Cognitive Empathy

A friend commented on my prolific blog writing lately.  I write more when I’m processing something.  I have another blog.  Were I dealing with an exacerbation in symptoms in one of my daughters I would be posting there.  Some of the content here could go there as some of what I am dealing with in my husband smacks of mental illness–an anxiety disorder.  He does carry a recent diagnosis, but it doesn’t seem fair or even possible to try to shove all relational issues under the label of a DSM diagnosis–even if one person would like to try.

I have more than a few readers who come from families of origin in which there was a parent with a personality disorder.  My mother has borderline personality disorder.  I witnessed this phenomenon in her.  If one tried to hold her accountable for bad behavior, the common response was: “Well, I have problems with depression.  I don’t deal with anger well.”  That was it.  That was her Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.  Anything and everything was allowed in terms of the spectrum of human behavior simply because she could not regulate herself.  Therefore, she was ultimately not responsible for anything that occurred thereafter.  I have found this to be a common worldview amongst those with personality disorders.  Why? There seems to be an innate inability to understand that their behavior affects others.  I would probably call this problem an impaired ability to perspective take.

Some people might identify this as an empathy problem, but emotional empathy does not seem to be a problem in those with certain personality disorders.  A person with borderline personality disorder, for example, is often overwhelmed with emotions to the point that they cannot regulate them.  Perspective-taking, however, is different.  I would almost like to call this cognitive empathy otherwise known as ‘theory of mind’ (ToM).  A deficiency in ToM is a hallmark symptom in autism spectrum disorders, and a recent study was done on borderline personality disorder and ToM.  Is there a deficiency in ToM in those with the BPD diagnosis? Sure enough, there was.  ToM is an academic descriptor for describing one’s ability to understand that you don’t know what I know, and I don’t know what you know–cognitive empathy.  The English language does not allow for two separate linguistic descriptions of empathy that exist which are both emotional and cognitive empathy.  So, emotional and cognitive empathy get lumped under one word–empathy.

When most people think of empathy, they tend to think of emotions.  They imagine putting themselves in someone else’s place and feeling what the other might feel.  This is a form of empathy.  Emotional empathy is the catalyst for compassion and emotional perspective-taking.  Once I’ve been empathic, I can then begin to understand where the other person is coming from and take action to understand their emotional experience.

Cognitive empathy is similar except it deals with thoughts and beliefs.  We use cognitive empathy when we analyze literature: “What was the character thinking when he said…?”  and “What did Jack’s character believe Jane’s character was going to do when Jane said…?”  Here are two examples of first and second-order beliefs.  Women are particularly adept at parsing behavior using their cognitive empathy.  Have you ever sat and listened to a group of women talk about their significant others?

“Well, what do you think he meant by that?”

“I don’t know, but I asked his best friend what he thought he might have meant.  And, he didn’t know either.  But, I think he did know! So, I think his best friend not telling me means that he knows what he did mean, and the two of them are just not talking.”

“Why? What are they up to…?”

“Well, I asked his brother.”

This is all cognitive empathy.  Who knows what? What do I believe the other person believes? What do I believe this person believes about that person? Speaking in terms of gender stereotyping, women can be observed to engage in this kind of discussion.  It’s modeled to them through their mothers, other women, and even women in entertainment.  Ever watch a soap opera? This stereotype is highly amplified here:

“I saw you, Drake! You were out with Deandra last night at the drive-in!”

“No! I promise! It wasn’t me!”

“Don’t you lie to me! I talked to Vajessica who told me that she talked to Kaila, and Kaila told me that you and Deandra were planning on eloping! Deandra confirmed this when she told me that you and your twin were talking about fishing, and we all know what that means!”

It’s all a mish-mash of ridiculous assumptions based on believing that one person knows what the other person is thinking, but it illustrates the point well.  When we apply our own set of beliefs and thoughts to another person’s actions, then we run into a big problem.  We fail to properly engage in perspective-taking.

This is the problem I had with my mother.  This is a problem I’m having in my marriage.  This is a problem I see in other people’s relationships if they are in a relationship with someone with narcissistic or borderline tendencies.  The person expressing the disordered personality assumes that their partner or adult child will treat them in the same manner that they will.  There is the breakdown in cognitive empathy.

What does this look like relationally?

If you are dealing with a narcissist, then the narcissist may go for the jugular in arguments because s/he will assume that you will do the same.  What s/he would do, in their mind, you will do.  There is little to no differentiation in their mind regarding you.  Whatever would appease them will appease you.  What s/he needs, you need.  This can be observed in other disordered personalities.  Because of the poorly developed cognitive empathy, your thoughts and beliefs are not viewed as different, important, valid, or often even separate.  Therefore, you will not be validated.  If your partner validates themselves, then you are validated.  If your partner feels happy, then you are happy.  If your partner is sexually satisfied, then you are satisfied.  If your partner is at peace, then you are at peace.  If your partner liked something, then you liked it.  To disagree in any way is to call into question their entire experience, and that would lead to cutting off narcissistic supply.

What is narcissistic supply? It’s “a type of admiration, interpersonal support, or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem” as described by psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel in the early 20th c.

If you are dealing with someone with arrested development in the form of extreme emotional immaturity combined with a highly developed anxiety disorder, then you will see similar behaviors because entitlement will play a role.  Anxiety affects the brain profoundly.  It activates the limbic system and keeps the amygdala–the reptilian brain–online.  When the reptilian brain is online, a person is impulsive, reactionary, easily frustrated, mean, and easily angered.  They are very forgetful because the part of the brain in charge of decision making, empathy, and planning is not online which is the frontal lobe.  The ability to be intimate is in the pre-frontal cortex.  Only humans possess this brain structure.  When the amygdala is constantly firing, the pre-fontal cortex will not be working.  Intimacy and anxiety do not go together.  Anger and intimacy do not go together.  Constant forgetfulness and intimacy don’t go together.

This is why, once again, therapeutic interventions are so vital for personality disorders, disordered personalities, and neuropsychological diagnoses like anxiety.  They destroy relationships and prevent forward progress in life.  They prevent people from learning how to be better humans.  Emotional empathy is a necessary component of a well-developed personality, and it’s so important in relationships.  Cognitive empathy, however, is equally important.  Without the ability to perspective take and learn that others have equally valid thoughts and beliefs that may or may not reflect our own, we will not be able to mature properly and consequently be in healthy adult relationships.

Cognitive empathy.  Add it to your list of interpersonal skills.



Applying Meaning

I am trying to put meaning to my circumstances as they intensify, and they are intensifying.  Every day is an adventure and not a good one.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next with my husband, and each of my daughters has had separate but equal meltdowns with me about their own perception of their relationship with him.  What I find most interesting about this, aside from the turmoil I feel trying to non-judgmentally listen to them, is that each girl reports the same feelings.  Each girl feels almost identical.  How could this be?

I don’t want to be a party to parental alienation in any way.  They already feel alienated from him due to his own choices.  So, I try to reassure them that he does, in fact, love them; he simply may lack the interpersonal skills to communicate those feelings in ways that would mean something to them.  My 18 year-old could “give a fuck” as she puts it.  He’s an adult and really ought to know better by now.  My 16 year-old shares those feelings.  She invited me into her therapy session last week for support and then proceeded to crucify her father.  She all but screamed, “I hate him!”  I just sat there and listened.  That was not easy.  I don’t feel any loyalty to him in this.  I feel like a failure.  I relate to her.  My father was a horrible father.  I hated him as my daughters are beginning to hate their own, and I think to myself, “How on earth could I have chosen a man who would repeat my own father’s choices?” I blame myself here.  I wanted my daughters to have a loving father.  I so wanted to spare them my experiences.

Sure, their father isn’t a pedophile.  Phew! They won’t have to deal with that experience, and thank God for that.  On the other hand, he is the poster boy for parental neglect and emotional outbursts that my therapist has defined as emotional abuse.  Two of my daughters have shared with me that they are frightened that he might physically hurt someone.  All of them have said that they feel that they must walk on eggshells around him.

When you begin asking to hear the truth, this is what happens.  People begin to tell it.  It is very hard to hear.  I am so thankful for all that DBT training because I am able to listen.  I am able to validate them.  I am not taking it personally because it isn’t personal.  And, here comes the hard part, I am taking the next step: “If I have hurt you in any way, please let me know because I cannot make amends if I don’t know.  So, when you are ready, I would very much like to listen.”  Within this atmosphere of truth-telling, I have been able to tell my daughters that I am willing to make any unknown wrongs right.  So far, the slate is clean.  I chose early on in my parenting to apologize when I made mistakes and keep short accounts.  Humility has been something I have tried very hard to cultivate.  It has kept me better in tune with their needs.  It’s still not easy.  Things will be missed.  People get hurt.

Still, this is gut-wrenching.  I don’t know where this train is headed.  It isn’t looking good.  My prayer has, therefore, been that I will be given an equal measure of passion in my life for something that will counteract the pain.  I, like so many women, am a relational person.  My marriage was my greatest passion in life along with my family.  My daughters still require most of my time.  The oldest will be leaving for college in the fall, and the three remaining all have special needs of some kind.  Either I orbit around them or they orbit around me.  I have to work very hard to maintain healthy boundaries so that we don’t create co-dependency.

We need greater passions in our lives when we are faced with great trials.  It balances out the burden and pain.  What I have found is that I need a lot of intellectual stimulation to feel human and separate from my family–to feel like a person.  I need meaningful human interactions that don’t revolve around meeting the needs of my children.  So, going to a meeting with one of my daughter’s therapists to discuss a treatment plan doesn’t count.  Going to the grocery store doesn’t count either.  That’s a woman in a role performing a chore to meet the needs of her family.

Women who are in the caregiver role need to be women as individuals again.  Women who work outside the home and then come home and parent need to be individuals outside of their home and work environments.  Women who stay at home to care for home, hearth, and family need the same thing.  Even women who have no children have many roles to play.  It is so easy to get lost in the myriad personas that we take off and put on.  We forget who we were, who we are, or perhaps who we would very much like to be.  This is why, in my opinion, we are vulnerable to gaslighting and circumstances that might escalate to abuse.  We forget that we have a choice when it comes to our identities.

So, what steps can we take? In my case, I am taking small steps.  I started seeing a therapist.  That is perhaps a big step, but I started with other steps before that.  I made friends.  I spent time with my friends outside playdates with my children or double dates with my husband.  I met with one friend one evening a week for a “Stitch ‘n Bitch” at a local 24-hour Perkins.  We would knit and kvetch about the meaning of life while eating fries with mayo.  Sometimes well into the night.  I see another friend at least once a week for coffee.  We share our lives.  We have fun together.  Having fun is extremely important.  We just went to an art exhibit together.  I take care of myself with haircuts, and one of my friends and I get mani-pedis together.  These sorts of things build self-esteem.  Do what works for you.  If it’s not haircuts and mani-pedis, then find your thing.  I’m a make-up whore.  I’ll admit it.  So, I like to buy lip gloss, nail polish, and anything else.  Even if I can’t afford anything new, just looking makes me happy.  Taking the time to do what makes you feel good about yourself be it going to bookstores, Home Depot, your faith environment, coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, or Comic Con, will build you up and validate you.  This is vital particularly if you are living in an invalidating environment as many of us are.  We get to learn one of the most empowering things of all–self-validation.

While many women are validated by their children, raising their children, and even educating their children, we raise our children to leave.  That’s the point.  Those children will be gone one day.  We are women before we are mothers.  Many women define their worth by being married.  They longed to get married and keep a house.  We are, however, women before we are wives.  When we are strong women with identities that are intact, fenced in, and founded upon solid truths that have been internalized, we are a lot harder to manipulate and abuse.  The good news is that it’s never too late to differentiate, learn who we are, and build strong foundations.

For me, this is how you apply meaning to painful circumstances.  They can act as a catalyst to personal growth and launch us into better circumstances and relationships, or they can weigh us down.  The better news is that we get to choose here.


Third-Party Credibility

Tuesday is therapy day for me.  I’m supposed to have a fifty minute session.  I had a two-hour session.  In fact, my prior sessions were about ninety minutes each.  My therapist just lets them go on and on.  He then looks at the clock and says, “Wow! I should really pay more attention to the time, but we are doing really important work here.”

Tuesday’s session was not as intense as the prior session.  I didn’t leave feeling as raw or amped up.  I deliberately chose a therapist in the same practice as my husband’s therapist.  That sounds funny to me–my husband’s therapist.  That implies that he regularly attends therapy.  He doesn’t.  He’s seen his therapist a few times and without any sort of regularity.  Therapy was a condition of mine.

I issued an ultimatum last summer or, at least, I think it was last summer.  My sense of time feels skewed somehow.  I told him that he must see a psychiatrist for his medication management rather than an internist.  Internists have their favorite drugs or drug rather.  They all seem to favor Zoloft.  Zoloft seems to be the cure for all that ails a person.  Zoloft will not cure much if one has severe depression or profound anxiety.  If one needs a little tweak, then perhaps Zoloft will do the trick.  A psychiatrist should ultimately be the clinician managing one’s neuropharmaceutical medications.  Not a GP.  Do you really want a doc who removes hemorrhoids and diagnoses strep infections treating your mental illness? I don’t.

I also told my husband that he must see a therapist consistently if I was going to think about staying in the marriage.  My therapist asked if I was bluffing.  I wasn’t really bluffing.  Had he refused, then I would have had to seriously assess my options.  After about six months my husband decided to comply.  He is slow to make decisions.  He doesn’t respond well to threats or ultimatums, and we are a good match in that.  I am not one to make threats or issue ultimatums.

My therapist offered me good advice on Tuesday.  He observed that we are in different places emotionally, spiritually, developmentally, and intellectually.  He may be intimidated by me, and this may be another reason we fail to connect and effectively communicate.  He may be right.  I expect my husband to be able to keep up with me and my ability to process and understand emotions when, in fact, he cannot.  He lacks the cognitive ability to do so.  We discussed other factors that may contribute to his categorized behaviors, but, in the end, I am still where I started.  I am at a crossroads.  What can I radically accept, and what can I not? What is too fundamentally broken to fix? What can be changed?

This is most likely why people avoid therapy when it comes to marriage.  Who wants to go to therapy only to have a therapist tell them that they are 1) being abused 2) possibly incompatible with their partner and 3) in need of a major reality adjustment?

It is not for the faint of heart, but I am finding that I sort of like it.  I am feeling a sense of strength begin to awaken in me, and it’s long overdue.  I haven’t spoken the truth in my marriage in a long while, and I actually did this week.  I told the truth.  I asked truthful questions of my husband, and he answered honestly.  Nothing is fixed and yet I feel better.  I told the truth, and he did not gaslight me.  He listened, and he looked stricken.  Why? He has indeed been abusive, and I told him so.  I used the ‘A’ word.  Abuse.

“That behavior can be called abusive.  That’s what my therapist said.  I think he might be right.”

Third-party credibility is very helpful when it comes to telling the truth in a relationship.  A therapist is not the same as a girlfriend.  “Deandra says that when you yell at me that’s abusive,” is not the same as when a therapist makes a similar observation.  Gravitas matters.  There’s something about that PhD after the name that just might make a difference to people.

There’s another reason to go to therapy.  Third-party credibility.  When we start taking the risk to tell the truth to someone we might fear, we need that back up.  We need that extra dose of credibility.  That evidence.  That extra opinion.  It got my husband’s attention.

I highly recommend it.

The First Step in Healing

I have been asked to write something about healing.  Personal healing.  How do we heal? I find that interesting seeing as how I’m in the middle of something of a healing crisis.

I sat down a few months ago to try to write something.  Simply put pen to paper or fingers to laptop in my case.  I have no problem with words.  Content? That’s another thing altogether.  I had to stop.  What is a prerequisite for healing? I had a gossamer notion floating in my head.  Like a butterfly fluttering to and fro, I hadn’t yet caught it, and John Bevere’s absurd and almost spiritually abusive notion was the final push I needed to help me jump high enough to catch it.

Truth.  We need to be able to tell the truth.  More than that, we need to be able to recognize the truth in our circumstances and emerge from denial.  This is the first step in healing.  I’m convinced of it.

It sounds easy enough, but it’s not.  Firstly, realizing that you are in an environment in which you cannot tell your truth can be shocking.  Sometimes we might know that we are in an environment that doesn’t make us feel good.  It might be a job.  Perhaps it’s a faith environment like a church.  We have a strong sense that we should not speak our minds lest we are criticized or alienated by leadership or our peers.  Perhaps the boss or a co-worker will belittle us, and we know to keep our mouths shut.  Human beings, however, are social creatures.  We were made for community.  With the rare exception, we all function better in some kind of group be it in a meaningful relationship, friendship, or larger community setting.  Being cast out for simply disagreeing with the herd or the boss hits us in our identity, and it can be abusive at times–“There was no problem until you pointed it out.  You are the problem.”  That is a classic example of perceptual manipulation known as gaslighting.  In a faith setting, it’s an example of spiritual abuse.

Being able to tell the truth in the context of a serious situation is vital for the shedding of denial and taking first steps to ameliorate the circumstances, but our perception of the circumstances, which is our truth, is not always welcome.  Victim blaming is all too common.  It’s common in marriages and long-term relationships, and it’s rampant in faith settings.

When my daughter was diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, it was suggested to me that she had a demon by more than a few people.  This is an example of victim blaming.  Why? There is no defense for such a stance.  The fault of the condition of the suffering person is entirely within the state and will of the victim.  You see this accusation made towards women in the church who rise in leadership and those who don’t meet the cultural expectations of a particular church setting.  I have heard many people, mostly women, call other women “Jezebels” for taking care of their appearance and dressing in body-conscious clothing.  Once again, this is another shade of victim blaming as well as an expression of internalized misogyny.  Why? Should anything happen to one of these women like a sexual assault, for example, then the first utterance to follow from the people who criticized and judged will be, “She had it coming.”

What about sharing in a small group that there is abuse going on at home? What about sharing with a pastor that there is domestic abuse? That is a truth that must be shared.  I know that I’ve shared these statistics before, but I’ll share them again because they are extremely significant.  Six thousand conservative Protestant pastors were surveyed as to how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. Twenty-six percent would counsel them to continue to “submit” to her husband, no matter what. Twenty-five percent told wives that the abuse was their own fault—for failing to submit in the first place. Astonishingly, fifty percent said women should be willing to “tolerate some level of violence” because it is better than divorce. (What Women Wish Pastors Knew: Understanding the Hopes, Hurts, Needs, and Dreams of Women in the Church by Denise George)  

A healing environment is an environment that allows for and even welcomes the truth.  Defining what that truth is can be very tricky because truth can often be about our perceptions.  There is also the idea of what is factual.  What is a fact? What is the truth? What is our perception of a situation? What do we feel? In some ways, these are all measures of our truth, and for true healing to begin and denial to fade, we must be able to explore the nuances without fear of reprisal.  We must be allowed to construct a meaningful narrative without being cast out of our own story and replaced by someone else.  What do I mean by this?

When a woman finally finds her courage and tells her pastor, for example, that her husband is hitting her after church every Sunday, she is sharing a significant fact with a person in leadership.  She is sharing her narrative with this person.  So often, however, pastors are more concerned about marriages as an entity rather than the unhealthy and even abusive power differential existing within the marriage.  If a husband is abusing his wife, then he has forsaken his wedding vows.  He has abandoned his wife.  The goal at that point isn’t to save the marriage.  The goal is to save the wife and children if there are any.  Divorce should be an afterthought.  Their present safety and future mental, emotional, and physical health should be paramount.  When a pastor asks what she has done to provoke her husband, he essentially casts the wife out of her narrative and makes the husband the centerpiece.  He is now the one to be concerned about.  She must now streamline and shape her responses, moods, and attitudes in such a way that he is enabled to “be a better man”, and he is in no way held accountable for his deficiencies, neuroses, and violence.

This is the most common faith response I have seen in domestic violence scenarios.  The end result is the perpetuation of abuse into the next generation and the crushing of the spirit of the victims.  The faith response actually creates and reinforces co-dependency through victim blaming.  Why? It does not allow for a truthful narrative.  Why? Pastors are not trained to handle domestic violence:

The study also found that 65 percent of pastors had spoken one or fewer times about domestic and sexual violence, with 22 percent indicating they addressed it annually, while 33 percent mentioned it “rarely.” Ten percent of pastors said they had never taught on it.

“Based on the number of times they speak to their congregations about sexual or domestic violence each year, the majority of pastors do not consider sexual or domestic violence central to larger religious themes such as strong families, a peaceful society, pursuing holiness, social justice, etc.,” the report states. (online source)

This is striking.  Domestic violence doesn’t merely cover spousal abuse.  It also covers violence within families.  For many people, they simply cannot share their honest narrative with friends from their faith communities because their narrative reads like a screenplay from a soap opera.  Mine certainly does.  Incest, abuse, kidnapping, personality disorders, domestic abuse, violence.  Who wants to sit around and listen to something so…Old Testament? If we wanted to listen to that, we’d just read the Book of Job, thank you very much.  This is, however, the truth for so many people, and the bigger truth is that many people have no one to tell it to.  The healing process is, therefore, something of a dream.  They are filled with shame.  They don’t know what’s real and what’s not.  They truly believe that their victimization is their fault because that’s what they were told repeatedly through implication, body language, and accusation.  They have been alienated, left out, or included as an act of pity.  The safe places do not exist.

For me, realizing that few safe places existed in which I could share my truth was vital.  Few people have the stuffing to hear my narrative and still see me as a person not tarnished by it.  Realizing this was so important.  Furthermore, not placing blame on those who could not handle it was equally as important.  Not everyone is going to be safe.  Not everyone is going to be a friend.

More often than not, a faith community is not the place to share our complete truths.  There may be one person within that community with whom you will make a true soul connection.  That is what you want.  Learn to invest in their life.  Practice listening to them.  Be their sounding board as much as they are yours.  Cultivate that friendship.  Let it grow at its own pace.  Practice creating boundaries.  What does a healthy boundary look like? You may not know if you are currently living in an abusive environment or hail from one.  Boundaries are often the first thing to go when you’re being abused.

Then, find a good therapist.  Therapy is the safest place to begin exploring your narrative.  Oftentimes, our narratives aren’t even truthful.  Our perceptions of ourselves are often terribly skewed.  We don’t even star in our own stories anymore.  We are just extras.  Someone else has usurped the starring role, often our abuser, and we serve that person.  Everything we do is influenced by their needs, wants, moods, and whims.  Everything we think and believe is dependent upon what that person says to us and thinks about us.  There is little to no truth in a narrative that looks like this.  In my opinion, the worst part about this sort of scenario is the reinforcement provided by faith communities that insist that women submit to male authority no matter the circumstance as delineated by the above statistics.  Abuse is perpetuated and victimization is actually enabled by pastoral leadership.  The cycle just continues because the abuse begins in the mind at the heart of what is believed–in the narrative itself.  There was never truth at all because you were never the star of your own story.  And you should be.

Truth.  This is the starting point.  Sometimes you may only be able to take one bit of truth at a time.  That’s okay.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  If you don’t have truth, however, then you cannot progress.  You will never heal.


I Believe You: Sexual Violence and The Church by Jim Wallis

Fighting Unfair Treatment

A good friend sent me a blog post by an evangelical pastor, John Bevere, a few days ago in order to get my opinion.  What did I think about the content of his post: “Growing Through Unfair Treatment”?

I vehemently disagree with him.  In fact, I disagree with him so much that I am here right now explaining my position.

Bevere uses poor exegesis to formulate his thesis by picking two verses from David’s well-known Psalm of repentance: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 16-17)  He then begins his post with the following thesis statement based upon these two verses: “A prerequisite for intimacy with the Lord is a broken heart.”

To catch you up on Psalm 51, Nathan the Prophet came to King David after he had Bathsheba’s husband killed in order to claim her for his wife.  You see, he was quite taken with her, but she was married.  He had a harem full of desirable women, but, oh no, King David had to have this woman.  Fix that sticky little problem by whacking her husband! Problem solved.  God was angry with David to put it lightly, and, when Nathan made that clear to David, David, being the friend of God that he was, fell apart.  Psalm 51 is the result.

So, these particular verses that Bevere is using to support his thesis are, in fact, not about being broken-hearted.  They are about true repentance or, a better term, the Hebrew idea of teshuvah, which means ‘to return’ as in to return to God.  Combine that notion with another Hebrew idea–kavanah–which means to do something with one’s mind and heart together, and you have a better sense of what these verses mean.  God doesn’t want empty acts.  He wants the inner man in whatever state it’s in communicating with Him.  He wants us to tell the truth, and, in this case, God wanted David to put ritual aside and feel the weight of his actions.  King David took advantage of his royal authority, took a human life, and exploited a woman for his own selfish purposes.  This violated everything that his covenant with God stood for.  No amount of ritual or sacrifice could cover that.  In fact, animal sacrifice in biblical Judaism was never meant to cover known sin.  Only true repentance and confession could reconcile a person to God.  So, 1 John 1: 9 is a very Hebraic notion.

Bevere’s thesis is, therefore, from the beginning, incorrect, and the conclusions that he draws are equally flawed and, frankly, dangerous.  The prerequisite for intimacy with God is not a broken heart but instead honesty.  What then does Bevere go on to say?

  • “God customizes the perfect breaking process for each of us…”
  • “God commands us to be submissive not only to the good and gentle [authority] but also to the harsh!”
  • “The wisdom of God molds a submitted heart through this kind of treatment in three ways. First, such treatment makes room for us to trust in God’s righteous judgment. Second, it develops in us the character of Christ. Third, our submission under this treatment glorifies God.”
  • “When we refuse to defend ourselves, we are hidden under the hand of God’s grace and judgment. There is no safer place. In contrast, those who defend themselves come under the jurisdiction and judgment of their accusers and thus forfeit divine intervention.”

Imagine for a moment who might read these statements? A man or woman in an abusive marriage, or perhaps a man or woman being sexually harassed or exploited by his or her employer for example? Bevere claims that godly authority is, in fact, our employers: “Masters could be employers, teachers, church leaders, or governmental leaders.”  He also claims this: “Most of us have had good and gentle leaders, and we loved them. They were easy to submit to.”  This is a terribly naïve statement made by a person of privilege living in the West.  Talk to any non-white person in a minority group, and they will have at least one story to tell you about being mistreated by an employer.  Almost every woman I know, for example, has experienced sexual harassment of some kind on the job.  I was fired for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace in my twenties.

What about African-Americans, Jews, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, Asian-Americans, and the like, or just women in general? What about anyone who has experienced LGBT discrimination? How is it Christ-like to simply sit there and take it? Jesus never sat there and took it during his ministry. Bevere simply cannot make the claim that the character of Christ is developed in people who refuse to defend themselves under oppression when the primary message and action of Jesus was that of delivering people from oppression.  Furthermore, his most extreme claim that “those who defend themselves come under the jurisdiction and judgment of their accusers and thus forfeit divine intervention” is contrary to biblical teaching.  In other words, it disagrees with the Bible itself.

Isaiah 54: 14 says: “With righteousness shall you be established, go far away from oppression, for you shall not fear, and from ruin, for it will not come near you.”  The Hebrew verb “go far” is actually an imperative–a command– in the present and future tense at the same time.  Hebrew allows for that linguistic nuance.  This verse is, therefore, a command to go away from oppression when one finds it.  It doesn’t say to tolerate it.  It doesn’t say to live under it for the sake of developing character.  It says to “go far from it”.  And what happens when we go far from oppression? “You shall not fear, and from ruin, for it will not come near you.”  When you make a point not to tolerate oppression the results of oppression fall away from you.  As if Isaiah had not been clear enough, he made his point clearer when he said: “Any weapon whetted against you shall not succeed, and any tongue that contends with you in judgment, you shall condemn.”  Notice that it does not say, “…any tongue that contends with you in judgment, you shall tolerate.”  It says to condemn judgment that comes against you.  Rise up.  Defend.  Why? “…this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their due reward from Me, says the Lord.”  Our right to empowerment, self-respect, and collaboration with God’s justice is our heritage.  We are made in God’s image, and God is a creative God.  Yes, He is loving and merciful, but He also made us to defend the powerless and oppressed.  If we ourselves are the powerless and oppressed, then how much more are we to act on that mandate?

John Bevere is wrong.  His teaching is dangerous because it promotes victimization in the name of God.  This teaching is rooted in Gnostic thought.  We are indeed supposed to grow through unfair treatment. My life is living proof that it’s possible to do so, but God does not craft our breaking.  He is not the author of evil and chaos (1 Cor. 14:33).  Our growth and personal development under and after abusive treatment is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit which is another aspect of the Divine spark within us all.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we lived our lives as John Bevere suggests? What would South Africa look like now? No Nelson Mandela and no end to Apartheid.  What about the civil rights movement in America? No Martin Luther King, Jr and no Rosa Parks.  What about the women’s suffrage movement in America? No Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  No Harvey Milk.  What about Jesus? He certainly did not go quietly into that good night.

Stand up for yourselves.  Defend.  Fight.  For yourselves.  For the oppressed.

That is, after all, what Jesus did.


Understanding Judaism and Christianity

In the middle of my intense therapy beginnings and increasing awareness that all on the home front is not as it should be and perhaps never was, there is another world opening up to me.  I am studying with a rabbi.

This has provided me with tremendous intellectual and spiritual exhilaration that feels almost as powerful as the negativity in my life.  It does, however, feel like drinking from a fire hose.  I did study Midrash and Mishnah in college, and I took courses in Jewish Studies.  It matters not.  I am utterly dwarfed by the vast weight of knowledge contained in Judaism as a whole.  It is very hard to know where to begin when I try to explain what I’ve learned thus far.

Why even bother? Well, Christianity and Judaism are a bit rivalrous.  Christianity began as a sect of Judaism in second-temple times before it completely branched out and became its own religion.  It is Judaism’s daughter so to speak.  The Gospels are not easy to understand at times, but they become far more accessible when you understand second-temple times.  The difficult words of Jesus are certainly challenging unless you understand to whom he was speaking and their culture; his sole audience was the Jews.  I don’t know if these are issues that the modern Christian church addresses now, but they were not addressed when I attended church.  Certain ideas are timeless–take care of the poor.  What does, however, love your neighbor mean exactly if you live under a dictatorship? What does honoring your parents mean if they sell you for drugs? Judaism had responses to these varied questions because the Jews needed clarification and interpretation of the Ten Commandments as it applied to life, hence, the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Mishnah.  The sages and rabbis all had their opinions on how to handle various life circumstances, and each one had a desire to be pious.  Some were literalists and held strictly to the language of the scriptural text.  Others were not.  Who was right?

The Pharisees, the sect that survived the rebellion against Rome along with Christianity, were not literalists.  The literalists were the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were a far more compassionate sect who would more often interpret the scriptures with a leaning towards the “spirit of the law”.  The Sadducees followed the letter of the law.  Jesus’ teaching was often in agreement with what the Pharisees are recorded as teaching.  This information contradicts much of what I was taught growing up in Christian circles.  As I have studied, I have seen that there are serious misunderstandings between Christianity and Judaism, and this has caused a great divide.  There are other reasons for this great divide most notably historical Christian persecution of the Jews resulting in millions of innocent Jewish lives lost as well as supersessionism which still pervades much of Christian theology.

How do we rectify this? I think the first step in building a bridge between Jews and Christians and improving Jewish-Christian relations is taking a second look at Jesus.  I don’t mean in that cliché way that one hears in church settings when someone says in passing, “Well, you know, Jesus was a Jew after all!”  What does that even mean? What does Jesus’ being Jewish mean to a Christian? What does Jesus’s Jewishness mean to me–a Jew brought up in an almost exclusively Christian world?

Many Western concepts based in Greco-Roman thought known as Hellenism have been applied to the teaching of Jesus, a decidedly Jewish point of view.  What happens when Hebraic thought and teaching is filtered through Hellenism and supersessionism? Well, we have a few thousand years of Church history to observe to find some answers.

For a great introduction to the topics I recommend:


The best book on Judaism I’ve read appropriate for both Jews and non-Jews. Also, the book my rabbi recommended. He gave me a copy printed in 1947.


For an understanding of second-temple times, I highly recommend this book–the world into which Jesus was born.




Categorizing Behaviors

I had my third therapy session yesterday.  My therapist decided to make a client-centered approach part of my treatment plan.  I bristled at that.  I’ve never progressed in a client-centered therapeutic environment.  What? Just sit there and talk about what’s bothering me? I could kvetch all day! There were goals, too, which softened the blow.  My goal-oriented self needed something to accomplish.

So, what did we do yesterday? Well, he brought forth the legal pad.  He made a chart.  He said, “Let’s divide your husband’s behaviors into different kinds of behaviors, okay? We need a category called Abuse.  Under Abuse we will put behavior that is intolerable always.  It is never to be tolerated.  It is destructive.  Then, there is behavior that is classified as Rude or Mean.  Then, we will put a category of behavior BETWEEN Rude/Mean and Abuse.  This is clearly dysfunctional behavior that is on the verge of abusive.  We can simply call this Dysfunctional.”

And we went on like this until we had a chart.  Here are the behavior categories that we listed:

  • Clueless
  • Unwilling
  • Entitled
  • Arrested in Development from childhood
  • Rude/Mean
  • Dysfunctional
  • Abusive

This was a very good exercise because he was able to go back and categorize some of the behaviors from situations that I had discussed with him.  Two were clearly abusive.  He was very forthright about it.  There was no denying it.  He said it a few times.  “What he did there was abusive.  There is no justifying it.  That was abuse.”

When he said that to me my jaw started to hurt.  He spoke particularly about an event that involved an area around my face where my husband had hurt me.  When he looked at me and named the event as abuse, pain in my jaw bloomed.  I started to feel pain in my head.  By the time I left I was in tremendous pain.  I could hardly open my mouth.

It may have been too much for me to accept in the moment.  I can intellectually agree with him, and I can remember the event with great clarity.  I cannot yet connect emotions to the event.  If I were safe to do it, then I think I would.  At the same time, hearing that kind of validation–“That was abuse.  You have a reason to feel what you feel.”–is powerful stuff.

This is an excellent exercise because it helps you see your own confusion and where you’ve fallen victim to crazymaking.  When you can’t decipher behaviors anymore because you’ve been exposed to them for so long, then it’s time to get outside help.  There were behaviors that I’ve witnessed for so long that I could no longer recognize them as abusive.  After we discussed them, we came to the conclusion that they were to be categorized under Abuse because they were emotionally abusive.  The other issue at play here is my Resiliency Spectrum.  I intellectually know what healthy behavior looks like, but my limbic system does not.  I don’t get a response from my body anymore unless someone yells.  If he were to yell at me, then I might get a clue.  At the same time, is it ever appropriate to yell? This is a question for my therapist.

What was more unsettling than the chart was my therapist’s hypothesis.  He told me that he knew that he was only hearing my narrative.  He had not met my husband.  Keeping that in mind, he also believed me and felt it necessary to ask me if I was prepared to look at this chart in terms of what behaviors could be shaped and modeled through therapy and modeling and what behaviors would not change.  He went on to say that my capacity to love was great and his capacity to love might be lesser.  My intellectual, emotional, and spiritual “IQs” were very well developed, and he may be lesser in those areas.  He may not be a good match for me simply because of his unwillingness to change.  What’s more, he may never be able to meet me where I’m at.  My desires may always go unmet, and I may always be a target for some sort of abuse through his behavior.  What was I prepared to live with, and what was I not prepared to live with?

Well, that’s some kind of question.  He asked me this directly.

“What are you prepared to live with in terms of this behavior, and what are you NOT prepared to live with?”

Do you know what I heard myself say?

“Well, he doesn’t abuse me that often…”


He just looked at me.  Then, I said, “Did I just say that out loud?” to which he replied, “Yes, you did.”

“Clearly, I need help,” I said.

I was trembling when I left.  The right side of my face felt like it was going to slide off my skull it hurt so badly.  I didn’t go home because he was there.  He’s always there.  I am never alone.  He’s always hovering.  So, I went to drink coffee alone and read a book.  I highly recommend decompressing after a therapy session.  Don’t dive back into your life.  Transition.  Do something nice for yourself.  Be kind to yourself because this kind of therapeutic work is grueling.

So far, I really don’t like it, but it’s necessary.  Sort of like a tetanus shot.

And, I really hate those.