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Is Biblical Submission Abuse?

by | Abuse Literacy

The term ‘biblical submission’ has long been thought of as an essential principle of a sanctified partnership. But more and more women have described this term being used to perpetuate a pervasive type of abuse that all too often goes unnoticed. Perhaps one can ask, is the term ‘biblical submission’ synonymous with spiritual abuse?

Is Biblical Submission Abusive?

Coach Sharon focuses on exposing incorrect thought patterns that yield to the weaponization of spiritual truths. As a survivor of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse, Sharon is determined to support women to reclaim their voice, reframe their value, and maintain their spiritual footing. This is what makes her incredibly valuable to our community of women who know this pain.

How Can Biblical Submission Be Emotional Abuse?

Coach Sharon shares a profound part of her personal story:

“The clergy, the church community, was telling me that the emotional stuff was just me not submitting to him. If I would satisfy him sexually, then that would cure him falling into temptation and we wouldn’t fight so much. Or if I would just submit, because submission was a big part of our faith, I would be serious about submission in terms of what a woman’s role was.”

“So, anytime I would challenge him if I had a difference of opinion, that was frowned upon. I had no voice. I think that emotional abuse was harder actually to deal with because it was unrecognized by myself or anyone else. Clergy did not recognize emotional abuse. So as long as he wasn’t hitting me, I had no leg to stand on.”

Coach Sharon, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Team

How Can I Know If Biblical Submission Is Being Used To Abuse Me?

  • You are told or made to believe that the wife must submit to the husband, regardless of circumstances
  • You feel that your thoughts, opinion, voice does not matter
  • You are told or made to feel that God wants you to forgive no matter what
  • You are told or made to feel that God has control over your body, not you
  • You are made to believe that you have no choice or decision-making role in your own relationship
  • The role of women/wife is very defined and non-compromising

When Biblical Submission Crosses The Line Into Abuse

Coach Sharon describes the scattered, confusing thinking that many victims feel when they are experiencing this type of emotional and spiritual abuse. She states,

“I didn’t know that spiritual abuse was a thing. I had never heard of the weaponization of Scripture until BTR. So, anytime I would hear a scripture, it seemed to validate what he was saying. Yes, the Bible does say that a woman is to submit in everything. So how can I stand up for rights if he was the spiritual head and the Bible says that? I had no idea that spiritual abuse even existed. It just left me at a disadvantage to be able to speak up for myself or keep myself safe. Because what could I do? I can’t go against God; I would have been willing to stay in that abusive relationship forever if that meant I had to go against my faith. There was no way.”

Coach Sharon

What If I Am Being Abused By My Beliefs?

We understand that when spiritual beliefs collide with abuse it can be messy, confusing, bewildering. You can feel lost or hopeless at times. At BTR, we are here for you, no matter how what you believe or do not believe.

We have a strong, supportive robust and vastly knowledgeable array of amazing coaches here for you—to help you sort through the chaos and find peace.

Join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group today. We get it, we get you.

Biblical Submission Can Be Used Abusively

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Before we get to today’s episode, there are a lot of so-called betrayal trauma therapists or coaches or professionals or groups out there. A lot of so-called professionals throw around the phrase betrayal trauma, but they actually don’t know how to help women in session. Some of them even do a great online presentation or YouTube video, but once you get in session you realize that they’re not helpful. 

Here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, BTR.org, we know how to actually help women. Our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, called BTRG for short, is a daily online support group. So, when I say join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, I’m not talking about just any betrayal support group out there, I’m talking about our group, the one we run, that’s only available through BTR.org.

Trauma From Spiritual Abuse Is Destructive

Our group sessions are intended to help victims of emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion in the form of their husband’s pornography use or infidelity. If you’re experiencing physical assault sexual assault or crime of any kind, rather than joining group, schedule an individual session with Coach Renee, so she can help you navigate your local resources as soon as possible. But if you’re like a majority of our clients you’re experiencing trauma caused by your husband’s sexual coercion in the form of porn use, infidelity, and also emotional and psychological abuse in the forms of gaslighting, manipulation, and lying. You’re experiencing the type of abuse that’s invisible and difficult to wrap your head around. Here at BTR, you don’t have to convince our coaches that you need help, they’ll outline a clear path to emotional and psychological safety, without you having to educate them. They’re here to help you, not the other way around.

Our daily online support group has more sessions than any other support group out there. We have over 21 sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home, you can join from your closet or your parked car in your garage. We are here for you. Check out the session schedule at BTR.org. We’d love to see you in a session today.

The Bible Does Not Say That You Need To Be Abused

For everyone who has given this podcast a five-star rating on Apple podcasts or other podcasting apps, thank you so much. If this podcast has helped you when you rate it, you help other women find it, so your ratings and reviews make a big difference for victims desperately trying to figure out what is happening to them. 

I am so excited to have Coach Sharon on today’s episode, she is one of our betrayal trauma coaches here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, and she has over 20 years of experience. She’s passionate about exposing incorrect thought patterns that yield to the weaponization of spiritual truths. I’m so excited to talk to her about that today. As a survivor of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse Sharon is determined to support women to reclaim their voice, reframe their value, and maintain their spiritual footing. As a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Coach Sharon speaks the truth directly yet compassionately, as she challenges arguments, opinions, and mindsets that seek to undermine a woman’s mental and spiritual health. Welcome, Sharon.

Sharon: Thank you, Anne.

Anne: As you’re listening; Coach Sharon is of course one of our betrayal trauma recovery coaches, she coaches several sessions of Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. So, when you join the group, you’ll be able to meet her and interact with her. You can also schedule an individual session with Coach Sharon by going to our website btr.org.

God Would Not Condone Abuse Or Mistreatment Of You

So, Sharon, because you’ve been through this, can you talk about your experience? What did you think was going on before you had the word abuse to describe your experience?

Sharon: I thought we just had problems. I thought that we had, you know, problems communicating like every other couple had problems and if we could just get the tools needed to communicate that that would kind of set us straight but for whatever reason, we just kept missing each other.

Anne: So, what kinds of things did you do to try and not miss each other, you know, to get help for this?

Sharon: We tried a variety of different things. We did the marriage counseling a couple of times, numerous times, but really, we relied more on pastoral care as a source of support. There were people in our life within the church community that offered support to us in terms of counseling, but that always seemed to shine back on me and my direction in terms of my responsibility to satisfy him sexually, so that he would not fall into temptation, or to submit without question no matter how it was affecting me, or to just not act out in a rage of which I was acting out in rage. So, we have these helping professionals that were trying to support and help but they just were not aware of the varying forms of abuse. So, because I was not being physically assaulted the whole time, the full length of our marriage, they did not see that I was actually in abuse. So, I suffered a lot of harm because the people that were in my life to offer support just did not have a working knowledge of varying forms of abuse. And I really do believe that these people meant me good in terms of the support they were trying to offer. I think that there was the desire to help but there just wasn’t the knowledge there to be able to speak to issues of emotional, psychological, sexual abuse.

Biblical Submission Can Be Hurtful To Your Spirit

Anne: Now, my experience was that I was, I will say, mildly assaulted very mildly, three times in the seven years that I was with my ex. So, I didn’t think at the time that physical abuse was part of my story. He would like punch a wall every once in a while. One time he ripped a fence apart with a pickaxe. I mean, that sounds super violent, but for some reason at the time, I don’t know it just seemed like he had an anger problem or something. I didn’t really perceive it as physical abuse. I also didn’t perceive my relationship as physically abusive at all.

With your physical abuse, was it kind of similar where it was just a few incidents that kind of seemed mild even though I realize tearing a fence apart with a pickaxe is not mild at all now, but from your perspective, is that kind of the same type of thing you experienced when it came to physical abuse?

Sharon: No, not really, Anne. Mine was the exact opposite. So, the first 15 years of my marriage were physically abusive. It was pushing, shoving, screaming, slapping, it was very, very physical in terms of the abuse that I was living in, but I just saw him as being angry and sometimes things would escalate. I still didn’t see it as physical abuse even though I was covering up scars with makeup and going to church with scars around my neck because you know, there were scars and so forth there. I still just saw him as just angry. I didn’t see myself as being abused, but then when he stopped hitting me because, after 15 years, he stopped physically hitting me. And I thought he switched on the emotional abuse because I really didn’t realize that I was emotionally abused the whole time. I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse, so when the physical stuff stopped, I was confused because I’m like, he’s not hitting me anymore. So why is it still dangerous? Why do I still feel like I’m in danger? And he’s not hitting me because I did not understand what emotional abuse was. And I certainly didn’t know anything about sexual coercion. None of that registered for me as abuse. So, I thought, okay, well, we stopped hitting you, and you’re still spiraling but I couldn’t understand why.

Biblical Submission Does Not Mean You Don’t Have A Choice

Anne: So, at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we actually do not specialize in physical abuse, right. We specialize in emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion in the form of a husband’s pornography use. But I will say that there is no physical abuse that happens without emotional and psychological abuse also being a component. So, if you have experienced physical abuse, you’re also always going to be experiencing emotional and psychological abuse. So, at BTR if you’re like, hey, I need help. I’m going to reach out I’m going to join the group. We actually don’t process physical violence in Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. We recommend that you schedule a session with Coach Renee to actually access resources in your own location, like perhaps the domestic violence shelter or perhaps the police so that you can navigate that because sometimes reporting that is difficult. I just want to bring that up. So even though we’re talking about physical abuse right now, that’s actually not our specialty here at BTR.

So now we’re going to start talking about Sharon’s experience when she stopped being physically abused, and she was experiencing the emotional and psychological abuse and how confusing that was. But before I say that, when you were getting help from clergy and stuff during this time, did they also not recognize that as physical abuse, and during that time did they also say hey, you just need to be more patient, you need to be more loving, you need to submit more and he’ll stop pushing you around?

Bible Scriptures Should Never Be Weaponized Against You

Sharon: The clergy, the church community was telling me that the emotional stuff was just me not submitting to him. So, if I would satisfy him sexually, then that would cure him falling into temptation and we wouldn’t fight so much. Or if I would just submit because submission was a big part of our faith, so I was serious about submission in terms of what I felt like a woman’s role was. So, anytime I would challenge him if I had a difference of opinion, that was frowned upon. I had no voice. And that’s what I say like even though there was physical abuse in my circumstance, I think that emotional abuse was harder actually to deal with because first of all, it was unrecognized by myself or anyone else. Clergy did not recognize emotional abuse. So as long as he wasn’t hitting me, I had no leg to stand on.

So, when we would get in these counseling sessions, and I was trying to explain what was happening, there was no way to explain it because it wasn’t a scar. It wasn’t a physical scar. It was something emotional that was happening to me that I didn’t even understand. So, I was getting advice like you just need to, you know, satisfy him sexually and the marriage bed is undefiled and, you know, whatever happens in the marriage, that it’s okay. And this is really not about sex. It was a lot of well, you have to submit without question, without me really having a voice, without really asking what the arguments or the disagreements were about. And I was just acting out and that was what was getting responded to. Me yelling and screaming, but no one was asking the questions why? Like there was smoke, but no one was looking for a fire. It was just like she’s yelling and screaming, but no one was asking those questions, what’s going on behind the scenes that were, you know, attributing to our relationship being so chaotic.

Biblical Submission In A Marriage Can Be Harmful

And I didn’t have a lot of information that I have now in terms of looking at things like gaslighting and sexually coercive behaviors and weaponization of Scripture. Like I didn’t understand a lot of the things that BTR brought to light. So, I did not know what was happening to me, so I couldn’t explain it. You can’t explain what you don’t know. So, it was hard for me to explain to clergy exactly what was happening because I really didn’t even understand what was happening to me. But what I did know was that I had no voice. I had no ability to have a voice. Biblical submission meant that Chuck held all the cards with decision-making. So, if I had something that I wanted to do in terms of parenting, if there was a direction I wanted to take with the kids, or if I felt like something was wrong to do or right to do, I had no voice in that. I had no voice and finances. I had no voice in intimacy. Intimacy had to look a certain way. Kissing had to be a certain way, intimacy had to look a certain way, or it was wrong. You know, so there was no voice in terms of me being able to have a say in what the marriage was like. I had no value. I had no opinion in terms of if there was something that I thought was correct, then it wasn’t respected because I wasn’t educated enough to give voice to whatever it is he was saying.

He would say things to me like you can’t comprehend. You can’t comprehend that. And I couldn’t comprehend anything. I had no ability to comprehend much. So, I had no right to give an opinion on anything because I couldn’t comprehend anything. I couldn’t contribute, or at least my contributions weren’t supported, because they weren’t significant. Nothing that I brought to the marriage relationship was significant. Therefore, it wasn’t knowledge. So, I wasn’t contributing anything. I had no resources, whatever I brought to the marriage, whether it was finances or whatever it wasn’t enough of a match, comparable to him, you know, to what he was bringing in. So, there was no voice, there was no value, but I think perhaps the worst thing was I had no God. I think that’s the worst part of it for me was I had no God because God was always on his side, and he always had scripture to prove that God was on his side.

So, if I was hurt about something and tried to relay to him that I’m being harmed on being hurt, or I don’t agree, then he would say things to me like well, you just need to forgive. You know, God wants you to forgive. So, there was no way that I could ever stand up for anything because forgiveness was always that variable that always put me back into, I have to just let it go. You know, if I refused his sexual advances, then God said I had no authority over my body. You know, if I had an opinion, then God said I had to obey in everything, you know. And he would say, you know, touch not my anointed and do my profit no harm, was one of the scriptures that he would continually say, but that made me feel like garbage because there was no ally. I had no ally even in God.

Biblical Submission Can Be Spiritually Abusive

So even in having this relationship with God I felt like there was no one who understands or can see what I’m going through. Not only does the marriage counselors seem to side with him, not only does clergy and the pastoral care that I was reaching out for, not only do they see me as just chaotic and crazy and sinful, but even God is not there for me because no one can see what’s going on and identify if there’s more going on than what is being said. It was just a very, very hard, hard time in my life in terms of me being a person and feeling like I couldn’t be seen and slowly I just started to fade. I just started to fade.

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 btr.org/books. That Books page also 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. When you go to our Books page and click on any of those books, it just takes you directly to Amazon and you can throw those books in your cart. After you have purchased the book, please remember to circle back around to Amazon and write a verified purchase review, along with a five-star rating. That helps isolated women find us, it bumps Trauma Mama Husband Drama up in the Amazon algorithm, and even if women don’t purchase the book, it helps them find this podcast, which is free to everyone. 

And now back to our conversation.

Anne: And knowing you, my guess is, and you can correct me if I’m wrong here, but the reason you started to fade is that even if God couldn’t see you, and you felt like he can’t see me. You didn’t maybe have the words for that at the time, you love God and you wanted to do what God wanted you to do, and so this is a confusing thing because you love God, you love Jesus, you love the Bible, and here all of these things are being used against you. And this is spiritual abuse, but I’m guessing you did not recognize it as spiritual abuse at the time.

Sharon: Not at all. I didn’t know that spiritual abuse was a thing. I had never heard of the weaponization of Scripture until BTR. So, anytime I would hear a scripture, it seemed to validate what he was saying. So yes, the Bible does say that a woman is to submit in everything. So how can I stand up for rights if he was the spiritual head and the Bible says that? I had no idea that special abuse even existed. So definitely, it just left me at a disadvantage to be able to speak up for myself or keep myself safe. Because what could I do? I can’t go against God; I would have been willing to stay in that abusive relationship forever if that meant I had to go against my faith. There was no way.

Spiritual Abuse Can Be Damaging

Anne: We do have an awesome podcast about biblical submission and what it actually really means with Tom Pryde. It was a while back so if you go to our website and search Tom Pryde or biblical submission you’ll be able to pull that up. The way that he deconstructs that and helps us understand what Jesus really meant is super helpful for those of us who would like to follow the Scriptures, right. Who genuinely believe in God and want to do what we believe God is telling us to do.

I do want to make a point. We do have agnostic listeners; we do have atheist listeners. So, neither Sharon nor I am trying to like, proselytize, but we’re just trying to share our own experiences. If you would like to come on the podcast and you’re an atheist, for example, or you’re agnostic or something we’d love to hear your story from your point of view and the tough times you had maybe from family or therapists or maybe secular places where you couldn’t get help. Everyone is welcome here.

So, let’s talk about when you started realizing that this isn’t working. So, you try this “biblical submission.” You try to do all the things that this, I will call them abusive clergy. Not that they understood they were being abusive, but they were sort of abusing you by proxy. Your abuser was manipulating them, and so they were just kind of taking his side. When did you start to recognize like, wait a minute, I have loved, I have served, I’m forgiving? I’m doing all the things and it’s not working. Like our marriage isn’t getting any better. He’s told me hey, you just need to forgive and things would be okay, but they’re not okay. When did you recognize that that typical Christian advice of love, serve, and forgive was not working?

Biblical Submission Can Lead To Abuse

Sharon: I mean, it was a long time after marriage. I mean, well into the marriage, definitely post BTR, because I didn’t understand any of this until I left. And after I left the relationship, a family member referred me to the podcast, and I started listening to podcasts and started hearing some of the truths that were coming from BTR. And honestly, Anne, I did not know at any point in the marriage that I was in an abusive relationship. I really did not until after I left, moved out, and started listening to podcasts from BTR. There were just really red flags everywhere and shining light on truths that I had never heard of. And it was just amazing. It was traumatizing, it was overwhelming to learn that this is it. Finally, I had an answer to what was happening to me, but it was definitely after I had left the relationship and began to seek safety outside of my home that I realized this is just not working. It wasn’t me, but it wasn’t while I was in the relationship.

Anne: Yeah, so many victims when they’re in that fog of abuse, plus they’re in the fog of clergy abuse, right. Where kind of this whole vortex of people around you is telling you to love, serve, forgive. You can’t really tell what’s going on. I’m so grateful that you found BTR.

We’re going to pause the conversation here and coach Sharon is going to join me again next week, so stay tuned for that.

If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Go to our website btr.org, scroll down to the bottom, and click on support the podcast; and until next week, stay safe out there.

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1 Comment

  1. Laura

    I find all teachings of submission abusive. It presumes to believe “Women were created for a role of submission, so there is nothing injurious to a woman incurred by the act and role of submission.” Submission is “the role” of a person who has capitulated to bullying and abuse. It’s not normal but abusive. I wasn’t created to be bullied. I wasn’t created to submit. I do not not need my soul crushed by constant battery of emotionally and spiritually abuse persons rightfully called bullies trying to teach me that my role is “to submit”.

    All Pauline Christianity is abusive. Paul is an early church leader who taught bullying. All teaching of any role of submission is bullying.

    God is not a Bully.

    In what sane world am I required as a Christian woman to accept the teaching of any church leader past or present whose foundational teaching is bullying?

    Reply

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