Portrait of an Abusive System

The Bible is not timid about addressing difficult issues and thus painting a clear picture of the Mending the Soul:  Understanding and Healing Abuse in providing a clear picture of abusive families as seen in this troubling account.
condition of humankind.  The following account details the rape of a young woman by a family member.  I am indebted to Dr. Steven Tracy for the analysis that follows this passage and want to credit his work in

2 Samuel 13 (from The Message)

Some time later, this happened: Absalom, David's son, had a sister who was very attractive. Her name was Tamar. Amnon, also David's son, was in love with her. Amnon was obsessed with his sister Tamar to the point of making himself sick over her. She was a virgin, so he couldn't see how he could
get his hands on her. Amnon had a good friend, Jonadab, the son of David's brother Shimeah. Jonadab was exceptionally streetwise. He said to Amnon, "Why are you moping around like this, day after day—you, the son of the king! Tell me what's eating at you."

"In a word, Tamar," said Amnon. "My brother Absalom's sister. I'm in love with her."  "Here's what you do," said Jonadab. "Go to bed and pretend you're sick. When your father comes to
visit you, say, 'Have my sister Tamar come and prepare some supper for me here where I can watch her and she can feed me.'"

So Amnon took to his bed and acted sick. When the king came to visit, Amnon said, "Would you do
me a favor? Have my sister Tamar come and make some nourishing dumplings here where I can watch her and be fed by her."

David sent word to Tamar who was home at the time: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare a meal for him."  So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house. She took dough, kneaded it, formed it into dumplings, and cooked them while he watched from his bed. But when she took the cooking pot and served him, he wouldn't eat.

Amnon said, "Clear everyone out of the house," and they all cleared out. Then he said to Tamar, "Bring the food into my bedroom, where we can eat in privacy." She took the nourishing dumplings she had prepared and brought them to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she got ready to feed him, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, sister!"

"No, brother!" she said, "Don't hurt me! This kind of thing isn't done in Israel! Don't do this terrible thing! Where could I ever show my face? And you—you'll be out on the street in disgrace. Oh, please!  Speak to the king—he'll let you marry me."  But he wouldn't listen. Being much stronger than she, he raped her.

No sooner had Amnon raped her than he hated her—an immense hatred. The hatred that he felt for
her was greater than the love he'd had for her. "Get up," he said, "and get out!"

"Oh no, brother," she said. "Please! This is an even worse evil than what you just did to me!"
But he wouldn't listen to her. He called for his valet. "Get rid of this woman. Get her out of my sight!
And lock the door after her." The valet threw her out and locked the door behind her.

She was wearing a long-sleeved gown. (That's how virgin princesses used to dress from early adolescence on.) Tamar poured ashes on her head, then she ripped the long-sleeved gown, held her head in her hands, and walked away, sobbing as she went.  Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has your brother Amnon had his way with you? Now, my dear sister, let's keep it quiet—a family matter. He is, after all, your brother. Don't take this so hard." Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's home, bitter and desolate.

King David heard the whole story and was enraged, but he didn't discipline Amnon. David doted on
him because he was his firstborn. Absalom quit speaking to Amnon—not a word, whether good or
bad—because he hated him for violating his sister Tamar.

Characteristics of an Abusive Family or System:
 1. The needs of family members are expendable. “In abusive families, family members are not
equally valued by the parents.” (page 56)
  • In some families, male children are valued more highly than female children.
  • Tamar’s voice is not heard; her cries and pain are unacknowledged.
  • Tamar is not identified as David’s daughter (see verse 1). She appears to have no status with him.
2. Reality is difficult to discern.
  • We learn two things about Tamar in the beginning of the story: she was beautiful and her brother loved her. This should be a good thing, but for Tamar it is not.
  • In abusive families, “nothing is as it appears. Beauty metastasizes into pain and shame . . .What you thought was the safest place on earth—your own family home—turns out to be the most dangerous.” (page 56)
3. The victim is made responsible.
  • “In abusive families, the victim is made responsible for solving needs—even evil needs—they didn’t create and could never legitimately satisfy.” (page57)
  • While Ammon made himself sick with his lustful longing for his sister, he as well as his father (David) and brother (Absolom) all place the responsibility on Tamar for Ammon’s well-being. She is responsible for “fixing” him.
4. The family appearance is deceptive.
  • All of the characters in this story were royalty—everyone in the country looked up to them and yet behind the shiny exterior was a dark, sinister reality.
  • Family members are pressured to keep up the appearance.  
5.  The truth is ignored.
  • “Vulnerable family members are not protected because no one really wants to know the truth. (page 59)
  • David did not defend Tamar nor punish Ammon. He chose to ignore the truth.
6. Family abusers use force.
  • Force includes “physical force, emotional blackmail, verbal threats, intimidation, or calculated emotional manipulation.” (page 60)
  • The chronically abused individual develops “a sense of powerlessness so that their abuser doesn’t have to use force in order to continue to abuse them.” (page 60)
7. There is no straightforward, healthy communication.
  • Ammon claims to be physically “sick” when in reality he is morally sick. He calls Tamar “sister” before the rape and then “this woman” after he had assaulted her. “Sister” has the connotation of family relationship that is tender and sweet; “this woman” is crass and demeaning.
  •  “The ambiguity, distortion, and dishonesty of verbal messages in abusive families produce profound confusion and damage.” (page 61)
8. The victim’s response is often futile.
  • Tamar tried to get Ammon to ask her father for permission to marry her rather than rape her. Her alternative suggestion to his act of aggression was ignored.
  • Ammon was determined to rape her; anything she said or did was futile.
9. Power is used to exploit.
  • Power includes physical strength but also psychological/emotional manipulation and social or financial coercion.
  • Ammon used the power of his physical strength but also the power of his position as the firstborn son of David and as a male in a predominately patriarchal society in his rape of Tamar.
10. Abusive families are emotionally unstable.
  • After the rape Ammon’s lovesickness turned into powerful hatred.
  • “This dynamic of love that turns into hate can seem strange to those who don’t understand abuse.” (page 64)
11. The victim is shamed, blamed, and demeaned.
  • In Tamar’s society, a woman who was no longer a virgin (even if she had been raped) had almost no chance of marriage. Without a husband, she would have little chance of supporting herself. She would also be unable to have children, which was incredibly important in her society. Ammon’s act of aggression stole her future and made her a social outcast. There is some evidence that she died several years after the rape.
  • “Ammon thus showed great disdain for Tamar by declaring, in essence, that she wasn’t worthy to be married to anyone, not even to her rapist.” (page 65)
12. Family members are isolated and lack intimacy.
  • Tamar’s family was not emotionally intimate; her father did not really know his children and their struggles. When Tamar told her brother what had happened to her, he urged her not to take it so hard—to keep quiet; he failed to empathize or connect with her pain emotionally(see verse 20).
  • “Those who grow up in abusive families may have many people around them, but they are perpetually lonely. Tamar was socially isolated for the rest of her life” (see verse 20). (page 67)
13. A strict code of silence is enacted.
  • “Abusive families aren’t intimate, don’t know each other well, and don’t protect vulnerable family members because they don’t really want to know the truth.” (page 67)
  • The code of silence that abusive families adhere to is intended to protect the family from potential social or legal ramifications; it is not intended to protect or defend the victim. Family members place great pressure on the victim to keep the secret; to remain silent, to still their voice.
14. Abusive families deny and distort healthy emotions.

  • “Abusive families pressure victims to go numb and to not express appropriate grief and anger, and the abusers don’t express proper emotions either.” (page 68)
  • Tamar’s actions after the rape (see vs. 18-19) indicate tremendous grief over her loss; she is urged by Absalom to stifle her sorrow and grief.
15. The wrong ones are protected.
  • When David hears of Tamar’s assault, he becomes angry but does not punish Ammon, even though the law stipulated that rapists should be punished. Instead of protecting the victim, David protects the abuser

No comments:

Post a Comment