Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Time’s Up from an Unexpected Perspective

By Charles Moncrief

Billy called me just seven weeks after taking his wedding vows. “Glenda left me, and there’s a note on the kitchen table.” He read the note to me. Glenda claimed that she and her children could no longer take Billy’s abusive behavior. They left while he was at work, and they left with most if not all of their belongings.

The incident was twenty years ago. I remember it now, because Glenda followed some of the steps mentioned in Time’s Up, a recently published book by Susan Murphy Milano (ImaginePublicity, Surfside Beach, SC).
At the 50,000 ft level the book shows Susan’s heart for those in abusive domestic relationships, and it provides a resource for them to make a safe escape from those prisons. Glenda followed only a few of the principles in her midday departure from Billy, and doubtless she could have benefited from Susan’s book if it had been available. Things worked out for Glenda, but they don’t always. And in the two decades since then, it’s sad that such a resource as Time’s Up was not yet available. The pieces were there, but to me this is the first time they’re all in one place. I’m also encouraged by two additional facts. The first is that the book is in an on-demand issue state, which means that outdated links and contact information can be replaced without going through a whole new printing. And the second is that plans are being worked out to put the how-to information onto a compact memory device, such as a flash drive or whatever the technology evolves into, for abuse victims to carry with them.

I’ve read and heard glowing reviews of Susan’s book, so my purpose in writing this article is not to write another such review. Instead, allow me to refer back to my conversation with Billy. We have been friends for more than thirty years, and because of our relationship his phone call surprised me for no other reason than its having come after only seven weeks. The tie-in to Susan’s book is found in the first chapter, in which she profiles an abuser and gives characteristics of different types of abuse. While I’ve long been aware of these things in concept, Susan has put both flesh and substance on them. We’ve heard of divorces claiming mental cruelty, but thanks to Susan we’re now moving from the abstract to more specifics.

While the public perception of domestic abuse is generally “wife-beating,” Susan doesn’t let us off the hook; she gives names to various forms of abuse: emotional, physical, sexual, and financial. She also describes other tactics such as intimidation, isolation, and dangerous threats. But she doesn’t stop there, which gets to the heart of my purpose in writing this article. Let me take a sample from the first chapter. The number in parentheses following each type of abuse is the number of examples to describe it and to indicate the amount of thought that has gone into the preparation. There’s obviously overlap, and I’d expect the number and descriptions to change over time. I’ve included only one each, and not necessarily the best choice.

Emotional Abuse (9)

  • They intentionally say things to embarrass you in front of others. They make remarks about your appearance or belittle you. They talk over you if you are engaged in conversation, or consistently contradict you in an effort to discredit you, or make you feel stupid.
Intimidation (6)

  • They use “those looks” or the inflection in their voice to illicit fear.
Isolation (6)

  • They attempt to limit outside activities such as visiting family, getting involved with your children’s school, community functions, or attending religious services.
Financial Abuse (7)

  • They spend money on toys like motorcycles, stereo equipment, new cars, and clothes, while you are forced to ask for money from friends or family to buy a needed item, perhaps a birthday gift for your child, or money for food, because “you could not make it work.”
Physical Abuse (10+)

  • Carrying out all types of threats against you
Sexual Abuse (17)

  • Demands you perform when they tell you
Dangerous Threats (15)

  • Tells you they will ruin and destroy you if you ever breathe a word to anyone
What I believe Susan never intended was that this book would also be useful to an abuser! No, not as a defensive resource, but as a reality check.

The pages that call out the types of abuse, and the profile of an abuser, are excellent reading for anyone in a domestic relationship. (For what follows, if you’re being abused in a domestic relationship, this does not apply to you.)
It would do each of us a lot of good to lay aside our preconceived notions and prejudices regarding the categories, and to interpret them in their broadest possible context. We can then use the lists as a mirror into our own souls.
For example, how often have I embarrassed my wife in a group setting? I think Henny Youngman made famous the expression “Take my wife. . . Please!” Maybe it’s not such great stand-up comedy anymore. In my own profession it’s almost legendary how many preachers illustrate their sermons with some anecdote about their wives. (We’re going through a process of learning NOT to do this.)

How many times have we feigned emotion, or given our wives “the silent treatment,” to impose our wills on them? (Notice I’m not going to say much about how women use tears as an intimidation tactic; this is more legend than fact -- I think.)

I do intend to present Susan’s book to colleagues in the ministry, and to my police and firefighter friends. Where appropriate, I intend to present the profile and abuse-type sections separately in marital and premarital counseling sessions.
To conclude, I want to say:
Thanks, Susan! Hopefully, you won’t consider this use of your book as too much of a surprise.

Grace and Peace,

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