Posted by: Botolff | July 15, 2009

Using the Victims’ Anger Against Them

Nancy Murphy is the International Director for Northwest Family Life, one of the leading organizations in the world addressing the issue of domestic violence.  Nancy taught DVA (Domestic Violence Advocacy) classes in my master’s program.  One day in class she told a story that I think is valuable for our discussion here. 

She was talking about, in the situation where there is an abusive male spouse, how he sets his wife up by using her own anger.  Here’s an example…

Annie has a job outside the home and is late leaving work one day.  She comes home to find her husband and two children in the house.  The minute she gets in the door, Jim, her husband, has expectations of her to fill the roles he has established for her.  Let’s say one of those roles is to get dinner on the table by 6pm.  She works until 5pm usually, but that day didn’t get out of work until 5:45pm.  On her way home, Annie was already getting concerned about what might happen to her, because dinner would not be on the table at 6pm.  Upon entering the house, the minute she sees her husband, she can tell that he is already at his breaking point.  To Annie, the breaking point means he might hit her that night.  To make a long story shorter, as they begin to interact, Jim’s anger does turn violent, as it often does when he doesn’t get his way, and he hits Annie in the stomach.  The children are watching as this happens, but noone is addressing them.  This time Annie has decided to fight back.  She has put up with this long enough and can’t stand it any more.  For the first time, she has finally decided she will defend herself and her children even if it costs her her own life.  Jim uses that to his advantage.

Annie starts speaking up and fighting back physically.  As Jim fights with Annie, he finds a way to push her outside the front door of the house and lock the door.  Because Jim is a master at being able to mask his anger, especially right after he has an explosive moment, he is able to deescalate quickly.  Meanwhile, Annie is out on the porch screaming at him and pounding on the door.  Jim takes that opportunity to call 911 and tell them that his wife is enraged out on the porch and he is scared of what she might do to the children. 

Within minutes the police arrive and find Annie out on the porch yelling at Jim and pounding on the door.  When the police come up to the door and pull Annie away, Jim steps out onto the porch and says, “Thank God you got here.  Do you see how angry she is?  I was afraid she was going to hurt the children in that condition.”  All the while Annie is trying to point out that Jim has just beaten up on her in the house again, but the police can’t see past her anger to the root of the problem.  What happens?  Annie goes to jail for the night, and Jim gets a chance to reassure the children that mom is sick and needs to get some help.  Then he goes and fixes his own dinner and waits for the whole process to start again.

It’s really easier to blame a victim for their anger, because that’s what is often most pronounced when he/she finally speaks up.  It happens that way because the perpetrator can be really good at covering up his/her own anger, and deflecting the focus of the situation back on to the victim.  It’s also easier, because if you are the children, you can see that it will likely cost you more if you choose to stand up to dad who is still in the house, than if you blame mom who is gone. 

The more abusive someone is, the better they become at being able to manage the cycle.  How does the cycle get broken?  Through true repentance.  How is the cycle maintained?  By no one saying a word, or by a victim speaking up and being ignored.

Different churches perpetuate different levels of abuse.  Because we are all different and have learned to create our own defense mechanisms in order to fight off what we are afraid of, we will ALL be abusive sometime.  However, it becomes more of a way of life for some in order to try and protect themselves from anyone causing them any pain, even at the expense of the other person, or other people in the home…or the church.

Maybe you are in a ministry or know of ministries where a minister has been secretly pushed out the front door.  If the minister has a strong reaction to that, and all the energy is being redirected towards his or her anger, or “sickness”, you might want to be looking at who’s pointing the fingers, because the problem person or people may still be in the house with the kids.  

We are hoping to get the podcasts up again someday, and also hoping to have Nancy as our first special guest.  Stay tuned…

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Responses

  1. Wow. I thought this was a very difficult but also very appropriate. After I was shown the door, I was very angry. People were horrified by my response (I was pretty confrontational). They all shook their heads and prayed for me. They said they hoped God would help me deal with my anger.

    Puke.

    Things get violent at churches. They can be violent emotionally, relationally, etc. But, also literally violent. At my former church, I heard the story of a deacon that had to be held down when he tried to attack a predecessor (note: I am not sure of the details of this incident) .

    The man was still a deacon when I arrived. He also still had serious anger issues.

    Now, I don’t know the whole story, but I do know there was a serious relational breakdown. I also know that people had plenty of criticism for my predecessor and almost no criticism for the conduct of the deacon.

    So, in my limited experience, very appropriate, Jamie.

  2. Watchman,
    I am interested in hearing the story of the deacon that had to be held down when he tried to attack a predecessor… if you can share it with me….secrets are like cancer….I am trying to get the big picture here…I have not been asking enough questions for a long time….
    If not from you, I would like to know who to go to to get the whole story….

  3. You should be interested.

    I am not sure of the details, but I bet you can find someone who does.


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