Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

This Evil of Matriarchal Abuse Deserves Serious Notice

Yesterday’s post about fear being characteristic of toxic relationships made mention of the evil of matriarchal abuse. I have received numbers of responses to that post besides the comments and I am beginning to realize that mothers as abusers are more common that I knew. I have personally seen and experienced fallout from these kind. They are not rare.

I wanted to post a comment submitted yesterday by TJ as a stand-alone post of its own because it sooooo accurately portrays what it is like to undergo the oppression of an abuser matriarch, and what getting free requires. It is no wonder that Jesus spoke often on how following Him will result in this kind of warped version of motherhood wailing in rage to regain possession:

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)


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


Matriarchal Abuse: I will be speaking on this subject tomorrow (5-16-21) in our Livestreamed Sunday morning class


  1. Daughter of the King

    TJ, I am so sorry for the abuse you have experienced. Even though you could write books, you gave a very clear snapshot of an evil, wicked mother. The evil tactics are so predictable once our eyes become open, but until then, we have so much confusion. The enemy of our souls is relentless, and loves it when we spend time pondering and trying to figure things out.
    But, thanks be to our Heavenly Father who does not leave us in captivity, but instead goes to great lengths to show his great love for us by setting us free! I’m so so glad you are free! We can dance with joy! Yes, there is damage and healing needed, but when we are rescued out, we are in a safe place for the healing work to be done. Praise God!
    I am a mom of four daughters and was married to an evil, wicked man, their “#ather.” After 19 years of marriage, I finally had my eyes opened to the truth of who he was and was able to escape. However, it came at great cost as he turned all four of them against me for being selfish and abandoning the family. Eventually God did his amazing work as they became aware of his evilness and used me to rescue them out. We all have no contact with him. I’m thankful not only to have wonderful relationships with each of them, but also that they have healthy loving relationships with eachother.
    As bad as it is to have an abusive father, it seems even more evil to receive such abuse from a mother, who is supposed to nurture us and love us unconditionally. May God bless you and keep you and your family, TJ!

  2. This piece was so painful to read, yet I know there are many of us who can relate in varying degrees. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to write but I trust that sharing the truth even in its ugliness brings validation and a healthy measure of peace and freedom.
    My story is similar in many ways – far too complex to share, but the pain is much the same. The what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this? kind of heartache goes deep. And family is still family no matter how far we move away.
    Nevertheless, I know without a doubt that God honors our commitment to truth and our decisions to separate ourselves from that toxic kind of insanity, while also giving us a depth of compassion for others in similar situations. As painful as it can be at times, I know He uses it all.

  3. Free

    This was an excellent recap of how this plays out, through the will and then some! TJ, absolutely understand ALL of it. The best part is you get it – you have moved on – the cycle had to be broken and for you and your future generations – this is a huge victory! Thank you for sharing- for that matter, also affirming and inspiring! “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Ps 1:6

  4. Lynn

    For the most part, your story is my story. While my mom is still kicking, I only have one sibling, a younger brother, we were never close. My mom would constantly pit my brother and me, even as children, against each other to vie for her affection.
    While I grew up the golden child because I had gifts and abilities that my mother wanted to receive glory and credit for, she still did so much emotional and spiritual damage to me. It was like she was trying to live vicariously through me and what I wanted, needed, or desired didn’t matter.
    She would blame me for my brother’s acting out – he broke into a local private school and got caught, but it was somehow my fault that he did it – at her ignoring him in order to focus on me and what I could provide her. My mom always used stuff as appeasement with my brother when he would get mad at her neglect. I was in an accident when I was in elementary school. The local Parks department responsible for the maintenance of the roads and bridges near our house failed to properly install a bridge grate. My bike tire caught it. I flipped over my handlebars and landed on the right side of my face. The accident permanently damaged – it was moved out of alignment 11 degrees, which is really bad – my spine and has been one of the contributing factors to my chronic back and neck pain.
    My parents sued for damages and settled for a ridiculously small sum of money. They claimed the lawyers were the reason for its size. I learned about the settlement when I turned 18. When I was told about the money and the settlement, my mom demanded that I give my brother a portion of it to ease his trauma. Granted, I was the one still suffering from the accident years later, and I still do to a certain extent, but my mom was adamant about taking from me to give to my brother because he also suffered having to watch me get hurt.
    It’s crap like this that makes me realize as I look back on my childhood, that her abuse wasn’t an accident. Her manipulative tactics were designed to keep me isolated from anyone who could help me. It was deliberate. It was chronic. It was meant to cause harm because she would get such satisfaction at keeping me isolated and at odds with anyone else, including my own brother. It was all covertly done so that no one on the outside really knew what was going on. We looked like the ideal picture of a godly family, but the truth was anything but that.
    I’d hoped as an adult that would have changed with my brother, but that’s not what happened. He decided to embrace the narcissistic behavior we were raised with and loves playing the victim. I spent almost 15 years being very low contact with my family. Partly because I didn’t live close to them, partly because I didn’t like the abuse. My brother would only contact me when he needed something, and it seemed like he was always needing some, or to vent about how awful our mother is. For a while I allowed that to go on because I was lonely and not clear enough about what my response should be since I was still trapped in a false church.
    My brother has a very large entitlement complex. In his mind, if I’m doing better than him, then I am obligated to help him get out of the mess he’s made of his life. 1 Timothy 5:8 was used as a weapon to try and manipulate me into enabling his poor behavior. Fortunately, I didn’t live close for the majority of that time to my brother, but that didn’t stop the attempts at guilting me into giving him money. He and I have always been at odds so I knew I had to very careful with what I shared with him because if it was something personal that he could use to get in her good graces he would.
    The last straw for me was when he accused me of trying to use his kids to manipulate our mom to get what I wanted out of my grandmother’s trust and claimed I’d stolen his inheritance, Neither of those things was true. I wanted to have all parties come to a resolution where we all win, but you can’t win with narcissists. His poor treatment and having more than 35 years of knowledge about the character of my brother made me realize I can’t have a relationship with him or his family. Their choices are toxic. I refuse to allow their continued abuse to be a part of my life.
    To any woman who is enslaved to a wicked mom, I invite you to come out of where you are into the freedom and healing offered in Christ. You don’t have to remain in bondage. Let go of where you came from. Let go of your mother’s house and be free. Step into the light of Christ whose burden is easy and his yoke is light. Find rest for your soul. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

    • TJ

      In my family, roles have been paired: Two golden children, two scapegoats, and two who were neither one nor the other, but who seemed to be “reserves” who could be put into whatever role was needed. Like you, I became a “golden child” but I was a secondary, not the primary, one. I think there are two different types of “golden children”–those who willingly choose to be in the role and those who are ignorant. As a child, I was unaware that we were treated differently. My Mom was an extremely skilled covert manipulator who could re-write events in her favor, making lies appear to be truth. In later years, I came to believe that she used me to make my scapegoat sister (the primary scapegoat) feel unloved so that she resented me and bullied me. Mom told me that my scapegoat sister was mentally unstable and that if she ever went “postal” and started killing people, she would kill me first because she hated me “with a white-hot hatred.” Since my sister was bullying me…it seemed true that she hated me. In this way, my Mom didn’t have to obviously abuse me–she manipulated my sister into doing it for her. My Mom customized her manipulation between all us siblings to drive a wedge between us.
      When I refused to let my Mom control my marriage, her “love” turned overnight into rage. I was told that I was “a daughter from Hell, the worst daughter a mother could have–even worse than my [scapegoat] sister who had inherited all of the bad characteristics of both sides of the family and none of the good.” I was told that I was the worse Christian she had ever known. She turned my Dad (now deceased) and other siblings against me. My Dad went from rejoicing that I was marrying a good man to calling me to shout that “it” was all my fault, I was disloyal, and I was ruining the family. When my Mom learned that I had reached out to my scapegoat sister, both my Dad and the sister who replaced me as golden child contacted my scapegoat sister to smear me in an effort to divide us. It went downhill from there.
      The only birthday card I ever remember one sister ever sending me was one with Frankenstein on the front. Inside the card it said, “No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to escape from the family.” Sometimes it has felt true: My family never left me alone for long without trying to draw me back in. Any encounters–even indirectly–with our relatives trigger panic attacks, which is why we moved away. Being contacted again recently stirred up a flood of bad memories of abuse–although less than in the past. It was difficult reading my Mom’s obituary: She sounded like an amazingly loving and godly woman, always giving hugs at church. It’s unbelievable how abusers are always surrounded by people who are willing to protect, defend, and love them, but as Jesus said in John 15:18-25: “… If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…”
      In spite of the difficult journey, I am so thankful that God has taken me “out of Egypt.” A few times over the years, my scapegoat sister asked me, “Do you miss being Mom’s favorite?” She didn’t believe me when I said “Absolutely not.” She and the others coveted the “favored” position, but once my eyes were opened, I knew that the “love” had been a complete lie, used to manipulate, control, and enslave. I have never wanted to go back. As the quote states, “I’d rather be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie.”
      It takes strength, courage, and faith to walk away, but freedom is worth fighting for. Over the years, my husband and I have educated ourselves about abuse. We have held tight to the fact that God loves us and that ‘the truth will set us free.” When I was a child, I frequently prayed that God would teach me truth–about Himself and myself. I think He has been answering that prayer all my life. I think it’s why I was able to escape. We have felt His support just when we needed it–like Jeff posting about matriarchal abuse and the supportive comments and stories everyone has shared just when I needed it.
      As Jesus said in Luke 4:18: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

      • Wow. It is so horrifying to read the depth of pain that just a few people in a family can cause. The note in the Frankenstein card alone was unbelievably disturbing.
        I’m so sorry for all you have been through, but clearly the Lord has provided you with the insight to help you see the truth about the nature and strategies of abusive, wicked people. I sincerely hope you are free to move forward and are finally living an abuse-free life.
        As painful as it has been, just know that the Lord will surely use your testimony to minister to others going through similar situations – starting now.
        Thank you for having the courage to share.

        • TJ

          Thank you, Cindy:
          I have been sitting here feeling deep thankfulness for what God has done in my life. The battle for freedom has been difficult, there have been dark days, there were times I didn’t feel God’s presence. Sometimes I have prayed, “I cannot hold on to you, God, but please hold on to me and don’t let me go.” He hasn’t let go. Each step of the way God has led, encouraged, supported and brought me little by little into great strength, truth, joy, freedom. It is increasing all the time. It really does remind me of the Biblical journey from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of Promised Land.
          [Don’t] forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deut 8)
          I feel sorrow for what my siblings and I went through as children. I think no child can truly understand or has the skills to cope with parental abuse. What happened was not our fault. However, I think that as adults, we have to choose whether we will seek to be free of the abuse or to continue in it. If a person continues in it, there will be a measure of love/acceptance because he/she is “submitting” and “obeying” the abuser and they “love” their own. But it’s not real. It leads into greater bondage. Fighting for freedom is difficult but “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
          I think that at one point my siblings and I could have stood together and helped each other break free. It is what I wanted and tried to do. However, when they chose to stand with our Mom, I think that opportunity passed. I feel as if God removed me from them into a good place. They have made me their scapegoat and I will not consent to being the target of their rage. I pray for their freedom and healing, but they will have to choose for themselves if they want freedom and they will have to fight for it.
          I waited patiently for the Lord;
          he inclined to me and heard my cry.
          He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
          out of the miry bog,
          and set my feet upon a rock,
          making my steps secure. (Ps 40:1-2)

          • TJ, I feel similarly regarding my in-laws, indeed the sibling flying monkeys practically repeat “No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to escape from the family.” in slightly different words, so it’s supposed to be a “loving” thing to say. However, from almost the beginning I had the theology to rebut that error, so until I had a breakdown and fell into their clutches, I was able to maintain boundaries and keep away from the den of vipers. Plus, everyone in their family was healthy, no issues. Aging parents with things God doesnt’ automatically heal? The interaction increases all around, add some divinely-timed awareness, and it all becomes compellingly apparent.
            Golly, if I had realized how NOT committed to “leaving father and mother” (not to mention sisters) my H was, I like to believe i could have seen the red flags and never married him. But this last 2.5 years gave me a front row seat to extended family dynamics, to where I have seen that there is this self-serving inertia from which a very few of them show any evidence of escape. I could go on and on.
            You and any H, and any kids, are on excellent Biblical reasons to separate from both FOOs. God’s pattern is that we “leave father and mother”, and imho that means we chart our own course, to the best of our ability, according to how we understand God wants us to live. Good on you for it!

    • TJ

      Nina (and others) my heart goes out to you.
      The issue of “leaving and cleaving” is actually what opened my eyes to the abuse in my family. I had always been the daughter who could be counted on to help my parents but I believed strongly that when a couple gets married, they must leave their parents and cleave to each other and I refused to let my Mom seize control of my marriage. Once I set that boundary and refused to budge, my Mom began a smear campaign against me, turned the others in my family against me, and actively worked to isolate me.
      I think the most difficult aspect of matriarchal abuse is that the mother turns everyone against the one who refuses to submit to control. I read an article a few years ago describing what a daughter experiences when she experiences abuse from her mother. The author said that Maternal divorce, which is what she called No Contact, “is a last-ditch effort to salvage some normalcy in a daughter’s life. It is usually preceded by years of effort to try fix things…She inevitably will lose other family members, including siblings, aunts, uncles, and even her father, as people take sides—it is emotionally highly fraught and very painful…It is filled with anguish for the daughter.”
      That is my experience. Once I set a boundary regarding my marriage, my Mom began a smear campaign against me and intentionally worked to isolate me by turning others in the family against me. In addition to losing loved relatives, people experiencing matriarchal abuse lose their support system and family with whom to celebrate holidays and milestones. The abuse ripples out to include the church, friends, and society who guilts, shames, and blames the adult child for not loving enough, forgiving enough, being Christlike enough. The pressure from multiple sources to submit is immense.
      I don’t think children can understand or cope with the abuse they grow up in. It’s not their fault. I also know how difficult it is to overcome matriarchal abuse even into adulthood. However, I think adult children reach a point at which they must choose whether to go along with the family abuse or to work to be free of it. They have to choose whether to seek their Mother’s love/approval or God’s. They have to choose to stand with the scapegoats or join in abusing them. If they choose to remain in it, I believe the abuse will continue on through more generations. The damage from my family has been so severe that I will not have contact with them again, although I pray that my siblings will know the truth and the truth will set them free. I don’t know if they will ever choose truth (they haven’t so far), but that is up to them.
      My husband and I come from extremely similar backgrounds—both of us had large families of origin and both of us had manipulative mothers. My MIL was always nice to me, but my hubby says that by the time we met, she had mellowed. However, my family engaged in very covert emotional abuse while his family was more direct. My siblings are aware that our Mom was manipulative—although they all chose to stand with her. His siblings believe a family myth that they are an extremely loving family even though their actions actually prove otherwise. My husband believes his family was worse than mine because they had more forms of abuse. One of his sisters said that THEIR family has experienced all forms of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, financial—but THEY stay family. Right or wrong, they are loyal to family (unless a family member threatens their image.)
      My husband and I have stood together from the beginning of our marriage. We both love our families but we believe our first loyalty belongs to God. It is HIS approval we seek. We believe that we must “not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Ex. 23:2) even if the “crowd” is family. That is viewed as “disloyalty” by our families. We believe that, as Jesus said, “…Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:37-29)
      FYI: I think that the Pixar movie “Tangled” very accurately describes matriarchal abuse: The “mother” gaslighting her daughter, controlling her through guilt, shame, and fear. The daughter’s rollercoaster emotions as she seeks freedom–“I’m FREE! “I am a horrible daughter. This is so much FUN! I am a despicable human being.” The “friend” who tries to guilt and shame her back into a relationship with her Mom. The mother trying to break up her daughter’s relationship with the man she loved. The mother erupting into rage near the end of the movie when the daughter confronted her. And finally freedom. It was so similar to what I experienced that I sobbed the first time I watched it.

  5. Daughter of the King

    I just was encouraged by the Lord while reading Psalm 118. It gives testimony to who God is, and how he rescues us from our enemies. I hope all will read it and receive encouragement as well!

  6. Sue

    Narcish family member. Had gone low contact years ago. But here’s the sad thing: when that individual had passed into eternity, i didn’t then (and still don’t now – and probably never will) miss that person. Sometimes i wonder if i have fleas, probably do. But onward and upward. The Lord is sovereign.

    • Hello, Sue. Dear one, you need not suffer any guilt for not grieving someone who wasn’t safe for you. You were wise to keep yourself emotionally safe. Sadly, that family member missed out on the wonder and beauty of genuine mutual care and love and all the precious things that go with it, but the choices were his or hers alone. I pray you find peace in this.

  7. Finally Free

    Thank you, Pastor Crippen. Seems you touched on something important right around Mother’s Day, which can be especially hard on survivors of maternal abuse.
    TJ’s and Cindy’s comments are a corollary to what I’ve said for a long time about a form of abuse I’ve never seen get enough attention: abuse among relatives of equal ages such as siblings and cousins. You can’t get the police or other parts of society to admit that it exists because they dismiss it as “sibling rivalry,” so they’re reluctant to see that there’s real abuse that goes on far beyond the occasional quarrel. It’s much harder to get a restraining order or press charges on an abusive sibling than on an ex-spouse.
    I suspect that some abused siblings try to quietly endure it, because your siblings are the same age, so you’re told by society you’re supposed to be bonded for life, that your own spouses should bond and be friends, etc. You tend to have childhood friends or high school classmates in common with your siblings, so it’s difficult to go low-contact or no-contact.
    I believe that mothers are often at the root of of sibling abuse. They set the abused kid up repeatedly. For example, a mother tells her small daughter to go wake up the large, violent son every morning even though, or perhaps even because, he’ll attack the daughter. Or, the mother acts as a gossip between the two kids, telling each of them things that will make them hate each other, then she acts surprised and distressed when they do! I’ve seen that a hundred times. Why would she fan the flames of that fire?

    • Finally Free, in all my searching to understand, I think the psychological term for part of what you describe here is “chaotically enmeshed”. The ongoing power plays. The siblings can’t stop trying to be the boss of the other one and/or take turns trying not to be bossed by the others. It explains my entire interaction with my H and his siblings.
      yes, the gossip (flying monkeys without discernment about truth) is key, to whit:
      I’ve been helped in this by the intersection of communication theory and scriptural regard for truth. We’re supposed to love truth. Truth suffers when it becomes second hand. Therefore, I would find it an affront to Christian living to act on second hand info about anyone. The wisest thing is to suspend judgement; not allow my feelings or attitudes or behaviors towards someone change on the basis of second- third- or n-th hand info. If I cannot suspend judgement, then I need to check my facts with the original person. But beyond that, acting on nth hand info is the same as walking down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears (Proverbs somewhere). So, I have been completely astounded by my inlaw siblings. They were raised in an ever-so-doctrinally-correct household, all PKs, they are sure they understand and love truth. They do not. Truth is the first thing out the door when someone wants a situation to change.
      It is absolutely astounding imho.

  8. Rae

    As the days increase with evil so will those who profess to be Christians. As I engage with the wicked especially in the church. I cling to Psalm 39:1 I will keep my mouth with a bridal while the wicked is before me. As I heed this verse. The wicked walk away. Beware of flattering words. They will draw you in to admire how holy they think they are. I refuse to chase after them. In return.. you will be gossiped about and hated. I say. Amen.

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