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Friday, March 25, 2011

Stealth Abuse - Abuse that's revealed during Economic hard times

Originally I wrote this for a magazine, but decided to print it on my blog instead.  I hope you will share this post with anyone that's feeling the pain of economic downturn.  We must be careful not to hurt the ones we love just because we don't know how to handle financial misfortune.

Stealth abuse

Paul fidgeted, rubbed his temples and took a loud deep breath. His wife Sarah shook her head at his lack of concentration. Pastor Reinhoff concluded his sermon unaware that Paul was not impressed. After the last amen, Paul bolted for the door and fled to the safety of his car.

He tapped his finger on the steering wheel. “I can’t believe they are taking so long. Who are they talking to? I bet she’s talking about me. Just wait. I’ll make sure this never happens again.”

Sarah called to her excited children. Tears stung the corner of her eyes as she waved to friends. It would not be a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

According to the American Bar Association, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. 90% of pastors I surveyed in 2010 admitted calls for help with aggressive behaviors were higher than normal. 100% of counselors said inquiries are up but sessions are down. Presumably callers can’t afford the fee.

Marta Pelaez is president and CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services in San Antonio, Texas. A clinical psychologist, Marta oversees a shelter for battered women and children where the demand for admission has tripled in recent months. Marta explained that as of April of last year they saw numbers increase. “Last year, at this same time, I had 68 – 70 on my daily census. I called this morning and we had 184.”

While abuse statistics are staggering, they are also misleading. Abuse victims who feel hopeless, helpless and embarrassed often refuse to report their abuse.

Paul’s grip on the steering wheel turned his knuckles white. “You have no idea how this makes me feel. I’m not a bum. I’ve worked hard all my life. It’s embarrassing to watch people look at me with pity. I know what they are thinking.”

Sarah blew her nose and wiped her face. “Our friends love you. They wouldn’t…” Paul yelled. “Shut up. Just shut up. I can’t stand this anymore.” He beat the steering wheel causing the car to swerve. Sarah reached to the back seat to comfort the children who were crying.

Economic hard times and loss of income can reveal abuse in good people who ordinarily are kind and supportive. Various reasons for this sudden outburst of anger can include illness, addiction, affairs, lack of spiritual knowledge or a desire to abandon all responsibilities.

The most challenging reason for abuse hides like a stealth bomber until the economy takes a dive. Families that have built their goals exclusively on financial success will suffer the most when the economy dips. Surrounded by possessions they don’t see the stealth approach until depression and disappointment is securely in place. By placing more importance on acquiring “things” rather than building strong relationships, these families can face a deeper depression during hard economic times. Depression and embarrassment over the loss of possessions coupled with the fear of failure can cause a person to slip into abuse.

According to Biblical principles, marriage is not about acquiring possessions. It’s not a business with a bottom line. When a marriage is defined by financial goals success can be derailed by a failing economy.

Christians are encouraged to trust God during all forms of distress. “Nothing is impossible with God” unless….we believe that God’s will is complete financial success and prosperity. That belief can seep into our families and destroy our ability to stick together and survive. God is just as powerful in hard times as He is when times are good.

How can a successful family who has fulfilled every desire survive the loss of Dad’s job? How can you remain healthy when your lifestyle is tied to your self-esteem? Good Christians who enjoyed being the benefactor for the church may feel guilty when they need the services they once sponsored. Abuse is never the answer. Strong Family relationships will always help us survive tough times.

Paul slammed the door to the car and stomped inside. He slumped in a chair in front of the TV. Sarah kept the children away and hurried to fix Paul’s favorite lunch. She sat it down in front of him and smiled. He glared at her and exploded with anger. Sarah was afraid. The children ran to the doorway and began to cry. Paul threw the dishes toward the TV, stood and hit Sarah. As she dropped to the floor Paul saw his true reflection in the eyes of his startled children.

During a down economy, physical abuse can escalate. Mental and emotional abuse can also devastate families. It leaves no visible scars but can last far longer than a black eye or a bruise. The top four reasons for economic stealth abuse are disappointment, overload, blame and loss of self-esteem.

1. If your marriage was built on financial goals, economic loss can lead to severe disappointment which can escalate to desperation. When you can't provide the desperately needed braces or the new birthday bicycle, severe disappointment attacks your self-esteem and self-worth.

2. When powerful emotions collide, even gentle personalities can respond to loved ones in anger. Fatigue, worry, lack of sleep, feeling like a failure, feeling as if you’ve let your family and church down, feeling as if your dreams are crashing around you, overwhelming fear, loss of hope, feelings of paranoia or even jealousy that a co-worker is doing well can combine into a weight that may cause you to explode with anger.

3. If your family chooses to point fingers rather than show love and support, the bread winner may feel like a caged tiger. A caged tiger feels as if he’s lost all options and lashes out at anyone near the cage. The family can make it worse by appearing to bang on the cage bars by asking for "stuff" or demanding "participation" especially when the breadwinner is overworked and tired. This action will most certainly be met with angry growls and mental attacks.

4. When multiple emotions swirl together, the provider can view the family as all or part of the problem. The simple act of bringing a treat to his four year old can become stressful if dad is behind on the house payment. The lack of a quarter needed to share with his child represents failure. If Junior continues to want the experience, dad’s disappointment can turn into anger against the child. The resulting outburst can hurt the child and the relationship.

Christian families can build strong relationships and find creative solutions for stressful times. Families must pull together in times of crisis. It will define who you are. Engage your children to find fun ways to survive. Make it a game to save on utilities, food and clothes. Concentrate on love and your non-financial goals as a family. When love and respect binds the family, you’ll be amazed at how little you need to survive.

To combat depression, individuals – especially the provider - should concentrate on the overall success of the family rather than individual desires. The “all for one and one for all” mentality can take the focus away from individual actions. This will give the provider time to adjust his/her feelings of inadequacy. Teens can be engaged to look at the family budget, share suggestions and help with work. Elementary age children can participate in chores or saving money games like turning off lights. When the family begins to function as a “unit” committed to the survival of all, getting through the crisis can take on a game mentality that will provide individual relief from blame. A great example of this is the black and white movie “I remember Mama”. The family pulled together and survived difficult times. They also bonded while caring for struggling individuals.

You can diffuse stealth abuse by emphasizing family relationships while rejecting unnecessary possessions. Contentment with basic needs can help you release emotions of bitterness, disappointment and fear. Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Knowing that your family can survive any adversity will empower everyone. Relationships first should be your new goal. How can you do that when you are suffering? Here are 6 ways to experience the healing power of strong relationships.

1. Play the hand game. Every time you feel disappointment or sadness, hold both hands out in front of you. In one hand imagine the life or soul of your spouse. In the other hand imagine a check for $10,000. Which would you chose? You can only choose one.

When your child is nagging for a toy, imagine a check in one hand and a cancer free body in the other hand. What would you do? Would you choose her life or the ability to give her “stuff”? This exercise can help you define real needs and discard unnecessary desires.

2. Make saving a game. Fussing about costs will keep everyone on edge allowing anger to soar. Instead create a game board that promotes saving money by turning out the lights or cooking at home. The weekly winner gets breakfast in bed and the ability to choose Sunday’s menu.

3. Find new ways to enjoy each other. Insist on “Personal” moments during your busy day. For example, declare a coffee time with your spouse before bed. Make something special to go with coffee even if it’s a saltine cracker with a little jam. Designate 30 seconds a day – per person – to give them a compliment and enjoy who they are. You’ll be making memories that will last a lifetime.

4. Celebrate family talents. Encourage Dad to finish his woodworking project. Display new handmade decorations. Enjoy being musical, artistic or creative in the kitchen. It’s amazing how a new coat of paint, fresh cookies or a mended outfit will give everyone a “can do” attitude.

5. Always point to a brighter future. Hope can overcome feelings of depression or disappointment. Rather than concentrating on solutions five years away, look for hope in smaller doses. Find little moments during your week that materialize quickly. Celebrate those moments and chart your success no matter how small. If you have two dollars more this week than you had last week – you are making progress.

6. Pray together as a family. The old saying, “The family that prays together – stays together” is still true today. Instead of allowing hard times to break your family and cause abuse, ask God to help you become closer to those you love.

Paul sat on the floor with Sarah in his arms. Tears fell down his cheeks and puddled on her shirt. “I’m so sorry. I am so ashamed of what I’ve done.” Sarah tried to smile. Paul touched her swollen lip and cried harder. “How can you ever forgive me?” His broken spirit led him to counseling and a new philosophy. He was determined that money would never be more important than his family.

The great depression was devastating to this country. Millions of jobs, homes, farms and businesses were lost. Yet for every depressing story there are those that remember the depression with a sparkle in their eye. Why? Because it taught them to love their family, that God is faithful and that strong relationships can weather any storm. You too will be able to look back on this time with a smile if you placed your hope in God while building strong family relationships.

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God loves you,

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