It takes courage to say ‘No’. It takes courage to stand up against abuse. Over the years, I have met many people in abusive situations who have paid a great price to eventually extricate themselves from the vicious cycle of manipulation and recrimination.
Sexual and physical abuse, in particular, scars the victim deeply. Often the victims falsely blame themselves. Recovery from abuse involves breaking the conspiracy of silence and deception perpetrated by abusers. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, we are as sick as our secrets. Only the truth, however painful, can really set us free. Secrecy keeps us chained to our abusers.
Part of the cycle of abuse is that abusers are very skilled at blaming the victim. Many abuse victims internalize these false accusations and begin to blame themselves. Sexual abuse victims often carry a false sense of guilt and shame. Breaking false shame off victims can be very liberating. Sometimes scripture can help release people from such self-rejection: ‘You are already clean because of my word spoken to you’ (John 15:3) and ‘Do not call unclean that which God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). All of us need to experience the cleansing stream of God’s Holy Spirit. All of us need to be washed with the water of the Word, removing our stains and blemishes (Ephesians 5:27). All of us need catharsis in our daily lives.
Abusers exercise ongoing control over their victims through fear and guilt. The heart of all addiction is the cycle of fear and guilt. Breaking the cycle of manipulation will release massive breakthrough in a person’s life. As the Good Book puts it, perfect love casts out all fear. Breaking the power of fear is critical to putting the abuse victim on a stable footing. Abusers are always destabilizing the victim’s environment, causing them to ‘walk on eggshells’. Abusers will often use ‘divide and conquer’ techniques that cuts the victim off from their natural support network.
God’s truth through Scripture can be most helpful here. It is not by accident that the phrase ‘Do not fear’ is used over 365 times in the Bible, at least once for every day of the year. As Timothy was once reminded, God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7) . God’s gift of ‘a sound mind’ is key to removing ‘stinking thinking’ and giving us instead peace that passes all understanding. God hasn’t given us a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear but rather has given us the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). The key to breaking fear is realizing that in Jesus, we are adopted, we are chosen, we are accepted in the beloved. Nothing can cast us away from his loving arms.
Abusers specialize in condemning their victims as bad and unworthy of acceptance. The Good Book in contrast says that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Breaking the power of condemnation releases great joy into the lives of abuse victims. No longer do they need to falsely accuse themselves and beat themselves up. Instead they learn to accept themselves in Christ’s love. When the manipulative power of fear and condemnation is broken, victims can become victors in remarkable unexpected ways. Creativity becomes released. Healthy boundaries become re-established. Abusers lose their power to control and entrap others. Victims stop enabling the very behaviours that keep them enslaved.
It all starts when people stop rewarding abusers and start blowing the whistle on them, when people say no to manipulation, say no to fear and guilt, say no to the ways of death and destruction. It takes courage to reach out to the support networks around you, whether to your teacher, doctor, social worker, counsellor or pastor, but it is well worth it. It is not your fault. You deserve better. Say no to abuse. Say yes to life. You are worth it. You are loved.
Two resources that I would recommend in your recovery from abuse are Dr. James Dobson’s book ‘Love Must Be Tough’ and Dr. Townsend & McCloud’s best-selling ‘Boundaries’ book. My prayer for each person reading this article is that we and our families will be given the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference, in Jesus’ name.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the North Shore News/Deep Cove Crier
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