Throughout my life, I have experienced a few different forms of abuse. Because I need to protect the privacy of these circumstances, I am choosing to not discuss the matters online. I do, however, remain open and willing to share my story with anyone who cares and personally inquires. (Basically, let’s talk over coffee.) Instead of hashing through the details of my abuse online, I think a more helpful subject to discuss is that of survival.
Leaving your abuser is only the first step towards healing and the road to healing can be long, difficult, and very painful. There is always collateral damage along the way and that damage can prolong recovery. Here are some things that most victims of abuse feel at some point or another and in varying degrees. For those who long to support survivors, these are some things you should be aware of.
- Isolation. Sometimes isolation is a part of how victims cope with the embarrassment of what they have gone through. Even though the abuse was not their fault, the nuances can be very shameful and cause us to hide from the people we love. But there is also the isolation that comes from being brave enough to share our story. I cannot tell you how many times I have chosen transparency only to never hear from those friends again. I get it. Not everyone is comfortable with the responsibility of bearing another’s burdens. But take it from one who has survived, we NEED loyal friends who are willing to make those tough choices; friends who are willing to stand by us, encourage us, and walk us through the dark process of healing.
- Voiceless. After the abusive relationship has come to an end, finding the words to share our story can be really difficult. In each of my situation(s), my abuser(s) chose to keep silent over the matter. It took a while before I was finally willing to speak up about my circumstances from my point of view, but finding those words is still a challenge. Once you let people in, you risk being hurt all over again. Seeing my loved ones hang out with my perpetrator(s) has been one of the most painful things to watch, but there are some battles where my voice has been taken and I know I just won’t win. Accepting the loss has become part of the grieving process for me. In a better world we would be able to step into each other’s shoes and understand one another’s pain, but not everyone is willing to do that and I have learned to cut my losses.
- Guilt. Guilt comes from all kinds of angles when dealing with trauma. In my circumstances, there where decisions I made that contributed to the abusive relationship(s). I was wrong on many levels and feeling guilt over that is normal and appropriate. However, there is also guilt that comes from needing to rely on others during the process of healing. The range of thoughts that would run through my head was vast. Things like if only I hadn’t gotten myself into this mess… or this is going to put others in a difficult position… are just a couple of examples of what it’s like to carry around a burden and not know how to ask for help. Everyone of us needs grace over and over and as Christ followers, we should be ready and willing to pour it out unconditionally, no matter the messiness of it all.
- Blame. Victim Blaming is usually very subtle. It happens when the above feelings are affirmed by outsiders knowingly OR unknowingly. I cannot discuss my situation(s) on a public forum such as my blog, but what I can say is that I ALONE chose to get out. I ALONE chose to get healthy. I ALONE chose repentance and transparency. And unfortunately, I have suffered loss for my decisions to move in a healthier direction. This is one of those things that I still am struggling to make sense of. Why would people I know and love choose to turn away from me during a time when I needed them the most? Why do my perpetrator(s) seem to be rewarded for their silence and deceit? Examples of Victim Blaming are thinking/expressing thoughts such as: …if she hadn’t been wearing such a provocative outfit, …if he/she had only not resisted the arrest, …if they had just kept their mouth shut, …i cannot partake in listening to “gossip”
The problem with Victim Blaming, aside from the obvious misappropriation of blame, is that it’s also extremely judgemental. There are books all about how to survive abuse and trauma, but trust that there is no simple or clear-cut way of navigating through each individual situation. The pain comes from the grief over all of the complexities that made up such a toxic situation in the first place. In other words, survivors are dealing with enough on their own without the added judgements of outsiders. Why do we make healing that much harder for people?
My guess is that most people struggle with taking a stand. I have found that in this world, there is a deficit of leaders and a surplus of followers. Following is easy. It takes the difficulty of thinking through hard choices out of life and I can see how plugging our ears can be so tempting.
But the world needs more leaders. The hurting need to see others demonstrate loyalty. We each need to experience grace as people choose to enter into solidarity with our pain. I am thankful for those who have come along side me and my family during our dark times. God has given me a few very special people who have seen me through some very deep pain. It is in those times of grace where the vail between heaven and earth is so very thin. It is in those sacred friendships where we encounter Jesus in such a tangible and human way.
If you have found yourself not knowing how to be a friend to someone who is hurting, don’t shy away. Ask how you can be there for them. Roll up your sleeves and be willing to get messy. Stand by those who are choosing the difficult path of repentance and healing. They need love and support more now than at any other time in their lives and we will all find ourselves in that position during our time here on earth.
I have come to believe that it is discovering our need for grace that draws us closer to the love of Christ. It is what grows our capacity for empathy, grace, and love for others. These times of pain and healing move us into times of compassion. I am learning how to be a better friend and how to better follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Henri Nouwen calls Him our Wounded Healer. May our wounds teach us how to help bring healing to this hurting world.