I’m having a rough week.
I’ve been having panic/anxiety attacks. I hate them because they make me feel battered and messy and weak. I used to feel strong and able to handle difficult situations. I don’t feel that way any more. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever feel strong again.
I occasionally share information about abuse here or at FB because I would like to help people who are confused and struggling in abusive relationships to understand what is happening, why it is happening, and how to escape and recover. I’d also to educate people who are not in abusive situations so they can understand what victims are suffering and avoid adding to that suffering.
They say that when it comes to emotional abuse, “If are not experiencing it, you can’t understand it and if you are experiencing it, you can’t explain it.” I find that to be very, very true.
I think most victims do not speak up because…well, it’s no use. Sometimes I wish that could be silent too. In find that when victims try to explain the damage of abuse, more time than not people end up urging them to reconcile with their abusers and when they say they can’t, the victim is seen as petty, angry, bitter, and unforgiving. I was told this morning that I dishonored myself and my family by walking away from their abuse–because they are, after all, my family. Seriously, I almost think that the advice of “friends” is more damaging than the abuse of the abuser. I am a believer myself, but I sadly find that, in general, most Christians have little understanding of abuse and they most often tell victims that they must remain in abusive situations. This makes me angry–angry because rather than help the suffering, they end up beating them up even more. So the battering suffering ones grow silent.
Consider this: if a victim must always stay with her abusers, why did God lead His people out of oppressive slavery in Egypt? Why didn’t He just tell them to remain there and love their oppressors to Him? Instead, He delivered them. And throughout Scripture, God says He loves the oppressed and the needy, and He promises to deliver and rescue them. Why? And amazingly, there are places in Scripture where it says God thrust his people out of His presence because of their wickedness. If it’s so wrong to have No Contact with wicked people, why did God do this? (Jer 7 and 14, Romans 1)
Most victims do not share their stories of abuse. Those who share, at most, are really only sharing small fragments, tiny bits and pieces of their story. It’s impossible to share everything. This means that a person is not hearing about all the million little cruelties that damaged the victim, all the things the victim tried and tried and tried to do in order to reconcile with an abuser who didn’t want to reconcile, all of the anguish and reasons that finally led the victim to escape, and all the daily battles fought to recover. If most of the story is untold, a person can’t always know enough to understand what was so bad about the situation and why it can’t be fixed. People get the conclusion, but not the process of reaching it. So a person might wrongly jump to the conclusion that the victim is petty, making a mountain out of a molehill, unforgiving, unloving, refusing to give the one who hurt her the benefit of the doubt, refusing to give grace, and yada, yada, yada.
Victims are often told that they must love, forgive, and give their abusers “the benefit of the doubt.” What makes people think that they haven’t? If a victim had walked away at the first difficulty, they would never have suffered such damage at the hands of the abuser. Instead, they stayed. And they loved and forgave and gave their abuser the benefit of the doubt. And they stayed and they loved and forgave and gave their abuser the benefit of the doubt. And they stayed and they loved and forgave and gave their abuser the benefit of the doubt. And they stayed and they loved and forgave and gave their abuser the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know how many times I should repeat this before it sinks in. Victims stayed and they loved and forgave and gave their abuser the benefit of the doubt until one day they realized that they couldn’t take it anymore. They said “ENOUGH,” and “NO MORE” and they began to educate themselves about abuse, they escaped, and they began the long difficult process of recovery. So do not, under any circumstance, EVER tell a victim that she must try harder and longer and more to love and forgive and give their abusers the benefit of the doubt. They have done it far longer than you can imagine and it has caused them great damage.
I often wonder why people always tell the victim to love and forgive her abuser, but they rarely (ever?) tell the abuser to give it to the victim? People love, give grace to, justify, and defend the abuser while they condemn his victim. This is wrong.
Likewise, I wonder why people give the abuser the benefit of the doubt–assuming he really loves his victim, or that he just needs love, or that he isn’t really such a terrible person–but they almost never give the victim the benefit of the doubt. The victim is rarely, if ever, given the benefit of the doubt that she loved and forgave her abusers, gave them benefit of the doubt, and kept trying. Frankly, I’m tired of sympathy and support going to the unrepentant abuser. A repentant wrongdoer is one thing–he is deserving of mercy–but an unrepentant abuser is another, and I think the victim is more deserving of mercy than the ones who “cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. (Prov. 4:16)
I feel frustrated sometimes when people say that we can’t read others’ minds or know what is in their hearts so we must look at actions, give the abuser the benefit of the doubt, and assume he is actually loving and probably longs to reconcile. This sort of belief kept me trapped in abuse for YEARS. The first part is true: we can’t read others’ minds. However, often people say these things to a victim to convince her that she can’t know that her abuser hates her, since she doesn’t know what is in his mind, so she must give him the benefit of the doubt, assume he is good-hearted, and keep him in her life. But they are actually doing what they are accusing the victim of doing, which is assigning to a person motives that they can’t really see (since they aren’t mind readers) and ignoring the abuser’s actions. They don’t seem to consider that perhaps the victim actually is not just willy-nilly assigning imagined evil to the abuser but is correctly judging the abuser on his actions, and his actions are evil.
Although we can’t read people’s minds, the Bible does say that we can recognize whether someone is good or bad by their fruit–by their actions. An occasional failure is NOT abusive, but a pattern of mistreatment IS abusive. Abusive actions are not loving. A person who consistently mistreats another person does not love him because a person who loved would not keep consistently and unrepentantly hurting others. Consistent abusive action is indicative of hatred, not love. So, yeah, when I–or any victim–says that I know that my abuser(s) does not love me, do not tell me that he/she does. You have not heard all the story. You have not suffered at their hands. You do not know them.
Emotional abuse is often called “soul murder” or “emotional rape” for a reason. Emotional abusers love their victims as much as a rapist loves the woman he rapes. Imagine telling a rape victim that she can’t really know what was in his heart (since she can’t read his mind), and you are sure he must have actually loved her, and that she shouldn’t judge him, and that she really ought to give him the benefit of the doubt, and that she really should allow him access to her and her family. And then please don’t EVER say those things to a victim of emotional abuse.
I would like to ask people: Do you really think that one day I–or any victim–woke up and decided–piff! on a whim–that I would cut off contact with family? Do you really think that out of some minor, petty tiff I would throw away the family I loved, and the shared family history, and the celebrations of holidays and milestones, and my son’s connection with relatives, and mutual support during difficult times? Seriously? Well, let me tell you that takes years and years, it takes agonizing and heartbreak and tears and prayers and courage and strength and self-respect and faith to finally walk away from abuse. So, don’t ever believe that this was an easy or thoughtless decision for a victim, and don’t EVER pressure victims to return to her abuser. Not every family is good, and a victim doesn’t just walk away for no reason. Again, you don’t know the whole story, you see only tidbits. Don’t assume.
I would like to ask people: Do you REALLY believe that a victim has not considered that the abuse might be HER fault? That maybe she is misjudging or mistreating her abusers? Do you really think that she hasn’t poured over and struggled and cried over the verses about love and forgiveness and loving enemies, or that she has not begged God to please show her if she is wrong and to forgive her if she is? Abuse victims agonize over these things during long sleepless nights and soggy pillows. They often have trouble getting over the self-blame and guilt that they couldn’t love enough and couldn’t endure enough to change their abuser.
It’s true that people’s hearts can change and they can repent of what they have done. It’s true that God’s love can sometimes soften a hard heart. However, this is not true in every case. There is a difference between a person who sometimes sins–and then repents–and one who unrepentantly chooses to do wrong. The first person will heed correction and become wise. The second won’t. The Psalms and Proverbs are filled with descriptions of evil people who are arrogant and who deliberately plot to destroy the innocent. In fact, in interviews with researchers, abusers have said that often they perceive people who unconditionally love and forgive as weak and deserving of exploitation. They aren’t saying, “Wow! This person loves me! I think I will change my wicked ways!” Often giving unconditional love and forgiveness to an abusive person actually causes the abuse to INCREASE.
Victims are FREQUENTLY told that they must love their abuser to Christ. Listen: If all that was necessary to get a person to turn from his wicked ways was unconditional love then every single person who ever met Jesus while he lived on earth would have fallen to their knees in repentance. If anyone’s love could have caused a wicked person to change from his wicked ways, it would have been the perfect love of the Messiah. Yet, this did not happen. Jesus tended to polarize people–some were drawn to him but many others were repelled, offended, and threatened by him. They hated him and eventually killed him. Even one in his core group betrayed him. (John 6 describes a time when Jesus so offended his followers that many of them turned back and no longer traveled around with him.) So if Jesus’ love could not change every person–or even most people–who met him, what makes anyone think that a victim’s love is strong enough to change a wicked abuser?
I find Isaiah 26:10 to be interesting. Here is the verse in several versions:
New International Version
But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD.
New Living Translation
Your kindness to the wicked does not make them do good. Although others do right, the wicked keep doing wrong and take no notice of the LORD’s majesty.
English Standard Version
If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the LORD.
New American Standard Bible
Though the wicked is shown favor, He does not learn righteousness; He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, And does not perceive the majesty of the LORD.
An abuser abuses not because of the failures of the victim, but because abusers choose to abuse. An abuser is changed–or not–by his own response to truth: Does he accept it or reject it? Does he repent of his sin or harden his heart? Although God is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, he makes quite clear how he feels about those who are prideful. And even his patience has a limit: Romans 1 describes that when people consistently suppress and reject the truth, God will eventually give them over to their depraved mind.
The victim is often told that she must “love your enemies” and do good to them. The Bible says that, yes. However, what does this mean? There are ways that we can “love” our abusers, which does not include a victim keeping herself in his power. In fact, I would suggest that it is certainly NOT loving to allow someone to engage in destructive behavior without holding him accountable for it. It is not loving to the victim, and it is not loving to others, such as the children, who would be harmed by the abuser, and it is not even loving to the abuser himself. Unchecked evil tends to grow and become more violent and to draw more victims into the damage. And FYI: there are many verses about not walking, standing, sitting, staying with, associating with, or even eating with a wicked person. We are even told that if a person refuses to repent, to treat him like a pagan or tax collector.
I would further say that rather than be an act of unlove and ungrace, going No Contact can actually be an act of mercy. Rather than seek revenge, rather than try to destroy the enemy, a victim can choose to quietly withdraw to protect herself and her family. In this way, perhaps the abuser can face the consequences of his actions and turn to God. In 1 Cor. 5, Paul actually scolded the Corinthians for giving “grace” to a man who had been sleeping with his father’s wife, and recommended that they “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Ouch. Not exactly the form of “loving of enemies” that we are used to.
A victim of abuse has been through hell. Her identity, value, self-confidence, and security has been attacked and, in many cases, destroyed. You better believe that she has become “messy.” She likely struggles with PTSD (caused by long-term trauma), depression, anxiety, fear, panic…even thoughts of suicide. She might cry and get angry. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she is weak, that her emotions are sinful, that she ought to return to her abuser, that she needs more faith. Walking away from the abusers required tremendous courage and strength and faith. Most victims also have to have the tremendous courage, strength, and faith to withstand friends, family, and church who condemn her. Many victims who walk away from abusive spouses often struggle with poverty. Often it takes tremendous courage, strength, and faith to get up in the morning and make it through the day. So, yeah, she’s messy but she’s mostly courageous, strong, and has tremendous faith. Don’t you ever tell her she’s NOT.
Like many suffering people, Job was raw and messy and emotional. Sometimes he sounded very angry with God. Like many victims, his friends were full of pious advice and accusations. Yet, at the end, this is what God said to Job’s friend, Eliphaz:
“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42)
Sometimes I wonder why I speak up. I’m deep-down weary and I feel battered by the advice of people who don’t understand. But then someone contacts me privately and shares their story of abuse and asks for help. I speak because I care for them.
Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.
You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for comforters, but I found none. (Ps. 16-20)