Chapter Two: The Serpent and the Maiden
“At the root of every act of violence against one’s neighbor there is a concession to the ‘thinking’ of the evil one, the one who ‘was a murderer from the beginning’ (Jn 8:44).”
(St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life)
Back to the first abuser, the serpent, and to the evils of manipulation. As mentioned, covert tactics can be difficult to recognize, and even more difficult to admit as a problem in a relationship. How can you reconcile your “knight in shining armor” with the serpent? How can you admit that his armor isn’t shining and glorious, but is rusted and full of dents?
The problem with a knight in shining armor is that you can’t see what’s behind all that impenetrable metal.
Here are some things to remember:
The person who employs covertly abusive tactics in order to gain control, to hide their core shame and vulnerability, and to maintain power over others appears, to the outside world, like the nicest person in the world. Kind, caring, a loving spouse—these are characteristics he seeks to show others. He likely doesn’t think of himself as acting abusively, but believes himself to be a decent guy (or even a great guy) who sometimes loses control and gets a bit too mad—but that’s it. And only from time to time. In general, he’s awesome.
The abuse cycle isn’t something he recognizes, or even knows about (without a decent dose of self-education, most victims don’t recognize or know about this cycle, either). To outsiders, and even to family members other than his intimate partner, the covert aggressor appears humble, giving, supportive and even approachable. Only his spouse endures the destructive characteristics of his rage-filled, coercive behaviors. Dr. George Simon, Jr. calls these types of people “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” a reference to Jesus’ warning: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15-16).
These “wolves in sheep’s clothing” are those subtle abusers who are the most manipulative, whether they act intentionally or not. Recall the biblical description of the serpent who was “more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made” (Gen 3:1).
The Hebrew word for “serpent” is nāhāsh, a word that can describe any creature from a worm to a dragon. Interestingly, the same word is used in Isaiah 27:1 “to describe the great ‘dragon’ known as ‘Leviathan the twisting serpent,’ who was considered the embodiment of evil and chaos.” In other words, the worm can grow wings and become a fire-breathing dragon; he can manipulate in both covert and overt ways. In Revelation 12:9 the serpent of Genesis is identified as Satan, whom Jesus called the “father of lies” (John 8:44).
This is why abuse can legitimately be called evil. Again, I’m not accusing anyone of being demonic at the core of their innermost selves. We’re all made in the image of God, and our true selves reflect His image. It’s when a person fails to live within their true, God-given image—and instead lives within a part of themselves that reflect volatile emotions and dangerous traits—that the serious issues occur.
That’s why it’s so important to separate evil people from evil deeds. Just because