who will maintain the hierarchy and encourage fears over what might happen if the system breaks down.

We know hazing and abuse happens on sports teams, fraternities, military units, and any other organization with these above-named features. It is more natural than we would like to admit.

This does not mean that all popular organizations, all private clubs are abusive. Rather, only without significant effort, individual abusive acts will morph into systemic abuse through complicity.

What significant efforts reduce the possibility of systemic abuse? Here are a few for starters:

  • Transparency of leadership and decision-making processes
  • A culture of protecting the weak over the strong
  • A culture of inclusion and collaboration with outsiders
  • A culture of servant-leadership and true mutual submission
  • A willingness to listen to inside and outside critique

He who wants to be first, must be the least of all.

Do we believe this? Or do we believe that associating with bigger, more prestigious groups will bring us value?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture

Institutional betrayal: Secret ingredient to PTSD


We live in the world where human frailty and pathology is viewed in individual terms. When we see sickness we imagine that the person must have some weakness in biology, faith, or behavior. Rarely do we think about the role the system or community has played in the development of that person’s pathology. This is true when we think about a person diagnosed with PTSD. We therapists hypothesize about individual factors (personality factors, early childhood experiences (a slight nod to external causes) and neurobiological risk factors) and situation factors (the frequency, duration, and intensity of overwhelming trauma events) when we try to answer the “why” of the development of PTSD in a person.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to take into consideration of known research that suggests that environmental response to an individual’s trauma experiences may be a determining factor in whether PTSD or chronic traumatic reactions form.

In the most recent American Psychologist (2014, 69:6, 575-587), Carly Parnitzke Smith and Jennifer Freyd write about the concept of institutional betrayal. Traumatologists recognize Freyd’s name as the researcher who developed “betrayal trauma theory”, pointing to the especially toxic form of PTSD caused by those who were supposed to be safe and protective. These begin to examine “institutional action and inaction that exacerbate the impact of traumatic experiences…”

How can an institution betray a victim?

When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs. Examples include law enforcement accusing rape victims of “asking for it” with their clothing, church leaders allowing offender clergy to “leave with their reputations” or refusal to investigate a case of date rape when the reported offender is an important leader in the community.

In summarizing a couple of studies, Smith and Freyd point out that institutional betrayal after a trauma experience leads to higher rates of dissociation, sexual problems, and health difficulties. This is even more likely when the trauma takes place in an environment where protection of the members is trumpeted (i.e., church or military).

What are the common characteristics of betraying institutions?

Smith and Freyd note several characteristics found in institutions at greater risk for betraying members.

  • membership requirements to define in group identity. This produces a need for members to act in ways to maintain such an identity
  • Prestige (both leaders and institutions). Prestige produces both trust and fear, dependency and power
  • Priorities. “Institutional betrayal may remain unchecked when performance or reputation is valued over, or divorced from the well-being of members.” As the authors note, maintaining reputation as a priority will lead to neglect or attack of those who challenge reputation
  • Institutional denial. Blame a few bad apples, avoid institutional blame or responsibility

Those institutions that do make efforts to prevent abuse within its community may still yet fail to respond well. They may fail to use adequate screening procedures, normalize abuse, fail to utilize or follow appropriate response procedures, punish whistleblowers, and aid cover-ups.

What to do?

Smith and Freyd argue that transparency (about past actions/failures to act as well as power structures) and priority to protect the well-being of all members will move institutions away from the risk of betraying individual members. I would argue that the shift to protect moves from the institution as a whole to protection of the most vulnerable.

Let me recommend a few resources that have appeared here in the past:

  1. Diane Langberg’s 5 part video about narcissistic leaders and the institutions they lead. She too describes systemic narcissism.
  2. Why some spiritual leaders abuse (and systems allow it)
  3. Narcissistic systems
  4. Resources to combat narcissism one person at a time

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Brooks on journaling about emotions


Friend Jeff McMullen pointed out a recent David Brooks op ed in the New York Times. (Read it here). While I’m not sure I agree fully with his journaling/not journaling point he says something very important about the timing of writing one’s emotions after a traumatic event. He says,

When people examine themselves from too close, they often end up ruminating or oversimplifying. Rumination is like that middle-of-the-night thinking — when the rest of the world is hidden by darkness and the mind descends into a spiral of endless reaction to itself. People have repetitive thoughts, but don’t take action. Depressed ruminators end up making themselves more depressed.

Then later, this important distinction between immediate processing of emotions and later processing,

We are better self-perceivers if we can create distance and see the general contours of our emergent system selves — rather than trying to unpack constituent parts. This can be done in several ways.

First, you can distance yourself by time. A program called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing had victims of trauma write down their emotions right after the event. (The idea was they shouldn’t bottle up their feelings.) But people who did so suffered more post-traumatic stress and were more depressed in the ensuing weeks. Their intimate reflections impeded healing and froze the pain. But people who write about trauma later on can place a broader perspective on things. Their lives are improved by the exercise.

David points to some research that exists that suggest CISD is unhelpful for some participants. Some are made worse. Yet, narrating one’s trauma in the broader context of a life tend to see a reduction of symptoms. The difference seems to be whether the focus in on life or mostly on the trauma. Trauma in perspective is the goal. Just reviewing trauma may in fact strengthen the traumatic reaction rather than weaken it.

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GTRI 2014: Day 8 Kigali


July 8, 2014

Tuesday. Yesterday was a deep dive into Rwanda for GTRI students. They heard directly from Rwandan caregivers and spent time trying to weigh the genocide and its ongoing impact. Today we begin meeting and interacting with trauma healing and recovery caregivers in a conference setting. At a local hotel about 100 Rwandans gathered to kick off the Bible Society’s trauma healing community of practice and the inauguration of the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce both projects to the public and to invite the media and dignitaries to be present. The Rev. Emmanuel Kayijuka game some opening remarks and an Anglican Bishop offered a brief bible study of John 4:1-3, the woman at the well. He pointed out that she was likely a prostitute and an DSC_0233abused woman, abused by men, by society and desperate. Why else gather water at noon. He also pointed out that after her healing, she became a woman on a mission of healing, seeking social contact for the purpose of evangelism. After these reflections, Dr. Jean Mutabaruka presented a paper looking at the relationship between trauma, PTSD, and complicated grief. He pointed to 12 types of trauma in Rwanda, including sexual/physical/emotional abuse, witnessing violence, discrimination, poverty, etc. At the end, he raised a few general questions regarding the management of the mourning period/process each year.

After the professor finished, both Diane Langberg and I made a few brief remarks in response. Dr. Harriet Hill presented an overview of trauma healing project, in Rwanda and around the world. She showed the latest trailer of a documentary (much about the Congo project) about bible based trauma healing slated to be aired on ABC network this fall. Fun to see people I know in this trailer. David from the Rwandan Bible Society reviewed the progress to date: 2,918 trained people using Healing Wounds of Trauma material. Many of these are able to train others while the rest are better able to care for themselves.

New President: Baraka Credit: Heather Evans

The second half of the day included a presentation by Baraka Paulette Unwingeneye about the efforts thus far to form the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. This group of counselors and caregivers have been meeting with us since 2011 and are ready to be birthed. As Baraka said it, it may be like an elephant’s gestation, but now we are near the final month. We had presentations from Narcisse about the needed documents to be filed to make the association official, myself about the benefits and processes to form an associations. Then, those in attendance voted in a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, advisors, and conflict managers. This may not sound very moving, but I assure it was!

Fun too

While we come to Rwanda for serious matters, not everything has to be intense. As our day was ending, we quickly changed from our conference clothes to go out for a bit of shopping: the Simba market for coffee and tea, and another market selling typical Rwandan traditional items (clothes, woven bowls, banana leaf art. I looked and looked for a blue African traditional shirt but came up empty.

This marks our last night at Solace. Tomorrow we move on to the conference proper about 50 minutes or so south in Muhanga (Southern Province). Though we are about to begin the training in earnest, I think I am beginning to relax. A year’s worth of planning is now well under way. Despite a few surprises and schedule changes, most everything is working as planned. No problems with transportation, food, water, housing. Meetings planned have more or less happened.

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