Ending the Cycle of Abuse

Ending the Cycle of Abuse

“You’re nothing without me”
“If you even think about leaving me…”
“You don’t deserve me”
“You’ll never find anyone as good as me”
“You brought this upon yourself”
“I know best”
“You’re a terrible person, and you need me to be better.”
“You’re not worthy of my love”
“I’m only doing this because I love you”
“Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t understand what we have, they are just trying to poison you”

Abused men, women, and children hear these phases every day, all over the world from the sad, broken people who victimize them.

These statements undermine a person’s self-esteem and their capacity for rational thought. They lead to depression, and create a perverse dependency on the abuser, who continues to undermine the victims.

It’s a tragic cycle and it’s very difficult to break. Even if the victims escape, the deep conditioning they receive lingers. It twists their thoughts and relationships, potentially forever. The feeling of despair, emptiness, and brokenness can stay with a person long after they are separated from the abuser.

Here’s the left hook:

Christ the Redeemer

Everything I wrote above is true, but these actually aren’t phrases out of the Abuser’s Handbook. All of those quotes are actually Christian teachings.

From childhood in the church, we are taught that we are broken and wretched. That we’re nothing without Jesus’ love and forgiveness. That if we stray from the light of the church, we’ll burn in hell. That we’re not worthy of Jesus’ love or forgiveness, but he’s awesome, so he gives it anyway… as long as we submit to his loving will. Anyway, it’s because we’re shitty and we can’t stop sinning, so we need him or we’ll die an eternal death. He’s doing us a favor. And to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise, that’s just Satan trying to tempt you away, so expect it, and guard against it.

And it’s a cycle. Very few pastors, priests, bishops, etc., wake up one morning and decide to break and demoralize others. They do it because they’ve internalized it so very deeply that they don’t know anything else, and the thought of anything else scares the shit out of them. That’s why it’s a generational cycle.

It’s not just Christians, this is essentially how dogmatic religion must operate to remain “in business.” Throughout history the most quickly expanding religious sects have taken it as a sign from God that they doing good, but really all it means is that their brand of religion is the most aggressive and abusive (and have the strongest “make babies” norms). The brand that hooks people most deeply, scares them the most thoroughly, and renders them the most compliant. I think Mormonism is the fastest at the moment, but that’s not really important. It’s a fundamental feature of all similar ideologies.


Here’s a conundrum for free thinkers who want to spread light, love, and reason. By their nature, freer forms of thought and spirituality do not spread as aggressively as the abusive ones, because they do not as strongly create a cycle. Combine that with thinking people having fewer children than religious people, and you have a generational abuse expansion problem. The abusers are multiplying faster than the lovers.

What can we do about that?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but maybe there’s some way we can subvert or commandeer the machinery of fear and turn it into a force for good.

Brainwashing Instructions

What we’re talking about here is essentially brainwashing. The basic steps of brainwashing are:

  1. Assault on identity. “You were born with sin, and you’re a sinner unworthy of His love”
  2. Guilt. “Jesus died on the Cross for you. You owe him!”
  3. Self-Betrayal. “Admit that you’re unworthy of his love!”
  4. Breaking Point. “Who am I? Maybe I am going to Hell.”
  5. Leniency. “But it’s ok… We can help you walk with Christ and have a place in Heaven.”
  6. Compulsion to Confess. “I’ve lived a life of sin…”
  7. Channeling of Guilt. “It’s not you, it’s Satan’s grip that led you to a life of sin.”
  8. Releasing of Guilt. “Maybe it is Satan who encourages my sin… maybe Jesus will set me free”
  9. Progress and Harmony. “Let us show you how you can be born again and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  10. Final Confession and Rebirth. “I invite Jesus into my heart!”

But how can light and goodwill harness such a fundamentally negative approach? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that just playing defense by inoculating our children against blind faith, and congratulating each other for how open our eyes are isn’t going to cut it. I do know that if we don’t learn to powerfully mobilize, this hopeful era of people opening their eyes will be washed away in a storm of ignorance, hatred, and fear.

I’m really looking for actionable insight here, what do you think?


  1. Kay ()

    I can hear a pin drop ;)

    Anyway, I’m really glad I broke away from the grips of the fundamentalist religion I grew up in.

    It’s interesting because in Africa before Christianity and Islam came along they had the kinds of spirituality that were based on revering nature and what not.

    Then somebody came around and said: “your spirituality is backwards and uncivilized. You need to adopt our more superior version. And while you’re busy doing that, we’ll be sure to rape your land for whatever we can mine out of it”.

    ….and the abuse continues.

    This time around though, long after the original abuser left, the abused have internalized how to perpetuate abuse upon one another. Talk about a never ending cycle.

    Also, Scientology isn’t that far behind Mormonism. I give them credit for originality though :) (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      You hit the issue exactly — the victims internalize the abuse and become the next generation of abusers.

      The difference is that with something like physical abuse, there’s SOME context, some sense that it isn’t normal or desirable.

      With this, church and religion are widely regarded as a force for good in the world, and it’s hard to even say anything bad about them without people getting really upset.

      No one is going to get offended if you call out a guy who beats his wife. (Reply)

  2. Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition ()

    Dear Peter,
    I so agree with this post.

    I considcr myself to be more spiritual than religious. I think that when any group or person claims to have the “answers” and to “know what God wants” for everyone it’s very dangerous and comes from a fear based mentality.

    All of the statements you shared above, I believe, were written by men not by “God.” They are forms of social control having nothing to do with being spiritual and living up to your divine potential.

    Honestly, I think if we “live and let live” and “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us” and are kind to everyone we are much better off than listening to the rants of any person or religion spouting messages of fear. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      You’re speaking my language Ange, but the question is, how do we stop the fear? How to make the fearful brave, especially when they don’t realize how fearful they are? (Reply)

    • Ryan ()

      “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us”

      A.K.A the golden rule. The only dogma I can really take to heart without question. (Reply)

  3. Pingback: Responding To Peter Michaud On The Cycle of Abuse « FORWARD BASE B

  4. Karilee ()

    Pete, I think you articulated many of my challenges with much of organized religion very well, and I’m sure I’ll link to this in future discussions.

    Of course, I’ll usually be told the answer is to “have faith”, since my own rationality can’t be relied upon…

    Eric, that was a fascinating article, thanks. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Yeah, one thing I’ve noticed and thought a lot about is that it’s easy to short circuit the issue going either direction:

      Raise your children to rely on their rational mind, and warn them about this potential nonsense, and they are inoculated against it for good, more or less.

      Raise your children to rely on faith and warn them about this “rationality” nonsense, and they inoculated against it for good, more or less.

      The basic issue is that humans resist changing their minds, so whatever idea they had to start, pretty much sticks. How do we fix something so fundamental? (Reply)

  5. Cynthia ()

    “You people judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.” Jesus in John 8:15

    “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places … I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus in John 14:2

    “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” Jesus in John 15:9

    The phrases you quote at the top of your post are warped misunderstandings of what Jesus said, as reported in the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels would not agree with any of the statements at the top of this post. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      I don’t disagree with you Cynthia, I think there are loving and useful readings of the new testament, although that’s not universally the case across all the bible or even all of the NT.

      But the point here is that organizations use this material warp and twist a document that essentially says “hey guys, let’s all just get along here and trust God to sort out the details later.” They use it to perpetuate this cycle of abuse, and the overwhelming majority of the people involved have no idea there’s a problem, which is very similar to other types of abuse, like child sexual abuse. (Reply)

      • Cynthia ()

        I heartily agree that some people warp and twist what is in the Bible. That it why it is necessary to be educated about the Bible’s contents and about historically informed Biblical commentaries: so that one can detect truth from lies.

        Sadly, many people criticize Christianity and the Bible while possessing very little factual knowledge about either.

        For example, the Bible cannot be diluted into Rodney King’s “can’t we all just get along?”. Jesus promises suffering. Jesus foretells that those who obey him will encounter resistance, just as he himself did. Often, after healing someone, he slipped away to avoid persecution from the established religious authorities.

        Jesus calls us to be loving. Jesus calls us to be better than humanly possible. Jesus calls us to be transformed by His love for each of us.

        Most–in fact, all–fall short. Please do not judge the failures. Rather, encourage the attempts.

        Cynthia (Reply)

  6. Paulo ()

    The key to ending the cycle of abuse is teaching people to think for themselves. The biggest mistake people make is following other people’s thought process without their own internal filter.

    The fundamental question people can ask themselves is whether they believe in a higher power. The problem starts when people listen to other people’s answer to this question. The question and answer are within and not from others telling you what to think.

    If you really want to know the answer to that question, you have to listen carefully and be open in your heart and mind. Do not listen to what anyone else thinks or says, seek your own answers. Use your own mind and heart to find what you know is true at your deepest core.

    Seek to know God yourself, not just know about God from what other people say or tell you to do. Teaching people the value of their own thought process is a big part of this. The value of contemplating God, feeling God, finding God, is something that every human has the opportunity to do in their own personal and internal way.

    This problem will not be solved by telling people what to think. It will be solved by teaching people how to think. (Reply)