… was the text message I received recently from a heartbroken friend. I am not at liberty to share the details behind this, but emotional abuse figured significantly in the story that was summed up by that statement.
For several years, I have informally studied the short- and long-term effects of sexual abuse. I have read over a dozen books on the topic, attended trials and hearings, evaluated cases in the media, communicated with subject matter experts, and supported and interviewed survivors. The bottom line is, as Anna Salter wrote, “Child sexual abuse was like getting bitten by a rattlesnake: Some kids recovered completely, and some didn’t, but it wasn’t good for anybody.”
On the whole—unlike 20 years ago—our society is beginning to “get it” in regard to sexual abuse. Popular knowledge is now cognizant of the need to expose its occurrences, protect its survivors, and punish and forever monitor the offenders.
Sadly, the balance still favors the offender. Most are never caught; even those who are prosecuted often reach that stage only after permanently damaging numerous innocents. The jerks always win.
But there is another type of abuse, typically (but not exclusively) perpetrated by males against females, that we often gloss over: Verbal and emotional abuse.
There was a lot I did not understand about sexual abuse, due to my own ignorance—I could not fathom, for example, why Celie did not simply run away to escape her abusive husband when I read The Color Purple ages ago. Of course, now I know that her sexual abuse as a child played a large part in this, and that certain types of abusive behavior will nearly always produce certain types of behavioral results, such as remaining with or returning to the abuser. Whether this can be explained rationally is irrelevant; the causative facts remain both evident and consistent.
There is a lot I do not understand about verbal or emotional abuse. Why would one continually mistreat a woman with whom he shares a social or even romantic connection? Why would anyone continually belittle her accomplishments, describe her as worthless or stupid, scream profanities at her, become angry at her without provocation, or limit her financial and personal freedom?
Why take something beautiful and damage it, making it less valuable?
Why tarnish God’s most beautiful and intricate creation, rather than polishing it for all the world to see?
We’d like to think this happens only in our underclasses, but that is hardly the case. One account conveyed to me by a friend was of a woman who was a published biological research scientist, with a doctorate. This didn’t protect her from her boyfriend whose constant belittlement convinced her that she was of no value. This happens far more than we realize.
I confess, I simply do not understand verbal or emotional abuse. I absolutely cannot understand why someone would mistreat any woman, especially one entrusted into one’s care. I know what the advice is to those in an abusive situation: “Get out immediately”; but few will be able to heed that. I often wonder why women seem to be so predictably malleable under such abuse, but perhaps this is why the Apostle Peter referred to wives as “the weaker vessel,” and commanded husbands to honor them and be understanding.
I see that I need to improve my knowledge deficit, just as I studied sexual abuse.
In the mean time, I’m going to keep polishing.