a list of how abused people feel and why abusers count on it

"Humiliate Myself" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Humiliate Myself” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I am a survivor. I have experienced abuse. Some people have accused me of not knowing what I’m talking about, that I’m “just an advocate” without real experiences of abuse. I don’t talk a lot about my own abuse stories. I have shared some experiences during the history of this blog. But I’m a survivor and no longer have a victim mentality.

Now it is my desire to critique systems, ideas, and behaviors that violate human beings. I want to help people set themselves free, not just from oppressive situations, but from their own emotional prisons that these oppressive situations have caused.

This is some of the stuff we do at The Lasting Supper, and I warmly invite you to join us. Although we’re not perfect, and although some people are silent for their own reasons, almost everyone who joins expresses their gratitude at how wonderful a place it is.

Abusers count on the people they bully and abuse to feel and behave in certain ways. Many abusers wouldn’t abuse if they knew what they did would be publicized. The threat of exposure can be a deterrent. Many abusers understand this and depend upon secrecy and silence to perpetuate their abusive behaviors. If abused people show any signs of breaking this abuse code, then abusers will enforce and impose it in increasingly audacious ways.

Even as I wrote the first paragraph about my abuse, I felt a little embarrassed. It just goes to show that there is still the stigmatization of abuse that tends to push me towards being quiet about it.

So I want to share with you how abused people feel and how abusers count on this to conceal their abuse.

  1. Shocked: The abused people I know are usually very trusting of people and the systems they commit themselves to. They can’t believe another person or organization would do this to them.
  2. Angry: They are not only angry at the abuser. They’re angry at themselves because many believe they got themselves into this situation. This unexpressed rage burns a hole into their lives.
  3. Disappointed: People are usually abused by those closest to them. In other words, they are abused by the people and groups that promised love but failed in some horrific and destructive way.
  4. Depressed: Because of the intensity of a million emotions and confounding confusions, an emotional overload and crash often ensues, plummeting them into a deep and unresolved sadness.
  5. Self-loathing: Many abused people end up hating themselves and consider themselves dirty and used goods. They hate that they got into this and they hate that they are now marred forever.
  6. Frustrated: Abused people are usually very frustrated with those who are supposed to care, support, protect, and vindicate them. They are bewildered that their abuser gets away with it.
  7. Guilty: To feel hateful feelings toward the one who abused them is a sign of disrespect. To challenge them is to challenge the leader or organization that so many others admire and respect.
  8. Deserving: Many abused people feel that they must have somehow deserved what they got. This is especially true in a religious context so that they may feel God has punished them.
  9. Silenced: Abused people quickly discover that their stories are best kept secret, and suddenly run into all kinds of barriers and obstacles to sharing their experiences. There are no safe places to talk.
  10. Peaceful: Some finally come to a place of peace. Abusers can even take advantage of this because they hope the abused doesn’t feel the need to talk about their abuse anymore.

This has been my experience. This is the experience of so many abused people. This is how they feel.

Is there something you can add? I and my friends are listening.


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27 Responses

  1. Ducatihero says:

    David, I’ve been here when I have seen someone say they have been a survivor of abuse and don’t think you have been abused. I don’t know if this is what you are alleging is an accusation of not knowing what you are talking about, or that you are “just an advocate” or not. That’s not for me to judge.

    What I do know is what I have been impressed by and the tremendous strength I have seen in people that I know that have come through abuse and how important honouring their story is. The book “Look me in the Eye” by Caryl Watt with her story was one I couldn’t put down. In it she quotes beautifully:

    Pray don’t find fault with the woman who limps
    or stumbles along the road,
    unless you have worn the shoes she wears or struggles beneath her load.
    There may be tack in her shoes that hurt,
    thought hiden far away from view,
    or the burden she bears, placed on your back
    might cause you to stumble too….

    Don’t be harsh with the woman who sins
    or pelt her with word or stone,
    unless you are sure, yea, double sure,
    that you have no sins of your own
    for you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice
    should whisper as softly to you.
    as it did to her when she went astray,
    it might cause you to stumble too.

  2. Mabel says:

    The abused is too ashamed to seek or even accept help.

  3. Joy says:

    Frightened…just plain scared, terrified, anxious. By the time I realised I was in a spiritually abusive relationship with a church leader/boss I was frightened nearly all the time.

  4. Thanks guys. Your words and stories are powerful to me.

  5. katewillette says:

    11: Withdrawn
    Abused people often find it necessary to back away from what had been the central community in their lives. Loneliness takes the place of what had been a network of sustaining relationships.

  6. Jendi says:

    Very wise and brave, thank you for posting this. I’m a survivor of emotional abuse and gaslighting. I especially appreciate #10 in your list, a point that I haven’t seen acknowledged often. Though I am (sort of) a Christian, I find it hard to aim at, let alone achieve, the peace and closure that everyone recommends as a spiritual goal. I’m afraid of giving people an excuse to say, “oh, she’s over it, now we can stop talking about abuse.”

  7. Caryn LeMur says:


    In my observation, the abused person must become angry – in that way, they honor their own conscience and/or sense of justice (what was right; what was wrong). In a sense, they must embrace the god-given sense of justice, before healing begins.

    They were wronged. They know it. Only someone of value can embrace their sense of justice – thus, in an reverse logic, the abused concludes they must be someone of value, and not disposable trash.

    Like a wounded eagle in rehab, their anger is the splint that holds their broken wing in place.

    Then, the abused need someone to validate that they were wronged. They need someone that listens to their story, and allows their voice. This is not an agreement by a jury of absolute criminal evidence; this is not even an agreement of a preponderance of evidence – – this is simply allowing the voice.

    And yes, the same listener can allow the voice of the abuser, as well as the abused.

    This is like the wildlife rescue agent offering a safe perch to the wounded eagle. It is only a safe perch. And the eagle screams and spits with anger – but is healing every day.

    And then, the deep healing breaks forth in waves. The abused has embraced that they have value, and the listener has confirmed it by not erasing their voice!

    And on a beautiful morning, the rescue agent and the eagle go into the fields. And the abused soar! they scream and sing again! The songs of anger flow out as they survey new territory! They land on old outposts and new trees to sing and establish boundaries and gateways!

    They crash land many times – but they are learning to fly again – and to get back up into the sky. They are awkward birds learning to trust their own wings, once again.

    But oh, how glorious it is to see the wounded eagles fly once again.

    And I only had to offer them a perch by my listening to them.

    Hugs to you, David. You offered a safe place for the wounded eagles. That, my friend, is everything.

  8. Thanks Jendi. So honest. So true. Sadly.

  9. Thanks Caryn. You help people fly again.

  10. Teague Frawley says:

    It took years for me to recognize that I was being abused when I was part of the church. The reason being is then I believed in the possibility that Source could be both loving and vengeful has taught by religion. I read the Bible through that lens as well as the lenses of the infallibility and literalness. I was unable at that time to recognize the contradictions in my understanding of Source has taught by orthodox religion. This I believe also made difficult for me to recognize when I was a victim. For years, I felt many of the things described above, but dismiss those feelings as being illegitimate. I told myself there must be something wrong with me.

    Thankfully I am free from all that now. Like you I attempt to create relationships with the abused where they feel empowered to talk openly about the abuse they’ve experienced without fear of further victimization by dismissiveness and/or accusations.

    IMO, the rampant abuse by the systems of religion, bureaucracy, politics, and economics is a requirement built-in to the design of these systems in order for them to succeed.

  11. I agree Teague. I believe in systemic evil.

  12. Lynn Barry says:

    My abuser was a “sober” recovering alcoholic, and I knew too well these feelings, especially the frustration of how he “got away with it”. He was in a 12 step program of recovery, and had been able to maintain his physical sobriety for years, and was VERY active in his “program”. I had a constant barrage of voices telling me that he was “working his program”, and I needed to focus on my own “recovery”. Recovery from what? From being victimized by an abuser? Why was I not encouraged to walk away? My biggest regret was that I stayed as long as I did……..

  13. Scott M says:

    Some things I’ll share. Some things I won’t. For instance, in a forum like this, I have no problem saying my earliest memory is being thrown across the kitchen and having my femur broken. I have bits of memories after that. The green room where my leg was set. The hospital room where I lay in traction (and the magnetic monkeys I played with). Dragging my full leg cast over the heater/fan grate in the floor.

    In reality, though the fact that my leg was broken when I was three is indisputable, those who are close to me tend to question my memory. Maybe something else happened? Or what I’ve said hasn’t always been consistent. (Hello? I was three.) Or ask if I don’t want to see if my biological father has changed. After all, he seems to be doing better. (Apparently not even adoption could completely remove him from my life.) By and large, they only know me, so the lack of belief or support simply hurts. So I’ve learned just to end those discussions, by saying I don’t want to talk about it if necessary.

    There are other things from my life I won’t discuss at all online or perhaps only vaguely allude to them. The reasons are as varied as the events and the people involved. But some things I’ll only discuss in person with those I truly trust.

    I’m also a pretty private person in general. Still, whatever the context, it usually helps to tell my stories. And perhaps it helps others. I’m rarely sure about that. But that remains true even when events are decades removed.

  14. Anon. says:

    Thank you.

  15. Gutted by the loss of any opportunity to minister in the ‘church’. Not only was I bullied into resigning from leadership by my abusers, but when I spoke out and suggested that something was wrong with this I was “relieved” of my ministry position too.

    Betrayed by the loss of relationships. Not only did I suffer abuse at the hands of those I’d trusted, but then I realised that no-one in our ‘church’ was willing to do or say anything about it. As one person said to me, “I’m sorry you’ve been hurt, but I don’t want to get involved.”

  16. Wow Scott M… that story hit me right in the gut. It’s totally understandable that you feel the way you do. Thanks for taking the risk to share what you did.

    In fact, thanks everyone!

  17. Nancy Waldo says:

    Numbness. Disconnect between body and mind (dissociation). Helpless (especially true for children abused by parent or where parents refuse to believe). Resentment of the effects on my life and the efforts needed to heal/repair the damage. (Healing can be a very long process–worth it, though.)

  18. Numbness! Yes, of course. I know that one. I should have thought of that one.

  19. Mrs B says:

    I came across your blog this morning and I just wanted to let you know my husband and I were Spiritually abused in our church . Our family was the 5th generation to be members of that Church. We were very active…choir, church council,SS superintendents,worked on many teams,taught VBS and worked with the youth . They needed us we did it. I was the director of our puppet team and we were very successful in working with the kids to get the Word out using our puppets. It was great ! Then one day the Pastor started cutting the puppet team out of the usual things we used to do.It finally came down to doing nothing at all. The Pastor asked us to come in to discuss it. When we got to his office both Pastors were there. It was more or less an ambush! To make a long story short we got “let go”. But they told everyone we resigned…which we didn’t. I even went before Church Council to tell them our story and you can pretty well figure out whose side they took. They decided we should meet with the Pastors again with a third person from Council to try and work things out. We went…big mistake. The Pastors voice was quivering and his hands shaking when he laid into me and we ended up in a loud shouting match with me trying to defend myself. No mercy was shown.This from the Pastor ! We did nothing wrong! These are the men who in a Church are there to encourage you and build you up as well as support you. My husband just sat there in disbelief not knowing what to do or say. This Church has fired a well known music composer as choir director because he prayed and was “too spiritual” at choir practice, Fired an amazing organist ( who played with one hand because of a disability) for reasons unknown. They have youth directors that tell the youth they have to drop out of school activities to do more work for the church, kick an 86 year old woman from the choir because she doesn’t sing well enough any more…and the list goes on and on. We tried to stay at that Church thinking we could help change it from within but all we got was stares from our friends and Church members and talk behind our back. After all this I have lost my trust in Pastors and leaders of the Church. I can go on and on about more things but I won’t. Our trust has been shaken to the core. We finally left the Church but we decided to go back because we missed all our friends and the Church. Things did not change. People just stay in the Church with their blinders on and put up with everything. It’s so sad. I used to be on Council so I saw first hand how they talk about others and manipulate them for money and things like that. They smile to your face and when you are not around they talk trash about you and what they say you did. We were labeled “alligators” because we spoke up. We have now changed Churches but I am still having issues with everything that has happen to us in our old Church. It is abuse…Spiritual abuse…it should never happen ! Thank you for this blog…it has helped me see that we are not alone in this.

  20. Oh my I’ve been ambushed so many times I cannot count. Thanks for sharing Mrs. B.

  21. Annie says:

    I think one dangerous thought is the grand assumption in most of humanity that true black evil doesn’t exist. On the surface it seems like most people–especially Christians–do believe in the existence of evil. But the problem is they only believe in an existential evil that preys on humans. They don’t believe that humans themselves can be evil. Every human is God-made. Every human is redeemable. Therefore every human’s faults are due to this existential devil influencing their life; it is not due to the humans own choices to be evil to their fellow man.

    The reason why this is so important is because when the abused tells someone else of the abuse they suffer, the responses usually involve a way of not blaming the abuser for his/her actions. “They don’t mean it.” “They’re trying.” “They have faults, but…” even “They need help.” And also all of the responses that focus on the victim: “If you just…” “Keep praying for him/her.” “Try to forgive…” etc. All of these very VERY common responses have an underlying assumption that the abuser is not really evil and either they can get past their faults or the abused should overlook, forgive, keep praying, etc and try to not set the abuser off. And of course the problem with THAT is that it makes all of the work the abused’s and lets the abuser off the hook.

    What we need are more people who are willing to say, “That is not okay. There is no excuse for that behavior. You need to get out/get away/cease relationship with that person.” More humans need to be willing to lay ALL the blame for behavior at the feet of the one doing it, and in that, be willing to label this most heinous of behaviors (and intentions!) towards their fellow man “evil.”

  22. Annie says:

    In pondering, my comment doesn’t really fall within the subject of this post. So I would say that one of the things that abusers count on their victims to feel is “good.” They prey on the fact that the victim is going to feel obligated to be nice, forgive, think the best, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, etc (all the things good little Christians do). In fact they truly need their victims to feel this way, because it is what will keep them in power. The ability to manipulate the victim’s sense of goodness so that they are not exposed or retaliated against or left is critical.

  23. Diane B says:

    I would add “Helpless”. That was the main feeling I felt…it was “damned if I do, damned if I don’t “, always.

    As for the guilt, in my case, my abuser would go on and on with the psychological torture, so long that I would stike out physically just to get him to stop. Then he would tell me that I was the abuser, since I hit him!!

    He also had me so far under his thumb, that he would coerce me to become complicit in the abuse inflicted on our kids. Talk about guilt! Torn between doing what he wants to avoid worse torture, and hurting for what I was doing to the innocent, trying to convince myself that if I did it, I would be “less worse” than if he would have done it.

    As for why I didn’t leave: the good Christian thing to do was to preserve the marriage. If I worked hard enough on myself, it would influence him to change. Ha!

    Divorce certainly reduced the instances but didn’t eliminate the abuse altogether. He still had power over me, especially when he brought the kids into the equation.

    I still have a long time before I fully heal. In my case, my abuser is now dead (from a car accident). This saves me from his abuse, but I feel somewhat muzzled, because of “how we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead”, I don’t want to affect the good memories my kids have of him and I don’t want to alienate his family which would, once again penalize my kids.

    Thanks for your thoughts and for the chance to share my experiences.

  24. Dave Gilmour says:

    Manipulated. As a full-time staff pastor I know from experience that religion thrives on and would die without manipulation. Further, without this often passive/aggressive control, the kings, rock stars and tyrants of the church would be like everyone else… and they’ll never have that.

  25. VanPastorMan says:

    I’m kind of late to the party on this discussion. But I have known the sorrow of abuse myself. When I was a boy I got teased a lot. It caused me to not like myself very much. What helped me was my salvation experience. When I realized God loved me and would accept me it changed my life and view of myself. Degarmo and Key used to sing a song called, “I’m Accepted”. This song resonated with me because through the Gospel I am accepted in the beloved.
    Now, as a pastor of 14 yrs I have experienced abuse from my people. In every organization there will be some who have unreasonable expectations. They try to force your hand and get you to submit by all kinds of tactics. But in the end we have the opportunity to rest in God. He is the author of salvation and the judge of the living and the dead. Of course we are all in one of those categories. We can truly live life well when we realize through the Cross Jesus loves us, and it doesn’t matter in the end what, “man” thinks of us.

  26. Dave says:

    Hey Van… Honestly brother, your post feels like the same type of condescending abuse and manipulation of which this post warns. Further, even you recognize this in others when you complain of those manipulators who “try to force your hand and get you to submit by all kinds of tactics.”

    Christians (pastors especially!) are experts at this Van, though they rarely recognize it (or admit it). Consider this perspective: under the guise of a humble, “personal testimony” you slipped in a mini sermon! And this sermon includes every gospel fancy (depending on your sect of course) from the substitutionary atonement with its imagined acceptance with god through christ (which intrinsically includes the christian blather about sin and moral obligation!) to the final judgment fantasy.

    Van, you came to a blog dedicated to helping and encouraging those recovering from religion (which includes yours and its attendant dogmas) and what do you do? Well… you did what any good christian would do: regurgitate your unverifiable dogmas with supercilious confidence. With all patience and respect Van, those fictions may play well in church (believe me – I know!), but in the real world saying it doesn’t make it true. Just to be clear – I call bullshit.