Elder abuse has become so common that older adults write into public forums for advice .
Adult children moved back in with parents with increasing frequency during the COVID-19 pandemic . Less than 25% of parents asked that their children contribute to increased household expenses such as food and utilities. This has strained some relationships, both financially and emotionally.
Other abusers may include partners, spouses, relatives, neighbors, friends, volunteer or paid workers, lawyers, and individuals intent on theft or fraud [3A].
Forms of Elder Abuse
As parents grow more frail with age, they become increasingly vulnerable to abuse. Abuse can range from rudeness and disrespect, to financial mismanagement, threats, intimidation, and outright violence.
Impact of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can contribute to stress, physical and mental decline, depression, and premature mortality [3B].
Signs of Elder Abuse
Since elder abuse comes in a variety of forms, the signs of potential abuse, also, vary .
A. Emotional Abuse
Confusion or miscellaneous strange behavior not attributable to dementia.
Anxiety, agitation or fear.
Stress-related physical signs of abuse, such as high blood pressure.
Unexplained rapid weight gain or loss.
Confusion not attributable to dementia.
Fear of caregiver.
Unkempt or inappropriate clothing to the conditions.
Absence of a necessary medical device (dentures, hearing aid, brace).
Skin rashes or bedsores.
Worsening of a chronic condition.
Regressive or self-destructive behavior.
Difficulty sleeping; nightmares.
C. Physical Abuse
Signs of trauma such as hair loss or tooth loss.
Abrasions or burns which seem the result of restraints.
Sprains; broken, fractured, or dislocated bones.
Bruises not typically caused by accident.
Recurrence of the same injuries.
Unexplained or implausibly explained injuries; conflicting stories about how injuries were sustained.
Long delays between injury and treatment.
Use of multiple health care facilities to avoid suspicion.
D. Financial Abuse
Unpaid bills, shut-off notices for utilities, and eviction notices.
Banking mail no longer deliverable.
Unexplained withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts.
Newly acquired “best friends”.
Caregivers excessively interested in how a senior’s money is spent.
Resources to Combat Elder Abuse
Most states (along with many cities and counties) have Adult Protective Services available. These serve older adults at risk of or experiencing exploitation.
When formal guardianship is requested, it is the role of courts to screen prospective guardians and ensure that only those in need are assigned such guardians. Courts monitor guardian activities and spending. Guardians who have committed elder abuse are removed and required to pay fines or face jail.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching…” (Prov. 1: 8).
“Honor thy father and mother” is one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20: 12; Deut. 5: 16; Matt. 15: 4).
Given the choice, none of us would wish to be treated unkindly, especially not by our loved ones. We will all grow old one day. It is not asking too much that we exercise patience and compassion toward the elderly.
You should feel like your friend’s equal, giving and receiving positive feedback that makes you both feel good. However, a toxic friend may find ways to make you feel like you’re less than they are.
For example, they might draw attention to your insecurities and reinforce them as true. Or, they might discourage you from trying to achieve your dreams (telling you that they’re not realistic for someone like you).
Everyone makes mistakes in relationships. Good friends can apologize for their part in such arguments or other clashes.
In contrast, toxic or manipulative friendships often involve one person who won’t own their mistakes… This person will blame you for everything instead, and apologies may be in short supply. You will be told that everything is your fault and that it’s you who needs to change or feel bad about a difficult interaction.
3. Attempts to Control
Controlling behaviours can be less obvious in a toxic friendship than they are in a romantic relationship, but they can be just as damaging.
The friend might always insist on being in charge of what you do or where you go. They might even try to influence your life choices. Or, they could attempt to exert influence over how you look and dress.
Loving friends empower you to make your own choices! They may give feedback but will always respect your autonomy.
On a similar note, some controlling friends may actively try to stop you from making new friends. Alternatively, they may even attempt to stand in the way of you finding a partner. This is because a toxic friend often wants to claim all of your time and energy. It might be they hate the idea of you turning your attention elsewhere at any times.
Sometimes, you may not even notice this isolating influence until suddenly you realize that other friends, or even family, have drifted away.
5. Deliberate Humiliation
Gentle teasing is part of many good friendships, however being shamed in public is another story.
If your friend makes fun of you in social settings, tells cruel jokes at your expense, or claims that you “just don’t have a sense of humour” then they’re being abusive.
If you explain this to your friend and the behaviour still doesn’t change, this person is not good for you. Healthy friendships should be about having your back and speaking well of you.
Toxic friends can project their own disliked traits onto you so that they can attack these traits safely. For example, they might be very unpunctual, and yet scold you for “always being late” when you show up three minutes late for lunch for the first time.
If this is happening a lot, your friend is using you to work out their own issues. This is not always a conscious choice, but if it doesn’t change over time then the friendship can leave you confused about your own traits and flaws.
7. An Inconsistent Personality
Everyone experiences different moods, and of course, you can’t expect all of your friends to constantly be in a good mood.
On the other hand, if you have a Jekyll and Hyde friend who is joyful one might and furious at you the next, you’re in an unhealthy dynamic that’s hazardous to your mental health. You will never be able to properly relax around this person, and you’ll spend too much time trying to work out how to consistently please them.
8. Emotional Blackmail
Finally, toxic friends often withhold affection or support depending on the circumstances. This is because their love is conditional and highly based on what you can do for them. So, if you say you can’t go to a social event then the friend may refuse to take your calls or be cold in conversation until you change your mind.
In healthy friendships, both people understand that availability varies over time, and they communicate openly and honestly about hurt feelings.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:16–20).
Imagine you are one of the eleven disciples who met Jesus on the mountain. Three years ago, you received the call to follow Christ and you left your family, friends, and livelihood to do so. You have been fascinated by this Man who can heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach with an authority that draws multitudes to hear Him. You have lived with Him, trying desperately to understand this Man who is so different from everyone you have known before. You were present on the night He was taken by the mob to His crucifixion and you ran. Three days later, while you were still in hiding, you heard He had risen, and you were terrified and relieved at the same time. You have seen Him a number of times since His resurrection and now as you meet Him on the mountain, you realize He is preparing you for yet another good-by.
In these last words of Jesus—which you will reflect on many times in the coming days—you receive your final instructions or formal “commissioning.” There is no mistake about it that Jesus is giving you a command that is to be followed. As His disciple, you are to respond in obedience.
But what is He telling you?
There is one thing Jesus says that is crystal clear. It is His command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” As His disciple, you know very well what He means.
The Early Church and Discipleship
The original disciples learned how to think and act based on their relationship with the master disciple-maker: Jesus. They in turn began to duplicate His kind of ministry after Jesus went back to heaven.
In the book of Acts much can be discovered about the history of the church. Following Christ’s ascension into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit manifests in power at Pentecost, and the disciples start carrying the Good News to all people.
It was an exciting time for the church, a period of rapid growth in spite of tremendous persecution. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 brought three thousand new believers into the church in one day! These new believers combined with other disciples to worship in the temple each day. Their lives were so different that they were viewed favorably by others and the church grew rapidly.
From the beginning the church met together in larger groups for corporate worship, but small groups also had a place in the life of the church. The apostles not only taught large groups, but they also went from house to house, visiting small groups in homes as they taught and made disciples (Acts 5:42). People met together in homes to break bread together and to encourage each other to live out their faith in ever greater obedience. There were home prayer meetings like the one held while Peter was in prison (Acts 12:12) and Paul’s letters speak of “house churches” (Rom 16:5).
Whether house churches were independent groups of believers or were part of larger churches is uncertain. It is likely, however, that small house fellowships were the building blocks of the church in each city or region. The early disciples met in groups small enough to fit into normal homes.
The church needed the “house church” for its survival. There were periods of intense persecution for the first few centuries after Christ, so the early church was often not able to meet openly, nor were they allowed to purchase large buildings for gathering. They relied on the more protective environment of the home to nurture and protect the gospel in the lives of believers. Miraculously, the church was able to multiply without large buildings, mass meetings, and a plethora of “how to” books!
A fascinating aspect of discipleship is that Christians in the twentieth century are in the direct line that can be traced back twenty centuries to the original twelve disciples. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul illustrates the process of making disciples: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” All disciples of Christ have been entrusted with the gospel message, which we are to continually invest in the lives of others. Rather than ending with us, the process must begin again with us, as with each new generation.
Learning to live as a child of God in our culture is a formidable challenge. Many people feel uncertain, others overwhelmed. While there are many people who can teach others how to flip pancakes or play sports, it is even more vital that there are people who can show others how to live the Christian life.
What do we mean when we talk about “disciples?” A disciple is a committed follower of Jesus who seeks to live a life marked by continued growth in understanding and obedience. How, then, can we continue the process of making disciples in this century? The following are three key principles for today’s disciple-makers to follow:
Disciples are made intentionally. Just as children don’t grow up without personal care, so discipleship will not occur without faithful Christians being intentional about it. The word discipleship is a catchphrase in the church today, often without meaning. As a result, some people think of discipleship when they think of Bible-study workbooks or adult Sunday school. What they forget is that the process of making disciples is a dynamic relationship between fellow Christians and their Lord, and it is marked by continued progress.
Making disciples must be intentional in order for small groups to take root and grow. You and I cannot pay “lip service” to disciple-making or look at it as one aspect of ministry. It must be the goal of all ministry. Our goal is that people will come to faith in Christ and then grow to maturity as His disciples.
Disciples are to be like Christ.Have you ever watched a group of people, perhaps children, who are devoted to a particular celebrity and dress, talk, and walk like the individual they idolize? It is only natural to emulate someone you respect and look up to. And since “disciple” means “imitator,” disciple-makers become models to those who are learning to follow Christ. We must be careful not to duplicate ourselves, though. It is very easy to cross the line from being respected to being idolized. Instead, our task is to help develop partners in discipleship. We must strive to be able to say (paraphrasing Paul), “We first imitated the Lord and then you learned from us how to imitate the Lord” (1 Thess 1:6).
It is often difficult, however, for modern Christians to picture themselves as disciples. We ask people if they are “Christians” instead of if they are “disciples,” as if a person could be a Christian without being a disciple. In the early church, followers of Christ were called disciples until someone in Antioch thought of the term Christian (Acts 11:26). There is nothing wrong with using the word Christian when it is properly understood because “Christian” means “little Christ” or “belonging to Christ.” A disciple imitating Christ does belong to Christ.
But who decides what it means to be like Christ? Is there anywhere to go for answers? Yes! We can go to the textbook for discipleship: the Bible.
One of the disciple-maker’s key tasks is to direct disciples to the Word of God. Growing disciples must spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis. If we want to make disciples the Bible can show what it means to be like Christ. The Bible is the only reliable source for knowledge on how to live an obedient and meaningful life. Luke wrote his Gospel “so you can know the certainty of the things which you were taught” (Lk. 1:4). John wrote “so you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).
Disciples are made in relationship. From the beginning of our lives, we learn by watching others and then imitating them. Children learn to walk and talk (among other things) by watching others. As you think back over your life, you can no doubt think of many things you learned by watching, learning, and then imitating. This is how we learn to ride a bike, drive a car, and play an instrument. It is also how we learn to “act cool” in high school, move up the social ladder in adulthood, and age gracefully in older years. In short, we learn about life in community by watching others and then imitating them.
The Christian life is exactly the same. There is no example in the Bible of a lone ranger disciple. Even Paul, after his dramatic conversion and long stay in the desert, went to Jerusalem and associated himself with the apostles and later with the church at Antioch (Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-26). When he planted churches, he always travelled in the company of others. He had a team-relationship at different times with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. The relational, community-based model of disciple-making had been demonstrated by Jesus and the disciples, and it provided the necessary support for Paul and the early church in the turbulent period after Pentecost.
Since we learn best in relationship, we most effectively learn to be disciples that way. But disciples produced through loving community in churches today are too rare. The self-sufficient individualism of Western culture has seeped into the church and led to situations in which individuals are trying, often without notable success, to mature alone as disciples. Many resources—Christian books, videos, conferences—are available for these lone disciples to increase their knowledge about Jesus, but an accumulation of facts and ideas is only the beginning of Bible-based disciple-making.
It takes a community of fellow disciples who can help each other learn to live a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. The aspect of “growing in community” is such an important concept in this process of making disciples. Without a community in which we can learn, practice, fail, and eventually move out from as agents of change, we are left without a secure foundation. Without a foundation of community, it is difficult to grow in our walk with Christ.
Who has been the most important influence in your spiritual life to help you grow? What characterizes that person’s life?
To feel better about themselves and keep from feeling powerless, too many targets of bullying resort to bullying others who are even more vulnerable than them. And it’s not right.
In many cases, targets of bullying who bully, or “bully-victims” bully not because they want to. They bully because they feel like they have no choice.
In bullying, bullies unwittingly teach their targets that to degrade and disparage another person is what it takes to stay on top or off the bottom! And let’s face it, nobody wants to be on the bottom.
One of the uglier characteristics of humans is that everyone wants to be better than somebody! The attitude is that if you’re not above somebody, anybody, then who are you better than? The sad reality is that people equate not being better than someone, even if it’s only one person, with being powerless. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
But just the same, they do it because they don’t believe there’s any other way to stay out of the basement and boost their self-esteem. But!
What if I told you that there was a better way to get the same psychological benefits? What if I told you that there was another way you could feel better about yourself and eliminate those toxic feelings your bullies have instilled in you for so long? Even better, what if I told you that you could get those benefits without causing harm to another person?
Well? You can!
Here’s how you do it!
Instead of targeting more vulnerable people, how about connecting with and befriending them? Because they get bullied just like you. They may get bullied worse than you. You never know.
And let’s face it. No one person is an island. There’s no way you can have even a little bit of power by yourself. We’d like to think that we can survive and do anything in this world just fine by ourselves and that we don’t have to depend on anyone, but that’s not reality.
The reality is that power means relationships. And we all need people as loved ones, friends, and allies.
Therefore, make friends with those who are weaker than you! Stick up for those people and be their buddy instead of their bully. Make them feel good about themselves and encourage them to stick up for themselves and to realize that they too matter in this world.
These targets need someone who they think has more strength than them to have their backs, and to be someone they can trust and look up to. These people will need you and depend on you, and that’s what you want.
Let me explain this a little deeper,
If you’re a target of bullying, the last thing you want to do is seek the approval of your bullies or their followers. You never want to build a power base with people more powerful than you are. They’ll only eat you alive!
And if they’re stronger than you, how can you expect them to depend on you? To make friends in your situation, you must look for people who will count on you. And they have to in some way, shape, or form, need you.
And the “weaker” targets will be the ones who must have you around to ensure their safety and to validate their importance and their deserving of love and friendship. They will need a friend, protector, and advocate. And you can be those things to them!
It’s much smarter to seek out and make friends with the “weaker” targets and create a relationship on their dependency on you. Because when you do, you become their pillar of strength. You become their voice and their backbone.
And because the other targets are more vulnerable, they’ll know that to turn their backs on you would be to do so at their own risk. Throwing you under the bus would only bring them hardship and pain.
In a friendship like this, you will have the power. So use that power to promote solidarity with them, uplift them, and have their backs!
And if ever you need something done, you won’t have to use force to get your new, less powerful friends to help you out. They’ll be more than happy to oblige because you’ll be their fearless leader, their encourager and protector, and the last thing they’ll want is to lose you. They’ll know that without you, they’d be in a pickle.
The beauty of this is that you and all the other victims will become a group. You’ll band together and become as one. And you’ll gain strength from your numbers.
I promise you that things will only get better once you put this into action. And the only things you’ll have to lose are your low self-esteem and your feelings of powerlessness!
This overlooked group is more isolated than you realize.
“Hi, Sheridan. I hope you don’t mind me, a complete stranger, contacting you, but I can’t talk to my family or friends about this.”
“I am a church youth worker, and my wife just showed me your book. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but could we meet? I feel so lost.”
“I can’t think of anyone to turn to. I feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
Brad, Neil, and Simon (as I’ll call the men who reached out to me with these introductions) weren’t contacting me to confess some secret sin or addiction. The burden they carry is childlessness. For Brad and his wife, six years of trying to conceive had produced only heartache. For youth worker Neil, multiple failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) rounds left him questioning his faith. And Simon feels responsible for the agony his wife feels with every period and negative pregnancy test. With infertility rates rising, these men are not alone in their situation. But they are isolated.
A recent study from Leeds Beckett University confirms that infertility can negatively impact a man’s mental health, self-esteem, relationships, career, and finances. With masculinity in our culture tied so closely to raising children and infertility often viewed as a “women’s issue,” men in this situation often face the crisis alone—even in their churches.
We can help them.
For 10 years, my wife, Merryn, and I tried to start a family. Our journey included special diets, healing prayer, rounds of IVF, and a year of assessment as potential adoptive parents followed by an agonizing two-year wait for our hoped-for adoptive child. We pursued our dream with all the energy we had, but it never materialized. Exhausted from a decade in the infertility wilderness, we brought our dream to an end on Christmas Day 2010 after doctors had told us, just days before, that our final IVF round had been successful. They’d been wrong.
I shudder when I recall the isolation of those years. I didn’t want to talk about our infertility—it was a large, dark topic I preferred to ignore rather than face, and I couldn’t think of anyone to open up to who would have any idea what I was experiencing. My feelings grew deep and complex.
Those feelings included guilt. As I watched my wife’s face contort in pain as the needle extracted the eggs for an IVF round, or as I held her as she sobbed when her hopes were dashed yet again, I felt guilt that I was the biological reason she couldn’t have what she desperately wanted. I felt sadness too, especially when I saw fathers playing with their giggling sons or watched proud dads walk their veiled daughters down the aisle. And there was jealousy and confusion. When news reports came of neglected children or another infertile couple announced their “miracle” pregnancy, I wondered why the abusive folks got the kid or why God answered others’ prayers but not mine.
While Merryn and I didn’t get the happy ending we wanted, we have seen our wilderness transformed into something redemptive. Prompted by a friend, I wrote a book about our experience called Resurrection Year, then followed it up with The Making of Us, a book exploring who we can become when life doesn’t go as planned. I started speaking at conferences on redeeming broken dreams. The media—fascinated by a man talking about a “women’s” topic—started calling. As a result, men like Brad, Neil, and Simon started reaching out to me.
Four Things You Can Do
After speaking at a large church one Sunday on this theme, the pastor joined me on stage to close the service. “How many of you have been touched by infertility personally or through a family member?” he asked the congregation. In the anonymity of a large crowd, many hands went up, surprising the pastor at the extent of the need. Most of the hands were women’s.
But after the service, men approached me—in a quiet corner of the building, out in the car park, asking if they could have a word. I wondered what would happen if their isolation were broken, they came together, and the circle of their comradery grew to reach other childless men in their community. What a ministry to an unreached people group that could be!
Men like Brad, Neil, and Simon are sitting in your church. Hundreds more like them are in your community, lacking a space to talk, get support, or find God in their wilderness. Reaching them is a pastoral and missional opportunity. Here’s how you can connect.
1. Reject false assumptions about manhood.
While writing this article, a pastor’s words popped up in my Twitter feed: “Moving from son to husband and father is the essence of manhood. #manup.” I’m sure the pastor was trying to echo Genesis 1:28’s mandate to multiply while calling men to responsibility and self-sacrifice, but I wonder if he considered how his words would affect men like me. Plenty of married fathers shirk responsibility while plenty of single and childless men live self-sacrificial lives. On this definition, wifeless-and-childless Jesus lacked the “essence” of manhood, and Paul even taught against it (1 Cor. 7:32–35). I wonder if the pastor would tell Jesus and Paul to “#manup” too.
Sadly, some approaches to masculinity in the church subtly reinforce the idea that men aren’t truly men until they’ve married and had children. What assumptions about the essence of manhood do you hold? Scripture talks less about masculinity than it does maturity—becoming Christlike—a call applicable to father and non-father alike (Eph. 4:13, Gal. 5:22–23). This is a bigger vision of masculinity than “man-up manhood” and it is the best grounds on which to reach out to men like Brad, Neil, and Simon.
2. Prepare to meet him in the shadows.
“I feel embarrassed and ashamed,” Simon said. This is a common experience for men facing infertility, even when they are not the biological cause of the problem. Don’t expect Simon to publicly respond anytime soon to an altar call for prayer in a Sunday service. If you want to address the topic of childlessness from the pulpit (and please do), invite affected men to email you privately. Research shows they will respond to confidential opportunities like this as well as closed online forums. Simon won’t likely come to a small group for men struggling with infertility—not yet. This begins as one-to-one pastoral ministry. You will likely need to meet him in the shadows before he will come into the light.
3. Help him find answers.
“I have so many questions about why this isn’t happening for us,” Neil told me, “and what we should try next.” For Neil, these questions included the ethics of using donor eggs or donor sperm, whether an adopted child would ever feel like “his own,” plus age-old questions about God and suffering. This is hard terrain to navigate, one I have seen precipitate theological shifts into unorthodox territory when people lack pastoral guidance.
Yet this is a pivotal discipleship opportunity for Neil and men like him. You can help him find answers by making space for his questions, helping him locate resources and advice, linking him with other involuntarily childless men, and journeying alongside him as he, like Job, encounters a bigger revelation of God through his pain.
4. Show him a deeper identity.
“All my friends are fathers and grandfathers,” another man told me. “And me? I’m nothing.” When infertility robs you of being a father, what else can you become? This can be a key question for infertile men.
Our Western tendency to define ourselves by our jobs or parenting status ultimately truncates who we are. This man may not be a father, but he is a husband, son, uncle, citizen, and friend—identities that can be forgotten when focusing hard on becoming a parent. One of infertility’s gifts to me has been discovering a bigger sense of self—resting more deeply in my identity as God’s child, rediscovering the importance of being a friend, realizing my character is a more important facet of my identity than my career path, and more. In time you will have opportunities to help these men discover that it’s often when we lose an identity that we can discover who we most deeply are.