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I Didn’t Know It Was Abuse // Sisterhood Stories

Another Sisterhood Storyfrom a woman who, like so many others, had no idea she was living in abuse.

I remember the day it finally had a name.

I was reading the words in black and white – and it was my story, almost verbatim. I was confused. I could not deny the tactics. I could not deny the patterns. Right down to the details, this was my story. Except I hadn’t written the article.

And they called it verbal abuse.

How could what he did be “abuse”? He loved me. Abusers don’t love people – they hurt people.

I couldn’t call him an abuser.
It didn’t fit with my vision of him.
For three days I was in a state of shock.

Call it a truth-bomb from God.

Maybe it seems incomprehensible, but in all the 12 years of being with him, I never knew I was abused.

I knew I was miserable.
I knew I was sad.
I knew that something felt very, very wrong.

But I didn’t know it was abuse.

Perhaps this is why the first thing an abuser does is take away your “voice.”
So you can’t tell others what is going on.

I ruminated on this new information, rolling it over and over in my mind. In one sense, it was a relief – I wasn’t crazy… other people went through this… and it had a name! Fifteen names to be exact, as the article broke down into sections the fifteen different versions of verbal abuse: the discounting, undermining, accusing and blaming, withholding, and abuse disguised as a joke. Trivializing, name calling, diverting… he did them all. 

I finally understood why our conversations were so exhausting and confusing to me! It wasn’t me after all!

Conversations with him had never been logical or linear. He was a master at word salad – unrelated ideas and arguments tangled together. A rational person will try to find a logical connection between Point A, B and C, to ultimately gain a clear understanding of what the other person is saying.

His goal, however, was to cause confusion, particularly when he was being challenged or held accountable for his actions. He would bring up completely unrelated points, acting as if they were connected to each other.

He’d start off by making meaningless statements about people in general, their faults, the evils of the world, etc, then tie it into the matter at hand, deflect, blame, bring in completely unrelated topics, and ask irrelevant questions which left me (and others) wondering “What is he even talking about?”

He would then throw out a challenge to “prove him wrong” and get a triumphant look on his face as if he had already won. Conversation to him was a competition, to see how well he could confuse everyone.

The article was a huge wake-up call.

Of course, the very next question that came to my mind is, Does he know he does this? I had to know!

Next time I saw him, I asked that very question. (Yes, I was that naive!)

He was standing in the kitchen. Launching the conversation with some question I knew he wouldn’t want to answer, I put my new-found knowledge to the test.

He answered my question with a question of his own.
I asked again. He deflected.
I brought the conversation back around to my question.
He discounted the issue.
Then the denial and countering started.

Within two minutes, he used eight different types of verbal abuse. I stood there, in shock.

Finally I spoke, telling him up front what he had just done. “First, you answered my question with a question. Then you deflected from my point. Then you discounted it altogether. Then you started denying it and countering me! Do you even see what you are doing?!”

He smiled.
A huge smile.

It hit me like a train.

He knows exactly what he is doing.

He didn’t deny it. He was almost proud of it. He didn’t even care that I had caught on, because he was too impressed with himself! He laughed and started talking about a totally different topic (completely unrelated).

Something changed in me that day. My view of our relationship shifted, ever so slightly. I could no longer live in total denial. He had revealed himself in so many ways, but somehow my mind blocked reality from sinking in. I couldn’t yet acknowledge who he truly was, but my question had been answered.

He knows EXACTLY what he is doing.

Over the next few months our relationship continued to deteriorate in it’s usual fashion – spiraling out of control with him making some sort of kind gesture to patch things up when it got really bad and he felt me pulling away. I was no longer falling for the same patterns, however. The shift had gotten bigger, and I was starting to see his behavior for what it was, instead of just listening to his words and empty promises.

When he would tell me he was going to do something, I stopped believing him.
When he would promise change, it fell on deaf ears.

I was not distant towards him, but it was becoming exceptionally clear that he had no intentions on becoming a better spouse, on being more involved with us, or even looking out for our own good.

I could not understand his disconnectedness, or why he didn’t care about us, because I didn’t yet understand that some people truly choose to be evil.

I learned that later.

This is a real story.
This Sisterhood survivor remains anonymous for the safety of her children. She is publishing a memoir of their years living captive in the shed.

People of faith everywhere want to believe their faith communities are immune to domestic violence, sexual addiction, and abuse. I know it’s not true because I hear the stories percolating behind perfect facades.

Stories from:

  • the Sisterhood of victims currently in crisis.
  • the Sisterhood of survivors who are building lives from the rubble.
  • the Sisterhood of warriors who are raising their voices to bring an end to the misrepresentation of God’s character in God’s name within the faith community.

One of the ways we change culture?
By telling these stories.

If something like this is happening to you, you are not alone, but you may need a safety plan.
For resources to find help in the faith community, message me here.

Is your church really as safe as you think it is?

  • If someone was abusing a child close to you, could you tell?
  • Don’t victims often make up accusations to get attention?
  • God tells us to forgive and forget, but does that include letting a sex offender attend church with children present?
  • How can faith communities effectively protect our most vulnerable members?
Far too often, faith communities are soft targets for abuse of many kinds. Myths on forgiveness, repentance, and reporting allow predators and abusers to manipulate and deceive.
Myths We Believe, Predators We Trust will equip you to debunk 37 common myths about abuse in church, making your faith community a safer place.
Currently available on Kindle.
Paperback coming soon!

3 easy ways to get more support like this:
  1. EXPLORE Coach Sarah’s online courses, coaching, and resources at Wilderness to WILD.
  2. JOIN WILD’s #TraumaMamas private Facebook support group for mamas parenting through trauma.
  3. FIND Sarah McDugal on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for resources, videos, updates, and supportive community.
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