Repairing the World

This is the last in a series of posts about abuse, beginning here.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prov. 18:21)

I spent a month writing and rewriting my previous three posts about abuse. I am writing this one because I think it’s also important, but it’s a last-minute add-on. I didn’t think of it until I had written the others. I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around that I have to sort through but I wanted to get it posted before the New Year so I’m writing quickly. There are a lot of approaches I could take, but I’ve decided on this one:

I think words are extremely powerful.

Words can bring hope or despair, strength or weakness, bravery or cowardice, life or death.

Words can actually change reality: Hitler, for example, didn’t have super-human physical strength, he wasn’t even a soldier, but with his words, he inspired people to horrendous cruelty, he caused the death of millions, and he reshaped the world. Conversely, I think England might have fallen during WW2 if Winston Churchill had not spoken words that brought courage:

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
― Winston Churchill

God created the universe with words. He speaks the truth and gives life with words. Jesus is called “The Living Word” who is the Light, the way, the truth, and the life. Conversely, Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Liars destroy truth and people.

 

I think that one of the most terrible weapons of abusers are words. With words, abusers attack the core identity of a person so that she forgets who she is. With their words, abusers weave a false reality that drains the life from their victims, turning strong, intelligent, creative individuals into someone who believes s/he is damaged, stupid, without gifts or value. With their words, abusers can drive a person to despair, hopelessness, self-hatred, and even suicide.

I think that the hardest part of recovery involves the struggle to replace lies with the truth, rejecting the false reality that brings destruction and holding fast to the true reality that gives life. Because the abuser has destroyed his/her victims’ core identity, recovery takes time and struggle.

Photo from Pixabay

Whenever I have encounters with a toxic/abusive person, I have to talk and/or write about it. I have told EJ several times that I feel as if the abuser has ripped and torn the fabric of truth–of who I am, of my value–and I have to reweave the truth by recognizing the lies and re-remembering the truth.

This makes me think of two Jewish phrases. One is a statement in the Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” I think this statement has a lot of truth in it. When a wicked person destroys a person, he is destroying her entire world, he is often destroying families, and this destruction can ripple on to affect communities, societies, the world. I’ve read an article about a scientific study that showed that trauma can even change DNA and be passed down the generations.

The second phrase is Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew means “repair of the world.” It is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage. When you give comfort, strength, courage, support, healing, and justice to others, you are helping to save their world as well as working to repair the world.

I think that repairing the world involves kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I think it also involves seeking justice and resisting and standing against evil.

  • Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph 5:11)
  • A righteous person giving in to the wicked is like a contaminated spring or a polluted fountain. (Prov 25:26)
  • Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. (Prov 21:13)
  • Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Prov. 24:11-12)
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Now I’ve kind of gone full-circle and ended where I began–because in order to speak up, judge fairly, correct oppression, a person has to identify who is the wicked one and who is the innocent, which isn’t easy when the wicked person is covertly deceptive. Another question to ask is how to help the innocent victim. I think people have different talents and ways of helping. Some “helpers” are lawyers, some are pastors, some are bloggers, some are friends who help friends. Some work to change laws, some work at abuse shelters or hotlines, some write blogs, some generously give to those in need,  some encourage hurting friends in their lives. Whether the help affects many or few, it contributes to the repair of the world.

No matter what the help looks like, I think there are a few basic things to keep in mind, which underlie all the others:

  1. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between an abuser and his/her victim, but it helps to educate yourself about the dynamics of abuse so you can recognize tactics and behaviors.
  2. Do not minimize, excuse, justify, or defend the behavior of the abuser. Do not say things such as, “I’m sure he didn’t really mean it” or “I’m sure she actually really loves you…” or “But he’s such a wonderful person–he would never do such a thing.” Abusers hide their abuse from everyone except the victim. Supporting the abuser does great damage to the victim who is struggling to break free of the false reality that was created by the abuser.
  3. Do not shift the blame to the victim. An abuser abuses because he is an abuser, not because the victim didn’t love enough, forgive enough, please enough.
  4. Do NOT try to fix the victim by telling her that all she has to do is follow Steps A, B, C, and everything will be fine. It’s not that easy. A victim has to sort through countless lies and replace them with the truth. She has to repair her world that was destroyed by the abuser. This takes time.
  5. Do not pressure a victim to quickly forgive the abuser. Forgiveness is a messy process that takes time. The process is similar to the Stages of Grief. Forgiveness does NOT mean that future contact or reconciliation is possible or safe.

    The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Prov 18:14)
  6. Do not tell the victim to stop talking about the abuse, to “just let go and move on.” The victim has been through hell, she has suffered great betrayal, and her core self has been destroyed. Just as a serious physical injury can take a long time to heal, so a psychological injury can take a long time. In fact, inner wounds can take longer because they are deeper.
  7. Victims all tend to go through similar stages as they recover, including educating themselves, talking/writing about it, feeling the messy emotions, grieving the losses, processing it all, and eventually helping other victims. Don’t shut the process down because you are uncomfortable with it.
  8. Do not force on the victim your idea of how long recovery should take. It’s different for everyone and takes as long as it takes.
  9. In fact, do not FORCE or PRESSURE a victim of abuse at all in any way. She has already been forced by the abuser to do things against her will. She has been pressured by the abuser’s supporters as well. Don’t you force or pressure her. Let her seek healing in her way, in her time, when she is ready.
  10. If you don’t know what to say or do, just listen without judgment. Listening is more healing than advising or fixing. Tell the victim you love her. Tell her you believe her. Be there.

I’ll end with Bene Brown’s wonderful video about empathy. I’ll get back to my enchanted forest in my next post. 🙂

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