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Emotional Abuse

Truth in Love 123

Pastor Timothy Pasma discusses a biblical perspective on counseling victims of emotional abuse.

Oct 13, 2017

Full transcript:

[Edited for readability]

Dr. Heath Lambert: I am excited to announce that the 2018 Annual Conference for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors is going to be on the topic of abuse. We’re calling it Light in the Darkness: Biblical Counseling and Abuse. And that conference is going to be on October 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas. At ACBC we want to take this problem of abuse head on; take it as seriously as it needs to be taken. And we want to bring to bear all the resources that scripture has to say about this very, very, important and very challenging topic. One of the most challenging topics under the big banner of abuse is the topic of emotional abuse. We want to be very careful to understand this topic of emotional abuse from the standpoint of scripture. And I am thrilled that joining us on the podcast this week is Timothy Pasma who is a fellow with ACBC, a board member of ACBC a pastor in Ohio, and is going to be one of our general session at that conference and he’s giving his general session talk on the topic of emotional abuse. Timothy, we’re glad that you’re here with us today.

Timothy Pasma: Thank you.

Dr. Heath Lambert: And I wanted to ask you about this topic of emotional abuse. What is it? And how is it different from other kinds of abuse: physical abuse, verbal abuse?

Timothy Pasma: Well, let’s start with the last part of that question. It’s different because there may be no bruises left, it’s not a violent – physically violent – sort of thing. It’s not something that you can say “look he hit me and I’ve got the bruises to show it.” It’s not that at all, but it does involve, if you would, verbal abuse, it does involve words. But it also involves actions – typically, we would say, that are nonviolent. For example, most people define it like this: when someone rages at you, constantly criticizes you (so there’s a verbal element certainly), ridicules you, belittles you, or demeans you; when they withhold affection, when they withhold their resources, their money, their time; when they restrict or isolate you; or threaten you or abandon you; when they cause you to do things that you don’t want to do. Along those lines. Those are the sorts of things we are talking about when we talk about emotional abuse.

Dr. Heath Lambert: What does the Bible have to say about emotional abuse?

Timothy Pasma: Well that’s interesting because I think the first thing that we have to do is not look at our bibles and say “I don’t find emotional abuse in my concordance,” so the bible doesn’t address it. But you have to say, “What does the Bible say to us about someone who misuses us? What do we do? What does the Bible tell us when people say terrible things to us? What are we going to do?” Frankly, I would say this when we talk about emotional abuse — we are already using terminology that the Bible doesn’t use, and the way you define a term is going to determine where you look for the answers. When someone uses a term I can already tell you where you’re going to end up.

So, I’m not going to look for “emotional abuse.” Now as I talk to people, as I think about this, I would say, “Well what is the person you say is emotionally abusing you, what is he trying to achieve?” Control. Okay, does the Bible say things about how to deal with people who try to control or manipulate you? Oftentimes emotional abuse is when someone says, “He’s isolating me, he’s keeping me away so I’m in this isolated situation, so when he tells me things I believe everything he says.” Or something like that. Well, okay, what does the Bible say we ought to do in those kinds of situations? So if we just talk about emotional abuse we’re already off on the wrong foot. Let’s start thinking about what the bible says. Let’s see what emotional abuse is and ask “What do you mean by that?” And then look at what the Bible says, “How do I handle that.”

Dr. Heath Lambert: Yeah, so go beyond the label to what the label is describing. And when we see what the label is describing, then biblical categories are going to start popping up all over.

Timothy Pasma: Exactly, because when we get below the label we start seeing where the Bible addresses those things, and that’s where we need to go. And that’s why I would say when someone comes in and says “I’m being emotionally abused”, it’s not like we say, “Oh I don’t believe you, because you’re not using Bible words.” What I’m going to do is say, “Well, tell me about that” and try to understand what’s happening and then say to myself, “Now what does the Bible say about those things,” and that’s how we ought to go.

When we use words like abuse too —here’s another thing —when we use words like abuse, like “That gang abused me, and that’s why I have this scare across my cheek,” Right? Well, automatically we’re already talking about victim here. “There’s nothing I can do. I’m a victim, I’m hurt.” Some have even said —I heard this or read this recently— many people say emotional abuse is worse, “Damages me more than physical abuse,” and so forth. So when we use the term abuse, already we’re talking victim, “There’s nothing I can do, I’m totally at the mercy of this person.”

Dr. Heath Lambert: As far as moving towards help, what does the Bible say in the way of help? So someone’s listening to this, maybe they have been a victim of what we refer to as emotional abuse, or they know someone who has been, and they want to know what the Bible would have to say to help them or what the Bible would have to say to allow them to help someone else. Where can you point us?

Timothy Pasma: Well again, I want to hear the person’s story and each story is not going to be exactly the same. So the answer is not always going to be the same. Yet there are certain common things, such as isolation. And again, part of this is the person who is treating you terribly, are you both members of the same church? Well, now there’s all kinds of resources. You’re in a shepherding situation where people can intervene. If you’re a woman, for example, you have a right to go to the church, to go to your leaders, and say, “This is happening to me, it’s sin,” and they can intervene, and be a part of your lives to help you deal with that. You are part of a community of believers, you can get out of that echo chamber. As I’ve heard Heath even say recently, in Hebrews chapter ten where it says, “Don’t forsake the assembly of yourselves together,” it’s not just a preaching point about church attendances, it’s about the fact that we are to be together to encourage each other toward love and good deeds. And therefore you get out of the echo chamber and you’re with people who can help you and encourage you and give you truth, and so that there’s more to it than just that. Now I’m thinking of that in terms of you’re part of the church. There should be a shepherding culture, there should be a helping one another culture. We should be involved in one another’s lives where I might be able to pick up those signals. And as a pastor, as a shepherd, I can step in and say, “Hey I’m seeing some things, what’s going on?”

You need to hear things like this okay? “You are not —certainly I don’t want to say you’re not a victim, but I want to say that you’re being hurt by these words, you’re being hurt by these actions. Now what are you going to do?” I think the Bible opens up a whole horizon of fight back. Fight back with —if someone curses you what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to bless them. So I would say to someone I’m talking to, “Okay, when those things happen find something in that time period, before the day ends; bless that person, do good to those who hate you! Fight back with good.” Romans chapter 12 verses 17-21 gives a whole battle plan of fighting back. So when people come to me talking about any type of abuse I want to say, “Okay then you need to be a warrior —let’s be a warrior, let’s go to word, and let’s get tactics and strategy laid out where you’re going to go to war against this person. But you’re going to go to war against them with good.” So those are some of the things I think would be on the table.

Dr. Heath Lambert: Well we are looking forward more about that at the conference in 2018. You’re listening to truth and love: A podcast of ACBC. If you would like more information about our conference, Light In The Darkness: Biblical Counseling and Abuse, or if you’d like more information about our ministry, than you can visit us at