One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

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Domestic Violence is Also This - Spiritual Abuse

This is part six of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Spiritual Abuse, also called Religious Abuse

Typically when one hears about religious abuse, it is in the form of a cult or a church manipulating its members or abusing its youths.  But there is another form of religious abuse that can happen - religious abuse as a type of domestic violence.

Spiritual or religious abuse is a form of abuse where the victim is manipulated and controlled through their spiritual or religious beliefs.  This can be effected with ANY religion (for the sake of simplicity, I will call all holy writings “scripture” - I do not mean just the Christian Bible).  If you’re reading this and just had a particular religion pop in your head as an example, remember that that is just one example. It can and does happen in your very own religion as well.

This is not the fault of religion; in religious abuse, religion is simply the tool that the abuser uses to gain control of their victim. In many, if not all, cases, the theological idea being used to control the victim is twisted from its intended interpretation to serve the purposes of the abuser.

For example:

* scripture being used to force a woman to have sex with her husband, to fulfil her wifely duties.  This is also sexual abuse.

* scripture being used to justify other abuse, or to force the victim to do something they otherwise would not consent to.  The most commonly given example given for this is biblical verses of the woman yielding to her husband.  However, there are countless religious texts which can and have been used to this end.

* forcing or preventing the victim’s attendance at a place of worship.

* controlling the victim’s choices of contraception using religious reasoning (this is also sexual abuse).

* preventing or ridiculing the victim’s religious beliefs

My Story

My abuser hated organized religion.  He was raised in a Jewish family and never had a single good thing to say about Judaism. As for myself, I was raised going to a Christian church, but was not devout or religious in any way at that point in my life.

Spiritual abuse was a late addition to the list of abuses I experienced in that relationship.  It started mildly, as with the other abuses.  He wanted to reconsider his faith, and to share it with me.  I didn’t really mind going to synagogue with him, but it also wasn’t up for discussion - I was going, whether I wanted to or not.

Then he decided that he still didn’t like Judaism, but we should study the Bible instead and become Catholic.  Why Catholic and not Christian, you may wonder? He had an obsession with going to the root of a religion, to being ultra-orthodox. He explained to me that he thought modern religion in any form was a corruption of the true faith.   So for every religion he decided we would try out, it had to be the oldest, most original form possible to know.

For the Catholicism period, he began to really develop the pattern of what would become the full fledged spiritual abuse cycle.  I was forced to study the Bible every day, and then he would take those lessons and warp them into some kind of demand, or to justify his violence. He also insisted that I discontinue taking the pill for birth control, and to submit to sex anytime he wanted it.  Strangely, I also had to memorize several Latin hymns and sing them any time he demanded.  This would often be late at night, and he would make me repeat them over and over again until I fell asleep where I sat - for which I would then be punished for my lack of devoutness.

The last religion that he decided we would convert to was Buddhism.  Like the previous religion, I had to study the scriptures (this time of the Pali Canon) every day; he then expanded this enforced study to include a written component of study as well.  He also expanded his religious-based demands.  For example, I could no longer choose my own clothing, and had to wear his extra pants and shirts (even though he was quite a bit bigger than me), and also shave my head - this was to embrace the holy lifestyle and reject vanity as a Bhikkhu would.  He also justified destroying property or selling it without my consent, by saying that I should be unattached to material things.  Vanity, attachment, and other precepts were twisted to his own evil purposes.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

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