by KATIA G. REINERT
Peter grew up in an Adventist home. His dad was first elder and highly respected at church. At home things were different. His father’s charming personality at church turned into a raging demeanor at home when things did not exactly please him. He physically abused Peter’s mom periodically, as well as Peter and his brother. He demanded respect and submission as the leader of the home, and he used the Bible to support his views. No one in the family was allowed to speak of the father’s behavior outside of the home, or else. Peter carried wounds of physical and verbal abuse through childhood and into adulthood.
John had something to say, but he had to build up the courage to tell Abigail, his wife. He finally told her that he’s been thinking about going back to school for further his education and hopefully get a better job with more income. “Why would you even consider that?” Abigail yelled. “You failed the last courses you took, so you’re obviously not going to make it this time. You are stupid. You’ll never last through the program, and we’re not wasting our money on that. As it is, I am the one working and managing the bills.” No punches were thrown in this conversation, but deep wounds of verbal/emotional abuse were created.
Joan grew up in a lovely Adventist home, but fell in love with the wrong guy. He seemed very charming and in love with her. He cared so much, it seemed. He wanted to know where she was all the time and with whom. Slowly their relationship became the focus of her life. She had no more time for friends. He did not want her to work outside the home. She married him, but came to learn that he had many unusual requests for their sexual encounters. She was not comfortable but had to comply or else he would get enraged and force himself on her. She felt violated. Joan was deeply wounded by her husband’s sexual abuse.
Andrea’s father is actively involved in Adventist mission work around the world. He has a passion to reach the world. At home his disciplinary methods were very severe. Since early in her childhood, Andrea remembers episodes of heavy spanking which would sometimes lead to bleeding. Her emotional trauma resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and depression. She is still trying to deal with her emotional wounds and seeking to heal the mental health conditions she is experiencing. She dreams to serve God, but has found her mental health is an obstacle that she must overcome. She is seeking emotional and spiritual healing.
We could go on retelling many stories of child abuse, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse which unfortunately happen in Adventist families much more than we would like to admit. Why does it happen? Aren’t we supposed to be Godly people, preaching the gospel to the world and living an exemplary life? How can we keep our homes abuse-free?
What is Domestic Violence
Domestic violence and abuse includes any attempt by one person in an intimate relationship or marriage to dominate and control the other, whether they are the spouse, the child, or the parent. Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over another. A perpetrator of an abuser uses fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear the other down and keep them under their thumb.
Domestic violence and abuse do not discriminate. Abuse occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, economic levels, and religious affiliations. And while women are more often victimized, men also experience abuse—especially verbal and emotional. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether from a man, woman, teenager, or an older adult. Everyone deserves to feel valued, respected, and safe.
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal assaults to violence. And while physical injury may pose the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy one’s self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make the victim feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain— and the first step to breaking free is learning how to recognize when a relationship is abusive.
Prevalence of Abuse
Although violence and abuse impacts everyone, women, children, and elderly people seem to bear the brunt of nonfatal physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.1
Here are some numbers:
- 1 in 4 adults report having been physically abused as children.
- 1 in 5 women reports having been sexually abused as a child.
- 1 in 3 women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime.2
- 1 in 17 older adults reported abuse in the past month.
- Women report higher rates of lifetime exposure to rape, physical violence, and stalking than do men.3
- More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.4
- In one study among Adventists, 67% of adult participants stated they had at least one of the following types of child abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, witnessing abuse among parents).5
Principles to follow foran Abuse-Free home
We know based on studies that the cycle of abuse seems to go on into adulthood, making child abuse survivors sometimes more likely to engage in abusive relationships as adults. Unhealthy boundaries are often a problem. Likewise, perpetrators of abuse have wounds of their own, often the result of childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, or dysfunction in the family. For instance, Peter—the child mentioned earlier who was abused by his father—could become a perpetrator of abuse if he does not find a way to deal with the wounds that he carries.
So how can we who live in a sinful, imperfect world while growing up in imperfect families prevent domestic violence and live in an abuse-free home?
Here are 7 principles to consider:
1. Evaluate potential wounds from childhood. Before getting married, it is critical that each individual takes time evaluating their own background and any potential dysfunction or abuse which they may have experienced. Ideally they should talk with a counselor about these experiences and evaluate how they have impacted their mental and emotional life and well-being, as well as their behavior towards others in intimate relationships. Do they have anger issues as a result of what they endured ? Do they use healthy boundaries towards themselves and others? These and other questions are important to evaluate. The first step is to identify the source of any deep wounds.
2. Seek Emotional and Spiritual Healing for identified wounds of abuse. Once the wounds and the sources of these wounds are identified, it is important that each one seek psychological and spiritual counseling. Healing from these past wounds is critical if the new home being formed is to be abuse-free. Understanding what forgiveness really means, and finding emotional healing is a must for anyone who has been wounded by abuse.
3. Know the signs of abuse. Too many people have difficulty identifying when physical, emotional, or sexual abuse has taken place. When people grow up in an abusive home sometimes that is the only “normal” they know. This helps explain why many survivors of abuse end up with an abusive partner. Sometimes violence can begin early in a relationship and other times it may take years to appear. The critical issue is knowing how to identify the warning signs. Below are some examples of warning signs:6
Does your partner, parent or child:
- have a bad and unpredictable temper
- hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you
- threaten to commit suicide if you leave
- is jealous of your friends/family or time spent away from him/her embarrass or shame you
- control all financial decisions even though you are an adult
- make you feel guilty for all the problems in the relationship
- prevent you from working
- Intentionally damage your property
- threaten violence against you, your pets or someone you love to gain compliance
- pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to
- intimidate you physically, especially with weapons
- act excessively jealous and possessive
- control where you go or what you do
- keep you from seeing your friends or family
- limit your access to money, the phone, or the car
- constantly check up on you
Identify the cycle of abuse:7
Abuse – Your abusive partner, parent, or child lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. This treatment is a power-play designed to show you “who is in control.”
Guilt – Your partner, parent, or child feels guilt after abusing you, but not because of their actions. They’re more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for their abusive behavior.
Excuses – Your abuser rationalizes what they have done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for provoking them—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
“Normal” behavior – Your abuser does everything in their power to regain control and ensure that you’ll stay in the relationship. A perpetrator may act as if nothing has happened, or they might “turn on the charm.” This peaceful honeymoon phase may give you hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
Fantasy and planning – Your abuser begins to fantasize about repeating the abuse. They spend a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how they’ll make you pay for it. Then they form a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts their plan in motion, creating a situation where they can justify abusing you. Your abuser’s apologies and loving gestures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult to leave. They may cause you to believe that you are the only person who can help them, that they will change their behavior, and that they truly love you. However, the dangers of staying are very real.
4. Don’t ignore the signs of abuse. Once you identify the first signs, don’t pretend that everything is okay, or that things will change for the better on its own. Many people tend to think this sign is an anomaly, and they rather believe it will go away. Sometimes they blame themselves for their abusive family member’s behavior (parent, child, or spouse). The tendency is not to confront the issue. Pray earnestly and talk to someone you trust, maybe a pastor who understands, a friend or a counselor, and seek guidance. If you are a church member or leader who have noticed signs of abuse do not ignore it either. Approach one of the family members with kindness, offer friendship, make yourself available to pray for and with them anytime, or help in any way.
It is often helpful to document what you have experienced and the situations where you see the signs of abuse, so that you can recall the details later. Include the date, time, location, any injuries, and the circumstances of the abusive incident. This information could be very useful as you talk with your partner or a counselor, or even later on if needed for police reports and court cases, both criminal and civil.
5. Talk to the partner or family member. Pray about it and explore how best to approach the family member about the abuse that you experienced. It could be a parent, a spouse, or a child who is the perpetrator. If the family member is willing to recognize the problem and seek help, explore how best to seek guidance. Sometimes couples’ therapy may be helpful, but often individual counseling is also critical, especially if the other person is not willing to seek help or denies any problems. If the situation has escalated or your fear of retaliation is high, then perform a danger assessment.8 If you have a high danger score, take precautions for your safety and that of any children. Seek a shelter, the police, or someone you trust.
6. Explore resources that could help you be a better parent/spouse/child and prevent abusive behaviors in your home. There are many resources available to help parents learn healthier ways to discipline or guide a child, and also cultivate healthy ways to communicate among family members. Read and seek these resources. The Adventist church has published extensively on this topic and offers many guides for parents, as well as other resources for developing a healthy marriage.
Pray as parents, and as couples, for God’s wisdom. Read the inspired counsel given us in books by Ellen G. White.
7. As a church member or leader, learn effective ways to help and how to get involved in prevention. Whether you are a church member, leader, or pastor, you can pray for the family in crisis. Though prayer is critical and cannot be underemphasized, we must also ACT. It is critical to reach out with love and compassion using wisdom and kindness as we offer help, but it is equally critical that we educate ourselves to recognize signs of abuse and refer people to professionals who can help.
Here is how to recognize signs of abuse in families:9
People who are being abused may:
- Seem afraid or anxious to please their partner
- Go along with everything their partner says and does
- Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing
- Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner
- Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness
Warning signs of physical violence. People who are being physically abused may:
- Have frequent injuries, often using the excuse of “accidents” when questioned
- Frequently missing work, school, or social occasions without explanation
- Dress in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (e.g. wearing long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors)
Warning signs of isolation. People who are being isolated by their abuser may:
- Be restricted from seeing family and friends
- Rarely go out in public without their partner
- Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car
The psychological warning signs of abuse. People who are being abused may:
- Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident
- Show major personality changes (e.g. an outgoing person becomes withdrawn)
- Be depressed, anxious, or suicidal
As a pastor or church leader, make sure your church is participating in the ENDITNOW10 Sabbath every year as a way to educate your church and community. There are excellent materials prepared each year, which include sermons, children stories, seminars, etc. Be intentional about raising awareness and referring people to appropriate experts who can help guide the family.
Refer people to appropriate experts who can help guide the family. Make yourself available and identify counselors in the church (if available) or in the community who are experts and can be trusted to help.
In cases of child abuse, witnessing or learning of a dangerous situation for anyone in the family, call the police or social services. In the case of spousal abuse, you may help save a life. In some places females are killed by their partner twice as much as males.11 Unfortunately this has happened among Adventist families when pastors or other leaders have ignored victims calls for help.
As church leaders or individuals we can also become more involved in our community and partner with other ongoing domestic abuse prevention programs. We may assist a local shelter or domestic violence organization in their efforts to raise awareness in our community.
In other words, use your influence and refuse to support the culture perpetuated in music, movies, television, games, and the media that glorifies violence, particularly against women and children. When cases come before the church board, take it seriously and do not condone or protect the abuser because of his or her position in the church. Instead, use discipline appropriately and seek to refer both the victim and perpetrator for counseling.
God’s Ideal for families
God has left us plenty of counsel in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy to help us live in a home where angels and His love abound, and where there is no room of violence or abuse.
Consider this counsel:
Ellen G. White writes in Signs of the Times:
“In many families there is a great lack in expressing affection one for another. While there is no need of sentimentalism, there is need of expressing love and tenderness* in a chaste, pure, dignified way. Many absolutely cultivate hardness of heart and in word and action reveal the satanic side of the character. Tender affection should ever be cherished between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters. Every hasty word should be checked, and there should not be even the appearance of the lack of love one for another. It is the duty of everyone in the family to be pleasant, to speak kindly.”12
Ellen G. White writes in Adventist Home:
“Neither husband nor wife is to make a plea for rulership. The Lord has laid down the principle that is to guide in this matter. The husband is to cherish his wife as Christ cherishes the church. And the wife is to respect and love her husband. Both are to cultivate the spirit of kindness, being determined never to grieve or injure the other. . . . Do not try to compel each other to do as you wish. You cannot do this and retain each other’s love. Manifestations of self-will destroy the peace and happiness of the home. Let not your married life be one of contention. If you do, you will both be unhappy. Be kind in speech and gentle in action, giving up your own wishes. Watch well your words, for they have a powerful influence for good or for ill. Allow no sharpness to come in.13
That is our duty. To have a home that is a little Heaven and where God and the angels can abide in. But here is the good news! Even when the relationship has not been healthy, abusive patterns exists there is always hope!
Seeking Christ as the Helper
Ellen G. White writes in Ministry of Healing:
“Men and women can reach God’s ideal for them if they will take Christ as their helper. What human wisdom cannot do, His grace will accomplish for those who give themselves to Him in loving trust. His providence can unite hearts in bonds that are of heavenly origin. Love will not be a mere exchange of soft and flattering words. The loom of heaven weaves with warp and woof finer, yet more firm, than can be woven by the looms of earth. The result is not a tissue fabric, but a texture that will bear wear and test and trial. Heart will be bound to heart in the golden bonds of a love that is enduring.14
Hope for you too!
If you recognize that you are in a dysfunctional abusive relationship, remember to see yourself in the context of Biblical truth. You may not be able to talk to anyone about this yet. That is understandable. Don’t believe what your abuser says about you; focus instead on what God says about you: “I have called you by your name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1, NKJV).
May each of us, men and women, young and old, seek wisdom from God in our family relationships. May we humbly allow God to teach us how to relate to each other in the way that is pleasing to Him and in ways that reflect His character. More importantly, may the words of our mouths and the actions our heart honor Him as we share His love with one another. For that is how the world will know we are true disciples of Jesus Christ.
* Items in boldfaced type have been added for emphasis and do not appear in the books from which these quotations have been drawn.
About the Author
Katia Reinert, PhD, MSN, RN, CRNP, FNP-BC, PHCNS-BC, is an Associate Director of the Department of Health Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.
1 World Health Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and United Nations Development Program. (2014). Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014. Geneva: World Health Organization.
2 World Health Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and United Nations Development Program. (2014). Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014. Geneva: World Health Organization.
3 Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. (n.d.). Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. Retrieved from www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
4 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Summary Report. Retrieved from https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/ ending-domestic-violence/10-ways-you-can-help-prevent-domestic-violence-where-you-live
5 Reinert, K.G. et al. (2015). Gender and Race Variations of the Intersection of Religious Involvement, Early Trauma and Adult Health. Journal of Nursing Scholarship 47(4), 318- 327. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/26077834.
6 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Summary Report. Retrieved from https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/ ending-domestic-violence/10-ways-you-can-help-prevent-domestic-violence-where-you-live.
7 HelpGuide. (n.d.). Domestic Violence and Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/ articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
8 The Danger Assessment. (n. d.). Retrieved from https://www.dangerassessment.org/
9 HelpGuide. (n.d.). Domestic Violence and Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/ articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
10 End It Now. (n.d.). Retrieved from www. enditnow.org https://www.enditnownorthamerica. org/
11 HelpGuide. (n.d.). Domestic Violence and Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/ articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
12 White, E.G. The Signs of the Times. 198(2). Retrieved from https://m.egwwritings.org/en/ book/128.877#896
13 White, E.G. (2003). The Adventist Home. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
14 White, E.G. (1905). The Ministry of Healing. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.