What should a pastor know about the dynamics of abuse?

There are many things I’d like to share with pastors regarding the dynamics and impact of abuse. The most pressing and possibly most vital area of understanding is the centrality of power and control in abusive behavior. While abuse takes many forms, the motivation and means rarely change. Abuse is one person exercising power and control over his/her spouse. As I work with abusive men, the primary goal is to uncover their motivation. To do this we ask many “what” questions of their abusive behavior such as…

  • What did you want to see happen?
  • What did you want your partner to do?
  • What did you want your partner to stop doing?
  • What did you hope to gain from this behavior?

I avoid using why questions because they rarely get to the heart and allow the individual more room to shift blame.

Q: Why did you do that?

A: Because she…

Uncovering patterns of motivation will reveal the heart of abuse. We can expect “getting my way” often to be the motivation; to gain or maintain control.

In addition to gaining or maintaining control we should expect the use of power. They will be leveraging some aspect of force to get what they want. For some this power will be physical force. For others it may include intimidation, threats, demeaning words, economic security, or any other means used to control and get their way. I just recently spoke with a man who used the fact that the house was in his name to subtly suggest\threaten that he would kick her out if he didn’t get what he wanted. We often refer to abusive behavior as tactics because they are rarely tied to a specific activity. These tactics are tied to the abusers’ desired result, not to being provoked by stress, but to getting their way. For instance, if an abusive husband is confronted regarding his physical violence, he may conform to applied pressure and end his use of violence. This does not mean his heart has changed. In fact he may simply resort to new, less violent, but still abusive, behaviors to achieve the same results and get his way at the expense of his wife’s sense of security and well-being. The dynamics of power and control are central to abusive behavior. It is not simply a matter of incessant “button pushing” frustration, substances, or uncontrolled anger. It is important that we as pastors recognize and expose these dynamics when coming alongside those we are called to minister to.

Final Thought / Prayer Request

Several of you have been asking me when I’ll be releasing resources, or writing a book. Creating resources and publishing material is a very challenging and time consuming process. With that said some opportunities may be presenting themselves. Would you please pray regarding a couple projects I’m working on. First, I have a book proposal that is being considered. The work is based on a project I did called the heart of violence and the mind of Christ. Secondly, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with and learning from Leslie Vernick this past year and we are attempting to collaborate on project together that I believe may be very helpful for strugglers as well as the churches they attend. Thanks for the love, prayer, and support.

What do you think?

Would knowing the dynamics of abuse impact how you address those who come to you for help? Have you approached a pastor or ministry leaders for help only to find they misunderstood/misdiagnosed the problem.

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4 Responses to What should a pastor know about the dynamics of abuse?

  1. AJ says:

    I have found your blog to be so insightful and enlightening. Would love to read a bookie watch a video series!!
    Prayers for blessings and discernment!


  2. jane says:

    I approached my pastor for suggestions on a counselor after he told us he didn’t do marriage counseling. I told him that my spouse was being verbally and emotionally abusive to me and had been for years. The pastor gave a couple of counselor’s names to me and never contacted me again to see how things were going, even after I contacted him again to ask him to contact me. It’s like he wants to deny that there is a problem. Which to me comes across as he doesn’t believe me. It hurts to be ignored in such a way especially after being an active church member before I separated from my husband.

    • Ellie says:

      Jane, you were spared! Marriage counseling is not appropriate for abuse situations. You don’t have a marriage problem. Your abuser has a sin/entitlement problem. Marriage counseling ends up harming victims for many reasons. Getting to a healthy church where the staff knows how to protect targets of abuse has been very healing for me. I hope you can find that kind of comfort in a different fellowship.

  3. Ellie says:

    “The dynamics of power and control are central to abusive behavior. It is not simply a matter of incessant “button pushing” frustration, substances, or uncontrolled anger. It is important that we as pastors recognize and expose these dynamics when coming alongside those we are called to minister to.”

    I want to address the common misconception that abuse is a matter of “‘button pushing’ frustration, substances, or uncontrolled anger.” I believed that for a very long time. The people I asked for help (X’s parents) would sit and talk to us to try to figure out what I had done to provoke X and how I could avoid doing that in the future. This put all the responsibility for the abuse on me. So many believe that the targets provoke the abuser.

    But consider this. For two years my X worked for a man who screamed at him, insulted him, blamed X for his own mistakes, and assailed X with profanity on a daily basis. X was humiliated and disrespected by that man every day. According to X and to many Christian marriage resources, humiliation and disrespect are the things that provoke a man to abuse. Yet X was never EVER anything but respectful to his abuser. If disrespect and humiliation caused abuse, that boss would’ve been pummeled on day 3 of X’s employment there. But X never mistreated that boss, not once. He was able to control himself while being treated with the utmost contempt, what anyone anywhere would call “button pushing.”

    I never swore at X. I never called him names or insulted him. I did all I could to make his life more comfortable. But he wanted to control me. He felt entitled to things I could not control and when I failed him (in his opinion) he abused. Pastors, Chris is onto something that I wish I had learned decades ago. Abusers abuse to gain or maintain power, not because their targets have failed or disrespected them. Learning this will save lives.

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