Self-Mutilation as Abuse of Self

What is self-injury?  It is the deliberate mutilation of your own body, with the intent to cause injury or damage, but without the intent to kill yourself.  It includes:

1.       Sudden and recurrent intrusive impulses to hurt oneself, without the perceived ability to resist.

2.       A sense of being “trapped” in an intolerable situation that one can neither control nor cope with

3.       An increasing sense of agitation, anxiety, and anger

4.       When in this state, a constricted ability to problem-solve or to think of reasonable alternatives for action

5.       A sense of psychic relief after the act of self-harm

6.       A depressive or agitated-depressive mood, although suicidal ideation is not typically present (Pattison &Kahan, 1983)

Broad estimates are that about one percent of the total U.S. population, or between 2 and 3 million people, exhibit some type of self-abusive behavior. But that number includes those with eating disorders like anorexia, as well as those who self injure.  In the U.S., it’s estimated that one in every 200 girls between 13 and 19 years old, or one-half of one percent, cut themselves regularly. Those who cut comprise about 70 percent of teen girls who self injure.  Treatment visits for teens who self injure have doubled over the past three years. And those numbers are expected to grow as life becomes more complex for teenagers. Directors at self-injury treatment programs refer to this growth trend as an epidemic that reaches even into middle schools.

The profile of a typical self-injurer looks like this. She’s female in her mid-20’s to early 30s, and has been cutting herself since her teens. She’s intelligent , middle or upper-middle class, and well educated. She also comes from a home where she was physically and/or sexually abused and has at least one alcoholic parent.

The most frequent methods of self-injury include:

·         Cutting the skin with a knife or razor blade

·         Burning (e.g. with a cigarette or heated metal)

·         Scratching the skin with fingernails hard enough to draw blood

·         Biting yourself, including extreme episodes of nail biting

·         Interfering with the healing of wounds (e.g. compulsively picking at scabs)

·         Scalding hot showers

·         Head banging

·         Ingesting sharp or toxic objects (e.g. razor blades, pines, cleaning fluids)

Self-injurious behavior should be viewed as well as treated as an addiction.  Actually, it may be the root to understanding all other addictions.  According to Webster’s dictionary, “addict” is to “devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.”  “Addiction” is “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance.”    Addictions can be categorized as the following:

1.       Alcohol and drug addictions

2.       Behavioral addictions, which involve compulsive and obsessive thought processes. (includes self-injury, anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, over exercising ,etc.)

Someone who self-injures typically engages in a behavior that is habit forming and that takes on an obsessive quality, with repetitive behavior of increasing frequency and intensity.  Many who self-injure also struggle with alcohol, drugs, and/or eating disorders.  Self-injury is usually not learned by direct observation, but rather by picking up on subconscious cues in the environment.  For example, a young girl who is being physically or sexually abused may subconsciously learn that when someone inflicts pain on her body, she can escape for a while.  Therefore, whenever she wants to escape again, she inflicts pain on herself.  The issues or feelings which are usually especially hard for people who self-injure to tolerate without escaping are:

·         Dependency

·         Anger

·         Sexual arousal

·         Mixed messages from other people, which cause frustration and confusion

Favazza (1998 )  writes that “SM (self-mutilation) can best be understood as a morbid self-help effort providing temporary relief from feelings of depersonalization, guilt, rejection, and boredom as well as hallucinations, sexual preoccupations, and chaotic thoughts.”  He also states that self-mutilating behaviors provide temporary relief from the distressing symptoms of mounting anxiety, racing thoughts and rapidly fluctuating emotions.  Among the effects of self-mutilating behavior are tension release; termination of depersonalization; euphoria; decreased troublesome or enhanced positive sexual feelings; release of anger; satisfaction form self-punishment; a sense of security, control, and uniqueness; manipulation of others; and relief from feelings of depression, loneliness, loss, and alienation.

Briere and Gil (1998 ) suggest that any effective treatment interventions would include the following:

1.       Most immediately, exploration of alternate methods of reducing distress that are less injurious or shame-inducing (e.g. physical exercise, distraction, changing environments, or contacting friends or hotlines)

2.       Teaching cognitive and behavioral strategies for dealing with stressful situations and painful emotional states

3.       Strengthening internal emotional regulation capacities and strategies (ability to control internal emotional ups and downs), so that external methods life self-mutilation become less necessary

4.       Ultimately, reducing the distress and dissociative symptoms that may underlie and motivate self-mutilation

If you have a problem with this, let me encourage you to get help from a professional.  Someone who is warm, supportive, and knowledgeable about this would be best. 

This is just a little information on this topic.  If there is more interest, I’ll be glad to pursue this topic in further detail.

Briere, J. and Gill, E. 1998. Self-mutilation in clinical and general population samples: Prevalence, correlates, and functions.  American Journal of Orthpsychiatry 68 (4): 609-20

Favazza, A. 1998.  The coming of age of self-mutilation.  The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 186, no 5 (May): 259-68

Pattison, E. and Kahan, J. 1983.  The deliberate self-harm syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry 140, no. 7 (July) 867-72.


Responding to Abusers

Dialoguing with an abuser takes care and knowledge.  It’s a difficult, narrow path and is not always effective.  But for those of you who must deal with an abuser, there are some things you can do to make things better for you.  Most of this information is for dealing with emotional and or verbal abusers.  Please remember that the best way to deal with a physical or sexual abuser is to get away from this person and, when appropriate, notify the authorities.

The first thing to remember is that sometimes it’s better to choose to do nothing at first.  What I mean by that is that you don’t have to make a decision about how to respond to the abuser the moment a demand is made.  I know this sounds easy, but if you’ve ever faced an abuser you will know how difficult this can be.  Use time buying statements as soon as a demand is made and continue to repeat them if the abuser pressures you to make an immediate decision.  Some good responses are: “I don’t know right now.  I need some time to think it through.”  “I’m not willing to make a decision now.”  “I’m not sure how I feel about what you’re asking.  I need some time to think about it before we discuss it.”  One of the things abusers use is to make others feel pressure in that there’s no time to lose.  It’s easy to get caught up in the drama, but usually the urgency is only in the mind of the abuser. 

This may confuse the abuser, especially if you’ve never tried this before.  Statements such as:  “This is not a power struggle,”  “This is not about my trying to control you,”  “This is about my needing more time to think about this”  can help clarify your motives.  This will give you a chance to figure out your own thoughts, priorities, and feelings.  If, after using these statements you are still feeling pressured and anxious, simply excuse yourself and go to another room.  You can claim you need a drink of water or to use the restroom, but buy the time you need.  Abuse can make you feel intense, pressured, and frantic.  This taking a step back helps calm this.

Now that you have bought the time, begin to consider the real situation.  What did the other person want?  Was the demand made respectfully, impatiently, lovingly, etc.?  What did the abuser do when you made the request for time?  What are your thoughts?   Some common lies we tell ourselves when dealing with abusers are:  it’s ok to give more than I get; if I love someone, I’m responsible for their happiness; if I do what I want, the other person will see me as selfish.  Figure out what you are thinking and ask yourself, “Is this the truth?”
Once you’ve bought the time and considered the truth of the situation, you will be more ready to consider entering into a dialogue.  The first thing to remember is that it’s important to use non-defensive communication.  One of the ways abusers manipulate others is to put them on the defensive.  It’s tempting to argue against their descriptions of us; try to read their minds; attempt to buy their approval in the hopes that they’ll no longer be upset; and explain, contradict, apologize, and try to get them to see things from our point of view. 

Some core phrases for non-defensive communication are as follows:
• I’m sorry you’re upset.
• I can understand how you might see it that way.
• That’s interesting.
• Really?
• Yelling/threatening\crying etc. is not going to work anymore and it doesn’t resolve anything.
• Let’s talk when you’re feeling calmer.

To respond non-defensively to specific types of abuse is somewhat more difficult but possible.

To respond to threats and catastrophic predictions:
• That’s your choice.
• I hope you won’t do that, but I’ve made my decision.
• I know you’re very angry right now.  When you’ve had a chance to think things through, maybe you’ll change your mind.
• Why don’t we talk about this again when you’re less upset.
• I’m sorry you’re upset.

To respond to name calling, labeling, and negative judgments:
• You’re entitled to your opinion.
• I’m sure that’s how it looks to you.
• That could be.
• You may be right.
• I need to think about this some more.
• I’m sorry you’re upset.

To respond to the demands for explanations when asked for a rationale for your decision.  (It’s important not to fall into this trap.  Stay focused on your purpose – presenting the decision)
• There are no bad guys here.  We just want different things.
• I’m not willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility.
• I know how upset/angry you are, but it’s not negotiable.
• We see things differently.
• I’m sure you see it that way.
• I’m sorry you’re upset.

To respond to sulking and pouting:
• Remember that you are dealing with someone who feels inadequate and powerless and are afraid of your ability to hurt them.
• Confront them when they’re more able to hear what you have to say.
• Reassure them that they can tell you what’ they’re angry about and you’ll listen without retaliation.
• Use tact and diplomacy.
• Don’t be afraid to tell them that their behavior is upsetting to you.
• Stay focused on the issue.
• Expect to be attacked when you express a grievance, because they experience your assertive behavior as an attack.
• Accept the fact that you will have to make the first move.
• Let some things slide.

Another good technique is to attempt to enlist the abuser as an ally.  Sometimes if you approach the abuser with curiosity and a willingness to learn, the tone of the conversation can change quickly.  Some good questions which help direct the conversation in this way are:
• Can you help me understand why this is so important to you?
• Can you suggest some solutions?
• Can you help me understand why you’re so upset/angry?
When attempting this technique, it’s important to really listen to the answers and look for the solutions which might be offered in this way, 

Another technique is the use of humor.  Using humor carefully can make your point and place everyone involved in a more relaxed state.  Humor can be healing.  This needs to be carefully weighed out though before use as it can also make the situation worse for someone who’s mentally unstable, paranoid, or hostile.

Remember that these are skills that take time and practice to learn.  It also requires you to develop a good dose of courage.  Make a commitment to no longer allow fear, obligation, or guilt to affect your decisions.  Hang in there and learn to respect yourself.  Until you respect yourself, it’s difficult to expect others to do so.


Psalm 18:2-6; 25-30  The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold; I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.  The pangs of death surround me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid.  The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me.  In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice in His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears.  With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.  For You will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks.  For You will light my lamp; The Lord God will enlighten my darkness.  For by You I can run against a troop, By my God I can leap over a wall.  As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is shield to all who trust in Him. 

Most experts divide trauma into two major categories.  The first is invasion trauma.  Something that shouldn’t happen happens to a person that causes trauma.  The second is abandonment trauma.  This is when something that should happen doesn’t happen (such as not feeling loved, protected, etc.) that creates damage.  The second kind can be harder to recognize because sometimes the person doesn’t know what he or she is missing.  These two kinds of trauma affect people emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually.

Emotional invasion happens when people feel criticized, ashamed, or blamed, either verbally or nonverbally.  A good example can be sighing which expresses anger or displeasure.  It also happens when people talk others out of their feelings.  Patricia Evans gives an example in her book Controlling People of a little boy who falls down and hurts his leg.  His parents tell him he’s not really hurting.  “Big girls don’t cry” and “Christians don’t feel that way” are also good examples.  This type of trauma can also occur when an adult or parent reverses roles and expects a child to be the caregiver.

In my other posts, I’ve discussed physical and emotional abuse.  Sexual abuse occurs when a person is penetrated or touched in sexual areas outside a mutual relationship.  Sexual trauma can also happen verbally, e.g. when someone is teased or criticized about their bodies.  Spiritual abuse occurs when people are led to believe they are not worthy of God’s grace and love.  Often rigid, fear-based religious teaching can have this effect.  It doesn’t matter what the intent happens to be – the effect can happen because this type of religion leads to shame that is difficult to handle.

Emotional abandonment occurs when love, attention, and affirmation are not given.  The results – profound loneliness.   Physical abandonment can occur when physical needs such as food, shelter and clothing aren’t met.  People can experience physical abandonment when they’re not touched enough – with hugs or cuddles. 

What to do if you’ve realized you are a trauma survivor:

1.       Become educated about the nature of trauma.  Confront all denial.

2.       Find comforting, accepting, and nonjudgmental listeners who believe you

3.       Learn to express your anger about the trauma

4.       Learn the need and the process of grieving

5.       Realize you didn’t cause this nor did you deserve it

6.       Develop good, clear, healthy boundaries

7.       Learn to see the positive strengths that can result from healing

8.       Learn to eventually forgive – this is the ultimate spiritual victory

Being a Christian does not exempt us from the suffering of this world.  But it’s always good to remember that:

·         Suffering is not always chastisement from God.  God does allow people to face the consequences of bad or wicked choices, but it doesn’t mean everyone in the world who is suffering is being chastised.  Sometimes God allows suffering in order to strengthen resolve, to shake us out of our complacency, or to help us empathize with others.

·         God doesn’t leave our side when we suffer (Ps. 23:4-6)

·         God will reward us for the suffering we endure for His sake (Matt. 5:10)

When we trust in God, we can change our perspective on life’s traumas from “why me” to “how can I grow from this?”

(Edited to correct a typo)

Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of domestic violence shows how domestic violence often becomes a pattern made up of three stages.  These stages are more pronounced in a physically abusive relationship but are also present in other abuse situations, especially if the abuser suspects the abused is considering leaving.

Tension-building – characterized by criticism, yelling, swearing, using angry gestures, coercion, threats; Tension starts and steadily builds

·         Abuser starts to get angry

·         Communication breaks down

·         Victim feels the need to concede to the abuser

·         Tension becomes too much

·         Victim feels uneasy and a need to watch every move

Violence or acting out – physical and sexual attacks and threats

·         Any type of abuse occurs

·         Physical

·         Sexual

·         Emotional

Seduction (also known as honeymoon) – apologies, blaming, promises to change, gifts

·         Abuser apologizes for abuse, some beg forgiveness or show sorrows

·         Abuser may promise it will never happen again

·         Blames victim for provoking the abuse or denies abuse occurred

·         Minimizing, denying or claiming the abuse wasn’t as bad as victim claims

Calm before tension-building starts again

·         Abuses slow or stop

·         Abuser acts like the abuse never happened

·         Promises made during honeymoon stage may be met

·         Abuser may give gifts to victim

·         Victim believes or wants to believe the abuse is over or the abuser will change

(Often the cycle of violence is portrayed as 3 steps: tension-building, acting out and honeymoon phases, where the Honeymoon and Calm phase are seen as one.)

The cycle also demonstrates how three dynamics – love, hope, and fear – keep the cycle in motion and make it hard to end an abusive relationship.

Love – for your partner (the relationship has its good points, it’s not all bad)

Hope – that it will change (the relationship didn’t begin this way)

Fear – that the threats to kill you or your family will become a reality.

From Domestic Violence: The Facts, Battered Women Fighting Back!, Inc., Boston, MA

An Appropriate Church Response to the Cycle of Abuse
The Bible clearly indicates that a distinguishing mark of Christ’s followers is the quality of their human relationships. Christian relationships are characterized by love and mutuality rather than tyrannical control or the misuse of power and authority. The New Testament metaphor of the church as the “household of faith,” suggests that the church should function as extended family, offering acceptance, understanding, comfort and practical help to everyone, especially those who are hurting or disadvantaged.

The Church can do much to stop the downward spiral of abuse and violence in families, to assist the abused and their abusers in finding help, and to prevent the continuance of violence in families of future generations. The gospel calls the community of faith to:

  • Affirm the dignity and worth of each human being and decry all forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and family violence.
  • Recognize the global extent of this problem and the serious, long term effects upon the lives of all involved.
  • Hold abusers accountable for their actions and highlight the injustices of abuse and speak out in defense of victims.
  • Break the silence and create an atmosphere where secrets can be told and help found.
  • Guard against ostracism within the family or church community.
  • Seek expert assistance and cooperate with other professional services to listen and care for those suffering from abuse and family violence, loving and affirming them as persons of value and worth.
  • Provide a ministry of reconciliation where changed attitudes and behavior open possibilities for forgiveness and new beginnings.
  • Assist families in grieving relationships that cannot be restored.
  • Address the spiritual questions confronting abused persons.
  • Seek to understand the origins of abuse and family violence and develop better ways of preventing the recurring cycle.
  • Strengthen families through education and enrichment opportunities which empower them to relate to one another in more healthy ways.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious issue in society, but perhaps more so for mental health workers. Williamson (2000) reports that two-thirds of couples seeking couple therapy did not report domestic violence until asked, and that 40% to 75% of the children of abusers, in addition to witnessing parental abuse, suffer child abuse themselves.


Not all domestic violence is the same. Differences in frequency, severity, purpose, and outcome are all significant. Johnson and Ferraro (2000) argue there are five types of domestically violent relationships:



  • Common Couple Violence – within the context of a single issue, there is one or at most two incidents of violence, and it is not used as part of a pattern of behavior to control the partner. This is similar to what Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) proposed as a “family-only” batterer, or someone who is not violent outside the home, and is the least likely to be sexually and emotionally abusive. Johnson and Ferraro report this kind of batterer is about evenly split between males and females, with 56% being male and 44% being female.
  • Intimate Terrorism – as one tactic in a general pattern of control and manipulation, violence may be used. Worth noting here is that the violence still may have occurred only once or twice, and may be relatively “low severity.” Nonetheless, it still involves emotional abuse and men who show this pattern of abuse are more likely to kill their partners. This is similar to what Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) proposed as a “generally-violent-antisocial” batterer, and what Jacobson and Gottman (1998 ) called the “cobra” type of batterer. This kind is more likely to use violence as a way to control; while they may appear extremely distressed during violent episodes, their physiology reveals no arousal. The appearance of almost uncontrollable rage is an act, one tool of many to intimidate and control others. Such batterers are more likely to engage in carefully planned and more violent revenge if the relationship ends, and are thus much more dangerous to their victims.
  • Violent Resistance – where one partner becomes controlling or frightening, the other partner may respond with violence in self-defense. Johnson and Ferraro do not call this pattern of violence self-defense, however, noting that, in general, courts view this term to mean whatever is defined by State law. This kind of violence occurs in response to a perceived threat, may be a one-time event, and is not part of a pattern of control and manipulation.
  • Mutual Violent Control – this kind of violence may be what is thought of as mutual combat. It can be two parties using violence to control each other in a specific setting, or be more like two people attempting a kind of intimate terrorism with each other. Johnson and Ferraro note that even in these cases, however, some gender differences remain. They explain that in 31% of these couples, the male initiated more violence, as opposed to 8% in which the female initiated more violence. They also note numerous studies showing even where violence was initiated “50-50” by males and females, women are more likely to suffer more serious harm.
  • Dysphoric-Borderline Violence – this kind of batterer was proposed by Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994), and entails a needy, dependent, and emotionally overwhelmed person who resorts to violence in frustration. Jacobson and Gottman (1998 ) called this the “pitbull” type of batterer, and were able to show extreme emotional and physical arousal and distress, as compared to the “cobra” type. Renzetti (1992) also classified 68% of the abuse in her samples as due to dependency needs, and so would seem to have supported this kind of violence as well. This kind of abuser is more likely to show obvious emotional adjustment problems and distress, such as depression, fears of abandonment, and great emotional dependence on the victim.

Physical abuse is the use of physical force against another person in a way that ends up injuring the person, or puts the person at risk of being injured. Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint to murder. When someone talks of domestic violence, they are often referring to physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner.

Physical assault or physical battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside a family or outside the family. The police are empowered to protect you from physical attack.

Physical abuse includes:                                                                                                        

  • pushing, throwing, kicking
  • slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating, tripping, battering, bruising, choking, shaking
  • pinching, biting
  • holding, restraining, confinement
  • breaking bones
  • assault with a weapon such as a knife or gun
  • burning
  • murder

We are told in the Scriptures that abusive behavior hinders the prayers of the violent (Isaiah 58:4; 1 Peter 3:7). Not only are their prayers rendered ineffective, but according to the Bible they should not be in leadership at all. Both 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7 specify that an elder and a bishop should not be abusive. The translations have not always been clear at this point. The King James Version declared that the individual should not be a “striker” while more modern translations often use the word “violent.” The original Greek quite literally means “one who hits.” What a very curative effect it would have if we excuse from church leadership anyone found to be guilty of violence or abuse! Another specification for leadership is having a family with good relationships (1 Timothy 3:3-4,12). Verbal or sexual abuse in the home does not qualify anyone to take responsibilities in the family of God.

An informative link about the church’s response to abuse can be found at


Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is the use of language to manipulate, control, humiliate, insult, ridicule, put down, and show disrespect to another person.   Patricia Evans says:

Domestic violence is about the control of one human being by another. This control begins with verbal abuse and is similar to mind control. Verbal abuse attacks one’s spirit and sense of self. Verbal abuse attempts to create self doubt. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” “You don’t have a sense of humor,” “You can’t take a joke,” “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re crazy.”

Verbal abuse so controls ones mind that some women who have left a verbally and sometimes physically abusive relationship twenty or more years ago still find themselves wondering, “Maybe there’s something I could have done…,” or, “Maybe if I’d tried to explain just one more time my relationship would have gotten better.” Very often the people who find themselves the target of controlling behaviors can’t comprehend that anyone would want to control them so they try to be nice. This doesn’t work. You can’t stop a rapist by being extra nice.

There are different types of verbal abuse, though an abuser is likely to use a combination of many or most of these.

Accusing/blaming – accusing or blaming another for outbursts, expressions of anger, bad moods, mistakes and failures.

Covert/subtle – this is when the abuser sounds sincere and loving but is still manipulating, controlling, blaming, etc.

Denial – the inability to admit and take responsibility for one’s own actions and words when confronted with their own behavior and words.

Discounting – denigration or denial of the experience, skills, maturity,  and abilities of another; often marked by distortion or lies

Judgmental criticism Criticism that goes beyond neutral and/or constructive verbal correction of erroneous actions; comprised in part of ridicule, name calling, denigration, and/or humiliation.

Humiliation – Public or private intentional shaming and embarrassment of any kind.

Manipulation – Appealing to and/or using another’s sense of responsibility or obligation to achieve a personal goal.

Name calling/epithets – All name calling, and epithets directed at another are abusive.

Ridicule – Making fun of and otherwise “putting down” another person or group based on their appearance, gender, competency, beliefs, ethnicity, culture, or religion.

Teasing/joking – Humor at the expense of another, comprised of humiliation, exaggeration and/or fabrication.

Threats — threatening to hurt or kill another or another’s loved ones, pets, etc.  May also be threats to get custody of children, take all financial resources, tell lies to others, damage another’s reputation, etc.,   may include threats to commit suicide, file false charges, or false reports to child services.

Opinions as threats – an abuser sees another’s different opinions as attacks and feels threatened and goes on the offense.  A typical abuser’s attitude for this is “the best defense is a good offense.”

Redefining reality – This form of control is very oppressive.   When an abuser tells another what reality is, the abuser is playing God and is discounting the other’s experience by defining “THE TRUTH”-which in fact is a LIE.

How do you know if you are in a verbally abusive relationship?  Ask yourself the following questions:

Does your partner:

Put you down?

Criticize you?

Put down your dreams and goals?

Tell you how to dress?

Make you feel crazy – play “mind games”?

Always misunderstands what you’re saying?  Is extremely literal or exact in the meanings place don your words?

Do you:

Ever wonder what’s wrong with you?  Ever tell your partner to stop?  Make excuses for your partner?

When you and your partner get into a fight, are you the one who always ends up crying and saying you’re sorry?

Verbal abuse is counter to the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus always exhibited respect for everyone He met.  He taught such things as the golden rule.   He taught that anyone who calls another by an insulting, belittling name is in danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:22).  Proverbs tells us many things about verbal abuse:

The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse (10:32)

There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health (12:18 )

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (15:4)

A healthy relationship will demonstrate good boundaries and respect for one another.  Good communication will include the following:

1.       Being of one mind.  People will not always agree on everything, nor should they be expected to do so.  However, it’s important to work towards growing in Christ and developing the bond of unity in Him.  Mutual submission helps respect one another, especially in important decision making.

2.       Having compassion.  Knowing that the other person truly cares enables people to share their deepest thoughts and feelings with one another.

3.       Demonstrating love.  While it seems obvious, love can sometimes be the most difficult thing to maintain.  1 Corinthians 13 should be our guide in this.

4.       Being tenderhearted and courteous.  This means having an attitude that puts the other person’s needs ahead of our own.

5.       Blessing the other person.  This means always wanting the best for him or her.


Some references:;;;

Emotional Abuse Defined

What defines abuse?  How do we know when behavior has moved from the merely selfish to out of bounds?  Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation etc.   It can be legally defined by the following: The infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish and/or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of goods or services, which are necessary to maintain physical or mental health.

There are different types of abuse.  In this post, I’m going to discuss psychological abuse.  The other types will follow in subsequent posts.

Psychological Abuse (also known as mental abuse or emotional abuse) occurs when one person controls information available to another person so as to manipulate that person’s sense of reality; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Within churches, this becomes an even greater power n that certain teachings can take on the power of coming from God Himself and so truly distort reality.  Psychological abuse often contains strong emotionally manipulative content designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser’s wishes.   Like verbal abuse, psychological abuse is often not recognized as abuse early on and can result in serious psychological after effects later on.

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Teaching women that they are of lesser value than men, are not capable of any real contributions in this life, that they are responsible to their husbands and that their husbands are only responsible to God, that they are not to make any decisions at all or, even more subtle, you can pretend to share in the decision process but your husband has the final say which means women are not really able to make the decisions, all lead to a wearing away of the core of identity for women.  Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones.   

The following is an excerpt from a site which lists particular ways in which emotional abuse is seen:

Abusive Expectations

  • The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.
  • It could be a demand for constant attention, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
  • But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
  • You are subjected to constant criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don’t fulfill all this person’s needs.


  • Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.
  • Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised and “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships.

Constant Chaos

  • The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others.
  • The person may be “addicted to drama” since it creates excitement.


  • Denying a person’s emotional needs, especially when they feel that need the most, and done with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating
  • The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. You know differently.
  • The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.
  • Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”
  • When the abuser disallows and overrules any viewpoints, perceptions or feelings which differ from their own.
  • Denying can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
  • Denying and other forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your own mind.


  • Someone wants to control your every action. They have to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it.
  • When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional Blackmail

  • The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
  • This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.


  • The abuser seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient tells the person they felt hurt by something the abuser did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.”


  • Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be trusted.
  • Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.

Unpredictable Responses

  • Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable responses.
  • This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know what’s expected of you. You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the other person’s next outburst or change of mood.
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

Verbal Assaults

·         Berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening

·         Excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation.

·         Blowing your flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.

Now, the question is, how do you think this relates to the Bible and God’s plan for us?  How does this relate to men and women within the Body of Christ?  What are your thoughts?