Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Verbal Abuse is Really Like, and Why We Must Care
Guest Post: Terri von Wood

In my speaking travels, I meet the most amazing people. Some are connections that go beyond just a night or a weekend of preaching. One day on my journey, I met Terri von Wood, and we immediately clicked and have been friends ever since.  Just a reminder that all of our guest bloggers this week are available to chat with you in the comment section here on the blog or on my facebook page where the blog is also published. 


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People who have never suffered through or witnessed abuse (including pastors) often don't know how to help women in abusive situations. Knowledge is power and it is my belief that if the church understood the prevalence of abuse, help would be made available. 

First, we must acknowledge that the divorce rate is the same  in the church as in the world.  Second, we must understand that the 50% divorce rate does not include all the women who are abused but stay because they do not know what else to do or do not have anyone to turn to.  If those women were able to leave, the divorce rate would be much higher.  


It is my hope today that all your preconceived notions will be replaced with the truth about verbal abuse, how to recognize it and stop it.  Verbal abuse does escalate to emotional and physical abuse, if unchecked. In the book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, author Patricia Evans writes: "All domestic violence begins with verbal abuse.”  That is why it is so important to draw the proverbial line in the sand and refuse to accept inappropriate words or behavior directed towards you or your children.  

Verbal abuse typically does not come to the attention of law enforcement or social service agencies until it escalates to physical violence.  Pastors and friends at church are often unaware of the situation going on behind closed doors.  Women of faith who are in abusive situations go to church with a smile on their face.  They sing, they listen to the message, they smile and greet friends, and they go home to their own personal Hell.  Almost everyone I talked to said the verbal abuse was gradual and not clearly abuse.  It starts with put downs, mean words, threats, yelling, and name-calling.  Then it escalates.
Abuse is insidious.   The abused woman usually had no clue the man she was marrying was or could become an abuser.  I know that’s hard to believe but I have seen it and heard the stories too many times and it is true.  This is how that happens...



In the dating phase, when everyone is on their best behavior, there are often no clues.   Think of a two-year-old child who is having a great day and getting everything he wants.  He is taken to the park with a favorite playmate, he eats his favorite Happy Meal for lunch and he and his friend continue to play in the play area; he is a happy child.  He has a big smile on his face and he loves you.  Then, you have to stop at the grocery store on the way home.  He is still happy because he has had his way all day.  He asks for something and you know it is not best, so you have to disagree.  When he doesn’t get his way, he goes into a major temper tantrum, yelling, kicking, screaming, and saying he hates you.  Now, imagine that two-year-old boy is 6’2” and weigh 200 pounds and you will have a correct picture of what an abuser looks like and what the abused woman and her children experience.  It is a shocking, terrifying experience and confusing as to how to proceed because this is after all the person you love, committed your life to, and married.  Now, what do you do?  

Your preconceived notion of the woman involved may be that she is frumpy, low class, not very smart and does not have much to offer to her husband or any other man.  Further, your preconceived notion is probably that the woman somehow instigates the abuse or brings it upon herself.   The woman in the abusive situation is embarrassed and ashamed to tell her story and spends some time feeling she is somehow responsible for what is happening to her.  If she comes to the realization she is not responsible for the actions of another grown person and reaches out for help she will share a little of her story with someone she trusts to “test the water.”  Unfortunately, many pastors and most people are not trained in the area of abuse.  They see the charming, public facade of the abuser.  The woman does not usually say, “I’m being abused.”  She will say things like, “please pray for my marriage,” or “my husband is so angry all the time, I don’t know what to do,” or “I don’t know how much more I can take—my husband is so mean to me and the kids.”  The pastor and her friends she broaches the subject with do not understand abuse and do not know what to say.  Therefore, they say things like, “I’ll pray for you,” or “Let’s pray,” or “Have you tried counseling?” or  “Have you recorded him to let him know how he sounds?” or “Have you tried talking to him about how you feel?”  

These are the wrong things to say.   


She has tried everything for years.  She has prayed for years. She has read books, bought tapes, listened to radio programs and tried to change the situation by bettering herself.  She believes if she tries hard enough, has enough faith, prays harder, things will change and then they do not.   She is not reaching out to you for marriage advice; she is at the end of her rope and wants to know if anyone cares and if anyone will help her.  By caring enough to let women who are currently in the midst of the abuse know they are not alone in their experience and they do not have to remain there, women are empowering other women to leave abusive and potentially dangerous situations

I sent out a message to a few friends to let them know I was writing this guest blog post and would like to include real-life examples of abuse if they had any they felt comfortable sharing.  I promised I would keep them anonymous.  I have changed the names for privacy purposes but will try not to change their words unless necessary to maintain confidentiality.   All but one messaged me within a day with page upon page of what they and their children endured.  I thank them for sharing their stories.  They represent different races and socioeconomic levels.  They are smart, beautiful, talented and accomplished.   The women whose stories I am sharing are friends with professions including Itinerant Minister, Preschool Teacher, Paralegal, and School Director.  They are well educated, well spoken, beautiful, well groomed, funny, loving and kind.  They are women of faith and they are abused.  

 Please click here to see the Power Point with excerpts of their stories.

I pray that after you read these stories, your eyes will be opened, your heart will be changed towards the women who are experiencing this, and you will be inspired to help in any way you can.  You may post any comments or questions in response to this blog post, anonymously.  I know for many, the ability to remain anonymous is the only way you would ever consider sharing your story of abuse or asking for help.  I will help you in any way that I can in response to your questions.  Thank you for taking time to learn about this prevalent and serious problem in America and it's churches today.


 Terri von Wood is a Certified Life Coach in Sarasota, Florida who helps many people to pursue wholeness. Working from the belief that God has created each of us with a purpose, plan and path of perfection for our lives, her goal is to provide coaching and resources to women in crisis.  Her new venture, Epiphany Life Coaching and Resources, Inc. will exist to support, provide hope, and encourage women in crisis as they move from despair to the life they were created to live. She is  currently pursuing a Sociology Degree and Evangelist Certification and  is mother to five beautiful daughters and one beautiful granddaughter.  She wishes a life filled with peace, love and happiness for her daughters and all women. 

12 comments:

Cara said...

Verbal abuse can shape a child's opinion and wreck their self esteem, this is clear knowledge that most would agree with. How is it possible that a woman can be abused and people become blind to it and brush it aside as not as serious or important? Many think that if the couple gets some help that it would stop the abuse-- but many have already gone that route and have had no success. Sometimes it has made things harder for them because the abusing partner takes offense to having the problem exposed. No one should be diminished in home, heart, and self worth. Being understanding and helping these woman is not condoning divorce or not helping them work out their marriages. It is sometimes simply giving them the opportunity to hear a sincere, tender and caring word from another human being. We owe it to them!

Kimmie said...

This was Beautifully written Terri. Having been abused before I can relate with these women. I am so glad you wrote this and brought it to the forefront. People really do need to know and see what happens. And as Cara said we do owe them our love and support.

ingrid said...

God is really talking to me .

Naej50 said...

This is truly a very revealing account of abuse. Having lived with an abuser, I too can relate. When a person is in abusive relationship, they do not trust everyone. Most of the time, the person who is being abused feels ashamed. I can only suggest, that if you know someone that it appears that she is not quite in step with everyone else, be a friend. Everyone needs someone to talk to, the abused person needs someone safe to talk to and not judge her. I had a women once at church, just hand me a note in her palm while shaking hands. It was a number to call for abused wives. So be that friend....

Karen said...

I'd love to hear pastor's say from the pulpit, "If you are being abused, know that you can come to me, you will be believed, and our church will help you." Most churches are quick to help addicts but slow to react to help the victim. You did an excellent job Terri! Well done.

Terri von Wood said...

Cara: Well said! I think that's where the confusion comes in--with the debate of when divorce is okay. These women typically didn't ask for this treatment, didn't ask for a divorce and certainly don't want one. They aren't angry and looking for people to jump on the "divorce bandwagon." They are hurt and afraid and aren't sure what the next step is. This isn't about whether you or not you "condone" or "encourage" divorce-- this is simply about protecting the victim.

Terri von Wood said...

Thank you, Kimmie! I just have to believe that if people were aware of the true nature and magnitude of this problem, they would care and want to help these women! Thank you for contributing to this conversation. Tomorrow’s post is Part II of this article. In it, I talk about what you must do next if you are in an abusive situation. I would love if you would post tomorrow since you are an abuse survivor. It is so important for women in that situation to know there is life after abuse—a better life!

Terri von Wood said...

Dear Ingrid: I'm so glad God is speaking to you through this article. I don't know you personally or your situation. Maybe you've judged a woman in that situation, been raised in an abusive home situation, or maybe you are currently in a situation that doesn't feel right to you and you've wondered what you should do next. Feel free to ask any further questions you may have. Please stop by tomorrow for Part II which will address what to do next if you are being abused. Talk to you then.

Terri von Wood said...

"Naej50"....so sorry you lived this story! But, so glad you are a success story because you survived and got out of it. Such a great point you make for those who wonder what they can do. Be perceptive enough and compassionate enough towards others to be able to recognize when someone needs to talk and needs you to hear. As Anne Sexton says..."Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard." Tomorrow...Part II will post which will address what to do if you are in an abusive situation. Please come back and comment regarding how you determined to leave and how you survived. Again, knowledge is power and some other woman might just hear what you have said about surviving and making it out of the abusive situation and figure she can do the same! Thank you!

Terri von Wood said...

Dear Karen: Thank you for commenting. I loved the way you said what the pastor should ideally say from the pulpit. It might be a lifesaving comment, for certain. I know there are people who will say the church can't solve all of society's ills but if the family the most important institution and we don't get that healed how are our members going to be qualified for missions, charity, building funds, etc?

ingrid said...

thank you Terri I am really learning a lot in this blogs and I will not miss it ! I want to learn more!

Terri von Wood said...

Thank you, Ingrid for participating in the conversation. If you want to contact me, my email address is idealist247@verizon.net. Terri