The Jerks Always Win

… 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.

5 Replies to “The Jerks Always Win”

  1. It takes alot to break the cycle of being with and under the influence of people like that. It stays with you forever no matter what counseling you get. It shapes you and effects decisions you make even when you don’t even think about it much anymore. Once it’s in there, it’s there forever. You can be healed but the healing leaves a scar. Too bad we haven’t figured out how to replace the psyche the same way we can replace a knee or a hip or a physical heart.

  2. Every type of abuse really ticks me off. I mean, really, really ticks me off. I hate the injustice of the damage done to the survivors and the lack of empathy the abusers have. Grrrrrrr. I need to go code something.

    My first book came in: The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond, by Patricia Evans.

    From the back cover:

    • Does your partner seem irritated or angry at you several times a week?
    • Does he deny being angry when he clearly is?
    • Do your attempts to discuss feelings of pain or emotional distress leave you with the feeling tha tthe issues has not been resolved?
    • Do you frequently feel perplexed and frustrated by his responses, as though you were each speaking a different language?
  3. I’m curious to hear how she treats verbal abuse when it is the woman abusing the man – which happens much more often than one might think.

    I know of several marriages where the wife effectively neutered her husband by viewing any attempts at being a leader as “abuse.” The stigma of those references caused the man to shirk his God-given responsibilities.

    Biblical marriage is grounded in clear, open communication without fear or stigma.

  4. Although clearly acknowledging it certainly exists (and demonstrating at least one example), the book doesn’t deal with verbal or emotional abuse of men. The author has worked almost exclusively with women, and states she did not feel qualified to offer a male perspective.

    However, the premise of the book is nearly identical to your statement, “Biblical marriage is grounded in clear, open communication without fear or stigma,” except, of course for the citation of the Bible.

    It may also be worth exploring specific examples of how “being a leader” became labeled abuse. Scripture clearly indicates that husbands are to love their wives completely selflessly, just as Christ loved believers and died for them. From my perspective, the moment I become unloving in my leadership, I am no longer following the Scriptural admonitions.

    However, I have too often seen the correct principles of leadership completely distorted into unloving authoritarianism. In other words, Ephesians 5:33b is espoused, “and let the wife see that she respects her husband,” while Ephesians 5:33a, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself,” is ignored.

  5. Indeed.

    Our world is full of confusion about the idea of love. Sometimes our thinking is so selfish that we even think of ourselves when thinking of doing something for others. Although we don’t realize it we evaluate our sacrifices in terms of what we lose instead of what others gain.

    Leadership becomes abuse whenever it becomes about the leader and not the “followers.” The reason you lead is to provide something for your followers. By the same token, a husband should lead as Christ led, for the good of those who follow him. He is exalted by his followers; he does not exalt himself.

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