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.
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
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.