Sheila here! October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, and last week I saw an amazing post by Emily at Thriving Forward, who was a guest on the Bare Marriage podcast a while ago talking about growing up under Gothard, and being part of the lawsuit against him.
One of the biggest issues in Christendom is that many people say physical abuse is grounds for divorce, but not other kinds of abuse.
But as Emily argues, it’s all physical.
I want to share her post with you today.
Emotional abuse IS physical abuse.
I was dying for most of my teenage years. I mean literally, in a hospital, 73 pounds, not enough blood running through my veins, dying.
When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The doctor said it was the worst case he’d ever seen and I had had it for at least two years. How, one might ask, does an 11 year old develop a stress-induced, life threatening disease?
Emotional abuse can kill.
There are so many misunderstandings when it comes to a word a broad as “abuse”. So many preconceived ideas of what abuse looks like…
I grew up in a home where my abuser was, by traditional definitions, emotionally abusive. Abuse that consisted of intense imposing of fear and shame, angry outbursts, manipulation, passive aggressive behavior, apathy, and gaslighting, to name a few things.
I was only ever struck twice.
Yet, I now believe and understand that I, in fact, DID grow up with continual physical abuse, and this would be true even if I had never been struck.
My physician has a statistic posted in her office: nearly 80% of all doctor appointments can be traced back to stress. Similar statistics regarding chronic/acute illness and stress reveal the same connection: Stress, in particular, emotional stress, will wreak havoc on a body and can even be deadly.
Leaving a Christian marriage is a highly touchy subject within the church. Typically, physical abuse such as repeated violent striking or bruising is the only “acceptable” excuse for a woman to leave her husband. But even then, John Piper has publicly taught in previous years that in order to be submissive, “a woman should endure verbal abuse for a season, and endure being smacked for a night.”
Why are we telling women that the hell they are living through isn’t real or valid unless they are being beaten black and blue every night?
We tell them that it doesn’t matter that the emotional abuse is slowly destroying their brain chemistry, their adrenals, their digestive system, and their immune system. Who cares if you’re dealing with chronic fatigue and systemic inflammation, just so long as he hasn’t hit you, right?
This is a deadly message and is unfortunately the same message the church is often sending to hurting, vulnerable, and trapped women.
We need to call emotional abuse for exactly what it is: dangerous and damaging to the mind AND the body.
Instead of minimizing these women’s situations and telling them their abuse isn’t real or valid, let’s reach out with empathy and understanding. Let’s offer them a safe place to live. Let’s help them hold their abuser accountable. Let’s encourage them to take care of themselves physically — rest, eat well, get good sleep. Let’s become a gateway to their healing, not an administrator of more guilt and shame.
Because emotional abuse IS physical abuse. And it can be deadly.
Sexual abuse can also have long-term physical effects.
A number of people have shared this stat on social media lately about how sexual abuse in boys is linked to heart attacks later in life:
Men who experienced childhood sexual abuse are three times more likely to have a heart attack than men who were not sexually abused as children, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto…
We had expected that the abuse-heart attack link would be due to unhealthy behaviors in sexual abuse survivors, such as higher rates of alcohol use or smoking, or increased levels of general stress and poverty in adulthood when compared to non-abused males. However, we adjusted statistically for 15 potential risk factors for heart attack, including age, race, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes mellitus, education level and household income, and still found a three-fold risk of heart attack.”
The body keeps the score
We need to remember that ALL abuse has physical effects, and consider ALL abuse actually physical abuse.
Perhaps if we truly understood the long-term effects on the body, we’d take all kinds of abuse more seriously.
If you believe you may be a victim of abuse, please contact your local Domestic Violence Hotline
- Canada: 800.799.SAFE (7233)
- United States: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
- United Kingdom: 08 08 16 89 111
- Australia: 1 800 737 732
- New Zealand: 0800 456 450
- Kenya: 0-800-720-072
- Nigeria: 0800 033 3333
- South Africa: 0800 428 428