Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Duggar Story: Thoughts and Links

The Duggar Story: Thoughts and Links

[Note: This was written even before Josh Duggar was implicated in the Ashley Madison scandal. I don't have the emotional energy to even touch that right now, but enough has already been said by others.]

Dear friends,

My heart is so weary and grieved. Again. Reports of child molestation by a member of the Duggar family (19 and Counting reality TV show) have hit the national news, and my Facebook feed has been exploding. Again. Yet another representative of the large family & home schooling movement caught in a devastating sexual scandal. It doesn't just hurt because I am a Christian mama of 10 who has been home schooling nearly 25 years. It hurts because the lives of so many of my dear relatives and friends have been badly wounded or utterly destroyed by pedophiles and other abusers. It hurts simply because I am a human. 

What happened to the five girls was bad enough. I can only begin to imagine what they have endured and are now reliving. This comes into even clearer focus because I have been diligently researching abuse issues in families, churches, and religious organizations for seven years and writing about them for five. My eyes have been opened far wider than I ever would want. The word millstones comes to mind.

And now. Now the response of so many Christians adds even more to the tragedy. I am beyond aggravated at those who want to blow off the trauma caused by sexual abuse. I am stunned at those who want to silence and shame anyone who wants to have a frank discussion about the very real issues. Many have claimed that those who speak out in protest are worldly God haters who are persecuting devout Christians. They use loaded language like vicious, malicious, rebellious, anti-gospel, knife-throwing, back stabbing, bitter, and slanderous. Then there are the platitudes...
  • I know what he did was inexcusable, but...
  • Boys will be boys. He was just exploring.
  • They were playing doctor.
  • At least he didn't rape them.
  • Fondling is not fornication.
  • Who are we to judge? We are all sinners.
  • This was so long ago. 
  • They dealt with it already.
  • They took it to the church.
  • It's covered under the blood of Jesus.
  • The girls already forgave him, so why can't we?
  • Why are you trying to destroy his life and his career?
  • The family is so godly and wonderful... Let's not hold this against them. It's unfair to pull their TV show off the air.
  • Where in the Bible does it say to call the police against your own children?
  • Stories like this bring shame to God's name. So stop talking about it.

I could write pages and pages on what is SO wrong about this situation and others like it: The minimizing. The hushing. The glossing over. The powerlessness of religious legalism to prevent abuse – and how it so often enables abusers instead of protecting vulnerable victims. The refusal of parents and church leaders to properly and promptly report abuse to the appropriate civil authorities. The lack of concern for the girls. Yes, the girls.

Josh Duggar is quoted as saying that he changed course so that he wouldn't ruin his life. Say what? His life. His own life. What about the girls? They claim the girls got counseling and forgave him. What counseling? Certainly not on-going professional therapy! As they are longtime devoted ATI members, I'm guessing it was sessions with the “accept your mistreatment, smile with a bright countenance, submit to your authorities, reconcile with your abuser, and move on in victory” materials by Bill Gothard. (He too has been accused, with ample documentation, of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching against teenage girls over several decades.) 

What choice did the girls have? I don't know them personally, and I am conjecturing. However, in this type of closed religious system, of which I am all too familiar, there just aren't many options. You suck it up and let it go. You wipe off those tears and put on the happy face. If you don't, well, we are back to those loaded words: bitter, slanderous, divisive, godless, uncharitable, holding grudges. Abusers and their allies often seek to control the narrative into a tidy tale. It's about them and their rights and reputation. It's not about authentic and full healing for the victims, no matter how long it takes and how messy it looks.

Again, I could go on and on. But I can't. This has taken a toll on my soul. Even interacting on a friend's lengthy Facebook thread has worn me out emotionally. It's not the first time I've taken heat for my stand against abuse in its many ugly forms. I try to be civil but firm. And I try to remember that I once thought just like that, and I am hopefully still growing in my understanding as I go.

But I am drained and a little bit edgy on this. I walked into church this morning, trying to hold my composure together. One of my pastors, who is also a professional counselor, immediately hurried over. “Virginia, I saw all the comments you have made on Facebook about the Duggar story. I want to let you know I am so proud of you. That was courageous.” I burst into tears as he assured me that this is important, that my voice needs to be heard, and that sadly, so many Christians still just don't “get it” about abuse. Our senior pastor has also often responded this way to my blogs and FB interactions on abuse. I am so thankful for their timely kindness and encouragement. They know. They care. We need more like them.

Here are some others, just a few of the bloggers whose reason and compassion are evident:

Finally, here are some of the articles I have already written which relate to this post in some way:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Essays on Abuse in Families and Churches

Dear friends,

I have been writing about abuse in families and churches for the past several years. It's not exactly pleasant or easy, but I feel like it is making a difference. I want my words to be a bridge to understanding and safety and healing.

I wish I could share with you some of the letters that arrive in my inbox as a response to what I’ve written so far, but for discretion’s sake I won’t. I will tell you that they are heartbreaking.  Families are hurting. Badly. Multiply that by the stories I read on blogs, especially by those who have been wounded by the patriarchal edge of the home schooling movement. Ouch. Oh, and the news stories. Sweet heavens, when will it end?

Why am I still doing this? 
  • Because it still happens
  • Because it is serious
  • Because it affects people I care about
  • Because not enough people are aware of it
  • Because something can be done if people are willing to speak up and speak out

Do I write out of fear? No, I write because I have lost my fear. I am gaining new God-given confidence every day. 

Do I write out of bitterness? No, I write out of compassion, because I can’t stand to watch people I love or even people I have never met get hurt. 

Here is a list of links to most of my essays on abuse:

Domestic Violence in Families

The Dynamics of Abusive, Controlling Relationships

Spiritual Abuse

Grace and peace,

Monday, May 11, 2015

Banging the Buttons

With a malevolent yet gleeful grin, a young man strode up and rapidly banged the button on the right: VERY POOR. Like ten times. Huh? What's with that?

Our local Walmart has this new electronic stand near their exit doors so that customers can rate their satisfaction with checkout speed. The four buttons, with their corresponding facial expressions, range from VERY SATISFIED to VERY POOR. I guess if a bunch of people hit the POOR or VERY POOR buttons, they'd better send out more cashiers pronto! Great idea! They also sometimes station an employee near the check out lines with a big arrow sign pointing to the shortest line. I love it!

So what's with the dude banging repetitively on the VERY POOR button? Did he really have a ssslllooowww time checking out?

I don't think so. He didn't look angry or disappointed at all. The impression I got from watching him is that he was being a bit malicious, trying to stir up mischief. I'm not sure the machine is set up to detect actions like that, but if not, he just single-handedly cancelled out a bunch of more positive pushes.

I reckon that doesn't matter too much to Walmart. It's not going to blow anyone's day.

But it did make me think.

There are people in this world who do that to other real people. They bang on another soul's "bad button" by constantly complaining, criticizing, accusing, and shaming. 

Sure, there is a time to tap the VERY POOR button - with sincerity and discretion. But we shouldn't do it to tear someone down. We should do it to alert them kindly to something that needs to be fixed. It's called "speaking the truth in love" or "constructive criticism." Unfortunately, some people claim that what they are doing is "love" and "constructive" when it's just the opposite. How can you tell the difference? What is the ultimate effect? OK, so people won't always appreciate us even if we say it right, but I think we can determine whether we are just annoying them or whether we have deeply offended them. It's good to watch our words and actions. If you find yourself constantly nagging or belittling your child or your spouse or your employee or anyone else, STOP NOW! That is VERY POOR behavior. If in doubt, ask them how you are coming across. And don't turn around and use that against them. Make sure you are acknowledging their strengths as well. Use those VERY SATISFIED and GOOD buttons as often as you can! They lift up the spirit and motivate like nothing else!

Let's look at this from the other side, too. What if someone is banging your buttons? If your soul isn't set up to perceive their motivation, you might be absorbing what they say as the gospel truth. You might think you are a horrible person who deserves whatever poop they want to dump on you. You don't have to do that. Just say, "Sorry! That's not gonna fly here!" Yeah, it's more complicated than that, of course, but you get the idea. You don't have to listen to chronic malignant negativity. 

I'm not saying, however, that just because someone is persistent in communicating displeasure and that makes you uncomfortable, that they are being mean and need to shut up. Maybe you aren't comprehending something yet that you really need to fix. Don't just blow them off without thinking hard about it. Use your discernment. Are they making a request? Is it reasonable? Is it specific? Can you do anything about it? You can try to have a rational discussion and sort out the tangle.

What if the person still has something valid to say but is just going about it in the wrong manner? Pretend that you can dial down the emotional volume dial and hear that nugget that's truly meant for you to understand. Then tune out the rest. And if they will listen, maybe you can have a chat about their communication style. "I'd love to hear what you have to say, but when you talk like that..." If it is your child who is whining, think about the practical factors: tired, hungry, bad day at school? Your kindness and patience and help can make a huge difference.

What do you think? How much button banging is going on in your life?

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. More related links...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What to Do About Toxic Power in Marriage

Dear friends,

What can a woman do if she realizes that she is in a controlling, manipulative, intimidating, verbally aggressive, and/or physically violent marriage? 

Two months ago I wrote a post called Recognizing Pervasive, Poisonous Power in Marriage which gave an analysis of the problem. I based it on concepts found in The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. At the end, I promised a follow up post with suggestions on what she can do. Now that I've had time to do a little more research, here are my ideas. 

Stay as calm as you can, which may be quite difficult depending on the severity of your situation. You are going to need all your wits about you as you face the past, present, and future. When you panic, you can't think straight. Being fearful also puts you in a more vulnerable position, because you are perceived as powerless to stand up to mistreatment. You can learn to present yourself as assertive and confident. You can retrain your thought processes, tone of voice, body language, and vocabulary so it will be clear that you are in control of yourself. You can strengthen your spirit with faith, wisdom, courage and dignity. 

Educate yourself about the dynamics of interpersonal power, emotional manipulation, and abusive relationships. There is a wealth of information on-line, and I've given some links on my domestic violence resource page. Even if you think you understand a concept, keep reading about it to get more complete knowledge and to remind yourself to not give in. Be familiar with the power and control wheel, as well as psychological terms like the cycle of abuse, gas lighting, blame shifting, projection, and minimization. A man can abuse his wife without ever physically hurting her. (See More Than Just a Black Eye.) You might think you can ignore it if he hasn't been physically violent, but abusive behavior can quickly escalate if it is not firmly resisted. What may start out as simple verbal contempt may over time end up in serious injury.

Understand your own situation in light of what you have learned through your personal research. Try to identify what has happened, what tactics have been used against you, how you tend to react, anything that triggers outbursts, etc. Make a list of every abusive or intimidating incident that you can remember, and add as much detail as you can:

  • What was happening right before the incident occurred? 
  • What did he say or do to hurt you? 
  • How did it make you feel? 
  • How did he react to your reaction? 
  • How did all of this affect your children? 
  • What happened in the hours and days afterward? 
  • Did the same thing happen again? 
  • Were there any witnesses? 

Document it! What may have seemed less significant at the time can shock you when it is compiled together with other incidents. You may be stunned to see the recurring patterns, progression, and accumulation of abuse. It takes courage to acknowledge that you have been treated so poorly, but you don't have to succumb to denial and despair. Identifying your problems is a necessary step to solving them. You may need help with this process. Sometimes when we are in the middle of the situation, we "can't see the forest for the trees" as the saying goes. The perspective of someone else may be what you need to get a clear picture.

Seek out compassionate, capable, confidential counsel. Silence is not golden here. Start by talking to a friend or relative whom you can trust to understand you and who will not gossip or put you at extra risk. Then take the next step and find professional help. This can be tricky. If you are a Christian, this could possibly be a pastor or faith-based counselor. Unfortunately, in so many cases, they do not have adequate training to deal with abusive marriages, and they are likely to reiterate more rigid gender roles which can be particularly unsuited to the already imbalanced relationship. They may also be inclined to doubt your credibility if they only see your husband's upstanding outward persona. If the abuse has been physical or has endangered your safety or sanity, don't hesitate to call your local domestic violence center and go in for a consultation. They can refer you to other professionals who are skilled in recognizing and handling abusive relationships. If you can't afford to pay for counseling or legal help, ask how you can get free or discounted rates. Also keep in mind that couples counseling may not be at all appropriate for you, and may actually be very detrimental. Please read Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended for Abusive Marriages.

Explore your options. What have you already tried? Did it work? Why or why not? What have you read about in books or heard from a counselor? What combination of alternatives might work for you? How would you implement them? What obstacles could hinder you? What can you do to prepare for a worst case result? This process may require stepping out of your comfort zone, especially if you are most accustomed to the life paradigm I described in The Bad Boy and the Angel. Do not let fear or shame hold you back. There are people in your circle of family and friends, and in the larger community, who are more than willing to help you. If you or your children are in danger, you need to know how to get to safety - preferably before another rage breaks out. Don't wait until someone is seriously hurt! Do you have a plan for where to go, what to take with you, and precautions for ensuring your continued personal security?

Set firm boundaries and specify consequences. You can insist on being treated with respect. You can insist on physical safety for yourself and your children. You can insist on the freedom to think, speak, and act according to your conscience. Decide what you want or don't want to see happen. Be specific. Here are some examples:

  • "When we are talking with each other, we should choose to speak with dignity and kindness. It is not acceptable to call me that name or scream at me. If you do that, the conversation will be over and I will walk away." 
  • "I expect that you will listen to me when I bring up a concern. It is not right to accuse me of being a rebellious wife when I object to your poor behavior. I will no longer allow you to silence me like that."
  • "If you try to coerce me with intimidation, I will not cooperate with you what you want." 
  • "It is not acceptable to destroy things when you are mad. If you damage any of my possessions or any part of our home, they will be repaired or replaced at your cost." 
  • "You must be gentle with our little boy, even when he upsets you. Shaking him like that hurts him and scares him, and could injure his spine or brain. I will report any child abuse to social services."
Follow through on your plans and then reevaluate. Is he respecting the boundaries you have set, and is he respecting you and your children as people? Then keep it up and see if he continues to cooperate. He may be using temporary compliance as a ploy to regain your trust and favor. If he is not making sufficient progress toward a healthy relationship, make sure you are being clear, consistent, and confident with your expectations. Ask your trusted and capable counselor for advice on what to do next. Step up the consequences as necessary. These may include:

  • much less emotional intimacy with you, since you no longer trust him with your deeper feelings, and you refuse to "throw pearls before swine"
  • other key people knowing about the problems he has caused; while appropriate discretion is always advised, telling the truth to those who can help you is not slander
  • on-going professional counseling, with him paying for it
  • marital separation, with all of the many financial and relational costs that this entails
  • a protective injunction from the court if he is threatening or harming you or your children
  • an arrest record if he chooses physical violence or other illegal behavior
  • a divorce in a case of severe or protracted abuse; the article God Hates Divorce? by a pastor and Bible scholar Sam Powell could enhance your understanding of the original meaning of Malachi 2:16 

If you can't seem to muster up the resolve to enforce boundaries and consequences for your own well-being, please remember your children! You are morally and legally obligated to protect them, not just from physical abuse, but from intimidation and emotional harm. This includes witnessing you get hurt, even if he doesn't touch them.

Plan and prepare for a healthy, life-giving future, not just the absence of abuse. Again, this means strengthening your own soul and body, no matter what else happens around you. You can expand your ability to set goals, solve problems, communicate effectively, train your children positively, manage your finances, take care of your health, learn an enriching hobby, and gain whatever other skills will put you on track for success. 

I hope this has given you some ideas and encouragement. Things can get better, but you have to take assertive action. You can do this. 

You will find more resources on my Domestic Violence page.

Grace and peace,

Virginia Knowles