written by Amber Fuller, LMFT and owner of Fuller Living
You’ve made it! You’ve made it all the way to Part 4. I’ve been waiting to write about this topic. I wanted to make sure my heart was right when I wrote about it. If I were to predict what you were thinking, I’d predict that you would say, “Please don’t combine the words abuse and the church together”. I know that it’s not pleasant to think about it. Unfortunately, however, secondary abuse happens a lot in the church and it’s a topic that needs to be addressed.
Mary and Sam
Mary is married to Sam. Sam identifies as struggling with acting narcissistic and is severely emotionally abusive. Sam is getting help for this. Mary faces challenges of her own because of Sam acting this way. Mary deals daily with Sam’s passive violent behavior. Sam is the type that leaves people flabbergasted when he tells people he’s a narcissist because Sam is what is known as a Covert Narcissist. Covert Narcissists are the kind that are hard to identify. They are the most dangerous kind because their behavior isn’t obvious to others. Narcissists, statistically, grow up in environments where they were either pampered and didn’t have to take responsibility for much, OR, they were completely neglected. The Empath(the partner) typically grows up in a home where they were overly responsible and took care of things that weren’t theirs to take care of. They typically grow up believing that they aren’t worthy or deserving of love so they will settle for the “breadcrumbs” that they are given. They are also the type to say to you, “I wish he would hit me because then people would believe the pain that he causes me emotionally. I wouldn’t be questioned or judged and he’d be forced to take responsibility. It shouldn’t happen this way. Emotional abuse should be looked at in the same way as physical abuse”
Here is a list of behaviors that you may find that are covertly narcissistic:
*Force of will-forcing your will on somebody
*scapegoating-misplaced responsibility. Blaming the innocent person and placing yourself in the favorable light
*minimizing-treating others like they are worth less than you
*acting the victim-acting like you are the victim instead of the perpretrator
*excusing-pretending that irrational actions are rational to avoid taking responsibility for your behavior
*Fire reaction-erupting in covert or overt anger
*stonewalling-controlling the situation/conflict by going silent
*shunning-no longer having contact with the victim because you don’t like their justifiable actions
*Justifying-creating a reasonable excuse for inexcusable behavior
*History Do-over-Denying behaviors that have happened
*Deception-lying in order to be in a more favorable light
*Sugar thinking-acting like everything will be fine
*Withholding-retreating your love because of not liking the victims justifiable actions or response
When you are Mary, and you’re on the receiving end of this, life can feel pretty grim and hopeless. This is the point where, despite Mary’s history with being burned, she reaches out to the church for help.
Secondary abuse happens when Mary reaches out to the Church or Church leaders and they end up saying things like, “Well, Mary, you know he doesn’t mean to hurt you”, “Mary, what are you doing to make the situation bad?”, “Mary, there are two sides to every story and your story can’t be the only story” or just plain old silence and saying nothing at all but being aware of what Mary is enduring. Mary already fears these responses because Sam is charming and has a history of charming therapists, leaders, friends, family, and every time this happens Mary finds herself isolated, lonely, and hopeless. It’s extremely heavy for her. She has carried all of the responsibility for everything that Sam has ever done and she’s tired. Often times, people like Mary even have physical health issues or pain and the abuse has manifested itself through physical pain. The reason this is called secondary abuse is because for the victim, it feels like they are being abused all over again, due to the abuse of their partner being condoned. It is SO important to be on Mary’s team when talking with Mary. There isn’t ALWAYS two sides to every story and sometimes there really are Mary’s that are being completely emotionally abused and Mary hasn’t done anything for that abusive behavior towards her to be justifiable. Let me tell you, there may be communication issues however, narcissistic and emotional abuse isn’t a communication issue, it’s a character issue.
You can help Mary by offering to help her in any way that will allow for her to rest, cuz she’s tired and everything is heavy. You can tell Mary you believe her. You can tell Mary that if she needs a safe place to crash for those times when Sam is relapsing, she can stay at your house for as long as she needs. Most importantly, let her know that she doesn’t have to carry the burden of misplaced responsibility in your presence. You can also be pro-marriage in these situations. Mary doesn’t HAVE to leave Sam in order for things to be okay. Their marriage can be rectified and you can encourage Mary to get a therapist so that she can learn how to create boundaries, and you can encourage Sam to get counseling so that he can heal from childhood trauma. From a practical standpoint, you can offer to pay for their counseling, or watch their kids while they go. Statistically, the people that participate in secondary abuse the most are therapists and church leaders, and it’s not a coincidence that the devil would cause this, seeing as therapists and Church leaders can be the most helpful in these situations. Choose to love Mary. She needs so much warmth, kindness, tenderness, and love. And lastly, don’t assume that you know what’s going on. Underneath Mary’s cloak, she carries shame that doesn’t belong to her and burdens that one should never carry. Be the person that says, Mary, I believe you. Lastly, listen to the prompting of the Lord, He will never lead you astray.
You can also refer her to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Here are a couple of screenings that you can use to screen whether a woman or man is being emotionally abused:
Also, for more information, check out the resources at:
Also, check out their free webinar for Church leaders: