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Emotional Abuse is Physical Abuse

by | Jul 22, 2019 | #MeToo, Church Too, Domestic Violence Awareness, Emotional Abuse, Survivor

Emotional abuse IS physical abuse.

I was dying for most of my teenage years. I mean literally, in a hospital, 73 pounds, not enough blood running through my veins, dying.

When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The doctor said it was the worst case he’d ever seen and I had had it for at least two years. How, one might ask, does an 11 year old develop a stress-induced, life threatening disease?

Emotional abuse can kill.

There are so many misunderstandings when it comes to a word a broad as “abuse.” So many preconceived ideas of what abuse looks like…

I grew up in a home where my abuser was, by traditional definitions, emotionally abusive. Abuse that consisted of intense imposing of fear and shame, angry outbursts, manipulation, passive aggressive behavior, apathy, and gaslighting, to name a few things.

I was only ever struck twice.

Only twice.

Yet, I now believe and understand that I, in fact, DID grow up with continual physical abuse, and this would be true even if I had never been struck.

My physician has a statistic posted in her office: nearly 80% of all doctor appointments can be traced back to stress. Similar statistics regarding chronic/acute illness and stress reveal the same connection: Stress, in particular, emotional stress, will wreak havoc on a body and can even be deadly.

Leaving a Christian marriage is a highly touchy subject within the church. Typically, physical abuse such as repeated violent striking or bruising is the only “acceptable” excuse for a woman to leave her husband. But even then, a famous modern-day theologian has been quoted recently to say that in order to be submissive, “a woman should endure verbal abuse for a season, and endure being smacked for a night.”

Why are we telling women that the hell they are living through isn’t real or valid unless they are being beaten black and blue every night?

We tell them that it doesn’t matter that the emotional abuse is slowly destroying their brain chemistry, their adrenals, their digestive system, and their immune system. Who cares if you’re dealing with chronic fatigue and systemic inflammation, just so long as he hasn’t hit you, right?

This is a deadly message and is unfortunately the same message the church is often sending to hurting, vulnerable, and trapped women.

We need to call emotional abuse for exactly what it is: dangerous and damaging to the mind AND the body.

Instead of minimizing these women’s situations and telling them their abuse isn’t real or valid, let’s reach out with empathy and understanding. Let’s offer them a safe place to live. Let’s help them hold their abuser accountable. Let’s encourage them to take care of themselves physically — rest, eat well, get good sleep. Let’s become a gateway to their healing, not an administrator of more guilt and shame.

Because emotional abuse IS physical abuse. And it can be deadly. Leaving a Christian marriage is a highly touchy subject within the church. Typically, physical abuse such as repeated violent striking or bruising is the only “acceptable” excuse for a woman to leave her husband. But even then, a famous modern-day theologian has been quoted recently to say that in order to be submissive, “a woman should endure verbal abuse for a season, and endure being smacked for a night.”

Why are we telling women that the hell they are living through isn’t real or valid unless they are being beaten black and blue every night?

We tell them that it doesn’t matter that the emotional abuse is slowly destroying their brain chemistry, their adrenals, their digestive system, and their immune system. Who cares if you’re dealing with chronic fatigue and systemic inflammation, just so long as he hasn’t hit you, right?

This is a deadly message and is unfortunately the same message the church is often sending to hurting, vulnerable, and trapped women.

We need to call emotional abuse for exactly what it is: dangerous and damaging to the mind AND the body.

Instead of minimizing these women’s situations and telling them their abuse isn’t real or valid, let’s reach out with empathy and understanding. Let’s offer them a safe place to live. Let’s help them hold their abuser accountable. Let’s encourage them to take care of themselves physically — rest, eat well, get good sleep. Let’s become a gateway to their healing, not an administrator of more guilt and shame.

Because emotional abuse IS physical abuse. And it can be deadly.

~Em

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About the Author

Emily Elizabeth Anderson is a Christian blogger and rising activist for people who have experienced abuse within a Christian environment.

After growing up in a fundamentalist cult for 23 years and experiencing childhood domestic violence, Emily began her journey to recovery in 2015 and eventually found Jesus to be her ultimate healer. She soon turned her passion for writing into a blog and her story has since been featured on several media outlets including NPR.

She married her best friend, Joshua, in 2020 and together they are passionate about educating on the realities of trauma survival and recovery, as well as supporting survivors they meet through their online community.

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