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Something’s Not Right

By November 5, 2023November 8th, 20232 Comments

By Wade Mullen

Forward by Diane Langberg

What do you get from an author who has done extensive research analyzing the patterns of over 1000 instances of church responses to abuse; who himself experienced abuse when as a pastor he attempted to advocate for others in his church; and who has a wise and compassionate shepherd’s heart?  Wade Mullen’s Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from its Power.

There is a pattern that accompanies abuse, as if abusers are reading from the same playbook.

Understanding the playbook and decoding that pattern is critical for the people for whom this book was written:

  • Those who sense that something’s not right in their church, but aren’t sure what exactly is wrong
  • Those who recognize they are being abused but are confused and need wisdom about how to resist the abuse and heal
  • Advocates who have put themselves between an abuser and their target
  • Those who have become the enablers of an abuser, whether by conscious choice or by being groomed and deceived

Mullen speaks to the mind, using a high level of specificity gleaned from his research to help us to understand and recognize patterns and to discern what is going on. He describes the specific patterns of behavior used to both draw in victims and create allies for the abuser; the patterns used to dismantle victim’s internal and external worlds; and the patterns of impression management that will be used if the abuse comes to light.

Ignorance of these patterns makes a community an easy mark for deception. The ability to recognize these patterns can enable a community to resist abuse.

But Wade Mullen goes well beyond imparting critical knowledge. He provides balm to wounded hearts both by his personal understanding of what the experience is like and by naming patterns that give you a path out of confusion and let you know that you are not alone. And he offers hope by giving practical steps that you can take to further your own healing or that of your community.

If you have questions like the ones below, you will likely find the book helpful. (Some direct quotes are included to give you an idea of the richness of the book. They are in italics and followed by page numbers.)

The concept of abuse can seem so vague. What is abuse?

“When someone treats you like an object they are willing to harm for their own benefit, abuse has occurred and that person has become an abuser.” p 2  This definition is applicable to all types of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, and spiritual.

What’s going on with abusive leaders?

“If a leader comes to a sacred role empty, narcissistic, and hungry…They begin to see people as objects to be manipulated, shaped, and molded to fit their own agenda.” p 24

“Over time, narcissistic leaders turn their organizations into monuments to themselves. The role becomes their identity.” p 27

An abusive leader is using the church to meet his own needs. Ez. 34 is a scathing indictment against such leaders who “feed themselves” and neglect and abuse the sheep, rather than following the path of the Good Shepherd.

But surely Christians would see through that. Why doesn’t that happen? 

People who abuse are skilled practitioners of impression management which is”[t]he process of creating, influencing, or manipulating an image held by an audience.” (Erving Goffman) p.9

“It’s always easier for abusers to control others when truth remains elusive and confusion abounds, so it is in their interest to practice deception.” p. 3 

Mullen describes the critical role of information control –managing the flow of information–in perpetuating deception.

He also describes specific ingratiating behaviors used to draw people into the realm of an abuser’s control– grooming not just victims, but also potential allies for himself or herself. These strategies include flattery, favors, and alliances.

But abusive people also use a second set of strategies: “dismantling tactics are designed to destroy a victim’s external and internal worlds. [They] are attempts to control a targeted person through intimidation, humiliation…to produce feelings of fear and shame.” p 54

For example, “..humiliation through teasing and bullying language is key to dismantling your interior life because it causes you to question not only your identity but also your inherent worth.” 59-60

What forces work to keep a victim or target silent?

Mullen well understands the experience of a victim of abuse.  “You feel paralyzed, confused, and captive–caught in a web spun by the abuser under the cover of darkness….Abuse impairs your ability to make sense of what’s happening. It spins you around and disorients you.” p. 79 This sense of confusion inclines targets of abuse to remain silent.

Mullen further describes the  tactics of intimidation an abuser may use in addition to confusion in order to secure silence. If a victim does speak up despite intimidation, abusers employ a range of tactics to flip the script so that they appear as the victimized party.

If an allegation of an abusive pattern of behavior is brought to the light, what strategies will an abusive person use?

  • Denials: “I didn’t do it.”
  • Excuses  of intent, incompetence, or blame-shifting are meant to convey:   “I’m not really responsible.”
  • Justifications: shape the audience’s perception of the wrong done p 112. “I did it, but it wasn’t that bad.”
  • Comparisons: “It’s not as bad as ___” or “The wrong pales in comparison to all the good I’ve done.”

Sorry, not sorry. How can you distinguish true repentance from impression management?

Has anyone ever wronged you and then “apologized” by saying, “I’m sorry you felt hurt?” The word “sorry” was used, yet somehow the focus is now on your reaction and the wrong done is not even acknowledged. It’s confusing. That’s a common form of  what Mullen labels a “concession,” another impression management technique.  Each type of concession has the actual goal of sweeping things under the carpet while giving the impression of an attempt at reconciliation.

In contrast, Mullen offers a “SCORE card” for the components of a genuine apology (p 142-147), which is useful both for checking yourself when you need to apologize, but also for distinguishing authentic repentance from concessions:

  • S urrender your “right” to defend yourself
  • C onfess each wrong specifically
  • O wn responsibility for your role
  • R ecognize the impact on the person you harmed by the wrong you committed
  • E mpathize with the pain you inflicted; express genuine sorrow and remorse

The damage from abuse in a church setting is overwhelming. What can a victim or ally do to heal? And what can others do to help the process of healing? 

  • For both victims and their allies who were wounded,  telling your story at your own pace to someone safe is a major step toward healing.  For others, you can learn what it takes to be that kind of safe person and actively work to create a safe community.
  • Mullen proposes an intriguing “principle of opposite action” to counteract the intent of evil, rebuilding the beauty and goodness it has tried to dismantle. He suggests considering choices that are the opposite of what evil/abuse is asking you to do as a way to confronting the abuse.  For example, when abuse wants you to be silent, you can speak up. 173-175
  • Cultivate beauty. Since “Every act of abuse is an assault on beauty,” (p 177), counter that assault and choose to cultivate the beauty of relationships, to breathe in the beauty of the natural world, to create.

Finally, Mullen calls bystanders to acknowledge their own choice to be agents of healing or not: “Bystanders must take sides, either to be active supporters of the wounded or to actively turn their backs,” and quoting Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”  p. 180

On Amazon: Something’s Not Right; Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from its Power  (This is not an afflilate link; it’s provided for your convenience.)