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Click the heart to sponsor my service work at Valiant Hearts throughout the month of October. In their weekly support group, I will offer practical steps to overcoming the effects of childhood sexual abuse. For more information about this organization, visit www.valianthearts.org
If you had told me that after eighteen years of "praying and staying" I'd be sleeping in the guestroom--divorce pending, I'd have bet Stormie Omartian's life against it. Stormie Omartian authored The Power of a Praying Wife, and in March of 2013 I wanted to stuff a sweaty sock in her mouth.
Me to my psychologist (Dr. Anonymous): I've just spent eighteen years in a relationship that shouldn't have lasted eight days. How is this possible? I'm not unintelligent, and I'm always in a ten-week Bible study.
She suggested I read The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships by Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D. It's not a long read . . . just over two hundred pages. The length of time it took for what I'd read to reflect in my life choices. . . just over two years. (Totally worth it.)
According to Dr. Carnes, "there are five main ways promises are used to betray. They are
- betrayal by seduction
- betrayal by terror
- betrayal by exploitation
- betrayal by intimacy
- betrayal by spirit
One of these is bad enough, but often times all five are present. To understand traumatic bonding, the reader must understand these separate types of abuse. Today, we'll address betrayal by seduction.
Seduction is high warmth with low intention. These relationships are very deceptive and seductive, and commonly found in traumatic bonding. If the person was clear about his intention, the other might not respond or become involved. Characteristics of this combination are:
- relationships are manipulative and exploitative
- agreements are ill-defined, unclear or tentative
- feelings are anxious and intense
- trust depends often on exaggerated or unreal promises
- risk is often one-sided
[end of excerpt]
What I learned is that seven years of child sexual abuse cultivated an atmosphere of anxiety and fear coupled with an intense desire for peace and safety. So my brain found ways to cope with fear and anxiety at an age when I had no control over my external circumstances.
Example: I'm highly creative. And that's a good thing. But part of healing required the recognition of times I had biblical grounds to divorce but instead opted to redecorate the master bedroom. (A scenario referred to as a trauma solution.) Nothing is resolved. But I've successfully hijacked my senses into believing I'm at peace because after all, my paint selection is called Serenity, and the billowy, soft throw pillows smooth the memories of everything hard and rough and devaluing.
For the abused woman, trauma solutions are not why she stays, but how. In all those years, it not once did I look in the mirror and think: I do not deserve to be treated like this. I was a survivor. It was all I knew. And the girl I saw in the mirror each morning was the only version of myself I'd ever known. I wasn't stupid. I was blind. If this scenario was a mathematical equation it would roll out like this:
1 ten-week Bible study
1 faith-based movie like The War Room
0 measurable milestones of heart-change in an abusive spouse/partner
1 pastor hell-bent on convincing you that God hates divorce more than He hates the abuse you're enduring
H-E-Double Hockey Sticks on seriously thin ice.
What we hope in should reflect the character of whom we place our hope:
Psalm 33: 20--22
We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.
I believe in marriage. I do. But for the woman of faith who's married to an abusive man, a godly marriage does not include abuse. It goes against His very nature. He is our shield. His love unfailing. Abusive men can and do heal. I'm not saying don't pray . . . fervently. I'm suggesting that you allow the very nature of a loving God to shield you from believing you have no choice but to stay in a marriage where your physical, emotional, and spiritual health is compromised.
Know what I heard in my heart the day my divorce finalized?
Daughter, your marriage failed because my love does not fail. Go in peace.
To the woman who finds herself dating after an abusive marriage. Be on the look-out for high-warmth with low intention. I've learned this the hard way. Some men will say anything if they believe it will get you in the sack. Time tells the truth. So take it slow, Sister. Dr. Carnes writes "the closest and most rewarding relationships are high warmth high intention because you know where you stand with a person who wants to be connected with you." Characteristics of this combination are:
- relationships are committed and involved
- agreements are clear and rewarding
- feelings are excited and enthusiastic
- trust is high
- rewards are immediate or concrete
- risk is mutually shared
Here's another healthy scenario: Low warmth and high intention. These are very task-centered relationships in which a primary objective is to accomplish a transaction or a job. It is simple and businesslike. We all have such relationships because they are very functional. Characteristics of this combination are:
- relationships are goal-oriented rather than people oriented
- agreements are clear but emotionally detached
- feelings are disconnected or unemotional
- rewards are specified and reliable
- risk is minimal
[end of excerpt]
It's worth your consideration because we have a loving Father who promises YOU are worthy of consideration. Consider yourself, today.
You are not alone,
Published on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 12:31 PM CDT
“I hate Amber Cunningham. For the record, the girl I’ve chosen to call Amber Cunningham isn’t actually Amber Cunningham. Her real name is Eliza. And before Eliza she was Ashley, and before Ashley, she was Jamie, and before Jamie she was Kelsey—my first arch nemesis at church, dating all the way back to church primary school. If this were a biblical story it would go like this: Kelsey begat Jamie who begat Ashley who begat Eliza who begat Amber Cunningham. I lump these women into one because I resent them for the same reason: They’re crazy dogmatic Christians on a quest to find celestial popularity. An Amber is like a Heather, only she’s attacking your spiritual worthiness and your dress size at the same time.”
—Elna Baker, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance
I have an Amber Cunningham (who for the record, isn’t actually Amber Cunningham) in my life. I’m pleased to report I’m no longer haunted by inadequacy when “Amber” and I cross paths—even as she scans the room for someone more important than me with whom to converse. I say a little prayer for her as I walk away: God, please bless "Amber." But God, why does she tilt her head so far to the right when she says hello? This compels me to dive for her head—like a glass of water that’s been knocked off the kitchen counter.
I didn’t always have a sense of humor about “Amber.” But as I faithfully confessed my feelings to God, I discovered that the very act of confession delivered me from the darkness of inadequacy.
Time spent conversing with God is time spent valued—never underestimate the power of His presence. In the Light, my sense of humor snuffs out judgement. In the Light, I can empathize. Only God knows the unseen pressures beauty a queen smile. In the Light, I can see where I've smiled plenty of my own, minus that whole head-tilt thing. Alas, some things remain a mystery.
In the Light, I can a time in my life when I used my smile to make myself feel better with no regard for how my actions would steal the smile of another.
I didn’t intend to hurt Lori. But I did. The year was 1998 and her live-in boyfriend was my on-again, off-again live-in boyfriend’s twelve-step sponsor. I hope I’m not offending delicate Christian sensibilities. If need be, imagine I’m the only Christian woman who’s been physically intimate with a man she could not call husband. Or, simply concede that this is the course many of us take when we operate in a state of survival or neediness.
I had a long list of needs. I needed my boyfriend to stay clean and sober. I needed my children to not be traumatized by my dysfunctional lifestyle. I needed sane people to stop judging the insane choices I made. And when my boyfriend disappeared for days at a time, I needed the emotional support of Lori’s boyfriend, Mark.
He knew firsthand the pain and frustration caused by addiction. What began as one person sharing their experience, strength, and hope quickly morphed into an intimate friendship. We spoke on the phone every day. He held me when I cried. It never once occurred to me that I was breaking another woman’s heart. It also never occurred to me that I was capturing his. I’m tempted to call myself insensitive, except this would imply that I was aware of the hurt I’d caused, only to dismiss it. Truth is, I lived within a narcissistic Narnia with zero awareness for anyone’s feelings but my own. Three years later, I reaped what I had sown.
Our baby was six-months old, and my boyfriend’s addiction was in full swing. It was time to be off-again. The plan was for him to clean up and rejoin our home. But eight months later, I stood outside his apartment and used a key to scratch the word cheater on his car. I look back on our relationship and marvel at the dysfunction. You can remove yourself from a crazy environment, but that’s just geography.
I later learned that the young woman he’d gotten involved with was on the heels of a painful breakup. Her fiancé had broken off their engagement. So, two people sharing their pain bonded with no regard for anyone else’s. The truth is, neither of them would have gotten involved in this way had they known the love God has for them. The same was true for me and Lori’s boyfriend.
Today, I’m forgiven. But I’ve not forgotten the pain and destruction that “friendships” of this sort cause. By the grace of God, I no longer need to use others to obtain a sense of value. Elizabeth Gilbert said it best in Eat Pray Love: “So be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.” Yikes!
Stuff worth considering:
- Do you have an Amber Cunningham in your life? Write about it. No need to worry about your Bible-study group reading your journal unless you, like, leave it open on the coffee table then go to the bathroom. (I'm kidding.)
- Are you an Amber Cunningham? Don’t answer this question until you’ve first asked God on bent knees. If He answers yes, then ask Him to bring to mind, the name of the woman whom you most likely did not intend to cause pain. Pray for her.
- Have you ever implored the emotional support of a man who was already spoken for? Are you now? Once again, these questions should not be answered in haste. Assume a humble posture and ask God to reveal the circumstances where you disregarded another woman’s feelings. Confess. Repent. Make an amends when appropriate, meaning it will not cause further harm.
- And lastly, you gotta be willing to offer your own broken heart grace and empathy and love. It's hard for anyone who knows me today to believe who I was back then. But it's true. I did those things. And I am forgiven. As women, and as we heal, we've got to rise up with more respect for ourselves and one another. We're all SO worth it.
Published on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @ 12:27 PM CDT