What is Abuse?
by Jeff Crippen
Very few people know what abuse really is, though everyone seems quite ready to give advice to its victims. If you believe that abuse is physical battering, you have some learning to do.
Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.
While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.
Abuse in any of its forms destroys the victim’s person. Abuse, in the end, is murder.
* Sometimes the genders are reversed.
Can Abusers Change?
To say that abusers cannot change removes responsibility for sin. They can change, but the vast majority choose not to, which is what the experts state. When God punishes them, their punishment is just. Abusers have options for treatment and are accountable.
Once the marriage covenant is broken through abuse, the abused partner does not need to stay in the marriage waiting for the abuser to change. The abuser’s recovery is a separate issue and his change is his own responsibility, not his wife’s. This is the mistake most churches make. These churches have over-sentimentalized marriage and are legalists.
The film Two Weeks starring Sally Field as the mother (Anita), of four children was based on the personal experience of writer-director Steve Stockman. The film covers the two week period surrounding Anita’s death. At her request each of the four children, Matthew (Glenn Howerton), Keith (Ben Chaplin) Barry (Thomas Cavanagh) and Emily (Julianne Nicholson) leave jobs and family to return to the family home in North Carolina to be with their dying mother, not knowing how long that will be.
I cringed watching the film as Anita controlled the division of her earthly possessions she called “heirlooms” while still alive, and then gain after her death with the letter she wrote, “to be opened after” which detailed more property divisions.
I was conflicted about her request that her children come be with her while she lay dying and wait there until it happened. On one hand it may be a time that family needs to be together for support of each other and to bear each other up during a time of great stress; but, on the other hand I felt it was too much to ask of her children—to put them through all of that. I mean who really wants to have your mother’s stuff divvied up while she is still living and try to feel good about taking it. In addition, the stress of watching your mother deteriorate before your eyes, knowing she is dying but not really knowing when—having to put your own life on hold for an indefinite amount of time, was in my opinion, selfish and controlling to the nth degree.
Anita thoughtlessly gave things away that he would obviously still use after she was gone. At one point he asks “what am I going to do for a table?” A legitimate question—one that should not have had to be asked.
Summary: Some people control us in life and continue to do so from the grave. This movie depicts another form of subtle abuse—control. Wouldn’t it have been kinder and more loving for Anita to ask her children to come to her bedside to say goodbye, then release them to their lives and not hold them captive until she breathed her last breath? Wouldn’t it have been more thoughtful and considerate to all parties to give each child something special and let it at that? Can you imagine the havoc and strain those two weeks played on the children and Anita’s husband watching her every moment, trying to cope with loss and grief while at the same time making preparations for death? I believe it was cruel for her to ask her loved ones to sit endlessly at her bedside, waiting…
The children and her husband selflessly did as she requested despite their personal cost. That seems to be what the abused do—they make excuses for another’s behavior and they accept it as okay. I wonder what would have happened if the husband or children would have been more assertive and had set some boundaries for themselves. I wonder…