Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Watch out for Mean followed by Nice, followed by Mean….

Psalms 21:7-8 For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved. Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you.

One of the very common tactics of abusers is variously called crazy-making, or alleged Stockholm syndrome. Those aren’t exactly the same things, but they both mess with your mind in a big way. They lay false guilt on you, shame you, make you blame yourself and justify your abuser…and on and on. Recently I saw this kind of mechanism at work and thought it would be a good thing to share with you.
So here is a family member. Could be an abuser spouse, or as we all know, it could be a relative who abuses to control. Charming exterior persona. Well-liked by and popular with tons of people. But behind the scenes, you get this nasty email or comment. Maybe something like, “if you really loved so and so you would do so and so and because you have not done so and so, well, you just don’t care at all about so and so. I just don’t think I can be around you. Go away.” Keep in mind now that we are talking about a scenario in which YOU in fact did NOTHING wrong. Your “offense” is a creation of the wicked one’s imaginations.

Job 33:9-10 You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy.

Punishment, you see. For what? For not doing what they demand you do. Keep in mind of course that generally these kind NEVER communicate their expectations to you. Their goal is to control, not to work things out you see.
Alright, that’s the attack and the punishment. What comes next? In a normal, healthy relationship what would come next is repentance by them. “I had to call and tell you how sorry I am for the way I behaved toward you the other day. I was in a foul mood, but that’s no excuse. Please forgive me.” But this isn’t a normal, healthy, safe relationship. You can never have and will never have a healthy relationship with an abuser. No, here is what comes next: “I just called to tell you what a great job you did the other day. That was a very special thing you did and I really appreciate you for it.”
Huh? Am I nuts? Didn’t you just tell me a few days back that you don’t want to be around a piece of scum like me? Did that really happen? Maybe I misunderstood…no, no, it happened. You blasted me and guilted me and told me you didn’t want to see my face. So what’s this all about?  What’s this “making nice” as if the ugliness never occurred?
Well, what it is is wickedness. It is evidence that this person is polished at using abuser tactics to control, to manipulate, and to possess power over another, all the while maintaining outwardly their masquerade as “the greatest person ever known.” You see, this kind of — what shall we call it — antipodal behavior, this exercising of opposites, is intentionally designed to keep you off balance. It’s purpose is to instill self-doubt in you. It is a kind of psychological conditioning not really that different from giving an animal some kind of negative punishment (jolt on the shock collar for barking) and then a doggie cookie for when they do something good (go potty somewhere besides on the living room carpet). A conditioned animal obeys. So does an abuse victim as long as they don’t understand what is happening to them.
The solution? See what is happening. Name it for what it is. Recognize the person using that tactic habitually is an evil, unsafe person. Work to withdraw yourself from relationship with that person.


Hated Without a Cause


Another Letter from Pastor Screwtape to a Domestic Abuse Victim


  1. Debby

    My almost ex used this tactic all the time. It took most of the 30 yrs we were married to figure it out (thanks to LOTS of reading of books and articles such as this one!) Case in point: he had just sent me a scathing ugly text about the divorce, God will not bless you, you think you are perfect, I never quit, etc. followed by:
    I just want 2 thk u again 4 getting me that Boise speaker I still use it all the time and more now since we can only watch church on line. Thk u 4 being thoughtful and contemplating what I may like and use. It was deffinetly 1 of the best gifts u have ever got me. I hope ur injoying some time off and maybe working on ur book. 😊
    A gift I gave him 5 yrs earlier! Even within that short “positive” email, you can see 3 different tactics. Thank you again for speaking truth!

    • Amy

      Sounds like something my ex would do!! Crazy-making at it’s finest!

  2. Leslie

    This happened to me several times a week.
    I’m so glad the Lord set me free from that hell 23 months ago (still waiting for a final court date, we’ve had two mediations that failed —bet you can guess why— plus, the Rona has delayed things a bit longer).
    Recently, the stbx propositioned me with “the solution” or an alternative to court.
    Might I sent it to you, Pastor Jeff, I’m wondering if you’ve seen it before and your thoughts? Maybe it’ll help others, too?
    Thank you sooooo much for your ministry and posts. It’s my dose of truth in this crazy evil called being married to a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  3. I Woke Up

    Another word for this is ‘gaslighting’, and it is one of the main things narcissists and sociopaths do to people they are in close relationships with. It allows them to never deal with their sin. As long as the abused plays along, they stay controlled, and the abuser doesn’t get called out on their evil.
    Church leadership is very good at this as well. Not all churches, but probably the vast majority. It is certainly what I encountered at my former one. “Here’s how we do things here, and your problems don’t fit our formula, so do what you have to do, but we will not support you. Oh, and let’s chat over coffee between Sunday School and church about nothing in particular and act like nothing is wrong. Be sure you keep up your tithing. Because we’re all good here, aren’t you?”
    They are fooling themselves, but God will not be fooled by it.

    • DeLane

      I could never understand until I got some education on this tactic. So many times my ex would be raging one day. He could never tell me why if i asked except i deserved it. The next day he would be so sweet and normal. I remember looking at him then and asking myself how could this be the same man? Yes, it was crazy making and totally confusing. He did such a good job of love bombing me that now a year and half after our divorce i find myself still missing the normal sweet man that really wasn’t him. It takes daily discipline and reminding myself of how bad it truly was.

    • Halo Effect

      The character disordered often use corruption of truth to manipulate and control others. Gaslighting is a malevolent tool used to abuse and harass victims. The hope is that those aware of the sadistic dance will stop the cycle by affirming truth and disrupting evil schemes.

  4. suzzieq07

    I always meant to before, but today I started journaling interactions with my son. I think this will tell a great deal over time as to whether or not I have reason to count him in the “abuser” category (much as I hate to think of him that way). Writing just a short “recap” of the past few months and I was painfully reminded of some things. I will likely list in the journal: 1) abandonment 2) neglect; 3) misplaced sarcasm; 4) negation of what I feel or express; 5) changed plans/ disrespect of agreements; 6) blaming; 6) anger used to stop “criticism,” etc. I will also include notes on my own awareness and things I do to actively confront these things. BTW: I bought and am now reading “Wise as Serpents!” It’s really, really good! Thanks Pastor Crippen for all the insights backed solidly by Scripture.

    • Cara

      “Anger used to stop criticism.” That’s exactly what happens.
      Intimidation and threats of harm to stop the victim from questioning anything. Thanks for sharing that. People say you must have boundaries, but that’s what happens. You’re beaten or threatened with beatings or intimidated by other threats of harm and scared into not daring, any longer, to have an opinion, a preference, much less a boundary. So evil.
      Victims really are captives. People don’t understand how bad it really is when no other witnesses are present and how those severe bad times have a carry-over effect that determines everything else. It’s terrorism. It’s hostage-taking. It really is.
      Damn the wicked, evil, criminal abusers. And I mean it in a biblical sense, too. They steal lives, health, sanity, dreams, etc.

  5. Cara

    And this really does a person’s head in. So pay attention to how you feel. If you start feeling crazy, that’s important. You’re not crazy, but rather being psychologically abused.
    It’s very destabilizing to deal with this. And the more you are subjected to it, the more destabilized you will become. You’ll lose any confidence you have in yourself and your ability to describe reality. It’s crazy land that the abuser is creating. It’ll only worsen with time.
    It’s also how the walking-on-eggshells occurs. You live in dread of upsetting the apple cart and the abuser spewing his hatred and rage at you again. You try to keep the fake niceness of the abuser going as long as possible, despite having no control nor any influence over what the abuser does or how he treats you. But the abuser will brainwash you into believing its all your fault he abuses you and he’d not have to beat you or be nasty to you if you’d only ______. But it’s a lie. The abuser is a liar.
    Intermittent reinforcement works. It’s the slot machine syndrome. Casinos and abusers know this. People chase the high of the one initial win. They develop all sorts of theories as to how to achieve the next win that really have no basis in reality. It may be believed that if you play all the penny options on each slot machine game, then you win more. Or if you slowly, and manually pull the lever each time, versus pressing the button, you’ll win more. Or if you only had one more quarter to feed the machine, that would be the big winner.
    Abusers train and condition victims the same way, too. The victim is told if she’d only _______ then he’d be nicer to her. So she chases that non-existent guy who initially love bombed her in the beginning to hook her, in hopes of bringing him back with her endlessly modified behavior. She makes herself into a worn-down, frazzled, anxious pretzel. And every now and then, the abuser will relent and be fake nice. She’ll think it’s her behavior that brought his good side out, but it’s him switching things up. Abusers know they can’t be 100 percent nasty 100 percent of the time — at least not for awhile, until the abused is practically on life-support, due to the unrelenting extreme levels of abuse that have become her new ‘normal’.
    I hate abusers. I hate narcissists. I hate predatory people. I hate all the mind games, the destabilization tactics, the conditioning and grooming, the manipulation, and the crazy-making. I hate the abusers and the damage they inflict on their prey/victims/captives.
    So glad this blog exists and all the readers’ comments. If Pastor Crippen didn’t write anything in the first place, we’d not have all the comments and interaction we do. Especially the laborious comment-approval to ensure this blog is safe. Thanks to you, Ps. Crippen!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Cara!!

    • Z

      Yes, Cara. There are many books and research studies on “Intermittent Reinforcement”. Exactly what’s in play with the casino slot machine analogy. Many animal studies too. Abusers use it to keep victims from making that final decision that “enough is enough”. They demonically and intentionally premeditate and plot out their actions to throw their victims “crumbs of kindness” to keep them falsely hoping and wishing for change within the abuser. They cause victims to see those crumbs of FAKE kind ACTS as evidence that they are capable of being nice people. That’s the crazy-making. It’s all fakery. It’s all intentional. It’s all meant to keep the victims attached to the abuser and to keep them from making their final break with them. Self-serving as always. I fell for it for many years with my former family. “They’re not ALL bad. They have SOME good in there somewhere…” I’d think after the crumbs. And I’d forgive and stay involved with them. Loosely, but still attached. And in the end those were pipe dreams based on the Intermittent Rewarding System. When they saw me pull away or put down boundaries, they pulled out those fake kind acts to draw me back in. But I saw the light finally. That’s what’s important. We can’t beat ourselves up for wanting what we never could have with these disordered people. A “normal” relationship. Getting awakened to this evil and accepting there is no hope for normalcy with abusers and then finally breaking free is hard-but so worth it!!

      • Anonymous

        One time my abuser thought others were aware of how horrific he was towards me and that he’d been pushing me to suicide and he was worried about going to jail so in that one teeny-tiny moment, when he thought others knew, he relented. He pretended to be nice again so I didn’t die that day. It came so close, though.
        But once he figured others didn’t know after all, he started in again with the goal of ensuring I’d suicide, endlessly torturing me and abusing me and doing horrific, horrific things to me, never stopping, constant abuse, and berating me for not suiciding fast enough for him. I used to beg his forgiveness for not suiciding as he demanded.
        And so many people are so convinced that he is the victim and I’m the abuser. An abuser who deserves to be hated, hunted, criminally victimized, targeted, and relentlessly stalked, numerous burglaries, and so many more, worse crimes, with the hopes of my suiciding. It never ends with evildoers and their many allies.
        Sometimes there is no breaking free aside from in one’s mind. And ultimately on Judgment Day there will be an actual, eternal separation, where none of the abusers will be able to harm us anymore. No more looking over one’s shoulder. No more bracing for further attacks or nastiness from allies of his.
        I just hope the best for all the other victims in this world because I know how bad it can get and abusers are insatiable and if you have a psychopath on your hands, there is no stopping them, or their family and friends from ensuring you are ruined for life and targeted for life. Sadists don’t come from nowhere. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
        I don’t know why I am sharing this. Perhaps it is inappropriate. Perhaps another woman out there will see it and know that she is not alone in what is being done to her.

        • Jeff Crippen

          Anonymous – thank you. Yes it is very appropriate to share. Good job!

        • Anonymous

          And thankfully past tense as I’ve been graced with the great fortune of having not seen the abuser for a long time now. Hopefully I never will see him again, either.
          But I’ve been thinking about the abused women in the world who are enduring stay-at-home orders with abusers and it has to be an especially horrible time. They are extra trapped. Thankfully, we know that God is with His children. He is with us.

        • Z

          Anonymous, I’m so, so sorry for how wickedly you’ve been treated. That another human being would inflict such cruelty and evil on another human being and try to drive a person to suicide is the most evil thing I can think of.
          “Be strong in the Lord in His mighty power.” Eph. 6:10
          The Lord’s strength is all we have. Lean on Him. PLEASE reach out on here or to someone if you ever have those suicidal feelings again. You are in my prayers, dear sister.

          • Anonymous

            Thank you for your words, concern, and prayers, Z!

  6. no one down here

    Crying for all the broken minds because of this. It is not easy to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it first hand. it’s also not easy to “get over it.”
    In public, praise … this is a good wife, she does so well, I love her, she treats me right, she is really great … In private, waiting for the anvil to drop on your head. You are worthless, incompetent, you are no wife to me, I don’t need you. I don’t want you,
    Oh, why didn’t you just ask for help? I would have gladly helped you! You don’t have to take it all on yourself, you can let me help!!! love you!
    What are you, stupid, you can’t do that on your own? Can’t you see I’m busy?!
    You never know what is going to come. Is it going to be the happy, cozy time watching a movie? or are you going to face the evil ogre who you cannot please, and for whom apologies for whatever you did or didn’t do that you don’t know you were supposed to do or not do are never sufficient.
    The pain and the horror of living this way. Coming to a conversation thinking that this time, surely you were without reproach … you have prayed, you have examined your heart motives … but no, once again, you are the filthiest, vile creature known to man. But yet, here’s a beautiful jewelry set for your anniversary, because you are so loved. And this is my hope of letting you know how special you really are…. Oh, you didn’t know that love was shown by being told someone thought about killing you? funny, that.
    Curious and sad result of all this seems to be overall mistrust. True care is often rejected because the last person who “cared” left deep wounds.

  7. Sweethonesty7

    Abusers’ intent: to mess with their victims’ minds, until victims can barely or not function at all. Then you can’t resist or rise up and out.
    Almost 30 years with this never ending cycle of mind torture followed by “hooks”–flowers, jewelry, cards, but NEVER repentance for one thing. And I keep on having flashbacks. Pastor Crippen, what is the right way of handling all the anger I feel when things I have not thought about in years come to the surface and truly make me livid! Wish I had gotten livid then, because then I would have left!
    And just today, a friend had posted an article about a certain preacher and we chatted how we first came to hear him. But I noticed my friend was unaware of what transpired with this preacher and I told him and even gave him links to look into it. A woman joined in the conversation and she starts accusing me of not forgiving this man and how Jesus taught about the man forgiven of much and he wouldn’t forgive of little. She called me abusive and hateful, because I rightfully said the preacher never confessed his sin and to this day continues to be deceptive about it and that he needs to admit what he did. Her whole thing was it doesn’t matter what the preacher did and I was spreading hearsay and hate, I was in the wrong for exposing his evil. She said it was a matter, between him and the person he offended. I said, “no, he preaches in front of the whole world, he has made it everyone’s business who has sat under his teachings.” She then passive aggressively says to me, “I forgive you” and then says again, “I forgive you for being abusive and unloving.” It took me right back to when the church I went to took my abuser’s side and made me out to be the bad guy. Unbelievable! how people will smooth over their idol’s behavior in the name of being a good Christian. That woman never once addressed the harm that preacher did to his victims or the fact he sinned against God! TWILIGHT ZONE!!!

    • Jeff Crippen

      You were talking to one of the devils servants.

    • Cara

      I’m so glad you shared your experience, Sweethonesty7. I’ve experienced similar. I had not recalled such until I read your comment and it came back. The shaming of you for not being “forgiving”. Anything less than tolerance and acceptance is seen as abusive and unforgiving. Then the hearsay remark. The “I forgive you” for your being supposedly abusive and hateful. Awful!
      As for when a person is in it, the abuser is employing mind control and brainwashing techniques. We are hostages and captives. I wish I’d gotten mad back then, too. I wish I’d been able to think straight back then or afterwards. It’s taken years to just begin to process what the heck happened to me. I truly married evil. Pure evil. Plus, it’s dangerous to disagree, have an opinion, have any preferences, to speak, let alone to get angry while with an abuser. Super dangerous and possibly deadly.
      I’m so thankful for this online community (Unholy Charade blog) and being a part of the church (CRC) and all of it.

      • sweethonesty7

        100% they are victim shamers.
        So true: to speak up when we were in the thick of it was dangerous. I, like you and all abuse victims, continue to deal with the fail out of the horrible things endured; it doesn’t just go away. I’ve begun having nightmares about my abuser, waking up thrashing about as to get him away from me and I have not been around or seen him for 3 years.
        I’m over abuser apologists and as I told her I will not be quiet.

    • sweethonesty7

      She quoted John 21:22 “Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” She went on to say, “The point is you are not God.” I responded, “The point is he has not confessed his sin, but continues to cover it up.” And God says to confess our sins to Him and to one another. She continued her rant of shame. I then told her what she was doing is exactly what I experienced in the church, being made to be the bad guy for exposing what my abuser ex did to me.I ended it with, “Shame on you.” Then I blocked her.

  8. twosparrows

    I needed this today. Thank you. God is using you to help bring me clarity.

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