Perpetuating the Abusive Cycle

Sep 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: All Posts, Christina's Blog

by Christina Enevoldsen

When I discovered that my husband was sexually abusing my daughter, I went to what I thought was the highest authority—our pastor. In our church, if something wasn’t Christian, it wasn’t to be trusted. Secular authorities like the police were inferior because they didn’t know God or his will.

When my husband and I met with our pastor, he prayed with my husband and told me that I could prevent my husband from molesting our daughter by being a supportive wife, trusting him, building up his self-esteem, submitting to his will, and to submitting to sex whenever he wanted it.

In my mind, this man was speaking for God so I didn’t question his instructions. I’d been indoctrinated in the abusive system since before I could talk, so it sounded right to me.

In the abusive system, the abuser is the victim and the victim is the abuser. When the abuser does something destructive, it’s really the victim’s fault for not doing things right. It’s the victim’s responsibility to keep the peace and to keep the abuser happy so that nobody gets hurt. The abuser has no responsibility.

If a boy was yelled at, it was because he wouldn’t listen.
If a girl was raped, it was because she was too sexy.
If a wife was beaten, it was because she was a bad cook.

I accepted this “truth” that the abuser is the victim because it helped me cope in the abusive system. As a helpless child being sexually abused by my dad, I survived by convincing myself that I could do something to stop it. I couldn’t face the truth that I was completely at my father’s mercy and whatever he wanted to do, he could. I couldn’t admit my complete lack of power, so I invented it. I told myself that I was powerful, so powerful that I controlled my dad. I was too pretty or I was being bad and that’s the only reason my dad stuck his penis in my mouth. I wasn’t a victim, my dad was. I just needed to figure out how to stop being too pretty or being bad and I could stop the abuse.

In the abusive religious system I was in, I survived the same way. Appease, placate, keep my head down, don’t question anything, follow the rules.

I made plenty of other disciples of this same sick system, passing on the coping methods that I used. I taught classes on how wives should submit to their husbands in the same dysfunctional way that I lived. Submission was supposed to “win your husband to Christ”, so it became an approved form of manipulation. You could make your husband be a better person if you were good enough. In my mind, I was saving women and their families from abuse since I believed that good behavior was the best way to be protected.

Of course, placating abusers is no protection at all and only perpetuates the cycle. I discovered later that my husband continued to abuse our daughter for another eleven years. The pastor’s instructions to me only gave my husband more power and left my daughter in a more vulnerable place.

The only thing that stops abuse is standing up to abusers. To stop being a victim, I had to admit that I had been a victim. I had to recognize how powerless I was as a child under the hand of my father—that there wasn’t anything I could have done to stop him. I had to see that it was a lie that I could control an abuser by my good behavior.

Only by identifying with my powerlessness then, could I take back my power now. Now that I stand up to abusers instead of trying to make them happy, for the first time in my life, I’m not being abused.

A note for clarification: This is my EX-pastor and my EX-husband. My ex-husband is serving a 15 year sentence for sexually abusing our daughter. The man I’m married to now, Don Enevoldsen, is not an abuser and works with me in this stand against abuse.

Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion. If you would like to protect your privacy, you don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.

Related Posts:
Domestic Violence: The Signs I Missed
Standing Up For Myself: Reclaiming My Self-Worth
Understanding My Abusive Parents Didn’t Heal Me
Peace and Protection From Abuse
The Truth About My Abuser’s Threats

Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and five grandchildren.

[read Christina's story here]

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21 comments
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  1. Christina,

    As you know, I went to the same church and submitted to the same abusive system governed by that same pastor. I remember the teachings about submitting to your husband and how to be a better wife to help him become the man God intended him to be. It’s so sick!! Looking back on those teachings, I know that I not only submitted to them, but taught my daughters the same thing, all in the name of God.

    Being on staff and working with the pastor and his family, I’ve seen many women provoked to be a better wife and get their husbands in order. And those that wanted out of abusive relationships were then cast out and belittled as failures. What other recourse did they have but to stay in the abuse and allow it to continue on?

    I can understand how their “help” is to be told to pray and submit. And i also understand how we were followers of their authority, feeling like we failed and had to “lift” up our abusive spouses. I totally understand.

    When I went to them about my abusive husband I was told to buy sexy underwear and nightgowns. Yuck!!

    Thank you for sharing this and explaining the abusive world and cycle. ((hug)) Patty

  2. I attended a church which taught explicitly to submit..funny the young pastor two years after we joined hook line and sinker, was convicted of “peeping tom”…always obey your gut feelings..never what authority says..seems like it is easier to hide sin in the church but to make excuses for it to cover it up is normal religious doctrine. Who governs the Church? I mean who do they answer too?? How are lawless religious people punished? Sadly throughout history very rarely.

  3. Patty,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with the same church. Your lingerie comment reminds me of something I read the other day,”If my wife would let me ride her as much as I ride my motorcycle, I’d be home right now.” BARF!
    So a woman is only interesting and worth spending time with if she’s “putting out”? So it’s a wife’s fault if her husband is gone all the time? Again, victim blaming!

    We could go on for days about how abusive that church was to us and still is to others. I was just thinking about M.B, the pastor’s wife’s assistant and how she was encouraged to leave her husband, but then when she did, she was fired. I wonder if the pastor’s wife encouraged her to leave because she, herself, couldn’t stand up for herself in her own marriage. Then, because she couldn’t stand up to her husband and sons, who run the church by their rules, couldn’t stand behind someone who was divorced.

    It seems she felt powerless in her own marriage because she used the same manipulative tactics that I mentioned. She taught the women leaders to run up our charge cards to increase our husband’s faith–get him into financial trouble so he learns to trust God more. Even that didn’t sound right to me then.

    Hugs,
    Christina

  4. Elizabeth,
    I’m not surprised to hear that there were hidden things in that church. Healthy churches empower people to think for themselves, not to just obey.

    When it comes to the question, “Who governs the church?” If people governed themselves instead of giving the pastor so much power and then it wouldn’t be so easy to cover up the things that go on. Of course, that’s easier said than done as I experienced for myself. Abusers go wherever there are people caught in the abusive belief system (victim mentality), so as more and more victims are healed, fewer abusers will be able to get away with it.

    Thanks for your comment!
    Christina

  5. So basically the pastor told you to let your husband have sex with you whenever he wanted to prevent your daughter from being molested. I think it’s there is an important truth that needs to be addressed more. Wives being blamed for their husbands sexually abusing the children because they don’t put out. I found an old letter my mom wrote to my dad around the time I remember him starting in on my sister. My mom said ‘I’m too exhausted from motherhood to have a sexual appetite.’ and so the sexual abuse begins. So I guess it’s her fault according to your pastor and other small minded ignorant fearful idiots of the world. BULLSHIT!!! MARRIAGE IS NOT A LICENSE TO HAVE SEX WITH WHOMEVER YOU MAY BE PROVIDING FOR EVEN IF YOUR WIFE IS NOT HAVING SEX WITH YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN ARE CONVENIENT ‘WILLING’ ‘OBLIGATED’ AND FREE.

  6. Phoenix,
    I agree that it’s so common for a wife to think she is to blame for the husband turning toward their children. I’ve also heard SO many times from survivors that their mother refused their father, so their father turned to them as though that’s the natural progression of things.

    There are so many things wrong with this! The mother isn’t “causing” the father to abuse the child. If someone is refused sex, even from their spouse, that doesn’t mean they are owed sex from someone else, especially a child! Just as you stated, marriage doesn’t equal sex whenever you want, though I know many people think that’s their right.

    It’s not about sex, anyway, it’s about power. When the husband (though this applies to the wife too–just not as common) believes his wife is duty bound to provide him with sex, he feels wronged, which in his mind equals power taken away. It’s power he feels entitled to so he seeks out power from someone less powerful than he is. No matter what the reason, it’s always the abusers fault.

    Thanks for your comment!
    Christina

  7. I have come to learn that sexual abusers stick together, incahoots i think is the word. I have also come to learn that many of these predators work within the church. It is their mask/coverup.

  8. Innerbewty,
    I agree that abusers stick together. My husband recently wrote a post for this site about the abusive family and said very much the same thing: http://overcomingsexualabuse.com/2012/09/02/profile-of-an-abusive-family/
    I’ve noticed that myself and that’s how it first occurred to me that my dad hadn’t changed at all from when I was a little girl and he was orally raping me and doing other horrid things. My dad stood by my ex-husband, even though he knew he had sexually abused my daughter. Abusers find each other and validate each other’s behavior and they often protect each other, like my ex-pastor did with my ex-husband.

    Thanks for bringing up that point and welcome to OSA!
    Christina

  9. Your pastor’s “advice” is horrifying. I think there was a time where I would have swallowed that pill too – it’s astounding how much religion and spirituality tie in with abuse. I’ve come to believe spirituality is one of the most damaged and yet most under-addressed areas when it comes to the aftermath of abuse, especially when it’s used as a tool to further or justify abuse, and/or when the abuse IS spiritual/religious.

    Just as I believe every pedophile/abusive priest or pastor should face legal consequences for their crimes, I also believe any pastor or priest who gives out such horrible counsel – and thus enabling continued abuse, because they have an opportunity and an obligation to stop it – should face consequences. Their knowing about it, but refusing to report it, makes them an accessory and defies the obligation they have as authority figures to turn the situation over to law officials.

  10. Interesting article. It points out a well kept secret thats hidden among a lot of the religious circles. I’ve grown up in a similar enviroment and seen first hand the bible being used as a tool for manipulation and mind control. I’m writing a book based on an extensive system of ritualistic abuse and mind control. The best we can do is bring light to this darkness; the light of our love and attention. It’s shocking to see how many people shy away from these truths. We owe it to ourselves and our children to know these truths, face them, and the monsters that propogate this system of abuse and silence.

  11. PS,
    I agree that the pastor’s advice is horrifying. That wasn’t the last time that church covered up abuse. We’ve heard of many other cases spanning a twenty year period. That’s one of the reasons my husband and I are speaking out about them.
    Christina

  12. And I say good for you! They need to be exposed and do not deserve anyone’s protection. Period. We’re in a new century AND millennium. Time for change!

  13. PS,
    There have been some people who have told us we’re wrong for publicly exposing the church leaders (since we’ve named them) but there is NOTHING wrong with it. It’s wrong NOT to expose things like that when you know about it.
    Christina

  14. Sean,
    Welcome to OSA. I’m sorry you’ve experienced this type of abuse too. I’m glad you’re bringing it to light also!
    Christina

  15. Gah! What is with some people?? I agree there is nothing wrong with exposing it – if anything it’s necessary to end the cycle. I’m tired of the whole “innocent until proven guilty” defense in naming abusers. How are they supposed to be brought to justice at all if we don’t name them first?

  16. Dear Christina,

    I was molested by my brother for about ten years (I think it started at age 8 to age 18-when I stopped it).

    I told my mother and she asked me a few questions and that was the only time I discussed it until 25 years later when I had found out my younger sister had also been molested.

    My birth family continues to live in the pretense that the sexual abuse never happened. I refuse that l continue to focus on healing myself from the grave wounds of my childhood.

    It is really relieving to read about the experiences of survivors on your website.

    Regards,

    Asha

  17. Dear Christina,

    I am pretty certain my son in law is sexually abusing my 2&4 year old granddaughters and wonder if you could give me any guidance on how to get them to tell me. They both have said things that raised all the red flags but clam up as soon as you ask any questions. The oldest is showing signs of serious post dramatic stress. She almost told me this week. She told me she had a secret to tell me. She came to whisper in my ear and started to cry said “i cant!” and ran off. I tried to talk to her and she was so tight lipped and litterally biting her bottom lip so much I was afraid she was going to bite through it! I can’t talk to my daughter because she is totally under this very controlling man. I need to get them to talk but it’s obvious they are terrified to do so. How can I ask without leading? How did your dad get you to keep it a secret? I feel if I can figure out how he is controlling them and keeping them from talking I could possibly find away to dispell that fear. It is hard to get the girls to go home when they are with us. They cry and beg to stay with us. It is killing my husband and I. We know if we file a compliant without more proof he will totally charm them and then promptly keep the girls from us. He will know where it came from!

    I’m also curious how and when theses dads do this to young girls without mom’s knowing or catching them??
    Any tips you could give me would be very much appreciated!

  18. I am relieved to know that this blog exists, and that the poster is willing to do it even under a real name. I myself did not have the courage to actually attach my real name to posts about abuse until the past month. The exception was of ones I was very vague about and not mentioning straight up that it’s sexual abuse that I’m talking about.

    I myself have only been publishing posts about this subject in a more open manner. I was scared to do it, but this blog is an inspiration–just to know that other people are brave enough to speak out their stories. I shared here a similar situation. I’m struggling now because no one ever did anything about the abuse that was inflicted on me and lately my dad was complaining about “injustice” done to him by social services. Even if it was injustice, he has to remember all the times he did get off Scott free for things he’s done. (That’s what my link to the post included in the website field is about.)

    I commend you for standing up for your daughter. I forgave my mom for not doing the same, but am right now wishing that something had been done before my sisters were born. I am going to share submit that story to this blog for consideration later.

  19. I have lived with my husband for 40 years, but I have stopped loving him since 2004 approximately 9 years today. I feel that I hate him, I can’t have a sexual relation with him without feel grossed out. That is when I found out that he fondled or touched improperly our own grand daughters ages 8 and 6. To me that was the most unimaginable thing coming from him. I took good care of my grand daughters when my son got their custody after his divorce, but I could not ever imagine that leaving them alone with their grand father while I tended an elderly neighbor three times a week, will be a problem. They seemed happy when around their grand father and I did not have a clue. I found out when I overheard one of them tell the other “that is gross” so I asked what they were talking about and they stayed quiet. But after my instance, they offered to tell me if I did not get made, they said. I was in shock, when they told me that their grand father had touched them improperly. Even when there was no penetration, I just felt as if it was the same. I told them that we needed to report it, but both started crying and saying that they did not want their grand pa to go to jail and did not want her father to know. I wanted me to promise. I did not want to betray their trust and wanted them to come to me without if they needed to again, so I comply with their cry and beg. I promised them that it would not happen again, that they would not have him ever touched them that way again, that I was going to put a stop to it, now that they told me. I told them that I was so angry and felt so bad for them and that they should have told me sooner and thank them for telling me when they did. Deep inside I was holding off from bursting and crying, but I had to not make them feel guilty of making me cry. They kept on begging me not to tell anyone. I did not call the police to report him, but I did have a long talk with him, alone. I was angry that night when he came home from work.I remember slapping him a few times and hitting him with my fists on the chest, while I cried and cried. He was remorseful and crying too. He asked to allow me to asked the girls for forgiveness. I asked them to come in to our room but stayed with them. He cried over them and told them that what he did was wrong and asked to be forgiven and told that he would not fail them again ever. I did not allow them to stay long, or asked them to forgive him. I told him to move out or I would report him even if the girls did not wanted me to. He said he would and after two days he was still there. I went to the clerks office to try to get an order to have him move out, but I had to put the reason I wanted him out and I couldn’t come to do it. I had brought my grand daughter with me just in case I made my mind to press charges that maybe she could talk, but when I told her my plan she started crying. My order was denied cause I had no good cause, so I returned home and just told him to move out and he did. For a year he lived in his own apartment and I only saw him on special occasions. Our three grown children wanted to know the reason why we separated and I just told them that he started to have an affair. They already knew about some of his past affairs. I always made sure he never was alone with the girls or any other child. I could not find myself telling any family member any of this. When my husbands year lease came up again, all my children got together with the two of us and begged us to get back together. During the year we were separated he was to go for counseling and he did for the whole year. I took my children’s advice and took him back. But I have not been able to be the same with him. Now the oldest grand daughter who seemed to be the most affected one, came to me and told me that she had made a poem or short story of what happened to her and also told her boyfriend. She is now almost 18 years old. Even when he never touched them again for almost 10 years since it happened, I begin to feel same way I did when it actually happened. I hate him, can’t stand to look at him. I don’t know if I should get my children together and tell them what happened then, or wait to see if it gets discovered by her poems or it gets told by her boyfriend. I can’t seem to cope with this problem again. What should I do? Please tell me.

  20. Dear Christina,
    My comment above has a few spelling grammar that need to be corrected. I was sure I wrote the correct words but when it was posted some words changed, I think?? Please answer me back . I am going through depression just thinking of how to deal with this now after so long. I never forgot it, it is always in the back of my mind. They have mentioned the molestation , a few times during the nine years after it happened, and every time I asked them if he tried to do it again and they say, no. But I can’t forget it and can’t come up with a way to forgive him. He is a nice man in all other ways. Everyone loves him and comes to him for everything. He is a great person to get along with and is always smiling. He cares about my needs and is a good provider. He loves his children and grand children, all 12 of them. When I remind him what he did he wants to die, he says. I feel sorry for what happened to him as a child, but that is not an excuse to do what he did. As a child he was abandoned by his mother at age 2 and their father placed them for years with different family members. At age 7 a teenage cousin raped him and he could not walk straight for days he told me. He said the pain was so much, he could not stand it. This aunt treated him good and he was happy otherwise. At age 10 his father decided to form a family with another woman and gathered all five children to leave back with him and his new wife. I have so much frustration and anger about all this. I have nightmares of facing a scandal about this abuse and of having all my family against me for not coming to them with it when it happened. I want some advice now, before I go crazy. I have send this information to other sites, hoping for a response and no one has answered me, but I think you will. Please do.

  21. Hi Alicia,

    I hope you come to a resolution a lot quicker than I did. I can identify with what you say about your dad–being nice in so many ways and expressing remorse for what he did. My dad would constantly say he wanted to die. I was conflicted for over 10 years, and really struggled because I needed him. However, I resolved after 10 years that I don’t think I will ever be able to trust him, and now I have decided to take yet one more break from talking to him. I had other times where I didn’t speak to him for years at a time. I get so angry when he feels like he has the right to tell me how to live my life or has the right to have any say at all. For awhile, I didn’t mind taking his advice because I believed he was really sorry and had changed. Now I doubt if he will ever change because he seems to be acting the same way as he did when my mom and he were still married. (They have been divorced for many, many years now–and so to speak I decided it’s now my time to divorce him.)

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