Melissa Affolter – Expert Contributor
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

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On our last episode, May 2nd, I interviewed Michelle, a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse in marriage. Today, one of our friends here at HelpHer Melissa Affolter and I will interact with several relevant topics heard in Michelle’s first episode of her story.

Melissa has served in counseling, youth, children’s and women’s ministries for nearly 20 years in the local church. She previously worked as a teacher and a curriculum writer. In 2011, she completed a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. Since that time, Melissa has gained additional training with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, or CCEF, and the Global Trauma Recovery Institute. Her areas of experience include anxiety, depression, relational conflict, marriage and family and abuse and trauma recovery.

Welcome, Melissa.

Melissa
Thank you for having me, Ann Maree. I’m glad to be here.

Ann Maree
Glad to have you back.

Also, by way of reminder, on the Safe to Hope podcast names have been changed in order to protect those associated with these stories. The HelpHer ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people-helpers, so integrity is one of our concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us.

And before we begin, I’d like to share with our audience that there might be some things discussed that can be triggering. If you’re a victim or survivor, we want to just let you know some of what Melissa and I discuss may be hard to hear. Perhaps find a trusted friend to sit with, or someone you can talk to and process after you’ve heard this experience.

Also, this season is for adult audiences only. This season includes discussions regarding marital, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse. So we advise listener and reader discretion.

Melissa, I just like to ask you a few questions related to the first part of Michelle’s story, and I’d love to hear you interact with me on some of the things she said. In what you heard from her story, what are some of the ways you heard she was disempowered?

Melissa
Yeah, angry, I really appreciate even just the use of that word. Because we do value so much the clarity of calling something what it is. And while there were several times throughout Michelle’s story that I could pick up on that theme or that experience, something that came to mind pretty quickly as I listened, and I’ve gone back to it a couple of times was just this idea of how she seemed to be discipled into distrusting herself and her perspective. So making that connection that you and her did so thoughtfully, as you were interacting, just that connection between the spiritual influences in her life, from the time, you know, growing up until all of these experiences in her marriage were unfolding around her. And it just felt like every relationship had an element of spiritual oversight, spiritual relationship. And so there’s these elements of discipleship that are happening. And so I think that that’s a common thread that I see in abuse and trauma experiences in the church or in Christian communities. And so this disempowerment that she experienced, it felt so crafty, you know, just that it was arrived at from a place of dependence was a word that came to my mind, because there were these themes, which is common with women who are experiencing abuse in a marriage situation, we’ve kind of been set up at times, depending on that discipleship mentality to be dependent, like entirely dependent on the spouse, on the husband, you know, whether it’s financial, spiritual, social, all of the different categories. And we heard a lot of that through Michelle’s story, which left her with still much vagueness and helplessness about what to do, then, when there was a threat to, I would say, her safety and her sanity and all of those aspects of her. And so when an abuser demands our dependence, which is kind of the feeling that I got was there was this demanded dependence, which was reinforced by the spiritual people in her life throughout her story. And I’m not at all saying that every person that that’s their intention is to create that. But over time, if those are the contexts, where there’s not a sense of saying, ‘Yes, we’re, we’re called to be dependent in a healthy marriage’, and when it’s the way that, you know, but it’s mutual dependence for the benefit, and the well being a one another. And so this self centered and kind of entitled posture that her husband had towards her, I would say, – and I don’t use this word lightly, because I know it can get overused – created a toxic dependence, where then she was held captive in that dependence in a way. And so yeah, I think, when I think of disempowerment, as a term that can go a lot of different directions. But in Michelle’s story, those were kind of some of the themes that stood out to me.

Ann Maree
Yeah, you’re bringing up some good points. And it’s not to say it’s malicious in any way, this discipleship idea, right.

Melissa
Right.

Ann Maree
I even think back to when I raised my daughters, and what did I instill in my discipling of them that then created either a dependence or maybe even or a vulnerability would be another word, that innocently if you will, frames how you think about relationships, and that’s good, and I appreciate you saying mutual dependence because I feel that’s what we’re missing. That’s what she was missing in this in this story, for sure. So, Judith Herman, who I think you and I both read some of her materials in our training. She writes in her book, Trauma and Recovery: “that to speak about experiences in sexual and or domestic life, is to invite public humiliation, ridicule, and disbelief. Women are silenced by fear and shame. And the silence of women gives license to every form of sexual and domestic exploitation.”

Chilling, Michelle talked about how she learned early on not to question authority, one of those discipleship things that we just discussed. So she trusted her husband’s perspective rather than her own. And in particular, this was dangerous because it related to who is at fault for his sexual deviance. What are some ways to counter the lasting impact of that distrust of self and distrust of a person’s own thoughts and feelings?

Melissa
I always value the questions that you ask. So I feel like sometimes I could say this about every question, but this question really drew me in and made me think pretty deeply. It’s something I’ve thought about, you know, in other cases and conversations, for sure. Something that I wrote down immediately when I was processing my thoughts on it was just, I personally have come to believe that this idea of distrusting self and I would even say, that’s tied to distrusting the Spirit of God within an individual, because those are tied together, is one of the greatest impacts that I’ve seen in abusive relationships and the way that trauma plays out over time. And so, for me when I’m thinking about how do we counteract that or how do we help this person kind of untangle those thoughts, I am usually starting with a really broad question and then trying to hone in – I don’t necessarily even ask this question point blank in the counseling room or of the person – But but the question is, in my mind, and it’s guiding the conversation at times, or the way that I’ll follow up on things that she’s sharing. And that question is just some form of, ‘How can I help this person – so how can I help Michelle – begin to recognize the Spirit, and His voice, His presence, His power, His guiding within her, and this goes back to personhood, that she is an individual. Even when the two become one in the union of marriage, we are still an individual person. So Michelle is an individual, which means the Spirit bearing witness in her and oftentimes for abuse victims, as you well know, Ann Maree, sometimes what’s happening when they just get that sense that something is wrong, but they aren’t sure what, you know we heard Michelle describing several ways that that was happening, long before she was able to name it or put language to it. She knew that something was wrong, but she thought it was her. She thought the problem is ‘me’, right? And so again, this distrust that, that ties back in with that discipleship piece again. And where  we so over emphasizing to not trust your heart, not trust yourself, not trust your instincts to the exclusion of kind of silencing what might be the Spirit of the Lord calling your attention to some really serious and harmful things.

Ann Maree
Yeah, He’s there for that. He’s there for us in protecting our minds, right and speaking truth to us. And I want to go back and just reiterate, we are not half image bearers. When we’re born, we are fully created in the image of our Father. And so when you say that we’re personhood, I know, that’s kind of thrown around a little bit and secular pop psychology, but it is, it was first an idea in the Scriptures that we were created as persons. Thank you for saying that. Talk to me about how you listen for trauma, and maybe some helpful questions you might ask if you suspect someone has been traumatized in order to draw them out?

Melissa
Yeah, good question. Beyond some of the hopefully obvious, you know, basics of starting with a lot of active listening and going really slow, because I think those are just given requirements if you’re doing this kind of support work at all. But getting beyond that a little bit, – and this ties in with a lot of places where Michelle spoke to this theme, even if she didn’t use the word every time – but this idea of shame, and how that really, shame creates so many places for the victim to be stuck. Both literally, like stuck in a situation, but stuck mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And so something that I heard, I think I’ve read it in a couple places, so I probably won’t cite it properly – but just this idea of ‘shame scripts’, you know, is trying to help this person discover or identify, what are some themes of shame, that are almost like a script that are showing up internally, over and over for you. And so as you’re in a counseling session, or if you’re a supportive friend or some other helper walking alongside the victim, maybe just helping draw their attention to those things, not by accusing because that can obviously then compound the shame. But if they say something that seems like it has this root of trauma response, or shame or confusion, fogginess, that’s when we want to ask the really slow questions of, you know, describe that more for me a little bit. Tying in the body, you know, we’ve talked about being whole persons and bodied souls. And so starting to ask the questions about, ‘well when that happened, ‘or when you said that, what was what was that like for you in your body?’ ‘Was there any part of your body that you’re noticing something happening?’ This is a place where you can incorporate the Psalms as a way to identify, you know, certain descriptors. So taking them to some of the Psalms, where it gives the most clear or obvious language about the way the Psalmist’s body was experiencing distress. That might be something that helps give her more language to describe the trauma. And so that’s, then I’m listening for trauma, so to speak, in the way that she describes how that’s being experienced internally, maybe, maybe I’m even noticing her body language, if it’s someone that I’m sitting across the room from. Also, another thing that I’m listening for so to speak, would be as she’s sharing is, it is there a tendency to talk about herself, as if she’s outside of herself. And so, when I was listening to Michelle’s talk with you, I would imagine that because she’s more removed from the situation now, and she’s looking back on it and sharing her story, it probably sounds very different than what it did maybe 2, 3, 5, 10 years ago. And so if if we had been talking with her at that point, it’s possible, she may have described some of the incidents in a different way, maybe in a way of like, just stating the facts, and very disconnected. Whereas this time, you know, when we heard her talking with you, you could tell that she more reflective now she’s able to interact with her own story with a sense of tenderness towards herself, like realizing that what happened to me is actually very wrong. So those are some of the ways that I would tend to listen for trauma, and then kind of build out from there.

Ann Maree
That’s good. You’re listening, not just to words, but you’re listening to how she is – not interpreting – how she’s experiencing those words, even in the moment, which, honestly, we don’t read our bodies very well do we? I mean, the only thing we really read is, eat and sleep. And not even sometimes very well with that. Thanks for bringing that point up too. You and I have talked before about the importance of story in healing – and I know we’ll talk about your ReStoried groups again – but healing from trauma, traumatic experiences. Yet, when a victim literally relives the trauma, while telling their story, again, which we both experienced, both in counseling, and then also on this podcast and in other ways, they may once again become very fragile and vulnerable and afraid. And so a couple of questions sort of related to what we just talked about, but what are you watching for or listening for there? And then what do you do in those moments? Like, do you acknowledge what you see? Do you stop the conversation? What What’s your plan?

Melissa
Is that a great question too, because it gets into the practical of what’s happening in the in the room or in the conversation? So what am I watching or listening for? There could be a lot more said than this. But the ones that kind of stood out to me or that I think of the most particularly as I listened to Michelle’s story are, you know, changes in posture or demeanor, whether that’s in a room, or if I’m doing, you know, remote counseling, and I can visibly see the person on the video. Perhaps their breathing changes. Body language can shift, in wide extremes, either way, so even when those things happen, learning to not read into either extreme, you know, if, if they’re way over on one end of the spectrum, where they’re tensing up, they’re quiet, they’re maybe numbing a bit or what seems like could even be like dissociating, or swing, swing that the other direction, maybe it’s really big, emotional responses, hysterical, uncontrollable, heaving, wailing, even. I mean, there’s been people in the room where I’ve, I’ve sat with them as they’re wailing. And so you can have such a wide variety of responses from people when they’re engaging with their story. And so I think part of what I’m watching or listening for is also then going to help remind me to not jump to conclusions of what that means. Because if she’s tensing up over here, I don’t want to interpret that wrongly as, ‘Oh, she’s just cold or indifferent to her story’, when that’s probably not the case. So I think being very cautious, very careful, very slow. So I’m kind of tying those two questions together. Yeah. What, what am I watching or listening for? But what do I do? Yes, soft words, being soft spoken, slowing things down, not being afraid to stop if we need to, because as counselors, let’s face it, a lot of times stopping and letting there be a length, the pause is something we don’t tend to give space for a lot. We have to discipline ourselves to make that a habit. Being okay with even painful silence in the room, if she needs that for a few moments. I think when it’s appropriate, and always with permission, if it means saying like, ‘Can I offer you a hand on the shoulder?’ Or, you know, ‘can we pray? Can we pause and pray for a moment’, and not some kind of formal drawn out beautiful, eloquent prayer, but just to help us Lord, in this moment? I think there’s times when crying with her is going to be appropriate. And that’s where obviously, you know, I’m not going to encapsulate in a brief answer, the ethical obligations of the counselor and all of those things. I’ll leave that to further conversation. But yeah, and just, I would say, finally, just reassuring her that this is okay. It is okay, that this is happening to you right now. Because people will apologize profusely, if they’re having big reactions in the counseling room. They’re constantly feeling that self consciousness of, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’. And so reassuring them this, okay, this is a appropriate response for what you’ve been through. So there’s gonna be some of my thoughts about that.

Ann Maree
Lots of good information. Thinking about one one particular thing you said is not to you said it probably differently, much better than I’ll say it, but I’m not to assume you know, what’s happening, either. I know, some of my training has just really brought out, like, my passions in when I hear trauma, or someone who’s been, you know, victimized or anything in that realm. It brings out my own feelings. And I know, I’m also very quick to assume that’s exactly what they’re feeling like, if I’m coming up feeling this sense of injustice, and how horrible that must have been. And yet, she’s not feeling that injustice, she’s got something else she’s feeling. So I appreciate you. Even just that one statement, we could build on that even further.

I’m going to take a shift there here a little bit now toward, like relationships for someone like Michelle coming out of her experience, which we’re on the first part of her story, so we’re not there yet. But I know I don’t want to hear this answer from you. What do you think helps someone rebuild trust, especially in relationships? And I’m not talking about trusting her husband? Again, we’re not there. I’m talking about trust in general. How does she, how does she rebuild that for her other relationships?

Melissa
This is probably the question we get asked the most as counselors who work with abuse and trauma survivors, when they get kind of further along in their processing. So for me, I’m hearing that a lot in my ReStoried groups, that’s a big part of why they’ll join a group is because they want relationship but they feel so fearful, overwhelmed, just perplexed by how to do that. And so, support groups can offer a really good kind of re entry point to take what what many counselors will call a healthy or safe steps or taking like a risk in a small way, getting your feet wet? Again, right. I’ll still always go back to the classic with Diane Langberg. When she says, ‘time tears and talking are what the survivor needs for healing’. And I think that applies, especially in relationships. So when we’re thinking about what does it look like for a survivor to kind of do relationships, so to speak? Well, it’s going to take time and there will probably be tears, not only her own, but knowing that someone is trustworthy, as you grow in closeness with them is that they’re going to share in your tears in a in a sense, you know, even if you don’t cry physically in the same exact way. But there’s this burden bearing there’s an element where they’re willing to interact with you about really hard things. And they’re not going to be quick to push you to get over it, so to speak, or why is that still hard for you? So yeah, time tears talking. I think humility is a lot bigger part of it than what we sometimes give it credit for. It’s easy to say, ‘well, good relationships take humility’, just in general. But I would say, when a survivor is trying to move towards people and figure out how to rebuild trust, and almost like an entrusting herself to real relationships with other people, there’s going to have to be shared humility. You know, on her part, there’s, there’s a way of being humble in the sense of being willing to be misunderstood at times – but I give the caveat, especially in those early days – being willing to be misunderstood in safe and loving relationships, where then you can talk about that, because it will happen, we’re not going to perfectly understand one another. And so I think that is part of why I advocate for groups or small gatherings as a way to start helping people move in that direction. The last thing I’ll mention about that – and it’s not meant to be a plug necessarily, but I think it would be good for, for people in a in by way of a resource – Beth Broom, if you subscribe to the Christian Trauma Healing Network, where you can get some of the paid resources that you can download. And it’s a really minimal fee to join for a month, for month by month. She has a great blog post that comes with a couple of downloads about concentric circle with relationship rebuilding. And I have found that to be really helpful in my individual counseling and in my groups, because it helps the survivor think about what does it look like to kind of categorize my relationships in these three concentric circles? And then as I’m growing and healing, and learning more about that process, what does it look like for maybe me to step outside of like the most inner secure circle? And like, is this person that I’m now thinking about, where would they fit in my concentric circles? And do I have space in my, in my own healing to say, you know, maybe, maybe it’s time to invite them a little bit closer in, in my circle. And so that’s just a great practical tool that I would recommend that I have found really helpful. So yeah, those are a few things. I, I would say, just to wrap that up, though, like it is hard, it is hard. And so even just reassuring the survivor, or if you’re counseling her directly, it’s going to be okay, that there’s going to be some trial and error about how to do that. And it’s going to feel clunky, and it’s going to be painful at times. And that’s okay, that’s okay. We can take a step forward, and then come back and regroup.

Ann Maree
Excellent advice. Excellent resources. I’ll have those in the show notes as well as, as I listened to these EXPERT CONTRIBUTORS on the podcast series, I’m like, I’ve been in this for now going on 12 years, and I feel like each year I know less. So, I’m so grateful for you and someone like Beth, who has thought thoroughly through some of the ways that we can help and creatively even. So, yeah, thank you for bringing up new and better and good resources for us to highlight.

I’m going to play a little bit of what Michelle had bravely shared regarding, and this is a hard one regarding one of the most horrifying events. And I should say not it wasn’t a once, one time event, she did say it happened frequently. But she only shared one of them with us. And just a reminder again, for our audience. This might be difficult to hear, but I’m going to play it for Melissa to interact with.

Recording of Michelle
“There were times when I would cry, but most often I didn’t even cry I just laid perfectly still and he did not ask if I was okay if something was wrong. There was just no communication, no words of comfort or clarification completely isolated and I felt really alone really shameful. And when he was done, I would just roll over clean to the side of my bed and, and try to go to sleep. And I want to be really clear here that this wasn’t just a one time mistake, where maybe we got a little off track. This was repeated and deliberate on his part. We never discussed it. Through all the ensuing things that happened in the counseling we never talked about until many years later, when I actually asked for confirmation that it had happened, as I remembered, I was still kind of operating under that idea that I couldn’t be trusted to remember things correctly. And he he actually agreed that my memory was correct. And I think this is important, because I know that oftentimes, victims are questioned about the interpretation of the events, especially inside marriage. And I think that the fact that he was even willing to confirm that reiterated to me how damaging that was. And I do believe that something very, very damaging happened during that time. And to this day, I struggle deeply with the issues related to those events. I was not loved. I was not safe or protected in my own bed. And for many years, I tried to just forget those nights. But my body did not forget.”

Ann Maree
Hard to hear every time I’ve heard it. I’m quoting Judith Herman once again, she says, quote, “when the rapist is a husband or lover, the traumatized person is the most vulnerable of all, for the person to whom she might ordinarily turn for safety and protection is precisely the source of danger.” And we can hear the impact of that isolation in Michelle’s voice. Melissa, if you can, what is important for friends and family and caregivers, pastors, church goers to know about supporting a woman who was healing from something like this?

Melissa
Now this is, understandably a really, I think, really critical question and really sobering question as it should be. And one of the things we hear in that clip that is important, just to take note of is, these are the spaces whether it’s the the physical bed, or or other aspects of just the close, intimate nature of a marital relationship or a partner relationship, the intimacy, the vulnerability, I especially think of, you know, a bed, what she’s describing there is one of the most vulnerable places that someone can be. And we would, as Christians understanding, the bigger picture theologically of marriage and the marriage bed, we would love to be able to emphasize that the vulnerability there would be a good and beautiful thing. And yet for Michelle and others, in similar situations, it’s one of the most dangerous and harmful places to be. So even the way that we are talking about marriage, sex, sexuality, sometimes in our conversations, I think can be a way that we don’t help support someone who’s healing. So clearly, when we’re asking the question, how can friends and family know how to support a woman healing from this? A lot of times, they’re not going to know all of the details of what was just described, right? That’s not something that most people are going to share openly, much less someone who’s been abused and assaulted, essentially in her in our marriage bed. But I think just first and foremost, being aware of the way we’re talking about it. That we’re not talking about things like that as if it’s some sort of flippant or dismissive type of topic, realizing the sobering nature of it. The other thing is, even if we don’t know all of what happened, and maybe she hasn’t shared all of those details with her friends or her family, this idea of how she she seemed to when it was happening and how she was healing, feeling so much confusion about her emotions, her response to it and her body responding to it. And so just being reminded that the goodness of being a created person. And so what her body and her emotions were reacting to in that situation was a reaction out of, ‘this is not what God intended at all, for a person to experience’. And so wherever we can find ways to reinforce the goodness of being a created human, loved by God. One of my colleagues, she will sometimes talk about this with abuse victims, Karen Corcoran, she’ll say something along the lines of, she’ll, she’ll pull up like the the example of Jesus in the garden.

Somewhere in Michelle’s podcast, where she was interacting with you, she said, she felt dead, you know, and she even describes that physically, like laying perfectly still. And so one of my colleagues uses this illustration, sometimes just reminding us that, like Jesus said, himself, ‘My soul is in anguish even unto death’ when he was in the garden, and so just the idea that there can be this shared understanding that we can find in that of how horrific that experience really is. And so yeah, just being as a, as a supportive family member, or friend, giving room for there to be these complexities to her emotional responses, and not being quick to downplay what we would call, quote, unquote, ‘negative emotions’, or ‘uncomfortable emotions’, but actually being welcoming of her having a place where she can talk about those, because that might help us discover what’s really going on, and then help give clarity for her. And obviously, I’m talking about earlier on, if she had been trying to have conversations, I know now she’s reflecting back on that. But those would be some of my initial thoughts about friends and family and how to support – just keeping that conversation open so that she knows it’s, it’s safe to talk to you about this.

Ann Maree
And there’s another part there for this particular case in that learning how to not just recognize that she’s having an emotion, but like interpreting what is that emotion telling me about me, about the situation, about her physical being, about God, about her experience? Is He you know, telling her anything about that, and emotions can be used to direct us towards those things? They are gift, right? Yeah, that one again, we have so many questions between you and I that we could do entire shows on so I hate to cut it off at that point. Another question, recently, there was a interaction on social media that highlighted an error that those of us in the biblical counseling world sometimes make. And I own those errors. I’ve made them I’ve made multiple errors. And I want to say that loud and clear. Michelle talks briefly about her own experience with biblical, what she called nouthetic council – well, you and I are biblically trained as counselors, and we’re also trauma trained – but I think it’s important we acknowledge there are ways that biblical counseling can go awry. So talk with me about the importance of victims need to accurately assess her lack of responsibility in an assault, that’s one of those things that I’m going to say is, it can go awry in our biblical counseling, because, well, we could get into it, but I’ll just ask the question, talk with me about the importance of her need to accurately assess her lack of responsibility in the assault.

Melissa
Yeah, you’re right. I mean, we could do a whole episode on just this question, or multiple episodes. What came up for me as I contemplated this question, in light of Michelle’s story, was really just we damage the victims ability to discern for herself with the Spirit’s guidance – kind of tying this back in to where we started earlier with that inner, you know, the inner presence of the Spirit – but we damage the counselors ability to discern that, and then we bring harm upon her conscience, her own conscience. I mean, you heard Michelle talking about guilt, embarrassment, shame.

Which is part of what prompts the victim, to take responsibility for what’s happening to them as if it’s their own fault. And that’s not based on actual conviction. That’s, that is not conviction from the Spirit. That is not biblical conviction, if I, as a counselor, either push on to the person or agree with or even just remain neutral, in some senses, when I hear these aspects of what her husband did to her. And so if I’m not being careful, I start using, as you said, we’ve all you know, when we look back, we can think of mistakes. And if we’re not careful, we might either verbally use this language or think it in our head. ‘Well, maybe this person is overreacting a little bit’, or, you know, ‘We haven’t heard his side’. Or even if we take all of it at face value, and just really are compelled to to support her, we still might rush to say, well, how are we going to get things to a better place in the marriage, right, prioritizing that the need to forgive all of those classic, – I mean, let’s just face it, – all of the things that biblical counseling at times, has been accused of in different ways. And so what I find helpful is to think about, what what is it that helped, that kind of took me down that path, even if it wasn’t intentional. And so we do those things when we move too quickly? And I don’t I don’t know for sure about you Ann Maree, but I think knowing we’ve had similar training way back in the day. I think because school and training, no matter what you’re studying always tends to have this like fast paced, kind of feel to it, right. So we, we get this mindset of like, things need to move quickly, right. And so when we move too quickly, we’re not really slowing things down for the victim, which is what that person typically needs a lot, especially early in the stages of figuring out what they’re experiencing, and then being able to pursue healing. And so we also see this a lot when biblical counselors attempt to apply a framework that is more appropriate for generalized marriage or relationship counseling, rather than where there’s marital abuse happening, which can make it dangerous then, and, and so helping the victim accurately assess her lack of responsibility, I think almost starts with the things I just said, it’s like, here’s what’s not what you shouldn’t do. And then being able to build out from there. Okay, back again, back to slowness, letting her guide the even the storytelling, you know, it’s not, I’m not there to interrogate her. I’m not there to second guess, or try to provide clarity for her because then I ended up becoming coercive in some ways myself. And if I go down that route, that’s what’s going to reinforce to her, ‘I’m her I’m responsible, I brought this upon myself.’ And that’s going to just create second, secondary experiences of trauma.

Ann Maree
Yeah, well, and that quickness, as you’re talking, I’m thinking, when we cut it off too quickly, when we cut them off too quickly in their story, and what they’ve told us and turn it to the counseling mode, we’re not doing what we were actually even trained to do, which is to, you know, peel that onion and get to the heart of the issue. So, in any case, but especially in this, slowing it down, letting her set the pace for how she’s going to tell her story, how much she’s going to tell you is going to be so keyed even us being able to counsel her effectively and biblically. I’m gonna play on one more section of what Michelle described in her experience. And then we can talk about this one too.

Recording of Michelle
“I did not feel outrage or anger at God, I felt guilty. I felt like I had to be doing something wrong. My belief that if I lived a good Christian life, I make good decisions, I would have good outcomes, really came into play, that somehow I must not be pursuing God completely. Because if I was, then there’s no way I would be having these kind of issues in my marriage. And Mike took advantage of that. He knew my insecurity, made me so much less likely to be confrontational and honest. He knew it was incredibly important to me what God thought about me. And I did not have a good understanding at this time of the wrong that was being committed towards me. In fact, I was asking God to show me what am I doing wrong? Why are my emotions so out of control? Why can I not get the fear and anxiety to a abate?

Ann Maree
This is telling Melissa, I mean, Michelle said she did not understand how wrong what was being committed against her really was. And I mean, that’s true on many levels, right? Lots of people in and out of the church don’t understand either. There may be a number of people listening today who won’t agree that rape can happen in a marriage, the standard for what constitutes a rape in society, in the church far outweighs the experience of the violation. Right? Some might say – and you said this a little bit earlier – Michelle could have been overreacting. How do victims find and use a voice to counter this imbalance of justice?

Melissa
You know, a couple of things come to my mind on this, one being, first and foremost, just a lot of what we’ve talked about today is that initial, having a place where she is first able to engage with parts of her story. And so a lot of times, for women like Michelle, that first place might be either a really trusted, one person, maybe it’s a family member or friend, that they’ve kind of started explaining some things to and that person, even their reaction, which again, is why as a friend or a family member or supporter, our reactions are so important, is because maybe that person then is able to reinforce like, yeah, that’s, that’s not actually a normal healthy thing for a marriage. Because the victim oftentimes believes it is, like that’s all they’ve been accustomed to, or all that they’ve even been discipled into, kind of going back to earlier. And so I think that that initial whether it’s a friend, a family member, perhaps it’s counseling, I mean, you know, how many times do we get a counseling intake from someone who they’re not going to put on the intake, ‘I’m being abused’. But they might say, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on with me, because I’m having these responses to some things’. Well, then as you hear their story, and they start unpacking things in the counseling room. So I think my first category, yeah, the one on one, interaction, whether it’s with a trusted friend, or a counselor, that’s a way to help affirm and guide them in using their voice to kind of counter that imbalance of justice that you mentioned. Because they’re gonna get to hear responses, like, ‘I am so sorry, that that happened to you, that is not okay. That is not what God would would have in mind for a marriage relationship or for you as a person’. And then secondly, I would say, as you can expand from there, when a victim is able to engage with parts of her story and her experience in relationships with other trusted people, like small group settings that are counseling based, this is going to reinforce that grief, anger, other emotions related to her experience are actually righteous and good responses, which again, speaks to that countering the imbalance of justice.

And a lot of education seems to be necessary, not just for people helpers, just in general relationship to know how, yeah, I see you shaking your head too.

Well, I would love to go on and on and on and on. And I look forward to the next time you come back to the podcast, but it is always exciting for us when you’re here. I thank you for all the work you’re doing well mentioned some of those things in our show notes and put them up on the website as well. But again, I just look forward to hearing from you, hearing more of your wisdom. And thank you for joining us and helping us with Michelle’s story.

Melissa
Thank you so much for having me Ann Maree and for making a space for Michelle and these other women. I think of your last I think it was Tamara before Michelle. You are by giving this space you are reinforcing those those voices, where there’s an imbalance of justice. And so this would be another avenue for that to happen. So thank you so much. It’s always an honor for me to be here with you.

That’s all for today. Thank you again for joining us. In our next episode, Michelle will return to share the second part of her story about domestic abuse and marital rape. Make sure to join us again on June 6 for the next Safe to Hope podcast. If you want to know more about domestic abuse go to Call to Peace.org. Melissa’s ReStoried support groups are designed from a Christ centered theological framework and clinically informed perspective.

Melissa’s desire and creating the ReStoried groups is to honor the participants dignity as embodied souls in need of whole person care. These ReStoried groups are scheduled to begin this month. So a link with an overview as well as a sign up for updates and registration details can be found in our show notes as well. In addition, I recommend Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse? It is an excellent resource for both victims and church leaders in identifying the patterns of abuse, and specifically her chapter on marital rape. In addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Visit Melissa’s website including ReStoried. ReStoried support groups are designed from a Christ-centered theological framework and clinically informed perspective.

If you want to know more about domestic abuse, go to Called to Peace.org. They have a lot of resources that would be helpful can get a hold of an advocate if you need one.
We recommend Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse? : A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims.  Also recommended is Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts:  A Guide for Responding Wisely to Domestic Abuse in Your Church. Particularly helpful for church leaders.

Additional references and Resources:
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
Diane Langberg
Beth Broom Christian Trauma Healing Network
Karen Corcoran

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Looking Forward
  • Swag Shop of branded goodies
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  • Theology of Story II course
  • Remember Bible Study
  • Documenting resource for counselors