I was recently triggered on Facebook. Not a big surprise right? Well, I was surprised! I work really hard to keep my Facebook page free from swearing, violence and such yuckiness. To my surprise, when I opened my Facebook feed, a huge picture of an angry man with his middle finger greeted me!
To say I was triggered is a slight understatement. This photo took me straight back to living with my ex. He enjoyed using his middle finger, especially if the children were around and he couldn’t verbally tell me to F-off or whatever other swear word he found most hurtful at the moment. I learned to loath the middle finger. I knew it was his deepest, truest feeling about me. I knew he hated me whenever I saw that finger. The first time a driver showed me the finger, after I got out of my relationship, I had to pull over because of the extreme reaction it produced in me. I am thankful that I don’t respond so severely anymore, through much therapy, but a surprise like what I saw on Facebook is enough to send me over the edge for a short time again.
There were other times that I knew his truest, deepest feelings about me and he didn’t have to say a word. Like the time we were driving and I questioned his choice of direction. I spent the next 15 minutes hanging on for dear life, praying we wouldn’t die as he careened around corners, sped through lights and weaved in and out of traffic at terrifying, breakneck speeds! I’d rather get lost then ever question his directions again.
He used to give me what I called ‘The Look of Death”. There is no other way to describe it. His eyes would turn dark. menacing and evil. He would have a blank, yet totally sinister look on his face. If he were a dog, his ears would lay back, his teeth would be bared, his feet would be planted and a deep, doomful growl would reverberate from his lips. It felt like he’d pounce at any moment. But he wasn’t a dog, he was my husband. I sensed what he was telling me, even though he never said a word. The look on his face was more than dislike, it felt like premeditated torture. He only leveled it at me while I was rocking two kids to sleep. He’d walk past the door to their room, pause, look at me and I’d get the most horrible chills. It got to the point where that look alone could send me into a full blown, body shaking, head pounding, can’t breathe, panic attack.
Abusive looks and gestures are intended to go beyond basic power and control. They are passive-aggressive in nature. While remaining completely silent, abusive gestures and looks communicate displeasure and contempt. These looks and gestures are threatening, intimidating, frightening and in the end, mentally terrorizing to the victim. They make the victim wonder what is coming next? What is he capable of? What is he thinking? She isn’t able to figure out what is next and, if she continues living with this abuse, her very mental health will be compromised. By constantly keeping the victim off balance, keeping them guessing at what the abuser will do next, the abuser maintains control over their thoughts and their actions. He gets sadistic pleasure by hurting her in this manner.
Some abusers will take over your space. I remember, no matter what house we lived in, and there were many, he would take over ever single closet in the house. I usually had a portion of the main bedroom closet for my dress clothes and he took everything else, including the children’s closets. If a victim maps out any space for herself, he will be sure to find a way to take it over. Whether its the kitchen cupboard and he takes the largest one for ‘His stuff’ or like in my case, he took over all the closets.
Stalking is another form of space invasion. A stalker, an ex who won’t leave you alone,
will show up where you don’t want them to be. He’ll come to your home, to your work place or to your school. He’ll survey you by moving to your neighborhood and might even vandalize your home and property. He may peer into your windows, follow you with his car or leave you notes to let you know he’s there.
Abusive looks are scary! Intimate partners know each other’s non-verbal signals, it’s a part of the connection that they carry together. Most couples can look at each other across a crowded room and have a very good idea of exactly what the other person is thinking. Are they amused? sad? board? tired? in the case of abuse, a victim will see a look on her abusers face and immediately identify an angry scowl, a furious stare, a disapproving glare, or the ‘Death Look’. She often won’t be able to identify what exactly the issue is, but she’ll know that she’ll answer for it soon. The tension increases as she watches and waits for signs of his increasing negative mood. His face starts to turn red or his eyes begin to bulge in a threatening manner…. her heart rate increases.
Aggressive stares are a specific kind of look. The abuser with level a steady, cold glare at his victim. He won’t blink and won’t look away. This is usually followed by the silent treatment. He won’t share what he’s thinking or feeling, but the look tells her that it’s nothing good. He’ll keep her on edge and use his silent stares to intimidate her. One victim woke up in the middle of the night to find her partner standing over her, staring at her. He refused to speak or move and she had no idea what was going to happen next. She stayed still and waited, knowing her life could be over at any second. For a full 10 minutes he stood there, then he silently walked away.
Symbolic aggression includes standing uncomfortably close to her, or making rude insulting threatening gestures, which differ from culture to culture. These may include sudden upward arm thrusts, clenching or shaking their fists, thrusting up single or double middle fingers into the air, stomping out of the room, or blocking the door so she can’t get out.
Dr. Clare Murphy
Abusive looks and gestures can escalate to extremely terrifying. A victim might come home to find a loaded gun displayed on the table. She might have to endure him slamming his fist against furniture, punching or kicking holes in walls or throwing things but not directly at her. She knows, he can and will turn on her at anytime. The hole in the wall may end up being a hole in her head. He may begin to break her things, hurt her pets or target her children. A few weeks ago a police officer shared a chilling photo that he took when he responded to a domestic violence call. I can hardly imagine how sinister this abuser was to dream up this act of violence.
Gestures are a common way of emotionally abusing someone. Like I mentioned previously, giving the ‘finger’ was a primary gesture my abuser used. There are many gestures that can be menacing and threatening. Someone might swipe their finger across their throat while staring at their victim. Maybe they’ll point their finger and pull the trigger as though they are shooting. A fist shaking in your face, stomping feet in anger and slamming doors are all abusive gestures. Some gestures are seem to be less menacing but are abusive none the less. Using the ‘sh’ sign by putting your finger against your lips to silence the victim, rolling your eyes to show your disdain or pursing your lips in disgust are all less physically aggressive, but are still emotionally abusive.
God hates abuse of all kinds. He deeply grieves over the pain of His children who suffer at the hands of abusers. This is not His plan. This does not properly reflect His love. He knows how it poisons the lives of his children.
God wants us to fear Him. Fear in this form is ultimate love. He doesn’t desire any of his children to live in fear of other people. He calls us to love one another, live in peace whenever possible and to spread His love to the world. How does abusive looks and gestures, that strike the fear of death into the heart of the victim, fall into Gods ultimate plan for his children? It doesn’t. He doesn’t require that we live in fear of our lives at the hand of another. He doesn’t value marriage over and above how much He values the individuals in that marriage.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
David feared King Saul and there are a lot of Psalms that testify to the distress and mental anguish it caused him. He cried to God for protection and for deliverance from his enemy. He pleaded for the violence to come to an end and for joy and happiness to reign in his life again. One of the Psalms that God showed me when I was preparing to leave, was Psalm 27. I was so scared and I cried out to God. His word to me was this Psalm a reassurance of His steadfast love and promises of protection.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Should I fear anyone?
The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
Should I be frightened of anything?
2 When evildoers (my husband) come at me trying to eat me up—
it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
who stumble and fall!
3 If an army camps against me,
my heart won’t be afraid.
If war comes up against me,
I will continue to trust in this:
4 I have asked one thing from the Lord—
it’s all I seek:
to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
seeing the Lord’s beauty
and constantly adoring his temple.
5 Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
during troubling times;
he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
he will set me up high, safe on a rock.
6 Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
sacrifices with shouts of joy!
I will sing and praise the Lord.
7 Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—
have mercy on me and answer me!
8 Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.[a]
Lord, I do seek your face!
9 Please don’t hide it from me!
Don’t push your servant aside angrily—
you have been my help!
God who saves me,
don’t neglect me!
Don’t leave me all alone!
10 Even if my father and mother left me all alone, (I put in HUSBAND)
the Lord would take me in.
11 Lord, teach me your way;
because of my opponents, lead me on a good path.
12 Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,
because false witnesses and violent accusers
have taken their stand against me.
13 But I have sure faith
that I will experience the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living!
14 Hope in the Lord!
Be strong! Let your heart take courage!
Hope in the Lord!
I pray that this description of abusive gestures and looks helps you to recognize how these abuses have effected your life. I pray too, that you can see that this is not God’s plan for you. He wants you to live in peace and not in fear. He will take you through the valley and bring you out into safety as you cling to Him.