Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Let's Talk about FEAR – a Red Flag in Relationships

1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

None of us have been perfectly perfected in regard to love. As we grow in Christ, He shows us the ramifications of His love more and more with the result that fear diminishes more and more. While there will always be the positive, healthy, and right “fear of the Lord” by which we honor and obey Him, the kind of fear John is speaking of is not a positive trait. It is a fear that results from punishment in a relationship. We used to fear God in this sense because, before we came to Christ, we were under righteous condemnation by Him. We were guilty. The Law showed us our guilt and was a means of driving us to embrace Christ.

But now that we are in Christ – if you have been born again by faith alone in Christ alone – then this is your status:

Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The more we come to understand this, the more this fear which results from punishment will dissolve.

Now, what I want to talk to you about today is this business of fear in our relationships with people. Fear that is the kind of fear that results from punishment. A child, for instance, should have this kind of fear in the sense of knowing that if he disobeys his mother or father, he is going to be punished. At the same time, that parent-child relationship must be characterized by love, and the child must know this as well.

But in respect to our relationship now, now that we are adults (or even let’s say in our teen years), fear that is the result of punishment is something that evil people use to hold us in bondage. In this respect, fear is a huge red flag that a relationship is toxic. You often hear domestic abuse victims talk about having to “walk on eggshells” lest their abuser punish them with one of his evil tactics. This is just another way of describing the fear that dominates in such a relationship.

Lately I have been particularly interested in how a matriarchal abuser uses fear of punishment to enslave her family members. Of course most domestic abusers are men, but as I said, of late this business of the mother working an evil domination over her family has been in the forefront.

Whenever one of our relationships with someone is characterized by fear, something is terribly wrong. And I mean the fear that is the fear of punishment.

This thing is sooooo wicked. It creeps up on us. Very often it is present in families and the children grow up in that kind of fear-drenched environment, becoming what many people call “adult children” who keep right on fearing punishment from, for instance, their mother. It is this fear that is the vise holding us to that poisonous relationship. Fear that if we don’t do what we are told, fear that if we do not think what we told to think, fear that if we in anyway step out of the authorized path – we will be punished. Scowls, that “tone” in mother’s voice, a tirade of anger, the silent treatment, playing the victim role – on and on and on this evil arsenal goes. AND IT IS ALL DESIGNED TO ENSLAVE US BY FEAR.

I want to tell you loud and clear – any relationship in our lives that is characterized by fear of punishment is a relationship that the Lord wants us to be free from.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The thought of freedom from this tyrrany – from, for instance, a mother’s tyranny – can at first be fearful in itself. Think of the Israelites on that great day when the Lord led them out of slavery in Egypt. I bet many of them were afraid. What will Pharaoh do? And sure enough when they stopped at the Red Sea, here he came! Even across the Red Sea there were many times when they grumbled and said things like “let’s go back to Egypt where we had leeks and garlic to eat.” The enemy of our souls does not give us up easily. When you resolve to be free you can expect that Pharaoh is going to come chasing after you. But then, the Lord parts the Sea and shows us that path to freedom.

Love casts out this fear of punishment:

Rom 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Did you know that you can live in this freedom from fear-of-punishment relationships? It’s true. You can live free from a narcissist, enslaving, terrorizing mother or other such person – and you will thrive. The enemy wants you to think that you cannot. That a life without that toxin is just impossible. Slavery to it is all you have known – how will you go on? Well, the answer is – Christ! When you are cast out, He will be there to greet you and once you see Him, I mean REALLY see Him and experience the love He has for you, you will never ever want to go back to Egypt.

Let the enemy roar. Let mother weep and wail and rage. We are going to follow Christ and we are not going to permit the wicked to drive us back into slavery. Never.


The 10 Commandments of a Naricissist Parent


This Evil of Matriarchal Abuse Deserves Serious Notice


  1. wingingit

    And leaving to be free will cost you all the well meaning people who believe in concepts of relationships over the real people in those relationships.
    As an adult, I was told that I needed to “honor my mother and father” even if their actions and words were abusive in the extreme.
    I was well into my 40’s before I finally broke free. And in doing so, I lost my siblings, my dear aunt, my uncle, every cousin and the right to say good bye to my 98 year old grandmother.
    Mother spread such vile gossip about my “naughty behavior” that these family members called me, lectured me, warned me about the sins of a bitter heart and accused me of sin.
    There was great grief with the loss of my family of origin.
    But I just could not follow all her heartless rules any longer. Or see my children hide in a back bedroom in fear of grandma any more.
    Two years later, I rarely think of them. And I never feel the heavy burden of going against my values to obey her.

    • wingingit – I feel for you. Living much the same except for me it’s siblings and adult children who have lied and twisted stories. The man I married allowed this to happen so he could remain taken care of by the children who alienate me, visiting for maybe 2 hours/year so they can tell others that they saw me.
      My siblings want a relationship but it inevitably results in me having to join their way of thinking, otherwise I am not loyal.
      I feel guilty for not wanting to be around these people, however, Pastor Crippen stated it so well because ultimately this is a spiritual battle where I have chosen Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
      >>Let the enemy roar…. We are going to follow Christ and we are not going to permit the wicked to drive us back into slavery. Never.<<

  2. TJ

    Thank you for this, Jeff. It is spot on and what I needed today.
    My Mom was a matriarchal abuser. She used acceptance/rejection, manipulation, guilt/shame, lies, half-truths, etc., to control and divide her six children…and later her grandchildren. She stirred up jealousy, resentment, fear between us. She was very covert so I don’t think that any of us were fully aware of what the others were being told. She manipulated us like chess pieces on a board and destroyed our relationships.
    It’s difficult to condense a lifetime of covert abuse into few words. When I began experiencing my Mom’s direct rage because I wouldn’t let her seize control of my marriage, I reached out to sisters who had been outcasted before me. I forgave–and asked forgiveness–for past offenses because I believed our relationships had been manipulated. I thought/hoped we could start over as adults away from our Mom, and we seemed to for several years, but I believe my siblings never relinquished their manipulated childhood perceptions and emotions. In reality, I think we were all used as weapons against each other and none of us were truly loved. Any appearance of love was an illusion. They never stopped hungering. pursuing, and competing for any little crumb of our Mom’s love/approval that she tossed their way and they turned away from Truth. I don’t think they minded that I became the ultimate scapegoat because it meant that THEY weren’t. Eventually, when my Mom completely rejected me, they sided with her, defended her, and joined in her emotional abuse of me.
    Ten years ago I finally recognized that the turmoil in my family was permanent and was harming my own little family. I realized that our relationships were damaged beyond repair so I walked away from my family of origin. Five years ago my husband, son, and I moved several hours away without telling them and we began to work on our own healing and recovery. My five siblings had the opportunity to be “free” but they returned to the slavery of “Egypt.” I have been completely vilified, hated, insulted, accused, condemned, and rejected because I didn’t turn back.
    In late November 2020, my sister found me at FB and messaged, “You probably don’t care, but I just wanted to let you know that mom died on November 10…Figured you should know, good, bad, or ugly, she is our mom.” Such a message revealed to me that she/they had not changed so I blocked her without response. Yesterday I received an envelope from a lawyer with a copy of our Mom’s Will. The only thing I read was the lawyer’s letter informing me that although I was an heir, I was “specifically excluded” from receiving anything from her estate. (I then burned the letter and unread Will.) I never expected or wanted to receive an inheritance. However, the phrase, “specifically excluded” was a final stab of rejection and actually sums up a matriarchal abuser: They do not love, they control. They do not “accidentally” reject. They are not acting out of “woundedness.” They very intentionally, very deliberately, and very “specifically exclude,” reject, isolate, and cause harm to those who do not submit.
    I regret that I did not escape sooner. I believe that I remained in my abusive family relationships far, far longer than I could have, should have, would have because when I sought counsel from Christian leaders, mentors, friends, they all told me that I should love more, forgive more, give more grace. When I tried to walk away, they told me that I was unloving, unforgiving, unChristlike and that I dishonored myself, my family, and my God by having no contact. Understand this: You can’t have a relationship with abusive people. I want to echo Jeff’s words: Let the enemy roar. Let mother [and other relatives] weep and wail and rage. We are going to follow Christ and we are not going to permit the wicked to drive us back into slavery. Never.
    Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
    Forget your people and your father’s house.
    Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honor him, for he is your lord. (Ps 45:10-11)

    • Jeff Crippen

      Beautifully stated!! Thank you!!!

    • twosparrows

      Absolutely what I needed today. Thankfully, my mom is not like this, but my troubles exist with my husband. Somehow your words sunk down into my heart and mind, “You can’t have a relationship with abusive people.” I think your story is what has allowed me to finally really get it. Some people prefer Egypt….as though there are no leeks and garlic anywhere else in the world.
      Thank you for sharing your story and your heart.

    • Sue

      Revenge wills. Wow. If the deceased stepped into eternity with that get-a-last-stab mindset … yikes.

  3. OneDayAtATime

    I understand the feeling of fear very well. It has been pervasive in my life, as a child in my family of origin and then in my marriage of 19 years. I have ‘walked on eggshells’ my entire life. The hardest part for me with this post is that I have also lived with that fear in regards to God and even though I now know the truth of His love, it is hard to live in after so many years of fear. The churches I grew up in used fear of God to control and manipulate. Fear is a horrible slave master.

    • twosparrows

      The part where you talk about fearing God, not in your head, but on a practical level, reminded me of a blog post by Pastor Sam Powell. While the post title speaks of shame, the message I received focused so much on the love of God and how he loves us right where we are. I will share the link in hopes that it might bring you some blessing…maybe you’ve already read it.

  4. R

    How do I tell the difference between fear that comes at me from an abuser and fear that rises from within me because of character traits like a tendency to worry?

    • Lynn

      R –
      The fear that you feel that manifests as worry is a trauma response as a result of your abuse. It’s the what if’s and uncertainty that chronic abuse creates in your mind that drives the feeling of fear and nor being safe. Worry also harnesses your mind and tries to convince it that something bad is just around the corner. Even if what you are worried about does come true, how did worrying about it help you?
      Your body may not be able to tell the difference right now between the two fears and may react similarly.
      If you can catch yourself when worry strikes, take a deep breath and pay attention to your body and the signals it’s sending to your brain.
      Then I want you to ask yourself these five questions:
      Is it really true?
      Who am I with this thought?
      Who am I without this thought?
      Do I really want to hold onto this thought? If you don’t want it, let it go.
      What actions can I take to ease this feeling of worry?
      It’s okay to let go of negative thoughts and give them back to Jesus in prayer. We don’t have to hold onto them even if they feel true. You will not ad a day to your life by worrying. Part of healing from abuse is being able to reclaim your mind. On the spiritual level we do that by Bible study and prayer. On a physical level we have to start being intentional about that things trigger responses in us, and reprogram our brain to not stay caught in the negative loop we were brainwashed with.
      I hope this helps.

  5. Free

    Yes, yes, and yes to all! It was my fear of my mother’s life- long vile gossip and blame game that was so disheartening as a child and adult, but also my “a-ha” moment. She is, and was a wolf in sheep’s clothing….after years of this circus that she lives in, and my dad silently standing by watching this, claiming innocence instead of protecting his children that she went after (she left the golden child alone) …. I now keep my distance in all ways from them and life is 1000x better.
    She knows the difference between right, wrong and our Lord and satan, so does my dad, and so do I. When what you try and present falls to their default of deflection, gossip, betrayal, etc. you have to say enough to yourself!…. They have a free will and they can choose to use it however they have. I do not control them, God does not control them….
    You can bring the Word to someone, try and show them a different way, etc. but you cannot force them to accept, adhere or even care about it or listen.

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