You Can Probably Guess What the Founder of “Biblical Counseling” Said About Domestic Violence

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Jay E. Adams is the founder of the “nouthetic counseling” movement, or what has become known as “biblical counseling” (though it is unworthy of being called either “biblical” or “counseling” in my opinion). Popularized by Adams’ seminal book Competent to Counsel, nouthetic counseling is based on the assumption that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible. This movement rejects mainstream psychology and therapeutic methods as secular and atheistic and thus ungodly.

The movement also assumes that pastors and other spiritual leaders — untrained in the actual practice and science of mental health — can adequately address mental illness because mental illness in this perspective is basically another word for sin. Adams’ method is currently championed by eminent evangelical Christians such as John MacArthur, who claims “behavioral sciences…are not scientific,” psychology is an “occult religion,” and Jesus and the Bible should be “the church’s only solution” to mental illness. This is the same method and mentality that respected (and formerly respected) leaders in the Christian Homeschool Movement — most notably Voddie Baucham, Reb Bradley, Doug Phillips, and Bill Gothard — have promoted for years. They have taught thousands of families at homeschool and other religious conventions around the country — and through their books and other educational materials — that mental “illness” is fake. It’s all just “sin” and “rebellion” and can be resolved through a “right” relationship with God.

An example of Adams chalking up mental illness to sin comes from his book Helps for Counselors: A Mini-Manual for Christian Counseling, published by Baker Book House in 1980. On page 29, under his section explaining how a counselor should deal with a client’s depression, Adams says, “The counsel must recognize his responsibility for depression” (emphasis added). A client has spiritual guilt for his or her own depression because, in Adams’ worldview, “Depression results from handling a down period sinfully.” Thus “counselees may spiral up out of depression by asking God’s forgiveness” and “can stay out depression by following God’s commands” and “repenting of any sin immediately.”

If you think Adams handles depression poorly, just wait until you see how he handles domestic violence.

The following passage is also from Adams’ Helps for Counselors, pages 19-20. In these pages Adams is addressing the importance of “Listening.” He writes,

III. Listen for all of the facts (Prov. 18:17).

A. There are two or more sides to many issues:

1. This implies that all parties should be present if possible,

2. That each should hear what the other says in order to explain, modify, amplify, etc. (note “examine”),

3. And it is clear that one must not be allowed to speak negatively about another behind his back (see also James 4:11).

B. The first to speak can sound quite convincing if heard alone,

1. But the additional information that the other provides can turn the conclusion about face.

2. As, for instance, when one counselee said,

“He hit me! He slapped me in the face!”

And her husband replied:

“Sure, to bring her to her senses.”

“To bring her to her senses.” Apparently that makes it okay!

Other posts on HA about domestic violence:

Note: if you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or visit their website here. There is help available and you are worth it.

How Christian Homeschool Leaders Have Addressed Domestic Violence Isn’t Ok

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jeffrey.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

While many homeschool leaders have dismal records in how they discuss and respond to child abuse, their lack of understanding abuse dynamics also extends to other forms of abuse. The following are examples of how homeschool leaders have failed tragically to understand the realities of domestic violence, or spousal abuse.

Michael Farris

The following excerpt is from HSLDA founder Michael Farris’s 1996 book How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life. Farris has his patriarchal beliefs on full display in this book, including such passages as: “I am very supportive of the concept of the authority of fathers in their home…It’s important to be right…It is appropriate to simply say to your daughter, ‘Because I’m the dad, that’s why‘” (page 21); “a woman should be submissive to her husband” (page 96); and “husbands are ultimately responsible for family decisions” (page 101). He defends “a very traditional view about the role of women in churches” (page 27) and later explains that he means “a doctrinal position of male-only elders” (page 55).

But what stood out the most to me was the following 3 paragraphs with which Farris begins Chapter 5, “Guiding Your Daughter Toward Positive Friendships.” The tone-deafness, minimization, and victim-blaming Farris engages in regarding this very clear situation of domestic abuse — and the fact that he provided legal defense for a domestic abuser — goes to show that child abuse is not the only type of abuse Farris does not seem to take seriously. (For those unaware, a quarter-size bruise is a serious indicator of abuse, both for child abuse as well as domestic violence cases.) From page 77:

When I was a very young lawyer in Spokane, Washington, I was assigned to defend a case in which two professing Christians, “Steve” and “Lana,” were getting a divorce. Lana was seeking a divorce because of the advice of her “friends.” She and Steve, my client, got into an argument one evening and he grabbed her by the arm and squeezed. He left a bruise on her arm about the size of a quarter. He was ashamed of the action—as he should have been—and he apologized. But it was a far cry from the “battered-woman syndrome.” Lana was told by her friends, however, that she was a victim of wife abuse and she should seek a divorce. Believe it or not, she did.

A few weeks later her friends advised Lana that she should start dating, even though Steve was actively seeking to reconcile the marriage. One night when Lana was out on a date, their two-year old son fell behind the bunk bed and died from strangulation.

Lana knew what God expected of her regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, but she listened to her friends instead. She paid a terrible price for the wrong advice from the wrong kind of friends.

Bill Gothard

The following passage is from Bill Gothard’s 1979 Supplementary Alumni Book, Our Most Important Messages Grow Out of Our Greatest Weaknesses. Recovering Grace notes that, “Throughout the publication there are several self-contained Q&A boxes addressing common questions on divorce, such as ‘If two Christians marry and one persists in being unfaithful, does the other one have “Scriptural grounds” to get a divorce?’ (‘Answer: No.’) One Q&A appears to address domestic violence,” which is as follows:

QUESTION:

What if the wife is a victim of her husband’s hostility?

ANSWER:

There is no “victim” if we understand that we are called to suffer for righteousness. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 Christ was not a victim! He willingly gave His life for us. “By whose stripes you were healed…likewise you wives…” 1 Peter 2:24; 3:1 Christ’s life teaches us how to suffer.

James Dobson

The following passage is from James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough. The book claims to address “disrespect in marital relationships, describing its role in the drift toward divorce for millions of couples.” Dobson examines a number of potential marital conflicts, including (but not limited to) infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Chapter Thirteen of the book is “Loving Toughness in Other Situations,” and it addresses the topic of spousal abuse. Dobson begins the chapter with a letter from a woman named Laura, who tells Dobson her husband has “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Laura then asks Dobson what she should do. “I’m so tired of being beaten,” she says, “and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises” (p. 146-7).

Dobson begins by stressing that, for Christians, “Divorce is not the solution to this problem,” because “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” His solution is rather to have Laura directly agitate her husband: “I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage.” Dobson hopes this will shock the abusive husband into acknowledging “he has a severe problem” so that he will agree to “competent Christian counseling” that can lead to “reconciliation” (p. 148).

Not once does Dobson recommend calling the police.

After making this suggestion to agitate, Dobson then offers the following “qualification” to his advice (a “qualification” that is, mind you, longer than his actual advice to Laura). The emphases are in the original:

I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.

I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)

Love Must Be Tough has been reprinted numerous times and this passage remains. The most recent reprint was 2007 and the passage is still there, unchanged

Michael and Debi Pearl

The following passage is from Michael and Debi Pearl’s 2004 book Created To Be His Helpmeet, as reprinted in 2012. It is under the section “Enduring Suffering Wrongly,” in which Michael Pearl argues that “the Bible is so clear” that “we are commanded to submit to every ordinance of the government that we are under—even to ignorant and foolish men.” Pearl first argues that even if slavemasters cause their slaves “unjust suffering and grief,” slaves must “endure it, and take it patiently.” Pearl justifies this by saying that, “It is acceptable with God (God’s will) for the underling to suffer wrongfully and take it patiently” (262-3). Pearl then applies this principle to a woman being threatened by her abusive husband:

Has your husband revile you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how your respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer. (p. 263)

Debi Pearl demonstrates this principle in action when she writes about a young woman named Sunny. Sunny faced a horrific situation of domestic violence:

[Sunny] was soon pregnant with their first child, and in a matter of weeks, the violence began. Over the next seven years, Sunny was regularly subjected to his alcoholic rages and beatings, and she endured his flaunted unfaithfulness… When Sunny was pregnant with their third baby, Ahmed came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. (p. 132)

Debi Pearl never suggests to Sunny that law enforcement be called, nor does she even suggest that Sunny approach her church’s leadership. Debi also never condemns Ahmed and his actions. Rather, she exhorts Sunny to “stay with him and begin a campaign of winning his heart” by ceasing to “blab about his sins” and begin to “reverence him” because that is “God’s will” (p. 133).

Mary Pride

The following passage is from the 2010 “25th Anniversary Edition” of Mary Pride’s seminal book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism Back to Realityoriginally published in 1985. The emphases are in original:

The reason the church is getting lax about divorce is that we no longer understand marriage. If a spouse has problems, such as drunkenness or fits of temper, the other one concludes it is not a “good” marriage and moves on. Those who take this perspective end up allowing divorce “for any and every reason,” just as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. Jesus answered the Pharisees that destruction of any God-ordained marriage is always wrong… Only adultery, which breaks the partnership by pouring its resources into a spiritually fruitless extramarital union, as well as (in the case of an adulterous wife) jeopardizing the children’s legitimacy, and desertion, which nullifies the partnership, are biblical grounds for divorce… Christians may never, never, never divorce Christians. (p. 21-22)

Heidi St. John

The following image was posted by popular homeschool convention speaker Heidi St. John on her Facebook page, with the explanation that she “thought it would bring a smile today”:

rape-culture-fb

The image, the text of which St. John altered, comes from an old comic that depicts a chauvinistic man sexually assaulting his frigid boss (an action that leads to her marrying him). A close-up of the image makes clear the woman is terrified and crying:

screen-shot-2014-09-20-at-2-13-08-pm

Libby Anne does a great job of explaining the problem here:

The image is photoshopped from an old comic that depicts an employee sexually assaulting his “frigid” boss (see here and here or view the full comic here). Sure, one could try to argue that the image has been removed from that context, what with the new words in the bubbles and all, but that fails given the tear on the woman’s cheek and the fact that she is clearly trying to fight the man off (notice her pounding fists). Whatever the words, the image clearly depicts a woman futilely trying to fight off a stronger man’s advances. In fact, in the context St. John provides the image, it appears to be depicting attempted marital rape…

The trouble is that an image like this, in the Christian homeschooling community St. John is very much a part of, arrives in a context already influenced by writers like Debi Pearl and the teachings of Bill Gothard and others. These leaders explicitly teach that a wife should never say “no” to her husband’s sexual advances. These leaders do not recognize the existence of marital rape, because they see sex within marriage as the husband’s right.

Coming in this cultural context, St. John’s image is not “funny.” It’s a problem. 

It normalizes coercion and marital rape.

As demonstrated by the previous statements by Farris, Gothard, Dobson, the Pearls, and Pride, Libby Anne’s critique of St. John is spot-on. The biggest names in homeschooling have communicated truly shameful messages about domestic violence — messages that will only add further guilt to victims and make them feel trapped and unable to escape. It’s not a laughing matter, and it’s something that we all need to speak up about and push back against.

Note: if you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or visit their website here. There is help available and you are worth it.

James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The following passage is from James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough. The book claims to address “disrespect in marital relationships, describing its role in the drift toward divorce for millions of couples.” Dobson examines a number of potential marital conflicts, including (but not limited to) infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Chapter Thirteen of the book is “Loving Toughness in Other Situations,” and it addresses the topic of spousal abuse. Dobson begins the chapter with a letter from a woman named Laura, who tells Dobson her husband has “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Laura then asks Dobson what she should do. “I’m so tired of being beaten,” she says, “and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises” (p. 146-7).

Dobson begins by stressing that, for Christians, “Divorce is not the solution to this problem,” because “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” His solution is rather to have Laura directly agitate her husband: “I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage.” Dobson hopes this will shock the abusive husband into acknowledging “he has a severe problem” so that he will agree to “competent Christian counseling” that can lead to “reconciliation” (p. 148).

Not once does Dobson recommend calling the police.

After making this suggestion to agitate, Dobson then offers the following “qualification” to his advice (a “qualification” that is, mind you, longer than his actual advice to Laura). The emphases are in the original:

I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.

I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)

Update, 05/07/2015, 11:22 am Pacific: Several people have inquired if Dobson still stands by these statements written in 1983. He does indeed. Love Must Be Tough has been reprinted numerous times and this passage remains. The most recent reprint was 2007 and the passage is still there, unchanged:

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Also see: Mary Pride: Don’t Divorce Your Drunk, Raging Husband

Michael Farris on Domestic Abuse: “Far Cry from the ‘Battered-Woman Syndrome'”

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The following excerpt is from HSLDA founder Michael Farris’s 1996 book How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life. Farris has his patriarchal beliefs on full display in this book, including such passages as: “I am very supportive of the concept of the authority of fathers in their home…It’s important to be right…It is appropriate to simply say to your daughter, ‘Because I’m the dad, that’s why‘” (page 21); “a woman should be submissive to her husband” (page 96); and “husbands are ultimately responsible for family decisions” (page 101).

10361972_10152495652422761_5505720269752573528_nHe defends “a very traditional view about the role of women in churches” (page 27) and later explains that he means “a doctrinal position of male-only elders” (page 55). Farris says he is “a firm believer in—dare I say it?—spanking,”  that fathers “should be in charge of all discipline,” and boasts that he spanked his daughters until they were 13 (page 30). He even dedicates an entire chapter to straw-manning feminism (Chapter Seven, “Solving the Feminist Paradox”), featuring lines like “Lesbianism is considered by many to be the apex of feminism” (page 96) and “Feminists prey on daughters of under-appreciated mothers” (page 105).

But what stood out the most to me was the following 3 paragraphs with which Farris begins Chapter 5, “Guiding Your Daughter Toward Positive Friendships.” The tone-deafness, minimization, and victim-blaming Farris engages in regarding this very clear situation of domestic abuse — and the fact that he provided legal defense for a domestic abuser — goes to show that child abuse is not the only type of abuse Farris does not seem to take seriously. (For those unaware, a quarter-size bruise is a serious indicator of abuse, both for child abuse as well as domestic violence cases.) From page 77:

When I was a very young lawyer in Spokane, Washington, I was assigned to defend a case in which two professing Christians, “Steve” and “Lana,” were getting a divorce. Lana was seeking a divorce because of the advice of her “friends.” She and Steve, my client, got into an argument one evening and he grabbed her by the arm and squeezed. He left a bruise on her arm about the size of a quarter. He was ashamed of the action—as he should have been—and he apologized. But it was a far cry from the “battered-woman syndrome.” Lana was told by her friends, however, that she was a victim of wife abuse and she should seek a divorce. Believe it or not, she did.

A few weeks later her friends advised Lana that she should start dating, even though Steve was actively seeking to reconcile the marriage. One night when Lana was out on a date, their two-year old son fell behind the bunk bed and died from strangulation.

Lana knew what God expected of her regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, but she listened to her friends instead. She paid a terrible price for the wrong advice from the wrong kind of friends.

Here’s an image from the book of the passage:

Untitled

The Breakthrough Moment: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 6, 2014. 

< Part One

“How can I pretend that I don’t see
What you hide so carelessly?
…It’s not what it seems
Not what you think
No, I must be dreaming…
Help, you know I’ve got to tell someone
Tell them what I know you’ve done
I fear you…” -Evanescence

I have blogged very little about my family, even though I know many of you follow me because you’re interested in what a girl with fifteen brothers and sisters has to say.

I never thought of much to write about. My family felt normal to me. There was nothing deeply introspective or philosophical about it. My lifestyle was intriguing for people because we were different. That’s all.

Recently, the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed gave domestic violence victims a chance to tell their stories. They piled in by the hundreds – women and men explained how spouses, significant others, and parents had abused them. I chimed in with this tweet:

jeubtweet

The most informative thing I first saw about domestic violence was Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.”

In it, she says that when we ask why the abused people don’t leave, we’re asking the wrong question. Such a question blames the victim for being in the situation. She also tells her own story, and says she didn’t know it was happening.

Her husband beat her, but she didn’t think of herself as a battered wife. That’s how many, many victims feel before they get out. Abuse is the norm, especially for children raised in abusive homes. Some abusers may even tell their victims that it could be worse, and abuse is what happens in other homes, but not here.

Often, victims don’t realize it’s a problem until the breakthrough moment. For me, the breakthrough was a few things – being told that I couldn’t live in my parents’ house anymore was one. For Steiner, the breakthrough was “a particularly sadistic beating.”

Every morning I wake up and think, “How did I never see it before?”

Some days, I have trouble getting up in time for work. It’s debilitating to look at my past as something different than what I thought it was.

Nobody has to ask me why I never said anything about my past in abuse. I ask it of myself, and I question my own sanity. I trusted my parents completely, and I couldn’t identify manipulation or emotional abuse. I was physically abused, and I don’t just mean that I’m opposed to spanking.

I didn’t know I was abused. For every violent incident or when my parents lost their tempers, I had three options. First, I could blame myself and assume I deserved it, or that one of my siblings deserved it. Second, I could see this instance as isolated and minimal, totally out of character, and thus erase my logical ability to recognize patterns. Third, if the first two options didn’t work, my parents apologized profusely and demanded forgiveness, which meant I could never bring it up again.

The life of abuse isn’t full of anger, getting thrown and smacked and bruised, and being yelled at and torn down. That’s only part of it. You also feel special and needed. You don’t feel like life is hell, even if it is, because you know how to force a smile. It feels good to damage your own health and wellbeing for your abusers, because you’re told that you’re doing what is right. You fight for acceptance and admonition, because you’re always getting small tastes of it, and it’s always just out of reach.

The breakthrough moment isn’t the only reason domestic violence victims don’t leave. They also stay in their situations because they feel trapped. Once they know what’s going on, it’s unsafe to leave.

The reason it’s unsafe is because nobody knows about it, and if you speak up, the perpetrator threatens and punishes.

I wasn’t safe to talk about my family life until now. I had to get a new bank account, so my dad could stop financially abusing me with easy transaction-making access. I had to get my own car, so my mom could stop using rides to my much-needed mental health therapy as reason to tell me I was ungrateful if I stepped out of line. I had to buy my website’s domain name from my dad so he couldn’t delete my blog for prying the mask off my family’s face.

These stories have always existed. I was taught to tuck them away as if they never happened. To speak of them would be unforgiving.

There’s so much to tell. I’m assuming that those of you who don’t know anything about my family can use Google to fill yourselves in on what I’m referencing. My parents love the spotlight, so it’s not hard to find the pieces.

Ages will be estimated. Because my parents deny so much of what happened, I can’t confirm exactly when certain events occurred. I’ve chosen to include specific ages for the sake of narrative.

Also, I want to say a thing about abuse. I am not labeling everything in the following stories as abuse. Some things are abusive, some things are just a little weird, and some things are totally common. “Bad” and “common” are not mutually exclusive terms, but I want to be clear that I don’t classify everything my parents ever did as abusive.

Never letting my older sister and me grow our hair very long, and pressuring my sister who wanted short hair to keep it long, was bizarrely controlling. It was just a piece, a detail, of how our bodies were not our own.

But the time my mom grabbed my ear as a small child and threw me on the hard wood floor so my head rang, or the time my dad hit my sister over forty times with a belt not as punishment, but because she had a rebellious spirit, or when my brother wasn’t allowed to attend his regular extracurricular activities for a couple of weeks so nobody would see the bruises my mom left on his face…I think it’s fair to call those things abusive.

I’m just telling stories about my past, so there’s a mix of everything: the abusive, the controlling, the bizarre, the good, how I dealt with it, and how I see it now. I’m undecided on a whole collection of things. Parenting, for instance, is something I can only write about as someone who well remembers being a child, not from the perspective of a parent.

I predict this, and some of it has already happened since Friday’s teaser: people will say it’s disrespectful to put these stories on display. Others will say I’m complaining about things that aren’t a big deal. Still others will discredit my voice because I sound angry and hurt, as if the people who’ve been hurt have no right to speak up about what they’ve experienced. I will be, and have already been, accused of lying. I’m prepared for all of these things.

You have to reassure people when you’re talking about such things, so here’s that reassurance: I have a great support system from friends since losing trust in my parents and connection with my siblings. Yes, I have friends who disagree with me, so I have accountability. Yes, I’m prepared for being accused of slander and I can back up my claims. I’m moving forward in my career, and I’m in mental health therapy. I am living in a safe place.

I hope my stories are redemptive.

Part Three >

I Am a Survivor: Elizabeth W.’s Story, Part One

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Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical and verbal abuse.

Part One

My name is Elizabeth and I am a survivor.

I am the oldest of seven children, two of whom are still trapped in the isolated, abusive world created by our mother. My mother began “homeschooling” in the fall of 1993, immediately after three of her four children were returned to her by the state of New York. I had been placed with my biological father for the previous nine months, while my siblings were in a foster home as both their biological father and our mother were in jail.

Our mother had been charged with child endangerment and was mandated to attend counseling.

I am unsure whether she did or not, however, her abusive and violent behavior continued only to escalate after this time. I had been miserable being placed with a father who was virtually a stranger to me, and over a thousand miles away from my brothers and sisters. In October of 1994, I finally convinced my dad that I wanted to be with mom and my siblings, so he took me back. A decision I would live to regret in many ways, but looking back, would not have chosen differently at the time.

My mother informed me that from now on we were all going to be “homeschooled” so that no more nosy teachers would be interfering in “our” (her) lives. One of my youngest step-siblings had made some mention to a teacher of the rampant domestic violence that routinely rampaged through our home. (Thus the subsequent investigation and arrest of both our parents.)

Homeschooling was the first step my mom took to make sure no one could get involved through children’s loose tongues ever again.

While mom had always been explosively violent with me I didn’t remember quite so many constant beatings and verbal abuse before this all happened. After my return from my dad’s house, mom began to turn on me with sudden and unpredictable rage. She slapped me across the face multiple times, knocked me down and dragged me around by my hair, repeatedly slamming my head off the floor or walls. All the while screaming that I was lazy, stupid, ungrateful, “just like your father”, “you’re a traitor, you’ve betrayed me”. Often the attacks seemed to be triggered by her simply looking at me, and not liking my facial expressions, she would look at me and say that I was looking “rebellious” if I happened to be unhappy and withdrawn that day. I often heard that I looked just like my father, which also seemed to set her off. We stayed in the new apartment for another month or two before mom and my stepdad got back together and moved into a new place in Buffalo, New York in December 1993.

Mom and my stepdad together were a volatile mix, two different kinds of mentally unwell and two different kinds of violence. My stepdad beat her and she in turn beat us, mostly me. She often told us that if we ever spoke to anyone about what was going on that we would be separated and sent to foster homes and juvenile detention centers for bad children where we would be beaten every day.

She also taught us to fear the police and whenever she saw one or they were called to the house to investigate all the screaming, she would freak out and tell us to hide and keep our mouths shut.

Once in the new apartment, mom continued to “homeschool” us, which consisted of buying a few textbooks (sometimes grade appropriate, sometimes not) and telling us to go to our desks and “do school”, for a few hours a day. Many, many days I was interrupted by mom telling me I needed to “watch” the newest baby for several hours while she talked on the phone or went and did errands. I spent so much time caring for my newborn sisters that two of them actually called me “ma”, until mom heard. This was one of many things that set off her punching, kicking, pulling me by the hair and trying to break my face routine. I can honestly say that was the extent of my “schooling” for the next six years until I left. Mom did the New York State required “quarterly reports” on our progress, usually late and always false. We also took the mandatory annual CAT tests and usually scored fine on some subjects and poorly on others. Mom officially enrolled us in the Clonlara Homeschool Association that year, which meant she bought “curriculums” from them (which we never used) and we went to their annual conferences a few times.

Spring of 1994, my mother arranged for me to work a large paper route that covered 12 city blocks on our street. I worked that route for the next four years, eventually adding another 12 blocks. I was robbed twice in two years, first when I was thirteen and a guy in a football helmet jumped out of the bushes and held a gun to my back and demanded I hand over the money (paper route money). My mother took all of the money I earned except for what I needed to buy dog food for my dog. She also pushed me to take other jobs. I mowed people’s yards, did landscaping, house cleaning and babysitting. I was never allowed to keep any of the money – this was how she was supplementing the family budget, as she never worked.

Soon after we moved to Buffalo, Mom joined a local homeschooling chapter of born again Christian homeschoolers, LEAH (living education at home). Aside from the one or two weeks a year I was allowed to go to a local YMCA camp, and the occasional summer soccer games with the kids on our street, LEAH was the first regular social interaction I’d been allowed since I left public school in 1993. None of us kids were thrilled with the group, being very religious and preachy and we were not (yet). However it was a few hours a week that we got to leave the house and be out from under mom’s constant supervision and iron rule, so we made the best of it.

The winter I turned 14 our car was repossessed and mom began sending my little brother and I to do all the errands during “school” time.

We walked miles through the Buffalo snow to get groceries and the mail (at the post office) every few days. I was also expected to do nearly all of the housecleaning, mopping every room, sweeping, dishes, folding laundry (for seven people) as well as most of the babysitting. There was very little time I could have done “school” even had I been brilliant enough to teach myself a sixth thru tenth grade school education. As it was I spent my free hours immersing myself in books I borrowed from the library, ranging from fiction to history, anthropology, classic literature to feminist studies. I credit the natural inclination of my curious and inquiring mind combined with my access to a library with my ability to survive any and all later academic pursuits.

Before long the constant screaming of our mom and my stepdad echoing through our apartment drove our neighbors crazy and they asked the landlord to evict us. Winter of 1996, we moved a mile down the road into a HUD (low income fixer upper) house, the first my parents had ever owned. Outwardly, things continued much the same, I had my myriad jobs, housecleaning and babysitting duties and mom sat at home and talked on the phone or did “bills” all day. We still attended the LEAH group, though not regularly, and often escaped for a week or two of summer camp.

After the move, we didn’t make new friends, so spent even more time in the house, and grew gradually ever more isolated. Mom slowly alienated her family although her parents and sisters made a valiant attempt to stay in touch long distance. Mom had an unparalleled ability to say cruel and hurtful things and make people recoil and stay away. My stepdad’s family was not accepting of the biracial aspect of our family and with the exception of one uncle, made no attempt to be part of our lives. Neither mom nor James had a single friend that I knew of, no one ever came to our house. We weren’t allowed to have friends over, talk on the phone, use the computer, listen to music, or even have uncensored mail.

This quickly put a stop to any attempt on our parts to have even casual friends.

Part Two >

Growing Kids the Abusive Way: Auriel’s Story, Part One

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Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse.

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.

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Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

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Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way

“Turn around, put your hands on the bed.” You scream, “No mommy, please!” She’ll grab you by your arm, wrist, shoulder, lapel, jaw or hair, shake, twist, or drag you, scratch, pull, shove, slap or kick you if you don’t move your butt to her room. “You selfish, spoiled rotten brat! You’re just a little ingrate, you little jerk. Let’s have a spanking!” she yells. Escape is futile. 

“You’re abusing me! How could you be so cruel?” your mom asks in tears over her rage. You clench your fists and teeth at the injustice, but can do nothing. After all, you’re an “idiot” and a “stupid a-hole.”

She has told you that this hurts her more than it hurts you.

*****

My parents were abused as kids.

They perpetuated the cycle with us.

With their first child, my parents discovered Growing Kids God’s Way by the Ezzos. True to the teachings, my parents controlled our hearts with fear, and later taught Growing Kids classes to dozens of families over the years, and taught me the classes to use on my younger siblings. I grew up in a Catholic, upper middle class family, and was homeschooled K-12, starting out under an umbrella charter school, moving to become our own private homeschool when I entered high school.

As far as didactics go, I learned a great deal. While my friends used Mother of Divine Grace (MODG) or Seton, we used an eclectic mix of those and other curriculums like Abeka since the Catholic curriculums usually require an overload of coursework. My education was classical and informative until middle school when my chronically and mentally ill mom gave up on teaching us. From there, I had a tutor, online classes, or taught myself through my textbooks. Lucky for me, I had a passion for learning and was pretty studious. I ended up graduating early!

Unfortunately, the damage was done.

I was physically, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abused and neglected as a child.

"With their first child, my parents discovered Growing Kids God’s Way by the Ezzos. True to the teachings, my parents controlled our hearts with fear."
“With their first child, my parents discovered Growing Kids God’s Way by the Ezzos. True to the teachings, my parents controlled our hearts with fear.”

From the time I was 6 months old, up until I was a teenager, my parents beat me with a leather strap. This was based on the Ezzo’s teaching of chastisement. My parents would force me to pull up my dress, and if I were especially stubborn, they’d have me pull down my panties. Just the humiliation was enough to fuel my ire. The pain only compounded the injury. Flinching, screaming, or crying meant longer beatings. So, you learn to shut up, have “first time obedience,” “right away all the way with a happy heart.” Don’t show even a flicker of anger, sadness, discontent, or any negative emotion. Those are signs of rebellion.

I often had scratches and bruises, in various stages of healing. They’d start out as the new red or white fingerprint marks or welts, moving to purplish blues, healing to ugly greens and sickly yellows.

Some days, the punishment was only receiving smacks from a wooden ruler, running scores of laps around the yard or being flicked in the face. Other times, punishment was no supper.

My stomach would suffer, painfully contorting, gnawing at the emptiness, and I would cry myself to sleep.

Sometimes we would only be fed plain oatmeal or bread and water for the week as punishment. My brothers were locked outside or forced to sleep naked on the cold floor as punishments. And it’s hard to imagine the amount of screaming we bore.

Back then, tears were weak. They could be used against you. I couldn’t let anyone see them, or they’d be powerful. I’d curl in a ball on the floor in a corner, and just sit, and rock, and cry, soothing myself in the dark. I reverted to thumb sucking when I was 8. Even today, I still rub my arm and hug myself to self-soothe.

I tried to protect my siblings by covering for them on chores and standing up to my parents for them. My littlest sibling even called me Mommy, and would call to me for help and protection. We’d take beatings for each other too. But if no one confessed to a failure on a chore (read: perfectly swept floor), everyone would suffer. If we brought a sibling into our mistakes, we would be held outside the room, while our parents reminded us that the screams of our siblings were our own fault. Overtime, you become jaded to pain. It no longer hurts you, and the screams of others become mundane and almost comical.

To be honest, I was so sheltered, I didn’t even know I was being beaten or abused. I thought this was legal spanking.

Nightly, we’d fall asleep to domestic violence, fights, slamming doors, broken glass. After a nice tuck in and a whispered, “Jesus loves you,” we’d hear Mom attacking Dad. She’d claw, scratch, knee, hit and punch him, pounding her fists into his chest and back, smacking him with objects.

A few snapshots of my home life:

  • Mom threatening Dad with a knife in our kitchen right in front of me
  • Dad leaving me in my Mom’s room to talk her out of suicide
  • Dad throwing my brother into a bedpost
  • Mom driving recklessly nearly driving into oncoming traffic or a telephone pole
  • Mom yelling at us and publically humiliating us in restaurants

In the end, I learned to lie to save my skin.

I learned to take my siblings away from domestic violence. I learned that violence was acceptable.

This is not to say that my parents didn’t love me.

I firmly believe they did, and see it in countless examples. They hugged me, cared for me, kissed away my childhood scrapes, bought me gifts just because, and told me that they loved me. Birthdays and holidays were special, and they taught me fervently, took me on outings, gave me my faith, drove me to events, encouraged me to learn musical instruments, play sports, and compete in speech and debate.

It’s not like they are monsters.

But they are hurt people who probably should never have had kids. The abusive techniques propagated by the Ezzos jived with my parents’ abusive upbringings. It was their normal, supported by “experts.”

I don’t hate my parents.

I don’t know how to hate human beings. All I feel for them is love, pity, and a need to be far away from them out of self-preservation.

*****

To be continued.

My Friend Is No Longer Alive To Tell His Story: Daniel’s Story

My Friend Is No Longer Alive To Tell His Story: Daniel’s Story

HA blog partner Lana from Wide Open Ground wrote this story about “Daniel,” her homeschool friend who killed himself. “Daniel” is a pseudonym.

Libby Anne wrote a post on homeschool abuse, and Homeschoolers Anonymous has documented several of these abuse stories. The stories make me sick because at a gut level. They remind me of the children locked in brothels in Southeast Asia. There, the children do not go to school and never have the opportunity to tell their stories or get free. So there they stay in their abuse, night after night, until someone spots them and plots their rescue.

"My friend is no longer alive to tell his story. He killed himself."
“My friend is no longer alive to tell his story. He killed himself.”

I had a friend who was homeschooled and physically abused. Key: I had a friend. My friend is no longer alive to tell his story. He killed himself.

I am not publishing this story on my blog because I’m not sure who from my hometown reads my blog, and this family has convinced most people in the homeschool group that it wasn’t a suicide even though the autopsy says it was and even knowing that Daniel wanted to kill himself. That’s the sickening part of abuse.  Abusers always have a way of covering it up. In this case, I think the parents bury the evidence in order to help cope with the guilt. I am sure, if any of my parent’s friends read this, they will think I’m malicious and lying. The homeschool group is in denial because my friend’s parents have deliberately withheld the truth and deliberately tried to convince themselves and us that my friend accidently killed himself.

I’ll call my friend Daniel.

Daniel was physically, emotionally, and spiritually abused. In addition to the beatings and hitting during childhood, Daniel was often knocked up against the wall by his father, even in his 20s (Daniel knew how to press his dad’s buttons).  Physical violence from his father against his mother had almost claimed his parents’ early marriage, but then they found Institute of Basic Life Principles that taught anger management tricks. So they were sucked in, and the kids never went to school. Daniel continued to get the bulk of his dad’s physical abuse and rage. According to the kids it was better than when they were a child, but Daniel’s dad was never “cured.” My friend and his siblings, in their early adult years, would often drive to my house to escape the fights.

Daniel had also viewed pornography (not much, but according to some, one drop of pornography taints you from ever marrying), and he been spiritually shamed and shunned. He was the hard child of the family, the difficult child, the rejected child.

Daniel’s mother would call my mom to complain about her son even when he was grown. Daniel worked for one of the fundamentalist organizations, and they shamed him just for talking to girls. They made him delete all girls from his Facebook list, including me.

Then a father refused to let him court his daughter because he had once viewed pornography. Honestly, I thought my friend’s heart would break. He was never good enough. Not for his parents, not for God, not for himself.

The last time I talked to Daniel, a couple of days before he died, he said he was going to move out of his parents’ house at the end of the semester. Finally.

But he didn’t make it.

I truly believe Daniel killed himself because he was scared of killing his father first. He had always been so scared that he would kill his dad when his dad started shoving him around.

I don’t wish to blame Daniel’s parents for everything. Daniel didn’t choose to get help. He was in his 20s. He could have left.

But then I don’t wish to point fingers at my friend either. He was physically abused and isolated as a child. He was taught that God wasn’t pleased with him, and neither was his family. He had tried to tell people at church, but no one had believed him. He finally had to get out. Sadly, he could have gotten out a better way.

I don’t know if my friend would be alive or dead without homeschooling. Daniel’s dad would have been abusive regardless. But there is something very dangerous about spiritual abuse on top of the physical, something that keeps children blaming themselves and never getting help in the right sources. When my friend grew up, he just went to more fundamental camps and more fundamental programs. He kept seeking fundamentalism as the answer. That’s all he knew.

The last 6 months or year, he was finally starting to get it. He was starting to wake up, scratch the courtship, and reject legalistic life.

If only he had moved out sooner.

My mom didn’t want me to tell Daniel’s story because she says the past is past.

But is it?

I think if we don’t learn from these stories, history will only repeat itself.

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Four

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym.

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In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Trigger warnings: sexual abuse; incest.

April 15

I was sexually abused. At the age of 11. And then again at 14.

"She didn't believe me. She said I was making it up."
“She didn’t believe me. She said I was making it up.”

The first time around, I didn’t really know what to do about it. It took me months to confide in my best friend, who was like an older sister to me. When I told her what had happened to me, she was horrified. She suggested I tell my parents, because they needed to know. I was scared, but because I truly valued her opinion, I took the risk, and told them.

They freaked out, and then talked to the parents of the kid who did it, because he was a minor. No one got the police involved. In fact, I don’t know that the police have ever been involved in any crimes that happened to any family members, unless an outsider decided to take it upon themselves to intervene. I felt that somehow the abuse was my fault. Not because anyone told me that it was, but because I wasn’t really told differently, and because of the level of stress my parents seemed to be under upon hearing the news.

I was never given the opportunity to get counseling.

I wasn’t even told what sex was until I was 14, and by then I already knew.

If you think that is bad, I’ll tell you what happened the second time. My brother would come into my room at night, and try to touch me, when I was sleeping. He also tried to place mirrors in strategic places so he could watch while I changed my clothes, or took a bath, or went to the bathroom. I became accustomed to having to close curtains, check everywhere for mirrors, and wedge a towel under the door for fear of being seen. When I first told my mother, she didn’t believe me. She said I was making it up.

So here I was, on the defense daily, sleeping wedged between my mattress and the wall on the top bunk. I think this must have been when my insomnia started. I didn’t want to go to sleep, for fear of being molested in my sleep. To this day, I have a hard time sleeping until the house is quiet, and everyone else is in bed. I’ll tell you one thing, if you want to kill your child from the inside out, tell them you don’t believe them when they say they are being sexually abused. There is not a higher level of “I don’t care about you” unless you stomp on their head, and even then it might be easier for them to recover.

Finally, I found a mirror inside my room, and told my mom to come look at it. She was shocked. So then she finally believed me. My dad put a lock on the inside of my door and yelled at my brother for a while, and that was it.

Again, no authorities. No counseling. They didn’t try to get him any help, either.

Finally, when he was 19 years old, he sexually assaulted my disabled sister, who had to go to the hospital because of it, and somehow, the police were called. My parents didn’t call them. I don’t know who did. But I am eternally grateful to them.

My brother is still in prison. I don’t believe that he is a horrible person, or a child molester. I think he is the product of a messed up marriage, being abused himself, and sexual repression. My mom thought that because sexuality was rampant in her day, that isolating us from information on sexuality was the way to go. So far none of her children have been virgins before getting married. My dad and his pornography addiction were the predominant exposure to any kind of sexuality to my brothers and sisters and me. As far as dating, my parents believe in courtship. None of their kids have really done a courtship. I think one sister did, but it was short, and the guy was an alcoholic, trying to fix himself by jumping into ministry at a church.

But we are all becoming well-adjusted adults, after years of counseling, and a lot of soul-searching.

Unfortunately, debate and other high school classes don’t look that great on resumes. I am the only child in my family who has had more than a year of college. My disabled sister, who is an adult now, is still living with my parents. My mom told me once that she would live with them for the rest of her life. I questioned it, because my parents will probably not outlive her. So maybe she’ll live with them for the rest of their lives… and then she can live with me.

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To be continued.