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EMOTIONAL ABUSE (Recognizing, Repenting, and Responding to Abuse)

Whether you are experiencing emotional abuse personally or not, this is relevant, for we are all capable of subtle forms of abuse, and, abuse is rampant, even by those who claim the name of Christ. The gospel can help us recognize our propensity toward it and repent of it. If it is a pattern in a spouse (as our focus these weeks has been on marriage) or one close to you, Scripture gives us wisdom in dealing with it. One of the first scriptural truths we must recognize is that emotional abuse is just as damaging, if not more, than physical abuse. God tells us that rash words can pierce just as much as physical sword thrusts. In marriage, the thrusts go particularly deep, for this is your covenant partner who promised to love you.


Proverbs 12-18AC06B7DC-BA35-4076-8FC8-5A5F448295F4

emotionallydestructive marriage3f7852425e5b3c6b360790d130bd4c13This week I will link you to a test that Leslie Vernick designed to help you know if you are in a poor marriage or in an abusive marriage. If you fill out the test, Leslie’s ministry will e-mail back your results. One thing that differentiates a poor marriage from an abusive one is a pattern. We are all capable of rash words, of demeaning one another — but a pattern is evidence of an abusive heart that will keep on producing bad fruit until there is genuine repentance. You will also watch a video from Leslie and her colleague, Chris Moles, discussing abuse. Not only will they help you identify abuse in yourself or another, but give you practical scriptural steps for dealing with it. I know there are active and silent victims of abuse on this blog. May we all pray they will be helped through His Word and His Spirit and that they will, as Leslie puts it, “find their voice and reclaim their hope.” There is hope for we have a God who sees and who cares, just as He saw and cared for the abused Hagar in the wilderness.

Before we begin, I want to share two brief stories of personal testimony. Another who teaches the same scriptural principles and has been of enormous help to me is Jan Silvious. First, it was Jan who helped me recognize my own sneaky form of emotional abuse.


When I lamented to Jan that my administrative assistants kept quitting, she said, simply, “Seems to be a pattern in your life, Dee.” That was a wake-up call to me, for my sinful heart had been continually blaming my administrative assistants. The tongue of the wise can bring healing. And I knew (partly from Jan’s book, Fool-Proofing your Life) that one characteristic of a fool, according to Proverbs, is that he or she will not listen to counsel, so I wanted to listen. Jan was the first to awaken me to my pattern of manipulation. And then it was sermons on idols of the heart that awakened me to the sin beneath the sin, in my case, control. I saw that I was an idolater. Instead of trusting God to be in control, I was trying to control people. That was the sin beneath the sin.


My repentance and faith to start turning control over to God has completely changed my relationships. He is turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh — and that heart is now producing very different fruit. Though this is a daily walk of repentance, I can tell you, and so can those close to me, that my life is so different.

It is important to first look at our own hearts.

It is also vital to recognize abuse in those close to us and to know how to wisely respond.


Jan is also the one young woman close to me that she was in an abusive relationship. She couldn’t see it at first because the abuse wasn’t physical, and often that has been the only kind of abuse the church recognized. But God her mightily, restored her, and now she is being used to rescue others. I know His long out-stretched arm is capable of rescuing you if you are, indeed, in an emotionally abusive relationship. He is the God who sees and who cares for the broken-hearted. His arm is not too short to rescue.



Renee has graciously been managing a FACEBOOK SECRET PRAYER PAGE FOR “DEE’S BIBLE STUDY FRIENDS” and Diane has been helping. It is a great place for prayer, keeps it confidential, and helps us keep our focus on Bible study here. That is not to say you can’t ask for prayer here, but it does help to have many of you using this secret place instead.

Two ways to join:

If you have a “Facebook Friend” already in this prayer group, that friend can add you. (Please ask someone other than Dee.)


You can e-mail Renee and ask her to “Friend” you. This is her e-mail address written out so spammers can’t pick it up – but hopefully you can figure it out. She can also help you with questions:

Reneeo at brookings dot net


A big thank you to Renee and Diane!

Sunday Icebreaker

1. What stands out to you from the above and why?

Monday-Wednesday (Test and Bible Study)

2. Here is the link to Leslie’s test if you want to find out about your marriage: http://leslievernick.com/the-emotionally-destructive-marriage/assessment/

Abuse counselors differentiate between being foolish and being a fool, between an incident of emotional abuse and a pattern of emotional abuse. We are all foolish and we all will have incidents where we are guilty of emotional abuse with unfair and unkind words. So what is it that makes a person a scriptural “fool” or an abuser? Scripture stresses the heart. A heart that is intent on hurting another will also manifest a pattern of abuse. It is the heart, Jesus said, the produces good or bad fruit.



In the video you will watch from Leslie and Chris at the end of the week, they stress the danger of just looking at outward behavior to determine abuse. Chris gives an example of a husband who left cabinet doors open — it so irritated his wife. Was that abuse? You wouldn’t think so — until you learn that he did it on purpose to hurt her. His heart was evil toward her.

3. Read Matthew 15:1-20, asking the Lord to help you really focus.

A. What behavior of the disciples did the Pharisees criticize in verse 2?

B. Explain, on the basis of Jesus answer to them in verses 3-6, how the Pharisees were trying to appear to be righteous, but in fact, had hearts far from God.

C. Examine your own heart to see if verse 8 describes you. If so, repent. You can pray here or silently.

D. What is the main point of Jesus’ teaching in verses 10-20?

Prepare your heart for more study with this:

4. After listening to the above, how is your heart toward God? Toward the people in your daily life? (Our hearts are so deceitful, so ask God to search and to show you.)

Unlike God, we cannot see into the hearts of others. But Proverbs gives us some warning flags for recognizing a fool in our lives. We must recognize them so that we can wisely respond to them. One thing we have already seen is that fools can be religious, but Psalm 14:1 tells us that in their hearts, they say “there is no God.” Let’s consider some other red flags.

5. Read Proverbs 12:15-20

A. Contrast the fool and the wise person in verse 15.

   If a person is always right, he has no need to listen to counsel from God or from others, and never needs to repent. It truly is a danger sign if a person never admits sin and never sincerely repents.

B. Contrast the fool and the wise person in verse 16.

A short fuse can also be evidence of a heart far from God. The reason a wise person can overlook an insult is because they can commit their case to God.

C. To what are rash words compared in verse 18? Explain.

D. Can you discern the heart behind the actions in verse 18 for both the fool and also the wise? Explain.

E. What heart motive do you see behind deceit in verse 20? What is the fool devising or planning? What is the wise person planning?

F. On the basis of what you have studied so far, contrast the heart of an abusive fool with a peace-loving wise person.


Once you recognize you are in an abusive relationship, you need to know how to respond. Obviously I can only give you starting tools — and I heartily recommend Leslie’s books and website for more information. I often think of the example of David and Saul. Saul was trying to kill David, but David did not immediately back up. It wasn’t until Saul demonstrated a pattern of abuse and would not listen to either David or his son Jonathan that David fled for his life. But even then, David’s heart was for Saul. He forgave him and honored him as king.

Leslie, in the video, gives the example of someone sitting across from you who is kicking you in the shins. Instead of immediately backing up, she says you should first: SPEAK UP. Then: STAND UP. And, as a last resort: BACK UP

What would that look like in a marriage? Here are just a few examples:

SPEAK UP: Speaking the truth in love, saying something like: “It hurts me when you call me names — it hurts me when you belittle me in front of the children — it hurts me when you demean me.”

STAND UP: Reinforce your words. Chris, in the video, suggests writing down the words that hurt you without any punctuation and showing them to the person and say again, simply, “These words you speak devalue and hurt me.” If he or she will not hear, then tell them you cannot live like this and will need to separate until they get help and bear the fruit of a heart change. (I know this is the frightening part to the abused — for they know it may lead to divorce. When my young friend was in her abusive marriage, Jan told her that drawing boundaries was healthy not only for her, but for her husband. It might bring him to his senses. If not, he might leave her because of disliking boundaries. She asked my friend to consider her two hardest possible paths and choose one: 1) Living with abuse, and allowing her future children to live with abuse 2) Losing this marriage, and possibly never re-marrying.

(She prayed and sought the Lord and chose to set boundaries, separating and asking him to go to a Christian counselor and bear fruit of repentance for six months before she returned to him. She stood up to him and then backed up from him when he continued to refuse boundaries and continued to abuse her. Today she is healthy, remarried, and mentoring others in this situation.)

BACK UP: Separate and ask your spouse to go to counseling with you (or alone). When the relationship is healthy again, bearing fruit of lasting change, you will return.

6. Comments on the above?

Thursday-Friday Video

7. Watch and share your notes and comments on this video: Click here to view the video


8. What is your take-a-way and why?


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  1. I was away last week, but am so glad that I can do the study even a week late. It is such an important topic, affects so many and
    in the past I struggled with speaking up, setting boundaries and working on the way to address the verbal abuse.
    It is indeed an area to look at my own heart and actions. The video discussion was very helpful as well as the questions that were addressed.
    This morning my Bible reading from the Daily Bread was on the blame game and the reading from Genesis about Sarai and Hagar and Abram. (so familiar to us all)
    The Lord knows our hearts and that is the whole issue, the condition of our hearts.
    Thanks so much, Dee, for addressing this difficult problem that confronts so many of us.
    I have been witnessing to a cousin who grew up in an extremely abusive “Christian” home in which she was placed.
    60 years later the effects are overwhelming and she is so untrusting of the church. I am praying for her salvation, but her lifestyle has been so warped by this childhood. At least I believe in a God who still is performing miracles.

  2. Hello ladies,
     I know I very rarely post, but I heard about this lesson and knew I needed to come take a look. Though I have already divorced I did take the assessment. Of course I already knew I was in an abusive marriage. But like my mom said, good to know I wasn’t crazy for leaving him.
    I haven’t watched the video yet, but I will. Also will be looking at the blogs after this one as well.