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People in the person’s sphere of influence identifying their experiences as “abuse”

This is a section of a longer paper. To read the whole paper:

Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours. Photo by Vadim Sadovski on UnsplashOnline: a roadmap for the entire paper Download the entire PDF

Thirdly, the negative long-term impact of such a pattern of behaviours can sometimes be identified as “abuse” by people in the person’s sphere of influence. This identification of “abuse” needs to be taken seriously. However, we need to be careful here, because there are various possible reasons why the label “abuse” might be used.

On the one hand, abuse is real, and tragically it happens far too often. Abuse can take various forms, including emotional and spiritual. Abuse should not be tolerated: it needs to be stopped and called to account for the protection of victims. Recent publications that are designed to raise awareness and help people to respond rightly include Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church by Diane Langberg and Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from its Power by Wade Mullen.[1] If a person identifies themselves as being subject to “abuse”, it may well be because they are actually being abused. This possibility cannot be ignored, and books such as those we have mentioned can be helpful in understanding and responding to the situation. If you believe that the behaviour you have experienced may actually be abuse, we also strongly encourage you to report it to the appropriate authority, or do whatever action is appropriate in the situation. This may be hard, but it is important to do, not just for your sake, but for the sake of other potential victims.

On the other hand, the term “abuse” does not necessarily apply to all the behaviours we are identifying here as part of the pattern of SBCMB. This is not to deny that the effects of SBCMB on others are often serious and can be deeply traumatic. Furthermore, we recognise that it can be helpful for individuals who have been affected deeply by relating to a person exhibiting SBCMB to label such an experience “abuse”, because such a label assists them to come to terms with the seriousness of the situation and enables them to see that they should not feel guilty for what has happened. However, since not all SBCMB actually fits the definition of “abuse”, using the term too freely can end up being counter-productive. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, the label “abuse” is so strong and emotive that it is liable to being dismissed as over-reach. The label “abuse” normally implies (in other people’s minds) some kind of intentional, criminal or acutely malicious behaviour. However, in the case of SBCMB, that’s not necessarily what’s going on. SBCMB tends to be a drawn-out pattern of behaviours that produces effects in the long term. Any individual instance of behaviour will not normally obviously fit the category of “abuse” by itself, especially when it is described to an outsider. That is, an individual action may be seen as strange perhaps, or a little too callous or neglectful, but if regarded by itself it is not necessarily “abusive”. That makes it difficult to pin down or easily label the person’s behaviour as “abusive” in the classic sense. Hence, anyone who investigates such a charge will probably not see sufficient evidence for “abuse” in any individual instance, and so might dismiss the charge entirely. In that case, the seriously damaging and traumatic effects of what is actually happening can easily be missed.

Secondly, using the word “abuse” too freely can enable the person exhibiting SBCMB to complain that they are being unfairly victimised. This can, in fact, further cement their behaviour, and enable them to co-opt others into defending them against these “unfair” charges. In that case, the charge of “abuse” can end up ultimately amplifying the problem rather than helping it.

This leaves us in a bit of a bind. While we do not want to dismiss either the reality of true abuse, or the reality that using the label “abuse” can help people who are affected by relating to a person exhibiting SBCMB, we also recognise that using the label too freely or imprecisely can mean that other serious trauma-inducing behaviours can too easily be dismissed and so not dealt with properly. In fact, we have seen this happen. Hence, in what follows, we will seek to avoid the label “abuse” as a broad term. We will primarily describe the pattern of behaviours, show the kind of serious effects it can have (including “trauma”, which is perhaps a more helpful term here), and provide our reflections on ways to respond helpfully.


[1] Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2020); Wade Mullen, Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from its Power (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2020).

Read the next section: Some broad underlying patterns of SBCMB

Copyright © 2021 Lionel and Bronwyn Windsor


Note well: Because of time and energy constraints, we’re not personally able to respond to any queries or comments about this paper. So please realise in advance that if you send us a message about this paper, you are unlikely to receive any response from us.

To read the whole paper: Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours

Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours. Photo by Vadim Sadovski on UnsplashOnline: a roadmap for the entire paper Download the entire PDF

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