We often hear ourselves referred to as Warrior Women or Protective Moms. There are even alliances that include those phrases in their names. Their aim being to equip and encourage mothers locked in the battle for their children’s safety and souls.
I’ve read forums and articles outlining how to handle a narcissist in court and when attempting to co-parent with them. So many of us survivors have become experts on the battle, and we’re armed and ready to help others with what we learned from our experiences. But, really, very little of it works for them because, though abusers are eerily similar, our cases are all unique.
Abusers change with the wind. They are chameleons. One time, they are stern and accusing. Another, they are weak and play the victim. For a time they seem to fade away. Weeks go by with no contact. And, then, a barrage of unsolicited phone calls ensue wherein they demand their parental rights of visitation. Or, worse. They abuse the children in the dark and play Disneyland Dad for all to see.
Their supporting players are different, too: The judges, attorneys, counselors, family members, church clergy, and long time friends. Their roles shift and their lines change as the plot thickens.
Regardless of what we’d love to hope for or think we know after living with and divorcing a narcissistic abuser, there doesn’t appear to be a recipe for victory. There are few certain rules of engagement with these types and their accomplices.
One of my sons will be entering the military in six short months. He shared with me just two nights ago that he feels he has no other options. Because of the timing of his father’s departure from our home and the following court battle that consumed his sophomore and junior years, his high school career was derailed. That, combined with the financial disaster R left us with, has made my son’s college of choice dreams a fantasy. He knows he has to do something, but it will not be that thing he longed for as a child. He reluctantly accepts his new course as a warrior. And, he prepares the best he can.
He studies and reads.
He strengthens his body, increasing his endurance, asks questions of those who’ve already been there, and with fortitude determines his own survival.
Another of my sons is studying International Policy and Security. Always the academic, he presented his younger brother with an exquisite copy of Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War.
A quick look at Wikipedia, and this is what I found:
It has been the most famous and influential of China’s Seven Military Classics, and “for the last two thousand years it remained the most important military treatise in Asia, where even the common people knew it by name.” It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.
The Bible, too, is full of battle euphemisms. We Christians like to take the gentler, softer road in relationships, but that isn’t the picture we’re painted in the New Testament. We’re even told our “ENEMIES [emphasis mine] will be those of [our] own household.”
The battle is real. We are warriors. So, perhaps, we should train and prepare like warriors.
Just as one leader cannot with certainty walk in, without being briefed thoroughly on the situation, and advise another leader on the best military strategy in that particular case, we cannot post on Facebook and ask another survivor how we should handle the particulars in our own cases. We must be careful to support each other and share with each other what did or did not work for us, but that does not mean it will afford them the same results. The details of our personal experiences are not broad, universal law.
I recently listened to a presentation by a former Marine. He quoted Sun Tzu a lot. This marine shared important gleanings from the great general:
1. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
2. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy first with intel.
3. There are five essentials for victory. Number one, He will win who knows WHEN to fight. Number two, He will win who knows how to handle superior and inferior forces. Number three, He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. Number four, He will win who prepared himself ways to take the enemy unprepared. Number five, He will win who has military capacity, not the sovereign (that means the guy in the field makes the decisions, not the guy behind the desk).
May I propose something? This may be controversial in the domestic violence circle. But, I believe these war strategies are key for us.
I had been told, preached to, and believed, I had no right to leave my abuser. However, if he abandoned me, then Biblically I’d be free. Ironically, I waited for him to leave me, and I still found condemnation in the church! I was told by pastor after pastor to forgive my husband and love him with the love of Christ and I’d see changes in him.
But, let’s accept the Bible’s parallels of this being a battle. Let’s live by the Proverbs and be wise. And, let’s prepare for this battle with the ancient wisdom of ancient warriors.
Number one, We must win first and then go to war, knowing victory comes with intel. The only time in court that I was actually victorious was when I went unrepresented but armed with a log of abuse! I had gathered my intel for a year and a half, knowing that ultimately that man would try to get his conviction removed from his record. My intel was complete and accurate and detailed, and the judge found it convincing. My ex did not come to court so prepared. In fact, his family smiled at my son and me as we entered the courtroom. They assumed we were there to support him as we had for sixteen years!
Please remember, again, this is only my experience. He could have killed me in that year and a half! Some women don’t have that kind of time! He DID try to kill me on several occasions during that year and a half. I’m just drawing parallels between Sun Tzu’s teachings and my personal experiences. Each individual must carefully examine her own battleground!
Number two, The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy first with intel. My focus during my court battle was on defending myself, though I’d done nothing wrong!!! This was how my attorney viewed the case. Oh, for an attorney who would have aggressively and quietly built a case AGAINST the abuser. My second attorney was very chummy with my abuser’s attorney. There was nothing about our case that was not known to her. In essence, my attorney was handing her intel to use against me!
Number three, The five essentials for victory. The first component of this last one is the most critical, in my humble opinion. When I saw the game my attorney was playing with my life, I wrote him an impassioned but clear letter stating that I was willing to give up every single request EXCEPT for custody. Ultimately, what did life or health insurance or alimony I’d never receive anyway or a truck mean if I had to share custody with my abuser? Knowing my attorney, R’s attorney, and the judge all professed to be Christians (though I don’t believe any of them are), I shamelessly used that to my advantage in my argument. (Now, before a Christian judges me for taking my Lord’s name in vain, didn’t Paul get snarky and use such language more than once to defend himself?) I did not hang in there and fight to the bitter end, which meant that my children do have unsupervised visitation with their abuser. BUT, the reality is that our courts time and time again give unsupervised visitation AND custody to abusers. One woman wrote, “The more I mentioned abuse, the more time I lost.” While that is a social ill that needs battled, it needs fought at the legislative level, not in the courtroom with my children’s lives and well being hanging in the balance. That’s a battle for another day.
The second component, He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. In my mind, this could apply to the counselors as the inferior forces. They often make or break us. They have the power to send one little piece of paper to the court that can alter the entire case. They may not appear as intimidating as the superior force of the judge but don’t underestimate their cunning, their ability for deception, and who they are really allied to. Don’t buy into the gentle demeanor and feigned words of concern for the children. Dysfunction lines their pockets, too.
Thirdly, He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks. I was so desperate for love and support that I clung to old friends who truly were not for me. They had their own controlling and selfish agendas in my life. Pruning is hard and seems to be a slow process, but it needs to be swift. And, remember, our enemies can and will be those of our own households. One woman called her brother-in-law as a witness during her trial. He had watched a brutal attack where she was punched, thrown on a bed, sat on, and choked. He denied the entire thing on the stand, nodding to her husband! From the outside looking in, it doesn’t surprise me. He stood and watched the attack then and didn’t intervene. He couldn’t realistically be expected to suddenly defend her on the stand when he wasn’t willing to defend her very life.
Fourth, He will win who prepared himself ways to take the enemy unprepared. This is one that weighs heavy on my mind. Our local support group has an unofficial mantra, “Only you know when you’re ready to leave.” The premise is that a woman is to be supported until she is ready to make that decision to leave. I get that. BUT, how much more effective would it be to encourage a woman to quickly file for divorce immediately following an abuser’s arrest? My narcissist was so worried about how his arrest was going to effect his job and social standing, I don’t believe he would have gone after me so hard had I filed at that time. Instead, I waited four years. Four long years. Time for him to complete MATVA classes and convince others he’d seen the error of his ways. Time for him to save and hide money. Time for him to secretly create a life and a battle plan against me. Time for him to develop a smear campaign against me behind my back. I gave him the opportunity to prepare himself ways to take me unprepared!
And, lastly, He will win who has the military capacity, not the sovereign. In other words, the guy in the field makes the decisions, not the guy behind the desk. In our cases, the guy behind the desk, the sovereign–the attorneys and judges and counselors–makes the decisions. However, it is truly the decisions made by us, the guys in the field, that decide our fate. How do we handle the orders given to us? How do we implement them when everything is going down around us? As the bombs are exploding in front of us, do we choose to follow the sovereign’s orders to the T? Or, do we use our critical thinking skills to preserve our lives and the lives of our children?
In Utopia the courts would exist to meter out justice and protect the innocent. We know that isn’t the reality of our world though. So, my sisters, fellow Warrior Women, let’s train. Let’s study and read. Let’s strengthen ourselves, increasing our endurance. Let’s ask questions of those who have been there. And, then, with fortitude, let’s determine our own survival.