I sat very still listening as he droned on into the third hour of lecture. I knew that if I spoke up, talked back, argued, offered an original thought, or looked bored, he’d keep it up for hours. The potential that he’d keep me awake all night was high. I was exhausted but determined to agree with everything and appear intent on his words. That was the only way he’d stop.
Sometimes he’d look at me, calculating internally whether my attention was intent enough or if I really understood him. He loved to take a position above me, looking down on me as though I were a child. How often he’d tell me how stupid I was, how slow I was, or how unfortunate that I hadn’t gone as far in school as he had. If I’d only listen, absorb his words, and obey him, I would function so much better in the world.
My parents were, after all, uneducated and dumb. I should, therefore, listen only to him, not them. My friends didn’t care about me, I’d be wise to limit my acceptance of their advice. The only one who mattered, who actually cared was him. He was, in the end, taking all this time to impart his wisdom upon me. That alone should prove to me how much he loves me and cares for me.
The Bible says that God hates haughty eyes in Prov 6:17. The word haughty is not one that is often used in today’s vernacular. It comes from “haut,” an Anglo-French word from the 18th century that means high, high-classed, high-toned, or elevated (Dictionary, 2020). In other words, a person who looks down on others as though they are better than them, literally above them, considers themselves superior to others and expresses their attitude through ‘haughty eyes’.
Abusers who have haughty eyes elevate themselves to such an extent that they passionately believe that whatever they think, say, do, want, need or demand is their right, their privilege. They are so much better than you, me, or the next-door neighbor that they deem themselves entitled to inconsiderate behavior. They believe it their personal obligation to communicate their superiority clearly and disdainfully. They have no problem correcting a person in a condescending tone or staring at someone as though they are completely baffled by that person’s total stupidity. The slight head shakes, and raised eyebrow indicates how ridiculous they view the opinions of others.
Haughty eyes and a proud, better than thou attitude that it reveals are identified as sin in Prov 30:13. Haughty eyes and a prideful self-opinion is sinful because the person who maintains an attitude of superiority does not seek God in action, thought, or deed. Psalm 10:4. When one thinks so highly of themselves, they cannot give themselves space to see their own hang-ups. They are externally focused on other people’s faults and miss the proverbial plank in their own eye (Matt 7:5).
With that said, it is unfortunately all too common for abusers to use religion to their advantage. Often, the works portion of religion becomes a practical path that the abuser uses to elevate himself and, at the same time, devalue his significant other. Religious behaviors are easy enough to participate in. The abuser uses their religious participation to reinforce his excellent reputation and secure his good standing in the church. He makes a show of his superior knowledge, insight, and religiosity.
The abuser will weaponize their exemplary reputation to smear their spouse slowly, covertly, and effectively. The more people they can convince that they are the good guy and the spouse is crazy or inept or stupid, the better for him in the end. When she finally approaches the pastor or elder or bishop with accusations of abuse, he’s already laid the groundwork so that they won’t believe her.
William Shakespeare once said that “the eyes are the window to the soul”. In Matthew 6:22-23, the Bible also states that the eyes reflect light and darkness (like a mirror) in our soul. An abuser reveals themselves through their haughty facial expressions, disdainful body language, superior attitudes, and holier than thou behaviors. Their expectation is that they are so wonderful, everybody will love them and flock to them. All too often that is true because as a people, we are poor at being wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matt 10:16).
Titus 1:16 says that some people will profess to know Christ but will be disobedient, detestable, and unfit. In Psalm 138:6, we are told that Christ keeps proud people at a distance and doesn’t have a relationship with them. Accordingly, when we recognize a haughty look, superior attitude, or know it all behavior, we can be comfortable refusing to enter into a relationship or ending a relationship with that person.
Effect on Victims
Victims who have to deal with abusers who are prideful and haughty often believe that they are stupid, incapable, and useless. The hit to a victim’s self-esteem and sense of self-reliance is shattering. Consequently, victims often develop learned helplessness, a belief that they are powerless. They have lived through a trauma that has reinforced their inability to help themselves. It is very difficult to consider yourself empowered when every time you say, do, think, feel, or try you are put in emotional or physical danger.
The good news is that the abuser is completely wrong and a victim can become personally empowered. Some of the most empowered, smart and impactful people I’ve ever known were once victims. It is a strong and smart person who attempts to escape their domestic terrorizer. It is a strong and smart person who survives day after day, year after year with an at home terrorist. It is a strong and smart person who figures out ways to keep themselves and their children safe. It is a strong and smart person who chooses to stay because they know that is their safer option.