I had a nightmare: on the Duggars, Christianity, and abuse

TW: child sexual abuse; spiritual abuse

“I had a nightmare,” my father-in-law says, his voice hoarse and weak after a stem cell transplant for lymphoma. “That Rod climbed through the window of my hospital room and attacked me.”

He and my husband are chatting on Skype, something they never used to do until his father got sick. In any other context, it might look like redemption: a son and father healing a rift. But already, I am suppressing an urge to yank the laptop from my husband’s hands.

Rod was a felon my husband’s parents invited into their home for a faith-based Restorative Justice program. A felon who manipulated my husband into playing the “wee wee game” with him in the bathtub, amongst other things. The “wee wee game” is exactly what it sounds like: genital fondling.

My husband combs his fingers through this curls, a tic he acquired ever since he landed in the hospital for severe dissociation from acute stress and PTSD. His symptoms were so severe that a colleague found him at his desk late at night, picking up a pen and putting it down, picking up a pen and putting it down. In my husband’s mind, he was trying to figure out how to stop the compulsive motion and break out of the feedback loop. It’s a good thing he didn’t, because he might have gotten into his car and attempted to drive home.

He spent the night in the ER getting a spinal tap, MRI, CAT scan, and blood tests. They tested for drugs, for STDs, for meningitis.

Later, in an isolation unit at St. Mark’s Hospital, while we awaited the meningitis culture results, he said, “I love this place. This is the happiest I have been in a long time.”

He loved that room because the outside world could not climb in through the windows. He felt safe for the first time in a long time.

“Why did you put that photo on Facebook?” My father-in-law asks.

“My cover photo?”


They mean this one:

Ledger from a courthouse with entries in handwriting listed by date. They are not legible in the image.

It’s a hand notation about Rod’s case in the “Big Book” in the Story County Courthouse in Iowa. My husband posted it because these notes show that after Rod’s suspended sentence, the Restorative Justice program was supposed to be supervising him. They neglected their duty, and my husband has been fighting for accountability in RJ programs to prevent what happened to him happening to any other children.

“People are going to think you are letting it define you,” my father-in-law says. “You don’t want to give Rod that satisfaction.”

He doesn’t even hear what he is doing, I think. He is trying to transfer his nightmare–his shame, his guilt, his responsibility–to my husband. He is telling him: You are hurting me by telling your story. People will think you are messed up inside. He cannot let my husband be damaged, because then he might be accountable for something. So long as my husband is not “screwed up,” his father can live free of guilt.

It’s the same manipulation he has used since my husband was a child.

After the “wee wee game,” my husband told his mother what happened. She and my father-in-law responded with a “forgiveness ceremony” in the backyard, in which they formally forgave Rod for his crime. They thought it was the “Christian” thing to do.

But for my husband, it was a worse trauma than the abuse.

Worse than the abuse.

Believe it or not, his parents kept the offender in their home after this incident. Only later, when he stole a television, did he get the boot. My husband got the message loud and clear: The television was more important than him.

My husband’s family is not fundamentalist Christian. His mother is Catholic; his father has tried on many faiths and settled on a Unitarian church. And yet, their incessant pathologizing of my husband’s pain & attempts at healing looks exactly like the fundamentalist cult to which the Duggars belong.

Here is what the “counseling” looked like for Josh Duggars:

“Counseling Sexual Abuse” 1. The parts of our being. Concentric circles with the body on the outside, then emotions, then will, then mind, then soul, then spirit. 2. Which part is the most important? Which is the next most important? Which is the least important? 3. What did offender damage? What parts do we damage with bitterness and guilt? 4. Why did God let it happen? Results of defrauding by: immodest dress indecent exposure being out from protection of our parents being with evil friends 5. Is there any guilt? For disobedience For not reporting it (see Deuteronomy 22:22-24) Failing to report it allows others to also be abused. 6. If abused was not at fault: God compensated physical abuse with spiritual power. What is being might in spirit? Greater faith Spiritual discernment Genuine Love Wisdom and Understanding Creativity Energy, enthusiasm, and joy Inner peace 7. Example: Daniel Extreme abuse Wisdom, understanding Counselor to four kings 8. If you had to choose … No physical abuse or mighty in spirit, what would you choose? 9. Reason for bitterness: He damaged your body Important step: dedicate your body to god 10. Prayer to dedicate body to God

Over the past few days, I have witnessed many people on Facebook decrying the Duggars for failing to report sexual abuse and for relying on counseling that blames the victim and forces forgiveness.

And yet, many of these same people have shared memes like this one:

Cindy Brady from "The Brady Bunch" wearing a bright yellow turtleneck, plaid dress, and pigtails, with text overlaid that reads: Constantly rehashing the pain and holding it over that person's head is not forgiveness. You may think it is warranted, but you're only destroying yourself.

I am not the only one noticing the hypocrisy.

Imagine how it feels to be my husband–whose primary trauma was the forgiveness ceremony in his backyard–and scroll past a meme like the one above.

Now imagine how it feels for the people who were most responsible for your protection and care to send the same message, over and over: your offender didn’t hurt you; you are hurting you.

This is abuse.

This is abuse.

This is abuse.

If you think I am exaggerating, take a moment to scroll back up and look long and hard at #3 on that Institute of Basic Life Principles “counseling” tract.

#3. What parts do we damage with bitterness and guilt?

Telling survivors to stop hurting your perpetrator by expressing your pain, as in the above meme, is a manipulation tactic designed to silence survivors. It’s a tactic to make everyone more cozy and comfortable, free of exposure to ugly truths.

It is, in effect, a double bind: You MUST heal, but you MUST refrain from doing the one thing that might help you heal, which is telling your story.

My husband’s parents are the masters of the double bind.

When my husband tried antidepressants and started to feel better, his father said, “I hear those pills are bad for you. Why can’t you just meditate?”

It was the exact same thing he did to him as a child: bullying him into a spiritual solution, as if the problem were him, not the changes to his brain from PTSD and depression, but him. If only my husband would be more spiritual. If only he would forgive like a good little Christian, he would be healed.

Later, my father-in-law went to a minister and complained about my husband dredging up the past. The minister called it “abuse” for my husband to hold his parents accountable. My father-in-law, feeling validated and victorious, called and accused my husband of becoming an “abuser” by not simply getting over it.

Holding someone accountable is abuse? But exposing your child to a molester and dragging him into an unwanted forgiveness ceremony is not abuse? That is some master manipulation right there, straight from mainstream Christianity.

To my father-in-law, I would like to say: I had a nightmare, too. That my husband would never want to leave that isolation unit for fear of what might attack him on the outside. That he would prefer to live forever in that bubble because in there, your nightmares could not reach him. Even if it meant I couldn’t, too.

46 thoughts on “I had a nightmare: on the Duggars, Christianity, and abuse

  1. Thank you for this honest and brave reality check on the nature of abuse and denial. What would happen if your husband’s family ever said they were sorry and cried from their hearts, or if they worked with him to make sure others were not hurt by this perpetrator? We will probably never know because denial is defense against what we can not bear to see. And denial is real and will become assaultive and accusatory of the victim just to not see what is really happening. I reviewed the home school chart above used by the Duggart’s, and read where it was itself written by a man who is now in jail for having a huge child porn stash. May your husband be healed. May he be heard. Thank you again.

  2. I completely agree. You have said it perfectly. I have been through all of this except that my mother just turned a blind eye on what her husband was doing to her children. And then later, when it all was forced into the open by me, she kept trying to turn it all back into issue that I had had which did not involve her. She went to a Christian therapist who SENT ME A LETTER telling me that because of my refusal to discuss this with my mother, to relay my forgiveness, my mother was unable to heal.
    The betrayal of a child’s trust is, in my opinion, as bad or worse than the original abuse.

    1. Mary, my heart aches for what you have gone through. That letter is despicable. It makes me sick in my soul to even imagine it. Thank you, thank you for sharing your story. ((Hugs)) to you.

    1. Yes. Important and brave. Men especially have little permission to speak out and have their experience of being dismissed–not being valuable enough to be heard–recognized as such a critical hinge point, literally changing direction and forming who they become and who they fail to become in life.

  3. This piece kept showing up in my Facebook feed. I’m mystified at the ways people shift blame to preserve their own comfort, and so sad to see the ways it play out for those who were abused, then told that speaking up about it is itself abusive. The world is surely upside-down. Thanks to you and your husband for sharing your story.

  4. Thank you for writing about such a difficult subject. Your husband is very brave and your telling the story about his horrendous experience, from your point of view as his wife, is accessible and compassionate. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    1. Thank you so much. He leaves next week for a Restorative Justice conference to continue delivering his message of accountability, and I am so proud of him!

  5. I always love your writing, Karrie. This one evoked tears and yelling (at that “Counseling Sexual Abuse” document). Thank you for continuing to speak up. Your voice is so powerful.

  6. Thank you for sharing. You are definitely on the right track. I suffered a horrible attack when I was 17. The words of the cops, ER doc, my father, and employer who silenced and shamed me was far worse that the rape, beating and strangulation. Even with counseling, PTSD is my daily and life-long companion. I wish you and your husband all the best.

    1. My heart aches for you. It sickens me how law enforcement, doctors–and worst of all, our families–so often compound and deepen the wound. Sending love to you and hopes for peace.

  7. Wow, this was an incredibly powerful reflection. Thank you for casting light on this situation – for dragging the lies out into the open, and for standing by your husband and speaking truth to him.

  8. Reblogged this on Nervous Knots and commented:
    Wow. Just wow. Fear of causing pain to certain family members is what kept me silent for so long. I’m grateful to know I’m not the only victim of passive aggressive manipulation.

  9. I’ve reblogged with this comment: “Wow. Just wow. Fear of causing pain to certain family members is what kept me silent for so long. I’m so grateful to know I’m not the only victim of passive aggressive manipulation.”

    Thank you for this piece.

  10. Reblogged this on Bliss & Bunny Tantrums and commented:
    This is a poignantly written message on how abuse culture allows abusers to take on the role of victims, while victims are expected to simply “get over it & move on.” Beautifully written.

    Be certain to read her follow-up post “I never meant any harm”

  11. Reblogged this on hype on caffeine and commented:
    Reblog this on hype on caffeine. It is a must read. And I’m sorry your husband and you have to go through this.

  12. That “counseling” program made me sick to my stomach. Thank you for sharing…I am glad you’re bringing this to people’s attention, because it needs to be talked about.

  13. I don’t know anything about this Duggar case, but I recognize the passive-aggressive forgiveness bs. That meme is just disgusting. People who have been abused have the right to feel however they feel, and seek whatever treatment that helps them to recover. I wish you and your husband much strength and peace.

  14. Reblogged this on Piggie's Place and commented:
    This is another example of how the abuse cycle works. All the research in psychology shows that telling your story is an important part of healing. Doesn’t have to be a declaration, but a telling of some kind. Never let anyone tell you that it is wrong to report what has and/ or is happening to you!

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sad for what your husband has had to endure, and for what that means for you as well. When I told my mom about my step-dad’s sexual abuse toward me, she chose to stay, and initially asked me to forgive him and continue on as a family. It was devastating, and has been a huge roadblock in understanding my pain in healing. It’s bittersweet to hear another’s story with similar elements. Please keep sharing.

  16. As I read this, I realized I was holding my hand over my mouth, aghast. Speaking out, acting out, even thrashing about …. all are better than silence. I have realized that healing happens on the streets, out in public. It cannot happen in the back rooms, because that is where it all started. Both of you are “out on the streets” and it helps everyone so very much. Thank you.

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