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Choose to be an overcomer

Jakki Civeriati is a senior graphic designer and country music recording artist who suffered from emotional abuse from childhood and throughout her first marriage. While she acknowledges that such abuse affects both women and men, she addresses women specifically in her new book, Goodbye for Now or Goodbye Forever – Footsteps to a Functional Family. In the book, she shares her story and gives women tools to break free and attract healthy people into their lives.

I grew up in a home where behaviours of emotional abuse were present, such as rage, gaslighting, anger, aggression, destructive criticism, name-calling and accusation. These behaviours, which I lived day in day out, laid the foundations of who I became as a woman. Those foundations look like rejection and shame. I believed I was not loved or lovable; it was self-rejection and self-hatred to a certain degree. And wherever I went into my adulthood I would attract that same rejection I experienced in my childhood.

I became a Christian when I was 16 and was radically saved. I fell in love with Jesus and I started to go to an amazing church. I met a man 10 years older than me who was volunteering in ministry, and we fell in love and were married when I was 19 years of age. We had a relationship for 16 years and were married for 13½.

In the early years of that relationship, I had to deal with domestic violence. Domestic violence wasn’t something that I experienced in my childhood, so I was able to have a voice and I was able to confront the domestic violence until it stopped. Looking back, after that time the emotional abuse became clear.

I believe emotional abuse is a controlling spirit, often referred to as a Jezebel Spirit, that is passed down to the next generation within a family. This means that wherever I went, I would attract people who operated under that controlling and manipulative spirit who also had that spirit within their family line.

“I hadn’t yet learned how to have a voice and speak up against controlling behaviour because I couldn’t see it; the behaviour was familiar, so I would submit to it.”

I would attract it in a romantic relationship, I would attract it in friendship, I would attract it in the workplace and even in church life. I found that because that was my history, I hadn’t yet learned how to have a voice and speak up against abuse because I couldn’t see it – the behaviour was familiar, so I would submit to it.

In my first marriage, this agenda of coercive control nearly destroyed me. This manipulative agenda targets your individuality. It targets your confidence and your self-esteem. It targets your value and attempts to destroy it. Little by little it chips it away, and the way it does so is through behaviours like destructive criticism, name-calling, the silent treatment, gaslighting, superiority, disrespect, and blame. The message is that you are the problem, you must change, there is something wrong with you, which leaves you shaky in your God-given role.

So you live life second-guessing yourself. Because of this constant pressure to be someone different from myself, my life was like the relentless motion of a treadmill. I was always trying to change myself. I already had my own brokenness from my childhood because of the abuse I grew up with. So I already had that striving mentality within who I was. I was a performance addict, a people pleaser. I was addicted to the need for approval, striving to meet the ridiculously high expectations I could never meet.

“I was always waiting to be told why there was something wrong with what I was doing or why my agenda behind it was in some way wrong or evil.”

But on the other side of that, I would reject myself and emotionally bash myself because nothing I did ever met the standard. I was never ever good enough, so I lived under that day in and day out. Then to be in a marriage where I was looking over my shoulder, getting ready for the next attack, being told why another thing I did wasn’t good enough, I walked on eggshells. I would try to do things my way, while always waiting to be told why there was something wrong with what I was doing or why my agenda behind it was in some way wrong or evil – it was never from a place of purity. And I wasn’t allowed to express myself as a person, and that was my life day in and day out.

What that does is drive intense insecurity into a person. I could never feel confident in who I was because I had this weight on my shoulders that who I was and what I had to contribute was not good enough.

“My choice to throw myself to the things of God is what really provided the new building blocks of my soul.”

But on the other hand, I was walking in a beautiful vibrant relationship with Jesus day in and day out. I served in my local church. I was passionate about building the house of God. So my choice to throw myself into the things of God is what really provided the new building blocks of my soul.

I lived in abuse in my personal world, but I stepped out of that when I went to church, a church that loved me, that valued me, that believed in me and gave me wings to fly. They opened up doors for me to serve within the creative team. I was a worship leader, a backing vocalist, I was in the choir. My church family saw my great love for Jesus and they chose to sow into that.

As they did so, the Lord was beginning to change me and make a way for me to flourish. So I would go home and be under that abuse and that abuse drove me into my secret place in worship and into the word of God. So as I pressed in to worship, as I declared his words with song, and declared his word over my life, my beliefs began to change.

One of the strongest beliefs in my life was that I was not loved and I was not lovable. I felt the Lord speak to me about Psalm 139 – I read that Bible passage every day for 12 months. As I read that passage, I began to learn my origin in the hands of my God, beyond my parents. I not only began to discover my identity in Christ, but I also began to discover the character of my amazing God.

Through this journey of breaking free, the Lord positioned me in very hard situations where I had to rise up and have a voice. I had to face intimidation. I had to face people who treated me like a doormat. Thankfully, the Lord brought me to the place of “Enough is enough, I need to confront this.”

It started in the workplace. I’m a graphic designer and I was in a design studio that was predominantly women. You can imagine the idea of all women every day in a small space with our issues and insecurities and our brokenness and our big personalities – it wasn’t always easy.

I had one girl who was my friend to start out with, and then she just turned. Suddenly she was speaking down to me and being rude to my face in front of the whole studio with no shame. This went on for quite a while and I started seeking the Lord about it. Outside of marriage, that was one of the first situations where I had to rise up and confront the abuse.

The Lord positioned me in quite a few of those situations and, little by little, I learned to have a voice. I was learning to call out what abusive behaviour looked like and say, “Hey, that’s not okay.” He was transforming me on the inside and teaching me how to manage my response to emotionally abusive behaviour.

“The cycle of emotional abuse – which starts off with a honeymoon period then moves to agitation and then to explosion – creates a cementing in a relationship.”

The cycle of emotional abuse starts off with the honeymoon period, moves to the agitation stage and then to the explosion stage and back to the honeymoon – as this cycle goes around it creates a cementing in a relationship. It is the reason why a person can’t just leave – the cycle of emotional abuse creates a trauma bond which sends the belief that “I’m deeply in love with you and I cannot live without you”, ultimately taking away the independence of the victim.

My lowest point came in the last year of the marriage. I was face down in my pillow every night crying out to the Lord, “Please help me.” I was drowning.

“I said, ‘Lord, I ask you for a functional marriage’.”

Part of what I did in ministry was I looked after the styling of the women’s conference and in this particular women’s conference they had a guest speaker who was speaking on the subject of “Ask.” Now I was in such a bad place, that I wasn’t able to sit with everybody in the auditorium, the depth of struggle within me was so severe that I just couldn’t cope with being around people.

I was walking around in the foyer and I heard a voice over the loudspeaker; it was the preacher presenting the challenge, “What will you ask God for?” And it was like the Holy Spirit spoke through me that day. And I said the words, “Lord, I ask you for a functional marriage.” At the time I don’t think I completely understood that but had friends in my life at that time who represented that type of marriage in the church. We would do Bible studies in people’s homes, and I would see these functional families. And I would go home to turmoil, constant fighting, a rollercoaster of stress.

That was my turning point. It was literally a few months after that prayer that I made a decision to leave an emotionally abusive marriage; three months later my ex-husband asked for a divorce.

I returned to counselling and continued educating myself through reading books, building an understanding of what truly abusive and narcissistic behaviour looks like. But along with that, I had this passion within me. I said to the Lord, “Do whatever you have to do within me, that I can attract a man who comes from a healthy, functional family.”

Jakki with Marco and their son, Luca

I had two years between my marriage and meeting Marco. I went to Ellel ministries. I pursued prayer ministry and pursued Jesus relentlessly for my healing because I asked the Lord that I wouldn’t get stuck in the grief of losing the marriage and a man I deeply loved. The first year was incredibly intense.

A lot of the time we’re not ready to attract the people that God has for us in our future because we haven’t done work in ourselves. If we are looking for our identity, our value and our security in a man, then we’re always going to attract second best and I wasn’t willing to accept second best. I’d been through so much in my first marriage that I knew what it took for a marriage not to work. I had that wisdom and experience and I was willing to wait for Jesus to bring Marco to me.

I want to say to any beautiful single girls out there who have been through brokenness and abuse in their relationships that the Lord is able to bring the best to you. So when I met Marco, what stood out for me was that he was just so genuine and authentic. And that, for me, was uncomfortable; I was attracted to his looks but actually wasn’t attracted to him. The reason is, I was so naturally attracted to a narcissistic type of character, to a person who actually put on a facade and a false charm instead of authenticity.

We went through some highs and lows in those first five months, because the Lord was allowing us to go through a few difficult situations for me to see Marco’s character come through.

He had incredible character and the one word to describe him is consistent. Marco wasn’t scared to be vulnerable. He was able to speak his heart. He was able to say when he was hurt, he was able to be honest, he didn’t put up a facade and pretend.

“If you’re being swept off your feet with just romance, and there’s this perfect person that’s being presented right from the beginning, those are actually warning signs right there.”

He just had the ability to speak and say what he needed to say in any situation with me and to be honest and vulnerable – those for me were really strong signs in the early days of the relationship.

It’s so important that women have a good understanding that if you’re being swept off your feet with just romance, and there’s this perfect person that’s being presented right from the beginning, those are actually warning signs right there.

You need to see a real person. You need to see how they manage disappointment, how they manage frustration, how they manage conflict. You need to see how they manage when you’re having a messy day. Are they able to be assertive or are they reactive, are they passive-aggressive in the way that they manage their emotions?

“If the abuser is not getting what they want when they want it, that will move them out of the honeymoon stage of the cycle of emotional abuse into agitation, and as the agitation builds it then moves to the explosion.

With Marco, I never have to guess whether he loves me. I know that he loves me and I have that security. He’s consistent in his affection. He’s consistent in showing me value. He’s consistent in saying, “I love you.” It’s not based on my performance. It’s not based on how well I’m doing in the relationship or whether I have met his needs.

Emotional abuse is very much centred around the issue of needs. So if the abuser is not getting what they want when they want it, that will determine if they move from that honeymoon stage into the agitation stage, and then to explosion.

That’s why it’s so important to see how a person manages their own response when they’re not having their needs met. When Marco is not getting what he wants when he wants it, it’s not agitation and explosion; there’s a conversation, and we communicate with one another.

The other big thing is there is consistent friendship in our relationship, and I never experienced that in my first marriage. I felt incredibly lonely in the relationship. I don’t feel that loneliness now because I’ve got my best friend.

If you feel ready to address emotional abuse in your relationship, have the courage to do whatever you need to see that you break free. I encourage you to find an awesome counsellor. Sometimes the first counsellor is not the right one. So look for a clinical counsellor or psychologist. Educate yourself. There are amazing books out there. Dr Susan Forward and Julie Hall are awesome writers on emotional abuse.

Journey with Jesus; receive prayer ministry to break generational ties that draw you to people who are abusive. Be okay with being on your own, being single. Have a season where it’s just you and Jesus and allow him to do that healing, and then go back into your childhood and address the relationship with your parents. Address their relationship together and also your relationship with them and how that shaped you as a person into your adulthood. And have the courage to deal with it. Choose to be an overcomer.

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