You’re in a relationship, but the person you love never wants to see friends, visit family, or have them over. He or she complains if you’re on the phone with them, and asks where you’ve been if you’re more than five minutes late home from work. After a while, you realize it’s been months since you’ve seen or talked to anybody. You’re isolated and lonely. And things aren’t great at home, either…
You have a supervisor who is friendly to higher-ups, but demanding and cold to the people under her. Twice this week you’ve been called on the carpet for minor slips. You’re afraid to chat with coworkers because you know she’ll see that as a waste of time, even if you’re on break. Annual review time is coming, and you’re terrified, though objectively your work is excellent. You can’t afford to lose this job, and the heartburn is keeping you awake at night.
You’ve started attending a small group that focuses on spiritual issues. The leader, whom you admire greatly, is a very forceful personality and likes to “tell it like it is.” He seems to have insights and wisdom you wish you had. When you first started coming, he was friendly and welcoming. He seemed to see a lot of potential in you. But now he frowns when he sees you. He’s pushing you to take the next step in group membership, though you really don’t think you’re ready for that. Lately he’s been dropping hints about what happens to people who refuse to evolve spiritually. You wonder if he’s right about you.
Abuse is sometimes tough to recognize.
Abuse takes a lot of forms, and it can be tough to recognize. We have a natural tendency to doubt our own perceptions—to give other people the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are people we love or respect. What they are doing may seem wrong to us, but we rationalize it. “After all,” we think, “So-and-so has my best interests at heart. I just don’t understand. It will make sense later. If I try harder, everything will all work out.”
But it doesn’t work out. It gets worse. Other kinds of abuse start up—bossing you around, isolating you from friends and family, digs at your sense of self-worth, insinuations about bad things that might happen in the future if you don’t toe the line now. Abuse may even turn physical or sexual. Occasionally the abuser seems to “come to his senses” and may even apologize and stop the abusive behavior for a while—but never forever. The old game starts up again, and you’re heartsick. And you doubt yourself. Maybe I deserve this, you think. Maybe I’m causing it. Maybe all the things he or she is saying about me are true. And so you try harder. And it’s never enough.
Abuse is never okay.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. Abuse is never okay. Nobody deserves to be abused—not you, not the lowliest, neediest, most annoying and rottenest person on the planet. In cases of abuse, the problem lies with the abuser. And this is true no matter how hard the abuser tries to place the blame on the victim.
If you are being abused, you deserve better. (Really, you do. Trust us on this.) You cannot fix the problem by somehow being better, trying harder, because the problem is not with you. The problem is inside your abuser. There could be a lot of reasons for that, but none of them are ones that you have the power to fix. That’s completely up to your abuser. It’s out of your power to help.
Abuse can take years to get over.
Maybe you’ve been abused, and if so, we’re so sorry. You probably know that abuse takes a long time to get over. Being in an abusive relationship means that you develop expectations and ways of behaving that are out of line with the way that normal people think and behave. For instance, the author of this article had a severely abusive supervisor, and several years down the line, I still cringe whenever my new, decent boss leans over the cubicle wall to say something. I over-apologize and I worry about tiny mistakes that nobody else has even noticed. I’m not sure how long it will be before I stop doing this. It’s hard to quit.
If you are dealing with issues as a result of long-term abuse, it can help to get counseling. It can help even more to keep reminding yourself firmly that you’ve been though a lot, that it wasn’t your fault then, and the results aren’t your fault now. You are valuable. You are a human being, and that in itself means that you are loved by God, who made you.
Abuse happens in the church—and for that, we’re sorry.
It’s possible that your abuse happened in the church or in some Christian group. If that is the case, we’re so sorry, and we apologize on behalf of Christianity. Abuse is a terrible evil, and one that should never have a place in among followers of Jesus. But as we all know, there are still people in the church who do evil things. Some of them even hold high positions. It should not be this way—it is an affront to God and a terrible sin against humanity, and there is just no excuse for it. It turns what should be a place of healing into a place of pain, and that is straight-out evil.
We are working to make things better—we, the ordinary non-abusive Christians in the church. As we discover these things, we try to stop them. And we beg your forgiveness.
God can redeem the lives of abused people.
If you have been abused, please know that you are not worthless. Many of us Christians have been abused as well—by family, spouses, employers, and even in the church. We know from experience what it is like. We still suffer. But we also know that God can take even that experience and somehow, God-knows-how, bring new life and health out of it. We have seen healing—usually slow, but real. More than that, we have seen God take our woundedness and use it to help heal other people.
After all, we follow a God who knows what it means to be abused, even to death. That is what happened to Jesus when he suffered and died on a cross. And it wasn’t the first time he had come up against abuse, including abuse from religious leaders. We believe this same Jesus is now alive, and that he’s Lord over both the universe and our lives. We find that he offers healing and new life to those of us who have also been victims, as we put our trust in him.