The religious concept of “loving your enemies”, or in this community, “loving your abuser”, when misapplied, enables abusers and leaves victims feeling inadequate, confused, and traumatized.
University distinguished professor Valerie Hudson rejoins Anne on the free BTR podcast to reframe the concept of loving our enemies. Read the full transcript below and tune in to the BTR podcast for more.
Myth: You Should Love Your Abuser Unconditionally
Mature, healthy relationships include conditional love – love conditioned on:
- Mutual respect
- Healthy boundaries
- Consistent kindness
If your abuser tells you that you ought to offer love, sex, and trust regardless of his behaviors, you are being manipulated. Anne explains:
“They begin to say things like, “Well, if you just loved me…” “Don’t you love me?” “If you really loved me you would be patient…” And you know, it’s just this grooming phase where they act repentant, or they act like they love you, or whatever it is. They’re saying, if you don’t allow me this, if you don’t kind of tolerate this while I “get better” or while I work on it, then you’re not being Christ-like because you don’t have unconditional love.“Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Myth: Love Means Staying With Your Abuser
When family, friends, clergy, and therapists tell you that if you love your children you have to stay with your abuser, they are enabling abuse.
You show love for yourself, your children, and even your abuser by distancing yourself from abuse.
Whether you love your abuser, hate your abuser, or you’re somewhere in between, subjecting yourself to his abusive behavior is not an indicator of love.
“I do want women to recognize though that in the scriptures, it does not say, and they were wicked, and so we invited them into our homes, and we gave them a bunch of food, we sat their therapy appointments, and we made sure that we dressed up and wore lipstick. It doesn’t say that. It says, and they were wicked, and they were cast out. It’s not rocket science. It’s okay to cast out the fruits of wickedness, and if someone continues to exhibit the fruits of wickedness, then God would like us to cast them out.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Myth: Love Means Not Telling Anyone About the Abuse
Often, abusers and even family and friends will tell victims to stay quiet about the abuse and betrayal. This is presented as loyalty to the abuser and/or the family, or even the church.
This is not love – it is protecting the abuser.
Sharing your story with supportive, safe people and groups is an essential step in your healing process.
Further, holding the abuser accountable is a powerful way to take your power back while showing real love for your abuser.
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Valerie Hudson on the BTR Podcast
I’m going to continue my conversation with Valerie Hudson today. She is incredible. If you didn’t hear our first conversation, go back to last week’s episode, listen to that first, and then catch up with us here. We’re just going to jump right in.
Anne: Let’s take another Christian principle that’s misapplied in this context. The “love your enemies and do good to them that despitefully use you.” Any more to say about that one?
Valerie: Yeah, I think this is very much applicable in the case where someone has insulted you or has done have some sort of microaggression, but I think when we’re talking about abuse and atrocity, these are soul-killing types of issues. I think these are issues that imperil your own salvation. So, for example, not to sort of fight scripture with scripture, but let me just give you another scripture from Mark that I think is really, really important, and then I’ll give you one from Matthew.
Scriptural Evidence for Holding Abusers Accountable
In fact, let me give you the shorter one from Matthew first. All right, this is Jesus Christ talking. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, and then won’t change his ways, tell it to the church. And if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”
Right, and remember, the Jews did not have dealings with a heathen man and a publican. This means to put a lot of distance between you and the abusive person. And then here’s the one from Mark, which is one of my very favorites.
“Therefore, if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; or if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell. And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee, to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell. Therefore, let every man stand or fall by himself, not for another, not trusting another. And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, becomes a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out. It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. For it is better that thy self should be saved, than to be cast into hell with thy brother.”
The Myth of “Unconditional Love”
This is Christ, our Savior, speaking very plainly here. He doesn’t want you to travel the road to hell, and if that means cutting off thy hand or cutting off a foot or plucking out thy eye, which seems very extreme, right, and maybe painful. I don’t think that we’re really being a disciple of Christ.
Anne: This leads perfectly into the classic gaslighting or manipulation technique, when abusers are being confronted about their abuse, and they don’t want to take accountability or be honest or humble about the situation or submit to God’s will. They begin to say things like, “Well, if you just loved me…” “Don’t you love me?” “If you really loved me, you would be patient and you would wait while I got help. And I’m going to go to therapy.” And you know, it’s just this grooming phase where they act repentant, or they act like they love you, or whatever it is. They’re saying if you don’t allow me this, if you don’t kind of tolerate this while I “get better” or while I work on it, then you’re not being Christ-like because you don’t have unconditional love. So, can you talk about that principle misapplied in this situation? Also, I think the unconditional love idea is misapplied in general in the church. Can you talk about that?
God’s Universal Love
Valerie: Oh, that’s absolutely right. Yeah, I think we’ve all heard that phrase unconditional love, but you know what, that doesn’t make any appearance in the scriptures at all. And we know that Christian Theologian Russell M. Nelson has said “while divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.” And that’s because, yes, God loves all His sons and daughters and wants them to gain salvation and eternal life and live with Him forever. Absolutely. So, in that sense, God’s love is totally universal, alright. However, it’s also true that if you’re headed off on the path to hell, that God is not going to be happy about that and is not going to shower blessings upon you, and He will withdraw his spirit, and He may even send chastening punishments to you as well. But that’s actually love, isn’t it? Because God doesn’t actually want you to end up in hell, so he’s going to try to show you that this is a terrible, terrible path to be on. So, God’s love is universal, but if we’re talking about love in terms of loving favor and presence, God’s love is definitely conditional.
Emulate Conditional Love by Setting Boundaries
Absolutely conditional, and I think that means that we should emulate that, which is if your abuser says you need to stay with me while I’m going through, you know, this treatment program. You could say, no, that wouldn’t be helpful to you because you would be tempted to abuse me. So why don’t I remove myself from the situation, you go through the rehab program, bring forth fruits of repentance, and I’ll be praying for you the whole time, and then sincerely mean it. Sincerely pray and fast for them. But you’re not doing anything loving when you allow your abuser access to you so that you can be abused once more. That is not a loving thing to do to this person who is clearly marching towards hell and not heaven.
You Don’t Have to Love Your Abuser
Anne: And for those victims who are struggling to love their abuser, I do want to say, you don’t have to set boundaries from a place of love. If you’re like well, I don’t feel love for them, so I guess I can’t hold this boundary. You know, you can do things from a safety standpoint. So don’t let someone manipulate you into thinking the only way you can set a boundary or take a step toward safety is if you’re feeling compassion toward your abuser. You don’t have to feel compassion or love or anything in order to set a boundary. I’ve said this in another episode. If you witnessed a crime of a car hijacking, no one on the street next to you would say, oh, don’t call the police yet. Do you feel love for that carjacker? Are you doing this from a place of compassion? Because unless you call the police from a place of compassion, unless you call the police from a place of love, then you shouldn’t call the police? No, it’s okay. You can just set the boundary and hopefully, in time you can find it in your heart to love that person, but it’s alright if you don’t.
“Let’s Not Confuse Feeling Soft, Warm, and Intimate Toward Somebody With Loving Them”
Valerie: And remember that God teaches us in a sense what love is like, which is that when there is love, and that is accompanied by trust and respect and all of those wonderful things that should be part of love, then that feels like you want to hug the other person, you want to love the other person, etc, etc. But remember, that love can also exist in the situation where the person is an abuser, but that means that you are not feeling like you want to hug him. You are not feeling like you want to be with them because the loving thing to do is not to hug them and not to be with them. So, let’s not confuse feeling soft and warm and intimate towards somebody with loving them. I mean, I have children; I don’t know if you have children. I have children, for example, if one of my children hurts another child, I will say look, I love you, but you’ve done something wrong here, and so you are going to have to change, you are going to have to do some restitution here. And then yeah, we can reestablish that lovey, huggy, everything’s okay. But in the moment where I’m saying, look, you’re going to have to repent, there’s going to be a punishment, you’re going to have to make restitution. Can I still say that I love them? Yes. Yes, I can. But let’s not confuse feeling warm and soft toward someone with loving them because we can do tough love, right. And God does tough love to his children all the time.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.
And now back to our conversation.
When Abusers Weaponize “Love”
Anne: Well, and when the abuser uses that love word to gaslight or manipulate, they’re using it to say you have to love me in the way I want to be loved. You have to overlook my bad behavior. You have to tolerate my abuse. If you’re doing something else, you must not love me, type of a thing, but victims need to realize that’s just abuse. It’s not am I being a good Christian, am I loving him enough? That type of talk is abusive, and that is only meant to manipulate you into tolerating bad behavior. It’s not meant to actually like bring you closer together.
Valerie: That’s absolutely right, and I’m so glad that you have mentioned that. I think another source of confusion is what does love mean? And gaslighting someone into you have to love me the way I want to be loved rather, than what love would mean from a spiritual point of view, I think is very important.
Anne: Okay, so I have to be honest with you. There’s a section in your article that I don’t know if I disagree with, but I’d love to have a discussion with you about it. It’s the part that says “Tips For Avoiding Dehumanization of the Abuser. So, before I ask your opinion about it, let me tell you what I’ve been thinking lately.”
Acknowledging the Truth Helps Victims Find Safety
So, there are a lot of scriptures that talk about someone being a child of hell. So, we’ve got Moroni 7, or is it Mormon 7? Anyway, one of those, that says they’re a child of hell or a child of Satan. In Alma 5, it also talks about them being a child of hell. I was talking to a victim, and she said, “I want to see him as God sees him. He is a child of God.” And I said, “Well, read Alma 5 and Moroni 7, and you’ll know that the wicked in this sense of these atrocious acts are seen as children of hell by God.”
Other points in the scriptures it talks about don’t cast your pearls before swine, or like a dog to his vomit, or like a sow in the mire. And there are sections where Christ or a prophet is calling someone who is wicked by some type of animal name. Sort of taking them from being this enlightened person into their actions are causing them to be kind of like an animal, a swine, or something like that. So, as I read that, I thought for this woman, she was trying to see him “as God sees him,” so she was trying to be forgiving and understanding and patient and stuff like that. And in my mind, I thought, not necessarily dehumanizing him, but helping her realize that he is wicked and that this wickedness was going to harm, would get her to safety more quickly. And I’m not sure if calling someone wicked is dehumanizing them? But first of all, I don’t know if that made any sense. But can we have a discussion about how acknowledging the truth of someone’s actions is helpful to victims?
You Can Separate Yourself From Your Abuser Without Hating Him (But It’s Perfectly Okay If You Hate Him)
Valerie: You know, I think that’s a really good point. I would say again, I think it’s just a matter of language. Let me give you a for instance. Moroni and his troops would go into battle, not exalting. Not like, “Oh, we’re going stomp them.” They would go into battle mourning. Alright, mourning that they were going to send so many of the children of God to meet their maker unprepared. Now, did that stop them from going into battle and slaughtering these people? No. But did it put them in the right frame of mind to eschew hatred, alright, which I think is a poison to the soul. So, you know, I don’t think that you and I disagree, right. I really don’t. I think again, it’s kind of a misunderstanding of what love means. If a Lamanite army is coming to battle you, you know, you can say gosh, I feel really bad but I’m about to go kill these people, you know, you can do that. You can really do that. You can, in a sense, not dehumanize them and go fight them.
“They Were Wicked, And They Were Cast Out”
Anne: Yeah, and I think where I’m coming from with those animal references, right, like don’t cast your pearls before swine or like a dog to his vomit or references of someone being a child of hell, without making that judgment of saying, okay, he’s Satan or something like that. Being able to say, the fruits of this person’s actions right now are dangerous, and they’re not healthy to me, and I know God does not approve of this type of behavior. I’m going to keep myself safe, and I genuinely wish them well. Like, I genuinely hope that they get better. I genuinely hope that they stop this. In the meantime, I’m going to get to safety and hopefully observe from a super safe distance and pray for them, and wish them well.
I do want women to recognize though that in the scriptures, it does not say, and they were wicked, and so we invited them into our homes, and we gave them a bunch of food, we sat their therapy appointments, and we made sure that we dressed up and wore lipstick. It doesn’t say that. It says, and they were wicked, and they were cast out. It’s not rocket science. It’s okay to cast out the fruits of wickedness, and if someone continues to exhibit the fruits of wickedness, then God would like us to cast them out.
Center For Peace
In fact, like that Alma 5 scripture, He commands us to cast them out. So, a lot of women in this situation are really hoping that their abuser can see the light. The only program we recommend for pornography users or other people who are using these types of abusive behaviors is called Center for Peace. It actually addresses these types of behaviors from an abuse perspective. And the confrontation that you talked about, it’s a program that actually confronts them about the abuse. It’s the only type of program that we recommend because the others don’t seem to really help them understand the abusive behavior. But when women are hoping for a reconciliation, and that is different than forgiveness, what are the types of things they need to look forward to see if the abuser truly has repented and if he’s truly changed?
Valerie: That’s brilliant. Yeah, the abuser must fully complete all the steps of repentance sincerely and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, and some crimes may be so awful that full completion of these requirements probably cannot even occur in this life. So, what are some of the things, how would you recognize sincere repentance? Well, I think there’s a number of things, right.
A Theologian’s Perspective on What Change Looks Like
First of all, a recognition that you’ve abused. I think many abusers are simply unable to even recognize that they committed any sin or crime and will blame their victims for whatever abuse happened. I think abuse is almost predicated on someone lacking any sense of personal responsibility at all. So, absolutely a recognition that one has abused.
Secondly, I think sincere remorse. I think great suffering always accompanies a recognition that you have abused someone. But I also know that some abusers can be insincerely remorseful, and so that I think is where you know, being in touch with the Spirit helps. If you don’t think that that person is sincere, they’re probably not, and it would probably be better for you to assume they’re not sincere. But yeah, sincere remorse. Absolutely. Confession, alright. Confessing to civil authorities, confessing to ecclesiastical authorities. If they can’t even do that, then it’s not sincere repentance.
Recidivism Means Your Abuser Has Not Changed
Restitution, that’s a big one where abusers will say, just forgive me, I won’t do it anymore. But, you know, a sense of restitution. What kind of restitution would help make up for what you’ve done? Can you help to repay the victim for what you’ve taken from them? And it’s possible that restitution cannot be made in this life, you know, for murder and so forth, we cannot make restitution in this life. But the abusers should be searching for a way to make that restitution. And then lastly through change. Our repentant abusers are not going to be slipping back into abuse again, and if they do and insist that you forgive them all over again, I think you’re dealing with a case of recidivism, where the abuser has not sincerely gone through the repentance process. So yeah, those would be some of the signs.
Anne: Or that repentance process was just a grooming period where they were putting on a show to groom you, and there you go again. You’ve got abuse again.
We’re going to pause the conversation here again. Join Valerie and I next week for the conclusion of this conversation. I’m so grateful for her and excited to have her back on.
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