Thank you for joining in us this series on abuse, and in particular spiritual abuse. Today we’re joined by contributing writer and professional in the field of emotional health, Cara Dixon, as we look towards taking the next steps in the healing process.
A simple google search will provide a wealth of resources to define emotional and physical abuse. However, for many, it can be difficult to even accept that they have been an abuse victim or that a loved one has experienced such a trauma. Why? It can be extremely difficult to come to terms with the fact that a person, often a loved one, does not regard an individual’s growth and well being. Moreover, that lack of respect is partnered with inflicting harm in order to get personal needs met.
Most abuse victims endure or survive what is happening to them, believing that there is no other choice . . . or that this is just the way it is and always will be.
Physical or emotional abuse does not usually appear once, but rather reflects a pattern which revolves around features of denial. Research exposes typical patterns of abusive behavior, and at some point in the cycle, the abused person experiences momentary satiation of the need or longing for love/nurturing. The abuser will say nice things, give flowers, promise change, and even say they are looking for help. Since the victim, naturally, wants to believe that this is true and move on, the abuser is brought back in again, and the cycle continues. If the patterns continues multiple times, then the relationship is not even capable of achieving the actual closeness the victim is believing to be possible without serious intervention and counseling for both people. It could be years of undoing this pattern of relating and recreating a safe/non abusive/flourishing relationship.
It is important for the victim to recognize that the momentary satisfaction of having the relationship restored will walk them right back into the pattern of failed expectations, disappointment, and eventually depression.
Often abuse victims resist admitting that their normal is actually abusive is because it would require change. Change can be a very scary reality, especially if there is a history of unpredictability or insecurity in an environment.
[Tweet “Challenging what feels normal, comfortable, and familiar, regardless of how dysfunctional, is daunting. “]
The experience of breaking this kind of relationship surfaces heavy fears of isolation, abandonment, exposure, and more intense harm from the other. In this case, I would challenge a person to write on a piece of paper two long lines. Break the lines into a short segment and a long segment. Write on the top of the paper what you are longing for and what you fear. The first line can reflect your current circumstance and the second line can reflect what would happen if you were to move out of a harmful relationship. Indicate which segment on the lines would reflect the period of time you would experience the feelings of fear and the time possible for achieving a longing. The current situation would likely expose that what is longed for is momentary and temporary in the current situation, while what is feared may exist long term. If there were steps of change within a system of support, the second line would show that the fears would be experienced first, but they would be short term, while what is hoped for would have the opportunity exist long term.
The Steps Towards Help and Hope
So what are the steps to take to move in the direction of exploring options that would restore well being?
If there is abuse that is dangerous or life threatening then the first and only step in the moment is to call 911 or report it immediately to protective services.
Step 1: LEARN
For all the reasons stated above, there is resistance to learning about physical and emotional abuse, or acknowledging that there are features that might apply to your situation. There are excellent resources by credible sources that will help you to identify and understand what you are experiencing. I would also talk to a trusted professional, even if it is to ask questions and learn more. You can start with are several anonymous hotlines with counselors waiting to answer questions.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
LoveIsRespect.org – 1.866.331.9474
National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800.656.4673
Step 2: RECOGNIZE
Note the patterns that are repeating and ask yourself questions such as, “Do you feel afraid, believe you deserve to be hurt, or wonder if you are the only one who feels something is wrong?” Then ask yourself, “Do you feel yourself growing or dying inside? Is the person in your life looking out for your best interest or their own? Do you feel controlled, belittled, or humiliated?” If you recognized the a pattern of feel this way, whether it is from events from the past or present, seek out the help of a professional counselor. You can find one in your area through contacting Focus on the Family or 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Step 3: TALK
Most emotional or physical abuse makes a victim feel like they do not have a voice, what they have to say is not important, or if they speak they will not be heard. This is not true! Every person is valuable and the voice is the most important tool to help a person achieve a sense of self and advocate for their well being. Find a trustworthy person to talk that can acknowledge the value of your voice and listen to what you have to say. This could be a family member or friend, however, it is helpful to find a neutral, non judgmental, objective person to listen when using your voice. I would recommend a credible counselor. If Focus on the Family is not able to point you in the right direction, check with your local church and doctors. The more the voice is used, in the context of care, the more empowering and life giving it will feel.
Note: As you begin to find your voice, it will be natural to want to share your message of healing publicly. However, use great caution and discernment regarding when and where to share your story, especially in terms of social media and any online format. It’s not only wise to guard your heart from unnecessary judgement and commentary, but also for you to leave room for what God may choose to do in the life of your abuser. They also need healing and respect, even if they inflicted harm on you. The process of redemption is messy and a public forum makes it all the more complicated.
Step 4: Support
Many of the fears that are activated in acknowledging abuse and moving towards change are due to isolation and lack of other relationships. This can be easily deactivated by building a circle of trusted people that are committed to support — such a family, friends, counselors, doctors, pastors, or others who have gone through similar circumstances and are in a new place. Many of the fears in moving forward will still be there, but they will not be as strong as they were in isolation. Also, the fears in moving towards change, as reflected in the exercise above, are not long term and lessen over time if the steps towards well being are supported.
When the above steps are in place then there will be a time to move from a position of fear and loss of control into a position of standing. This takes courage, strength, and the ability to know the design God has for people and His creation before it gets distorted.
[Tweet “There is purpose, hope, and beauty in every person and no one deserves to be mistreated. “]
You are chosen, holy, and dearly loved. What has happened to you does not define you.
If you’ve been abused in the past or are currently experience any form of abuse, we urge you to seek help. It’s not only good for you, but for those you love and care for too. And, if you know someone who is being abused, we pray you’ll find the courage and strength to be that trustworthy that offers support and accountability on the journey of hope and healing.
Thank you for joining us in this series. We know it’s a difficult one to consider but are committed to being a place of truth and hope as we equipping you to live a life transformed by God and impact the next generation.
If there are particular topics you’d like us to cover in the future, please do leave us a comment and let us know.