Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Modesty Myth: Four Reasons I am no Longer Modest

           The Modesty Myth; Four Reasons I am no Longer Modest.

   She wrote that she wished she felt as beautiful, elegant and respected in her new modern clothes as she did in her former cape dress.    She is a friend on her own journey recovering from conservative Christianity and a well known church denomination (where being separate from the world is foundational doctrine) and what she wrote grabbed me.

     I could not relate to her wistfulness, but I was intrigued.

     I had not previously worn a cape dress, but I had been raised deep in modesty culture and was not allowed to wear pants, t shirts (they could cling), ear rings, make up, heels, and the list goes on.

    It isn’t easy being a thirteen year old at age thirty; experiencing those teen years that you are supposed to experiment with your clothes, your hair, and make up, learning to appropriately and comfortably dress your body.  For many of my friends raised in modesty culture this process  happens much later in life when we are living on our own, and often becomes even more acute after having the first baby or two, since we have to really make a change in what works for our now very womanly shaped bodies. In the past couple years I’ve worn things in an attempt to update my look that have later made me cringe, but I refuse to beat myself up for being brave enough to try.

    I am not alone in my struggle. It is a topic modesty culture women talk about a lot.

    We talk about discovering how to find clothes that work with our body’s shape, without being ashamed of our assets. We talk about discovering our own sense of personal style; what kind of clothes make our hearts sing? What colors do we love?  (in many ministries and churches, certain colors are either required or forbidden)  What image feels like an extension of who we are? And perhaps most difficult of all for women raised in cultures of dresses and skirts where the only difference between what we wear for gardening and a wedding is how long we’ve owned the dress and perhaps cleaner shoes; we talk about how to distinguish between formal and casual.

      But even though wading through the issues of style, shape, trends, preference, and body image is hard enough for the most woman today, adding a past that taught body shame as God’s gift to ‘godly women’  means these discussions truly rock both our core identity and faith.

   I have found that there are four different ways modesty culture damages.

1)      Modesty culture creates body shame.

      Instead of celebrating our transition to womanhood, modesty culture offers newly blossomed girls one primary focus; your body is something you must learn to overcome; your body is the ultimate distraction and threat, even to your personal and every straight man’s holiness. 

       I have yet to talk to a girl raised in modesty culture who was encouraged to proudly own her body’s attractive qualities. Long lean, round curves, petite lines, thick, lovely ample, strong, luscious; these were not positive descriptions that even occurred to us. Our bodies were not something to embrace, but to manage, to endure.

    Beyond the struggles of self image that this kind of thinking creates, its effect on our physical health is real.

    You aren’t likely to take good care of something that is a threat to your holiness.

    Loving the legs, arms, stomach, breasts and butt we have is foundational to nourishing and strengthening the whole of us, instead of trying to punish them into careful obscurity.

    In modesty culture it is considered sinful pride and a waste for much thought or effort to be put into appearance. We were told we were to focus on developing our ‘inner beauty’ which was supposed to ideally ‘shine through’ or overcome our physical selves.

    It is a very schizophrenic way to think; let yourself shine, be beautiful; but not the outside very real physical parts of you that you can see and touch, just the internal, vague spirit of who you are, well, at least the part of your spirit that is meek and sweet.

    In my experience girls raised in modesty culture do a lot of smiling and serving in order to let their ‘inner beauty shine’ even though like their bodies they have learned to carefully conceal who they are with a carefully constructed image of conformity.

    Coming to love and flaunt my insanely thick, curly wild hair that was never going to lie down demurely and be a quiet or unobtrusive took me years but was  the start of being ok with who I am internally in spirit, a bit wild, passionate, and untamable.

2)       Modesty culture is based in assumption and inappropriate responsibility.

  My friend wrote how she missed being treated with ‘respect’ by men in public. I knew what she was talking about, although I had never interpreted it as respect.

    I remembered. In modest dress men my age or younger next to me at the soda fountain would usually avoid eye contact and hurry away, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t noticed. Usually it was older men who would smile and try to chat while I stood in line at a checkout, and then would hurry to get the door. I never had to carry anything when I was in modest dress; there were always offers of help.

    I was raised to be judgmental of the girl in halter top and shorts who all the guys in the store would instinctively notice. I was raised to see her as luring them with her body, ‘making’ them look and have feelings beyond their control. Without even addressing the issue of an individual’s responsibility for his or her own ‘feelings’, my very first realization was basic. 

     It was something I knew from the attention that (often) older men gave me in my modest clothes. Guess what. Some guys notice the girl in a halter top with tan lines and booty shorts, and some notice the girl in a long skirt, demure smile, and appearance of innocent purity.

     At some point early on it clicked in my mind that we were being raised to view sexual attraction within a very narrow range; while some guys (and gals) get turned on by the perception of sexual availability, some are turned on by the perception of eternal innocence and impressionability.

    After one particular creepy conversation with a much older man as a teen I remember struggling with the irony that my ‘modest’ attire seemed to make me more of a target for those who were attracted to the appearance of naive innocence.

    It was at that point that I realized how ridiculous it was to believe that my choice of clothes could ensure that everyone around me had right thoughts. I also realized how insidious it was to suggest that half the world population was responsible for the other half; essentially making me responsible for mankind’s sexuality.

    In essence modesty culture suggests that we are not simply people, equal and wholly human, a person to be liked or disliked as a whole, capable and responsible, who have a sexual aspect of our being, but we are simply something men want, and that we must be careful not to encourage their animal instincts.

     Boys raised in modesty culture were taught to ‘shift their eyes’ away from women who showed too much, to avoid deliberately being/staying in the presence of an immodest woman.   Some churches encouraged the girls in the family to ask her father and brothers if what she was wearing was ‘to revealing’ which reinforced the idea that the girls were nothing more than breasts and butts that even a male family member could/should scrutinize.

3)      Modesty culture destroys identity and creates complete objectification.

       “I feel like people knew who I was and what I believed”. My friend was lamenting that her change of clothes changed how she believed she was perceived. No longer did her clothes speak for her in the same way.

       ‘Yes, but isn’t that lovely?” I asked, surprised. “Now there are no superficial barriers! They have to ask!”

       The very foundation of modesty culture is the belief in judging others based on appearance.

     Wearing the specifically prescribed clothes provide quick easy identification of who you are and what you stand for; no personal introduction necessary.

      No one needs to get to know you, to ask your opinion, to even care if you have one; at a glance they can make a sweeping judgment about what you believe, and your role in society; which for modest women is clearly limited and pre-defined. Grocery shopping, raising children, serving the community and cleaning house is what can be reasonably expected from a modest woman in her place.
    Conformist clothes can provide a sense of belonging, it is clear you are a part of an established social and religious circle and everyone knows it.

   For my friend and others I know still in that culture this feels safe, and comforting. I felt like it was a straight-jacket for my soul. However, for both of us leaving this sense of identity, no matter our previous feelings has proven to be difficult.

    My friend misses the simple, uncomplicated and straight forward appearance of her former life; her outside reflected a simple, well organized internal system of belief, while now her appearance matches her internal growth (somewhat awkward, still in process, and slowly expanding).

  I remember relishing the freedom I felt wearing the most average, mundane clothing possible which meant I could walk into a public place and NOT be noticed, not judged, not ‘put in my place’ with a glance. I craved the chance to be seen as a person that would take time to get to know, to be granted gracious anonymity of faith, free of stereotyped perceptions. I could finally be seen as a person, instead of part of a whole.

  However despite my eagerness, the reality of the perception of others and assumed identity proved hard to shake.

     I remember in past years mid-transition feeling conflict at the oddest moments. I remember the first few times I was in public dressed entirely unnoticeably in the most average pair of loose jeans and t-shirt and walking by women I didn’t know dressed like I used to, and realizing that they did not make eye contact and smile or nod as they would have; the silent acknowledgement that exists between those of like; I had become invisible. I was like the rest.

     I remember the confusion, and even the unexplainable hurt. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know who I was; they had no idea that I WAS them; that at the time my beliefs were still nearly the same as theirs, wrapped in a different package; as far as they were concerned I was the ‘other’, lost, unknowing, and in need of change. I was being dismissed at a glance.

   It was the first time I had experienced what I was told were righteous, ‘loving’ perceptions used against me and it felt like anything but righteousness or love.

   As much as it hurt I realized that judgment and acceptance are mutually exclusive. I couldn’t control their judgments’ of me and my walk with God any more than I could control someone lusting after me, and that was ok; that wasn’t my job, nor the job of my denim skirt or trendy skinny jeans.

 Modesty culture teaches you that your appearance is a vital part of your ‘witness’, which basically means your level of holiness and commitment.   In a culture rooted in the belief that your clothes tell everyone around you everything you needed to know, there really isn’t an option other than to believe that a girl in a short skirt is ‘asking’ for sexual attention/abuse or a girl in a long skirt is ‘demonstrating’ her holiness. The thought of a mini skirt missionary or long skirt Pharisee destroys the whole premise.

       After all, if what we wear doesn’t matter; how will we know who loves God more?

  Without my clothes, makeup and hair doing the talking for me, I realized I would have to find a way to express my faith through words, through relationships. To people who actually cared what I thought and bothered to ask. It was both overwhelming and exhilarating.


4)      Modesty culture is inescapably rooted in status.

     Despite what the modesty culture suggests through its dogma, it definitely isn’t men who are most conscious of what women are wearing; it is other women.

     Any woman can tell you that the moment she walks into a room she is simultaneously being observed and is simultaneously observing every other woman present and we are judging ourselves against the standard we see. We see, we know. It is instantaneous and unconscious. We know who has the shortest (longest) skirt, the most cleavage, the tinniest waist, the biggest smile, the nicest hair.

      In a modest conscious culture, there is constant awareness and obsession.  Hemlines, necklines, and darts are noticed and critiqued within 1/8 of inches; the thickness of fabric, even the texture; each detail matters. It is a value system just as real, just as ruthless and just as cruel as the most fashion forward and label obsessed circles, but with higher stakes since the currency isn’t just a woman’s financial ability, but her standing with God.

   I doubt there is a young girl raised in modesty culture who hasn’t had the soul destroying experience of having an older woman pull her aside to criticize her already limited choice of clothes as ‘inappropriate’. One that comes to mind for me is being at a public event and walking down a flight of stairs wearing for the first time a long, flowing button down jumper. (Because I am tall, length was ALWAYS an issue, and I couldn’t believe I had found a dress so long at the thrift store that came to my ankles.)

     It was a rare moment where I actually felt pretty and confident, until I reached the bottom of the stairs and was pulled aside by an older woman who pointed out that the buttons on my dress ended about 18 inches above the bottom of the floor which was ‘quite a distraction’ and hurried me to a bathroom where she pulled out safety pins to save me from causing others to sin.

   I was crushed. My smile was gone; how could I have been so careless?  I never wore that dress again.

  Now I know that nothing is as beautiful as a confident woman, and that even my baggy dress or pulled back frizzy  hair couldn’t hide my young, innocent loveliness in that rare moment of confidence; beauty that was seen as a threat, and something to be quickly suppressed.

    The dark side of modesty culture is that if a woman really believes that the men in her life are truly susceptible to natural attraction to other woman with limited or no culpability, other women are her biggest threat.

   Find a woman who believes her husband’s wandering eye is the responsibility of poorly dressed women and you will find the loudest and most vocal supporter of other women’s modesty. Put that woman around attractive young girls and women with sincere hearts and insecurity and watch carnage of the soul begin. There is no shame storm equal to that created by an insecure woman.

     The modesty myth promises a world of purity.

    The modesty myth says that my choices determine yours. The modesty myth suggests that my worth and value depend on YOUR perception of me. That somehow my clothes and your eternal soul are connected.

  The modesty myth teaches me that my body is inherently shameful, should be covered and that it is my job to protect you from yourself.

  Modesty teaches me that I am my body. When I am young, beautiful, and shaped just right, I have to be careful to hide it because that is what men cannot help but want. What does that say about my body when I am older and my body has changed?

    Modesty teaches me that I should be treated with honor, respect, and value based on the clothes I wear. What does this say about how I see and treat others?

   Modesty teaches that a woman’s choice in clothes can tell you everything you really need to know about that woman; her interests, her beliefs, her past, her future without ever speaking to her. What this mean I assume about those around me?

  Modesty teaches appearance is the most important representation of who I am; it eliminates the need for our spirits and souls to connect, to see, or to know others for who they really are. Modesty allows me to carefully avoid ever really being seen or known.

 It’s why I am no longer modest. I have chosen to be seen.  I have chosen to see others.
 It is terrifying. It is freeing.
 We are beautiful.  
  This Present Mom,

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What We Wish You Knew; How to Support a Victim of Abuse Part Two.

 So this is the second half of the post; What We Wish You Knew: How to Support a Victim of Abuse.
   Number 1&2 can be found in the first post, found here.

    Your response to the knowledge of our experience has the power to help our healing, or further our pain. I truly believe the more we are all able to openly discuss abuse and abuse recovery, we weaken its destructive power, and can even prevent new victims.

     3)      Ask us good questions and really listen to our answers.

     One factor that I now believe is indicative of a healthy relationship, environment or faith is the presence of questions and a comfort with some level of uncertainty.

    Controlled environments, groups or relationships do not permit ambiguity. Doctrine, beliefs and authority are rigid, absolute, and completely enforced.

      Because in an abusive or unhealthy situation the goal is control, compliance and conforming instead of actual individual learning, expression, and growth, someone who has been in a controlled environment has learned to ‘think’ in very rigid, black and white ways. All or nothing. Black or white. Right, wrong. Good, or bad. You are in or out.

      This means that for us to question any part of our relationship or beliefs means we may feel that we are automatically swinging to the opposite side and by default are losing EVERY thing we once knew and believed.

      It will take time for us to recognize that life is full of nuances and gradations.

      The more accepting you are to our questions and new ideas, the more comfortable we will feel in exploring our own head and heart.


      Someone leaving a controlling situation will find thoughtful, kind questions invaluable, because they help re-frame difficult topics from fresh perspectives. Be sure to be kind and patient through this process.  Remember the point of this isn’t to demand something of us, but for you to offer two invaluable things we desperately need, very real support presence and a fresh perspective.


   In a controlled situation, when we  feel troubled by something, we are often used to shutting down that part of our heart and mind. In the past there have usually been negative results from questions and challenge.

     If we tend to be a peace loving personality we will probably feel incredibly uncomfortable with any conflict, and conflict inside us may be terrifying and confusing. We would rather deny their own feelings than to have to face the discomfort of turmoil.

     We needs assurance that our feelings/thoughts are completely valid, and to be asked, ‘Why do you suppose you think feel that way?  Or, why do you suppose that you feel that your thoughts/feelings don’t matter?’
    If we are a strong personality who tends to buck the system, we probably do not see this as a positive quality about ourselves; in a controlled environment we are usually labeled a troublemaker. We tend to see our naturally independent attitude as something we have to fight to overcome, and feel guilt for the problem we feel we are for others.

    An indication of this kind of these kinds of inner conflict might be if we make a statement about how we feel, quickly followed with a dismissive or depreciating comment.

‘Sometimes I wonder/feel/think _____.     *Nervous chuckle*

‘But I’m just being silly’- or

‘I’m not smart enough to figure these things out’- or

‘But I’m just the troublemaker- I always throw a wrench in everything’ –or

‘Not that it matters.’ or

‘I know I shouldn’t feel that way’, or

 ‘I know I need to just trust in God!’ or,

 ‘I just need more faith’ …

      These kinds of statements reveals our inner uncertainty, and that we have learned to discredit, dismiss, or ignore what we are thinking and feeling.

   (Something else interesting to note in comments like these is how we may identify ourselves – as ‘silly’, or ‘stupid’ or ‘rebellious’ or with some other word.

   A person with emotional health is able to separate to some extent what they think or feel from who they are.

    For example, - a good person may feel angry about something quite justifiably, this does not make them an angry or mean person.  This is a great place to ask more questions.

Why do you call yourself _____? What do you think that means? What does that say about you? Etc.


   Good questions help us lean into the discomfort of evaluative thinking.  


   *Do ask good questions and allow them to hang in the air. Allow us to think our answer through even if it means the next time you see us. It may take us a while; give us the gift of time. Be sure to gently follow up.  A mind that has conformed is out of practice asking or answering good questions.

   *Do openly acknowledge your own personal areas of uncertainty when they arise. We need to know that we aren't the only ones who don't have everything figured out.

4)      Allow us to grieve the loss of innocence, time, relationship, and more.

     Especially when we feel the need to fight outside perception of our abuser, relationship or group to convince you or others that it was destructive this is something that often gets over shadowed and may be unseen by those around us.

    The desire to be strong, the courage to speak, and the power to stand paradoxically produce incredible vulnerability, and ever emerging awareness of loss; to admit what we have experienced, means that we must face the parts of ourselves, of our ideas of what should be, of trust, of safety, of faith, of innocence, of time, and more that were taken.

     It may be harder for us to express our grief and loss than initially sharing our experience.  It is an area that I still struggle to express. 

    Admitting loss is hard enough, owning the pain of that loss is vulnerability. It is often hard, messy work to sort through the interwoven good and bad of past relationships and experiences.

Grief and loss are hard. There are no shortcuts; no way to just skip over the hurt to healthy acceptance and healing.

 *Don’t be surprised if we have shared hard terrible things , but at some point also share a wistful nostalgia for something good that shared space in that point in our life. This does not mean we have exaggerated the bad, or that we are taking back out former statements, but that we are recognizing the sometimes inconceivable mixture of good and bad that is life.

*Do allow us to grieve the losses we have experienced in our own way.


5)      Support Our efforts to form opinions and make decisions

               If in the past we were in a controlled relationship or environment we were told what to think, what to feel, or how our life ‘should’ look, and making decisions is scary. While personal responsibility is a much touted idea in controlling sects, the truth is that personal choice is highly limited and therefore personal responsibility in practice is about personally conforming and only choosing from certain approved options, or practicing allowing others to make decisions in our place.

          Real personal responsibility means accepting the results of my choices and decisions, and owning the good, bad and ugly. This is terrifying if you have believed in the past that this is something you should not do, should avoid by doing what you were told, or did not practice because you were following a certain set of very rigid principles/rules/ideals which guided all decisions.

                 For children raised in rigid controlling environments, it is common for us to feel frustrated and behind their peers in their decision making abilities, because often we are.  It is a skill we have to learn for ourselves one tiny little step at a time.

                There are several good articles written by now grown children raised in controlled environments who describe the difficulties they have had trying to discover and develop their authentic, independent identities, (links below).

      Part of controlled ( black and white) thinking is the sober feeling that every mistake, every decision is serious and irreversible. In a controlled environment mistakes are not seen as a wonderful part of learning and growing, but as failure of our very personhood and ability to conform, and calls to question our loyalty, standing, and value. “A ‘good’ child, or church member, or group follower doesn’t  _____.”

         Someone who has been controlled may actually find themselves leaning on others, like you for input, and unconsciously try to rely on your opinions; this is where asking us questions helps us remember to identify our own thoughts instead of becoming dependent on you for advice.

        Others of us may strongly react to anything that sounds like control; even innocently made suggestions or even just the opinions of others. Until we feel comfortable and confident in what we know and have decided; other’s input can feel threatening. Again, - supportive comments and questions that allow us to state out thoughts will assure us that you are trying to support, not control us. 

   *Don’t flood us with your thoughts, feelings and opinions as a substitute for our own, allow us to learn to hear our very own quiet voice.
   *Do encourage us to follow our own instincts, be there to celebrate our victories, and be there to give us a hug to let us know that failure is just a temporary setback.


       Have you been in an abusive relationship? Have you experienced a controlling relationship or environment? Of those who have had the most positive impact in your life, what and how have they helped you most? What would you add? What do you wish your friends knew?

     Have you struggled because you didn’t know how to help a friend? Are you concerned that the word abuse is being exaggerated and used to freely? Do you wonder how ideas of faith and family fit with topics of abuse? Do feel like you need to know more?

       Stay tuned. We will explore more on these topics together.

This Present Mom,


I recommend these books as excellent resources for anyone who wants to learn more about recovering and healing from abuse, controlled enviroments, or relationships.

 Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs
  by Steven Hassan

 Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women
  By Susan Brewster, M.S.S.W.

Keep Your Love On! Connections, Communication & Boundaries
By Danny Silk
Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse
Gregory L. Janitz PH.D.
with Ann McMurray

Friday, May 30, 2014

What We Wish You Knew; Five Ways to Support a Victim of Abuse Part One


   So recently there has been an ever growing number of individuals being brave enough to speak about their unpleasant pasts in Christian, (specifically conservative and home school Christian circles.). With the massive ministries of ATI and Vision Forum both suffering leadership scandals in the last year, the gates have been thrown open, and words like abuse, and cult have been popping up more and more frequently.

    Clarifying these terms, and understanding the presence, personalities and power involved, is something that I am writing on and hope to post soon. However this post is not intended to cover the broad scope of defining and categorizing abuse and cults, but to address you; someone who perhaps who has not experienced abuse or mistreatment in your family, or from your church.

    I am writing for those of you who feel a bit horrified and confused by what may seem to be a sudden attack of ideas or people with which you may have had positive experiences. What do you do when a friend or acquaintance of yours makes comments about their experience with abuse, mistreatment or control in their past? 

   Or perhaps you have recently had a friend, co-worker or acquaintance share with you that they have in the past or are currently in an abusive situation.

     I want to give you some ideas of ways to be a support to your friend. These suggestions are in no way all encompassing (there are some books I recommend linked at the end if for further education).  I also want to begin by making clear that I am NOT writing this so that you as a friend can replace professional counselor or therapist.
    I urge anyone who has experienced abuse of any kind to seek a qualified professional. I also am not writing this as a suggestion of how to help cover up an abusive situation that warrants intervention. These are simply to help give you perspective of how to emotionally support those who are facing, or who have faced the very real presence of abuse in their lives.

   As I have written before, I have abuse in my past.  I have had people respond to that knowledge in ways that built me up, and helped me in my journey to health and healing, and I have had people (often inadvertently) add to the hurt.  I have also through the years have had friends confide in me of abuse they have suffered and the way I ignorantly handled some of those situations in the past are some of my biggest regrets to this day.

    Taken from both my personal experiences and my study, I hope that these ideas help you be a refuge and place of strength for those who have been hurt in your world.

    I do believe that as we as a public become more educated on the topics of abuse and how to support those who have, or are facing mistreatment, we weaken the power of abuse everywhere.  

  Even though the purpose of this post is not to define terms, I feel the need to point out that for the purpose of this post I loosely group people who have been or are in abusive (mental, emotional or physical) and or controlling relationships or environments.

    I think it is important to clarify that being in a controlling relationship, family, or group (church, or organization) does not mean there is always physical abuse, but physical abuse by nature can only be present where there is a an unhealthy level of control and imbalance of power and emotional abusive dynamics.

      I am going to also go out on a limb and state that I believe due to the incredibly strong procreative (large family) beliefs of some of the most control based religions and sects in our country that in the next few decades our culture will continue to experience an explosion of children who leave their background in varying stages of adulthood and need not only professional support, but friends and family who can be their allies as they fight to develop their own identity.

1)    Please Believe Us. Don’t assume; ask and acknowledge what we have experienced.


    Do you want to know what adds to the devastation of being raised in a cult? Or adds to the pain of enduring mental or physical abuse by someone you loved and trusted?  The thing that adds to the shame, guilt, and fear from being sexually molested or raped? Being told it didn’t happen. That you must be exaggerating, you must have misunderstood, or that it was your fault.

   Two of the biggest reasons victims of horrendous pain and suffering do not say anything at the first offense are: 1)fear of more abuse and retaliation by the one who has hurt them, and 2)fear that no one else will believe them. Unfortunately this effectively silences many victims for years. Even when they leave the reach of their abusers, they know the ugly reality is that most people do not want to believe them.  

                 For someone who has suffered physical or sexual abuse, speaking up takes incredible 
            courage. It isn’t easy to admit that you were so powerless. It isn’t easy to admit that you were
            so deeply  wronged.  It isn’t easy to share the hardest thing that has ever happened to you and 
            face skeptics and judgment from those who have no clue.

      For a person who has been raised in an extremely  controlling environment, disagreeing with those ‘in charge’, ‘in authority’ or ‘in leadership’ is usually seen as morally wrong and a betrayal. (Certainly of others in the group, sometimes even as a sin against God.)

   It may actually take a long time for the person to realize just how real and how damaging their emotional and mental abuse was. It takes tremendous courage to admit to the internal scars that are just as present but less likely to be acknowledged by others.


    Physical, mental abuses and control all affect how we see ourselves and those around us. Both affect how a child or teen makes choices and the course of our lives. Both are deeply devastating and require hard work and help for healing and growth.


      If you know someone who is brave enough to share the pain of past mistreatment, you have the power to further hurt them, or be their first step toward healing.


  Here are some incredibly hurtful ways to respond to a person who mentions their abuse.


   *Don’t minimize.

 (Even though it is uncomfortable for you; let our hard words stand.)


   *Don’t gloss over or make a joke.

     If someone begins to share, or makes a comment, it can be uncomfortable, and you may feel unprepared, but please do not try to make us feel better by saying ‘well, none of us are perfect parents’ or ‘I’m sure they did the best they could’ or  ‘I feel like losing it with my kids too sometimes!’ or “hmmm, everyone I know who was in that ministry had a fantastic experience”    


  * Don’t be a Polly Anna.

     It is rubbing salt into the wound to say ‘Well at least – *supposed positive statement* (such as telling someone who was controlled environment, ‘well at least they didn’t hit you!” or telling a physically abused person ‘at least you had parents that loved you’ ….. or, ‘Well, it seems like you turned out ok!”

     Faith based Polly Anna’s who flippantly say ‘well God works all things for good!’ can be incredibly hurtful to someone who has or is no doubt wrestling with the very real question of where God has been for them.

     These kinds of statements make it sound like our pain doesn’t matter. If we are still alive, things obviously could have been worse, but that fact doesn’t reduce the pain we have experienced!


  * Don’t praise or defend our abuser.  

    This may seem obvious, but especially when it is someone you know (perhaps parents) or a well known leader, I have seen this reaction time and time again.  I think part of it may stem from the shock and sadness that we all feel when someone lets us down.

   It doesn’t really matter how well respected of a Pastor, how well liked in the community, how good looking, or successful, or how hard our abuser appeared to try to be a good parent to the rest of the world.

    First, no amount of ‘good’ someone has done excuses or minimizes the damage they have caused another person, and second; the most dangerous people intentionally hide under a carefully crafted image of goodness. Abusers and those who control, manipulate and damage others rarely walk around with a scowl and  brass knuckles. They know better. They know how to look good! They know how to sound good!

    Defending or taking our abuser’s side extends the pain of that abuse.


*Don’t be hateful towards our abuser. Don’t threaten to harm them or ask why we didn't tell you sooner. While for some of you it may be hard to believe that John Doe did the things we tell you, - some of you may have suspected as much, or have had your own unpleasant experiences which makes knowledge of wrong doing to make you feel angry and protective of us.   

      Your negative reaction may put us in a position to feel the need to defend our abuser especially if it is a family member or someone with whom we or you have had/ currently have a relationship.

    Telling you anything is a crack in the door to our trust that will slam shut if we feel that you are an emotionally charged; we do not know how to handle our emotions, let alone yours and  will not feel safe. If the situation is current, we are looking for someone to be strong, and stable, and supportive, something we desperately need. If the situation is past, we are probably telling you so that you can have a better understanding of who we really are, and where they came from so that our friendship can be strengthened.


*Do try to remain emotionally calm, and don’t underestimate a quiet, loving, listening ear. If you are caught off guard and don’t know what to say, it is ok to say that. A reassuring comment that leaves an open door can be short and simple, like; ‘I am so glad you shared this with me, - I am here for you.”

*Do listen carefully and ask questions if you feel the need to clarify something, such as if the abuse is past or present.  If we are saying anything to you it is a sign that we sense you care and are trust worthy and it may be our way of looking for help. 

    Be sure to ask us in ways that allows us  to draw a boundaries easily; i.e. ‘Wow, I had no idea. Are you comfortable if I ask you a question?’

    If we say no, respect it and tell us how grateful you are that they were brave enough to share with you. Assure us you want to be there for us, and try to leave the door open for us to broach the topic again. ‘Any time you want to talk, I am here for you.’


 *Do express your sorrow at our pain. As someone who has lived with abuse by nature we are used to our physical or emotional pain being not only being ignored and irrelevant; but intentionally exploited.  We will be amazed that anyone would really care.  There is healing power that knowing someone else  actually cares about our pain.


 *Do acknowledge that it wasn’t fair, or right, or our fault, and that no one deserves to be treated that way. We need to hear this a lot, especially from those whose opinions we value. Even if we believe this to be true in our heads, we often do not believe in our heart that this applies to us.


*Do acknowledge our strength in sharing with you.


  *Do allow yourself time to process the shock or grief you feel at learning the news. Someone who has been abused is often relieved to have the truth exposed. It is a step in our healing. We may not realize that for you (especially if you are a close family member or friend) this is just the beginning of the heartbreak and sadness, and potentially a lot of questions and ramifications that you may need to address.



2)      Be a safe place for us to process our thoughts and feelings. Validate them.


     Depending on what emotional state we are in, we may be angry and sound hateful, or we may be sad and sound sorry, either way; allow our statements about our abuser and our situation to stand. 

    Part of being in an abusive or controlled relationship or environment is the forced suppression of personal thought and feelings; even the right to have thoughts and feelings.

     Someone who has been physically abused has literally been denied the right to make decisions for their own body and safety.

   Someone who has been emotionally or mentally abused has been manipulated, traumatized and often doesn’t trust their perceptions or judgments and definitely doubts the motives and honesty of others.

    Sometimes just forming basic opinions, or stating defiance is an act of courage.  Individuality is a serious threat to control or abuse. 

    Part of what defines a controlled environment (also called thought reform, or what I call cult mentality) is black and white thinking which categorizes certain thoughts or feelings as ‘wrong’ or  ‘right’  (acceptable or unacceptable)

   A healthy view recognizes all thoughts and feelings as valid visitors who come and go and can and should be welcomed, and experienced, which is not the same as giving them the power to control us or dictate our actions.


 *Don’t shame or judge us for our feelings.


*Don’t try to push us toward your idea of forgiveness… Forgiveness is part of the process of healing, as is anger.  It is something we WILL face and achieve.  Forgiveness could be an entire post on its own, but suffice to say that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, ignoring, or silence.

     Especially when there are other potential victims, silence means that we are potentially allowing abuse happen to others.


*Do encourage our expression of thoughts and feelings.


*Do re-phrase what we say as a chance for them to hear validation; ‘It sounds like what you are saying is that you feel/think -------’; (echo their sentiments as directly as possible, not twisting or contriving, but simply acknowledging they exist).

     Allow us to clarify if you didn’t get it right, but ultimately allow our voice to stand. This is incredibly empowering and allows us to ‘hear’ ourselves and our voice in a new way. Often this process allows us to better understand what we actually want or believe.

   Next week I will post the last three of five ways to an abuse victim.
So far are there any thoughts you'd like to add? Who has positively impacted your life recovering from abuse? What things have been the most hurtful?
   Have you struggled to know how to help a hurting friend?
Stay tuned for more next week!

This Present Mom,







Thursday, April 24, 2014

Doug Phillips Sues, and What Being Pro-Life Really Means for Marriage

                     Doug Phillips Sues and what being pro-life really means for marriage.

  So perhaps you haven’t heard the news that Doug Philips is planning on suing the men from his church who privately confronted him about his alleged improper relationship, and then exercised church discipline toward him. Although almost unfathomable, it is true. He accuses the men of intentionally ruining his business and ministry, Vision Forum. (Link to source at end of post)

   Riiiiiiighttttt, I believe totally financial ruin was the goal of his self described closest friends and followers, - why else would they have done it?

    According to these men, they went to his home hoping to clear up suspicions, and then, when they did ask ‘Have you had an improper relationship with Miss____” (the answer was yes) and ‘was it sexual in nature?’ (the answer was yes) they describe their deep pain and shock, and their expectation to act as biblical prophet Nathan, and find a broken hearted David. What they found was an angry, proud man who became so argumentative over the exact WAY they were conducting their visit, and was so loudly contentious they were forced to leave.

    When I posted publically first about this scandal, I lead with the fact that I was sad for him, his family, but more importantly for the thousands of followers who had been deceived. I then made some sweeping statements which to me seemed obvious but elicited a fire storm of debate, which actually caught me off guard, and in general the (pretty harsh) responses were one that ironically chastised me, urging focus on forgiveness, healing, and unity. I was accused of trying to destroy the body of Christ, leading others astray, angry bitterness and more.

   What became painfully clear to me  the first instant I read the story that included Doug’s comments that many assumed was an apology, was something of which I have come to realize most Christian’s are either completely na├»ve, or refuse to face.

    From the moment of this scandal breaking, there are certain things I absolutely knew. I knew because unfortunately I have far too much personal experience with this kind of man. I cannot pretend to have great compassion for him, but my heart breaks daily for the thousands of families who have listened and followed the advice of someone who was not only systematically and intentionally destroying the lives of those he claimed to love, but teaching others how to destroy those around them, women and children first.

    Last fall I wrote that while his family may have been unaware of his actual physical affair, and that while no doubt the last year has rocked and shattered their world in the cruelest, most public way possible - we can be sure that deep down, they are not surprised. They have lived for years in the shadows of a selfish, arrogant, and appearances obsessed man, whose only concern has been power, self glorification and control. They have lived with dysfunction, lies and heartache that will take years for them to identify and process.

   I should know.

   From the beginning, while others were calling for compassion, for forgiveness and healing, I have been fighting for the people who have had, and still to this very day have been allowed no voice: his family.

      From the beginning I have said that the cruelest thing we can do is to minimize or ignore the actions of a man who still has yet to show any sign of real sorrow for his actions and whose life has been dedicated to dangerous and destructive teaching.

   We Christians are often cowards. We would often rather forgive and forget certain things rather than to stand and face the whole, intense, ugly face of evil that comes wrapped in light.

   Using the name of God to get your way, to gain power, to make money, or silence or control other humans (especially your own wife and children) is evil; calling it biblical manhood and making millions selling that idea is cold, calculating, and damnable.

    As more details have surfaced about his sickening actions in the last ten years; the single girl with whom this over 10 year affair occurred was one of Bell’s best friends and a mother’s helper, almost certainly present while Bell was on bed rest through pregnancies, a close enough ‘friend’ of the family that they threw her high school graduation party and included her in family trips. It should be clear to even a casual observer that we are not talking about a sincere person who slipped in a moment of weakness, but a pattern of behavior that has affected financial, relational, and ‘ministry’ decisions for years. (There are credible allegations that at least one of Vision Forum’s ‘documentaries’ was staged and contains outright lies.)

   So why does it matter? So maybe this time I was right, - maybe a smile, patience and forgiveness isn’t what he needs in this case; but what can it hurt to hold off judgment? Why not always err on the side of grace? Does our response even matter? Even if Doug Philips has serious issues, - even if it has become blatantly obvious that we have a lot of reasons to feel very sorry for his wife and children, there isn’t much we can do, is there?

     I believe our response matters; I believe YOUR response matters more than you know.

    There are several areas that make Christian’s very uncomfortable. Abuse, domestic violence and mental illness/health are some of those areas.    

    Have you noticed the influx of quiet whispers in blog land, and in Christian Mommy books on post partum depression? Timidly, quiet voices are rising, sharing their experiences and fighting the idea that their experience meant that they didn’t have faith, that they didn’t try hard enough, that they didn’t care.

   It is a teeny, tiny tremor, in the Christian landscape and it is desperately needed; something I hope swells to an earth splitting, permanent shift in our understanding of Christianity and mental health. 

   Mental health is not a hot topic in Christian circles. Praying harder, increasing your faith, and getting rid of glutton, sugar and dairy are.  If I had Xanax for every Christian I know that dismissively said, “Well I don’t give much weight to psychology because…’   I would be permanently chill.

     Most Christian’s seem content to leave alone the knowledge and progress science has made in understanding our minds and souls because this means we must understand how our doctrine and beliefs fit while we are perfectly content to embrace any new scientific knowledge that will help us loose 2o pounds, even while authors all claim to have the ‘biblically sound’ approach to permanently eliminating certain foods from our diet forever so we can have energy and look good.

     What church group doesn’t adore an intense, riveting, even gory story of personal tragedy, loss, and pain that ends with glory, redemption, and healing?

    What about when life doesn’t wrap up in neatly tied packages?

    What about when there are people in your life who you love who insist on addiction, abuse, or  destruction, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to help them?

   Is the point of Christianity to claim nicey-nice ideals that don’t remotely intersect with reality? (If I hear the meaningless phrases healthy marriages, strong families, traditional family values again I think I will puke.)

    As a Christian I fully believe in the incredible power of God. I believe he can change people’s hearts and lives, and I believe he can do it in an instant; I believe in miracles; but I believe they are rare, and that is why we call them miracles; they do not define our normal experience. 
     Something else I know about God? He has never forced a miracle on anyone. God is a gentleman. Change is a choice. God never forces change on anyone.

    I know people who claim to have had miraculous deliverances when they have a deeply personal experience with God. I believe them. I also know that for many, faith is the only way they are able to continue fighting their own personal demons after coming to faith; whether they are physical, mental, or circumstantial trials.

    Salvation does not mean automatically, instantly healed diabetes. It doesn’t mean a severed limb re-appears; that is something that most Christians accept. But there are other conditions that are generally unacceptable and almost intentionally misunderstood in Christianity.

    We all understand that in our unfair world, there are people with broken bodies, some from birth, and some who suffer damage later in life. Few Christians seem to appreciate that there are also people with broken minds and souls. Not broken in a ‘say a prayer and be saved and all problems are gone’ way, but in a very real, sometimes chemical, sometimes hereditary, sometimes circumstantially produced, but absolutely in a, ‘others around them need to be aware and know how best to respond to their condition’ kind of broken.

    There is always a place for understanding, treatment and compassion.
   There is also a desperate need to recognize that there are many people who despite what they say, are unwilling, or incapable of change. There is a desperate need in Christian circles to gain clear understanding of unhealthy and dangerous people and to know how to protect ourselves from their destructive behavior.

     Boundaries are not about forcing someone else to change, but choosing how we will respond to others choices. Boundaries are not the enemy of love and compassion; in fact, boundaries are the only means for practicing love and compassion to those people who are destructive.

      Throughout Christianity there are many differences in our beliefs, but one idea foundational to our faith is the incredible value of human life. Either we are cosmic accidents, reproducing mammals who strive to create our own value and purpose and sense of morality in life, or we are eternal beings, designed in the image of God, each priceless, each irreplaceable, each with inalienable rights and responsibilities, each and every one born worthy of respect and freedom.

    This belief have always been in conflict with the reality of human choices. So what do we do when we believe in an idea that doesn’t match the reality of life? To often throughout history the church has been a moral dictator, trying to force moral change on others, while ignoring the only thing we can actually really change; ourselves.  

     In my lifetime I have seen Christian ideology begin to slowly grow legs, and feet and hands.

     Being pro-life is an expensive belief. It is a statement that comes with incredible cost. It means that you recognize the divine value of each life.  It means getting personal, getting complicated, and getting involved.

     Life is messy; being pro-life means being pro-messy.

    Saying you are pro-life in the realm of abortion and unplanned pregnancies means being willing to personally experience the heartbreak that young unprepared motherhood, foster care, and/ or adoption entails.

    Saying that you are pro-life and against human trafficking is an expensive belief; it means you recognize inherent worth of each and every person. It begins with leaving the comfort of ignorance. It means changing the conversation of how we view sexuality, a woman’s value, and it means facing that there is a very real dark side; a twisted hunger in men who live next door who create the market in the first place.

     Even though abortion/adoption and sex slavery have been willingly embraced as righteous causes, for which Christians have been willing to fight politically, socially, and in some cases, dedicate their lives, there is something just as sinister that has touched more lives than both of these issues combined.

-          1 out of 100, or 1% of US Woman are thought to have been involved in sex trade/human trafficking in their lifetime.  (This does not include estimated 600,000 persons male and female brought to the US for illegal labor each year – roughly the same number of Americans who will suffer from a heart attack this year.)


-          3 out of 10 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.


-               1 in 4 (over 30%) of all women the USA will experience domestic violence abuse from a man she believes loves her. 

This is separate from the 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused; the greatest majority by someone they knew in childhood, and 1 in 5 boys.


    More than HALF of all domestic violence occurs in households with children under 12, which means over 6 million children in the US witness domestic violence each year.

     Boys who witness violence toward their mother are more than twice as likely be violent toward women. Growing up in an abusive environment not only greatly raises the likelihood of mental health issues, but also greatly raises the vulnerability of becoming an adult victim.

  40% of teen girls say they know someone their own age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.   

  Every nine seconds a woman in the US is assaulted or beaten by her partner.

3 Women and 1 Man are murdered by their romantic partner every single day.    

  The consequences of the women and children who have been emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by someone in their family (90% is male aggression toward female) is staggering.

    Our hearts break at the clear, visible affronts to life.
  We recoil and our hearts break at the sight of a human baby in a garbage can, or a starving third world orphan’s tear filled eyes, (as well we should, and never live the same again) but what if these trendy causes that tear at our heart are dwarfed by something much bigger?

    What about the woman married to the guy in church that everyone thinks is a nice guy who daily mentally destroys his wife and children.

  What about the woman who doesn’t ever have an abortion but is addicted to numbing her pain and neglects her children? 4 children under the age of 5 who escaped abortion die from neglect in the US each and every single day.

   The controlling man that tells a child their whole life ‘your stupid, you aren’t worth anything’, the man who physically hurts them and then tells them it is love, who chases and screams at their mother.

   What about the woman who teaches her child to lie to protect her, the man who beats their sons to toughen them up, the man who fondles his daughter.

  How about the guy who is great- madly in love with his wife; maybe too much in love and can’t help that sometimes he ‘looses it’ and leaves bruises that she will cover, and that you will never see.

     What happens to those little girls? What happens to those little boys? They grow up. They bear the scars. They have holes in their soul. Often, they grow up and do the same.

    Where are these women, these children?

     You may find them in prison.( Those who suffered abuse in childhood are twice as likely to end up there.)  You may find them in abortion clinics.  You may find them on the street seeking another hit, trying to numb the pain. You may find them buying a woman, or selling their own body because they know that is just how much they are worth.

    But with numbers like these, they are all around you.

   One in four women. They are next to you at work, they sit by you at your child’s soccer game, and they are in your home school group.

   One in four women.  They sit next to you at church, they lead bible studies, they teach Sunday school; and so does he.

       There is no indication that these numbers are lower in religious families, and in fact some believe there is evidence that suggest that certain kinds of abuse are more likely to be overlooked.

      When church goers were polled, 95% of women say they have never heard a sermon directly address domestic violence or abuse. 81% of Pastors reports counseling at least one victim of domestic violence but only 8% say that they feel equipped or knowledgeable on how to properly approach the subject.

      These numbers do not surprise me in the least. I myself have never heard a sermon, or any kind of leader publically address this subject in ANY arena; including marriage seminars where you would think this would be addressed directly given the fact that one in four of the women have dealt with this issue, and even if they are not currently IN an abusive relationship (though many Christian women are) they most certainly are dealing with the long lasting effects of such an experience.

   Part of the dynamics of abusive and controlling relationships is that it usually takes a very long time for a woman in one to speak to anyone about the unpleasant aspects of her situation. Many are not even aware of how dysfunctional and dangerous their situation and relationship really is, even when it represents very real harm to her and her children. Even once she has spoken up to someone she trusts (usually first just small comments to test their listeners reactions) and even if she begins to have support and help (often difficult for women to establish or maintain in controlled relationships) it usually takes years for a woman to leave, even when she or her children endure physical assaults and danger.

    It is absolutely proven that emotional, mental and verbal abuse is an indication that physical violence is most likely to follow at some point. This is something women in these relationships do not believe. Even though they may recognize some unhealthy dynamics, they are unaware that this is part of a progression. It is not hard to understand why. No one wants to believe someone they love is really capable of intentionally seriously harming them. Abusers are notoriously charming, smooth, and likeable in the good times, and professionals of painful and sincere and self hating sounding apologies, which is why their victims choose to forgive and believe their partner will change even though this pattern simply repeated over and over.

    If we believe in the value, the absolute divinely inspired incredible value of human life, if we believe in protecting the helpless, the weak, those who are unable to protect themselves, it is time we recognize a common, wide spread and very real threat to life from  some of the people who call themselves Christians. It means we must face the very real damage and destruction some men and women represent to those around them, and that they will never choose to change.

    Saying you are pro-life is an expensive belief. Do we believe it just enough to try to legislate other peoples choices and lives, or do we believe it enough to inconvenience our own? Do we believe it enough to give up favorite ideals of how things should be?

     In an attempt to find our way, Christian culture has worshiped ideas that were never meant to take pre-eminence. The purpose of family is to provide a healthy, loving, and safe environment for children as individuals to grow into their own, amazing personhood. The purpose of marriage is to demonstrate the incredible, lasting, committed love God has for us and a chance for each of us to individually participate in giving, and receiving that kind of holy love.

     Marriage and family were designed to bless, strengthen and build strong individuals who each will stand before God alone, on their own merit; individual lives were not created to be sacrificed on the altar of the idea of marriage and family. Instead of a place where we offer our own healthy, strong, individual, balanced life as a gift of love to others, marriage and family have become the place we feel justified to demand the lives of others.

     Healthy love gives; it even sacrifices itself and is better because of that choice, but what was meant to be a blessing, - a personal choice, a sacred offering, what was intended to be place where love can flourish has been distorted.

      Conservative Christian culture’s idea of marriage and family has become a gleaming golden shrine that is worshiped; where cowering women and children are offered with no regard for their divine and righteous  and majestic worth.

         Do you believe marriage is sacred? Do you believe it should be protected and that healthy marriages are important? This can only be second to the belief of the sacred value, and commitment to the protection and nurture of strong, healthy individuals.
    Supporting marriage doesn’t mean insisting that two people stay together until one of them cold bloodedly destroys the other mentally, emotionally, or physically. (Remember Jesus talking about divorce because of people’s hard hearts?)  If we believe in the sacredness of marriage, we must be willing to acknowledge there those who defile and destroy it along with their spouse.
   Do we believe in marriage just enough to self righteously legislate who, when, or how others marry, or enough to face the actual real threat to marriage? By the way, greatest threat to healthy Christian marriages isn’t the gay community, it is Christians.

    Conservative Christians say they are against divorce because it destroys marriage; but what about when their commitment to their idea of marriage destroys a person?

      This is why our response to public figures that destroy their wife and children matters. It matters because it is time we have very real conversations about the kind of men or women who pose a threat to the safety and well being of those they claim to love. It is time for honesty about the difference between people who make a mistake and people who live a pattern of dispensing damage and destruction to those around them.

         I don’t know all the details of Doug Philip as a husband and father, but I know that what he has said, written, and taught gives us all some pretty solid indicators and cause for concern.  I also know that statistically there are women right now in your life who can identify with his family, who are facing much worse than his actions and are painfully aware of your response. 

     Brushing over a man in leadership’s intentional damage of his family because he said or did some good things for others based on the idea of forgiveness,  sends the message to his wife, children and the women around you that they are justifiable collateral. Their lives are not as important as the people he supposedly helped.
    If we believe in the absolute, undeniable, God given value of each and every person; if we believe each human life deserves respect, protection, and freedom of choice; then we must be willing to choose inconvenience, courage, and heartbreak.
    Working to save lives means leaving ignorance and apathy; it means that we stare into the face of death and loss and evil and sometimes watch it win, but never, ever giving up.
   Sometimes the hardest part of fighting evil is giving up the ideas or people in which we want to believe.
  Are you brave enough to see the lives in danger next door? They need you.

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