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My Path from Doormat to Dignity: Breaking the Bonds of Emotional Abuse, Past and Present




Sneak Peek…


From the Introduction


A valid reason for self-incrimination


Imagine you are being devalued without provocation and your legitimate feelings mocked. Your words are twisted, and you are falsely accused. The offender knows where you are the most vulnerable, so that's where he aims his arrows in hopes of inflicting as much pain as possible.   Now suppose that there is someone present who is in a position to do something about it: stand up for you, protect you, and set the record straight – but they don't.  Instead, they appease the abuser, making it easier for him to strike again, and again. What kind of a person would fail to speak up on your behalf against such injustice?  Wouldn't you just brim with righteous indignation at such a spineless coward?  Who would betray you like this – you maybe? 


A Game-changer


Eventually, my twisted paradigm had a head-on collision with the way that I was made. More than one of those I trusted and loved wounded me egregiously and repetitively without provocation or regret.  Childhood wounds were needlessly re-opened, deepened, and salt rubbed in for good measure – all under the pretense of 'love and concern.'  I grew up with abuse; even so, I had never before experienced anything like it. 

I began to ask some hard questions

·         Is all anger bad?

·         Is there a difference between discerning and judging?

·         Is limitless patience a virtue or a vice?

·         What does it mean to forgive, and what doesn't it mean?

·         Does unconditional love require tolerating abuse?


From Chapter 2:  How it began


Small children should not be yelled at, called names, and cussed out for minor offenses.  Little girls should not be told over and over again how **** stupid they are. A four-year-old should not have to watch as her enraged father pulls out his pocket knife and slices her rubber ball in half because she bounced it in the house. I began having nightmares after this event; I was sure he would do the same to me if I stepped out of line again. 

A thirteen year old girl should not have to sit sobbing as her furious father cuts her bangs an inch below her hairline because "they were too **** long!" For months, I carefully tucked my one-inch bangs under longer hair before school each morning until they finally grew out.

When I was in high school, I brought the family car home 20 minutes late after school one day.  My father cussed me out and called me a "dog."  Then, over the next few days, each time I walked into the room, he stood up and abruptly exited in a huff – as if to say that the very sight of me was intolerably offensive. I longed for my father's love and approval:  I had never been late before, and I was never late again! 


The worst part


Personal Journal Entry:

The only thing worse than abuse is not being able to protest it.


The abuse was relatively easy to put behind me; but the dysfunction that resulted from the abuse was a whole different story.  The worst part was not the abuse; the cover-up was far more destructive. No one protected me or spoke the truth about what was happening; it was covered over as if all was fine and there was nothing wrong with being treated with brutality and injustice – that's what twisted me into knots. 


From Chapter 5:  Right and Wrong Matter


Truth:  does it exist?


According to a professor of mine, there is no objective right or wrong, no real Truth.  To claim otherwise – much less, that you have a handle on it – is self-righteous and arrogant.  To put it another way, "Who are you to tell me I'm wrong?" That's a good question. 

What is Right, what's Wrong; and who gets to decide?

I had a sharp difference of opinion with someone very important to me.  Should I trust my feelings?   Maybe I was imagining things and had not really been wronged after all – but it sure felt like it. Possibly my reaction to what felt like emotional cruelty was simply a case of distorted perceptions on my part – that's what I was told anyway. 


From Chapter 6:  Truth Revealed


It's written on our heart


I asked more than one counselor how I could tell if my perceptions were valid, but no one could give me a credible answer.  It's pivotal – it's the big elephant in the room.  Whether you believe in a higher power or not, we all daily operate by certain standards of right and wrong within the context of relationships. We may not always adhere to them, but we sure expect others to!  Where do these – to a large extent universal – tenants come from? 


Truth and Grace in Harmony:  Christians have rights after all.


As Christians, we are told it's important to lay down our rights, and it is – at times.  A Bible commentary I read recently encouraging Christians to lay down their rights, pointed to Paul and Jesus as examples.  But no mention was made of the fact that Jesus and Paul often stood up for their rights.  Taking a 360° view of both Jesus and Paul taught me to pause before laying down my rights and pray this prayer:


God, show me when to lay down my rights and when not to.


Truth and Grace in Harmony:  Turning the other cheek


There are those of us sitting in the pews who error in the opposite direction:  we are timid, and we fail to hold others accountable; in other words, we are doormats.  We really need assurance – from the pulpit – that it is okay, even Christ-like, to call wrong what is and to even get angry about it!  We need to know that protecting ourselves from evil and doing everything within our power to oppose it is Biblical! The absolute worst thing that a Christian doormat can hear on Sunday morning is that she needs to be more patient and exercise more unconditional Christian love!


Truth and Grace in Harmony: God's gridlock       


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14 NIV).


 Conflicting emotions are tough.  The internal storm they generate has brought me to the brink of despair more than once. Most of us have experienced this kind of inner turmoil – a tug-of-war of the heart:  someone we love wounds us deeply.  What they did was serious, and a wedge now exists between us that cannot be overlooked or easily fixed.  Love says, "This relationship means the world to me;" truth says, "I can't possibly overlook what they did."  This is exactly the kind of double bind that we – all of us – put God in.  What was God's solution to His heart-wrenching predicament?  

The Cross made it possible for God to have a relationship with us – the lost, the confused, and the hopelessly flawed – without violating his Truth, his standards of right and wrong.


From Chapter 9: "Don't Hurt"


Hurt:  the price of love:


It's hard to think of a time in the Gospels when Jesus modeled the virtue of a stiff upper lip. He wept when Lazarus died – and he didn't apologize for his tears!  Even though Jesus knew that minutes later he would raise his good friend to life, still he grieved. He wept over Jerusalem: he longed to tenderly gather them, but they would not be gathered.  The deeper you love, the more vulnerable you are to hurt – it just comes with the territory. If God himself is not exempt, why do we think we should be?


Where God comes in


If he doesn't get it, no one else ever will:

When you are slapped hard with injustice, don't think for a minute that God doesn't understand. No one suffered more unjustified, outrageous abuse than the Son of God; and no one who ever lived deserved it less.


He stepped down from his rightful throne and took a walk in our shoes.  Why?  To offer mankind the most passionate love the world has ever known – and what did he get for his efforts? He was betrayed and deserted by his closest friends.  His words were twisted, and he was falsely accused. He was stripped naked, spat on, whipped, mocked, and humiliated by those he came to ransom. In fake 'homage,' they fashioned a crown of thorns, knelt down, and pretended to worship him. Grabbing the mock scepter from his hand, they beat him repeatedly over the head with it. And when "they were finally tired of mocking him," they murdered the Author of Life (Matthew 27:31 NLT).  If Jesus Christ doesn't feel your pain, no one ever will.


From Chapter 11: "Don't get angry"


Anger:  the emotion of self-identity


I remember lamenting, "Life would be so much easier if I could just get rid of anger altogether!"  But imagine a world where no one got angry, ever, about anything – the horrific deeds of pedophiles eliciting nothing more than a collective yawn. What makes us angry speaks volumes about what we value, who we are, and what we are made of – as a society and as individuals.


Good Christians don't get angry


You know what makes me angry? I get angry when people distort what God has to say in order to fit their preconceived notions! I'm sure it's rarely intentional; nonetheless, a lack of intentionality does not mitigate the damage it does.  What topic is most frequently distorted within Christian circles?  The across-the-board prohibition against anger – it seems that anger is a sin! A surface-only knowledge of what God has to say, lopsided sermons, and my own dysfunction left me with the distinct impression that good Christians don't get angry, ever!

If anger is a sin, Jesus didn't get the memo; He was no pushover.  In Mathew chapter 23 Jesus called the religious teachers and Pharisees hypocrites no less than six times; clearly Jesus was more than a bit heated.  Blind guides, whitewashed tombs, snakes, and sons of vipers are other choice words Christ used to describe these pious frauds.  Why didn't someone rebuke Him for his rant? (Jesus, get a grip; don't you know that name-calling is wrong and sarcasm a sin?) 


 The pressure cooker cycle:  suppressing legitimate anger


Counterproductive things people say – with the best of intentions:


·         "He/she doesn't really mean it." 

o   Some people really do mean it!

·         "Don't take it personally."

o   Don't take it personally, unless it's personal.

·          "Remember, nobody's perfect."

o   True, but some imperfect people are basically trustworthy, and other imperfect people are decidedly dangerous!


Feeling guilty for feeling angry


Doormats not only have a bad habit of suppressing legitimate anger; to make matters worse, they heap boatloads of false guilt upon themselves for feeling angry in the first place! 


From Chapter 12: "Always be Humble"


Pride vs dignity


Personal journal entry:


How can I distinguish between pride and dignity?


·         Pride is based on the lie that I am better than you.

·         Dignity is based on the truth that we are equal.


·         Pride says the rules don't apply to me.

·         Dignity says I will hold you – and myself – to the same standard.


·         Pride says I will not yield my rights.

·         Dignity says I will yield my rights for a greater good but not when it fosters lopsided relationships.



From Chapter 13: "Always Forgive"


We should always forgive


"Always forgive" is not a myth I needed to bust. It was my definition of forgiveness that needed revamping. It is so important to define what forgiveness is and isn't before insisting that you or somebody else do it! 


Forgiveness begins and ends with this truth: He really gets it!


I felt like a steam-roller had flattened my heart, shifted gears, and backed over it again for good measure. I desperately wanted someone to understand – so much so that I told anyone who would listen all about it!  If just one person truly 'got it,' I would be okay, I thought – and I was right.

But those I went to for understanding didn't know the whole story.  They didn't know how patient I had been – what I had endured and for how long I had endured it.   They couldn't perceive how wildly the truth had been twisted and history rewritten – strictly out of 'concern and love,' of course.  They had no way of understanding how closely her tactics tracked with the abuse I had experienced as a little girl or how much I desired her love instead of her brutality.  After much disappointment, I came to see that those I went to for sympathy didn't get it, not because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't.  Thanks to Moore (n.d.), I finally realized that God is the only one capable of getting it! (How good it feels to rest in this knowledge.) 


Just 'let it go.' 


When it comes to offenses, we've all been told by well-meaning advisors to just 'let it go.'  This works well for minor offenses and even for significant ones, but not so much for those that cut to the quick. To advise the victim of a serious wrong to just 'let it go' is an affront – as if to say, "What happened to you may have shredded your heart and ravaged your soul, but it's really not that big of a deal." 


From Chapter 14: "Always Love Unconditionally"


I was confused


When someone wronged me unfairly, I naturally wanted to speak up for myself or at least protect myself from further harm.  But I felt an obligation to rein in these feelings – I needed to love without condition, I thought, the way God loves me. I believed my unconditional love would eventually melt the hearts of others just as God's unconditional love had melted mine. I finally learned the hard way:  I am not God.


For the love of family 


I was taught that you never give up on family – no matter what.  If anything, there should be a higher standard for those in our inner circle, not a lower one. There is more reason not to accept ill-treatment from those you love and trust.  Why?  The pain is blistering when someone who is supposed to love and support you needlessly slashes you instead – it's betrayal upon abuse, a corrosive combination! 


From Chapter 15:  "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"




When it comes to conflict, aggressors don't desire to reach equitable solutions – instead they desire to wound and win. Sincere sorts can't conceive of anyone so ruthless.  With misplaced trust they let down their guard in an effort to reason with the aggressor and end up battered and bruised for their efforts. 

The happiness of others makes them resentful and angry! They feel threatened by your contentment and success.  Jealous aggressors don't just resent you; they act on their resentment by disparaging your accomplishments, your appearance, or your possessions – appalling!


Covert emotional abuse


Some emotional aggressors are overt; they are easy to spot:  they yell, scream, and call you names. Others are covert. They hide their jabs under a cloak of 'teasing' and cleverly characterize false accusations as 'constructive.' They feel taller by making you smaller and employ sleight-of-hand methods to go about it.  Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, they use deception to disguise their malice; this makes them twice as dangerous and twice as culpable for the cruelty they dispense.


Covert emotional abuse: a hypothetical case


A husband pressures his wife to engage in sexual acts that she finds degrading.  "I don't like that," she asserts.  (Now this man knows that his wife was sexually abused by her uncle when she was a little girl, and he intends to use this information to his full advantage.) 

With softness in his voice and compassion in his eyes, he addresses her objections: "Sweetheart, we're married – intimacy isn't wrong within the bounds of marriage.  I love you so much, Honey.  I want our marriage to be happy, but your frigidity is affecting our relationship. I've been very patient with you for many years.  This isn't about me; we both know that this is about your uncle.  It's time to face the pain; you need to forgive him once and for all – please Darling, for us.  It's time you get the help you need." 

Although it wasn't easy, this woman forgave her uncle decades earlier; and she is far from frigid.   Her emotionally (and sexually) abusive husband is not only gas lighting his wife, he goes straight for the jugular by using the sexual abuse she suffered as a little girl to do it – appalling!  But that's not the worst of it! He camouflages his unfathomable disrespect and cruelty under a blanket of love and compassion, something a wife deeply desires and needs from her husband. 

She is furious, but not sure if she should be – after all he loves her, doesn't he? Maybe he's right; maybe there really is something wrong with her. He's only trying to help; he just wants her to be happy – he's been so patient for so long!


From Chapter 17:  Being Assertive


The best of both


Try this…

Think of someone you know who would classify as passive. Do the same for an aggressive individual.  Now list all the qualities applicable to each, both good and bad; then cross off the bad characteristics. What you have left is the best of both. Assertive people are the best of both, minus the drawbacks. 


·         Aggressors can't receive correction.

·         Doormats can't give correction.

·         Assertive individuals welcome correction as long as it's warranted and appropriately delivered. At the same time, they don't hesitate to correct others when necessary.


·         Aggressors believe they are superior.

·         Doormats believe they are inferior.

·         Assertive individuals believe the truth:  they are neither superior nor inferior to others.