When I first began research in toxic leadership, I had become interested in the topic because of two things: the leadership of our mission and a dear friend’s experience of an abusive marriage she had suffered in for 20 years.
The ways in which those two forms of abuse – leadership and domestic – came together were astounding. The psychological, spiritual, and physical techniques of abusers and destruction caused by them were extraordinarily similar.
As I focused in on leadership abuse, domestic abuse affects were never very far off my research paths.
One particular result (and technique) of abuse is isolation. It is deeply hurtful. And it is almost always, in my experience, a result of or intentional tool in the abusive individual’s kit.
I have spent much time in Job lately and as I read recently, these words popped out at me:
He has put my brothers far from me,Job 19:13 (ESV)
and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me.
My relatives have failed me,
my close friends have forgotten me.
The guests in my house and my maidservants count me as a stranger;
I have become a foreigner in their eyes.
I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer;
I must plead with him with my mouth for mercy.
My breath is strange to my wife,
and I am a stench to the children of my own mother.
Even young children despise me;
when I rise they talk against me.
All my intimate friends abhor me,
and those whom I loved have turned against me.
My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh,
and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me?
Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?
In Job’s case, he has seen the works of Satan destroying aspects of his life under the willing control of the Lord Almighty. He knows God’s sovereignty in the situation and is angry and confused by it.
Job is a respected elder in the community because of the many blessings the Lord has poured out on him. But, as the Lord proves to Satan that Job’s love for God is not based on material well-being, Job loses nearly everything in his world; his wealth, children, employees, animals, crops, and his own health.
And Job loses his friends.
He is isolated.
It is part and parcel of the abuser’s playbook to do all he can to separate his victim from her friends and means of support. He may charm family, friends, co-workers, or employees making it seem evident that the victim is crazy, mistaken about the abuse, or unloveable.
One manager of a large international ministry told me his CEO called all his friends – other CEOs of major ministries – to isolate him. The CEO made it impossible for him to find another job for two years after he fired the manager for confronting the CEO on reports of sexual harrassment of 20 women.
Our missions Director told us the other staff with whom we worked were against us when we challenged his toxic leadership. It was not true, but he evidently wanted us to feel isolated and helpless.
In a recent interview, a woman told me her respected husband isolated her from family and church friends and leadership by means of his social stature and charm.
Another woman told me all of her brothers turned against her when she was seeking to get free from her horribly abusive husband.
Job’s story ends well. He is given great wealth, more children, a whole new ranch teaming with stock and he is welcomed back into the community.
That may or may not be the case for those who have been isolated by their abuser. But it is important to remember that it is the Lord Who brings vindication. It is the Lord Who will provide all the needs we have.
And it may be a case where we must turn to the Lord’s example:
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.John 2:23-25 (ESV)
Jesus did “not entrust himself to them.” Why?
“Because he knew all people . . . for he himself knew what was in man.”
Man is fickle. His allegiances change. He will believe whom he wants to believe.
This is a cry to those who would isolate victims of abuse by believing the lies of the oppressor. Though you may fear the abuser, your allegiance better fall with the victim of oppression . . . this is the Lord’s will.
And, this is a cry to victims. Know that ultimately, the Lord’s vindication is for the taking. Though the vindication of man – brought by your loving Lord – may be long in coming, the Lord stands by your side and will not be removed.
Though it seems that the heavens are falling and the earth is shaking, to be isolated with the Lord is far and away better than the praises of man.