Abuse takes many forms
Abuse can be tough to recognize, especially if the abuse is emotional or verbal. We have a natural tendency to doubt our own perceptions and to give other people the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are people we love or respect, or if it has been going on for a long time. What’s happening to us may seem wrong, but we rationalize it. “After all,” we think, “So-and-so has my best interests at heart. I just don’t understand. If I try harder, everything will all work out.”
But abuse is never okay, and it doesn’t “work out.” Oftentimes verbal abuse can lead to physical abuse. Infrequent aggression can become more frequent. Sexual harassment can become violent. It’s important to seek the counsel of trusted individuals or professionals if you think you might be in an abusive relationship. Don’t allow yourself to become isolated; reach out and discuss what’s going on with people who care.
Abuse doesn’t always happen at home. Oftentimes abuse can occur in the workplace in the form of the “Boss From Hell”, or as sexual harassment around the water cooler. Occasionally the abuser seems to “come to his senses” and may even apologize and stop the abusive behavior for a while—but not forever. The old game starts up again, and you’re heartsick. It’s a dangerous and destructive cycle.
Abuse is never deserved
It shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. Abuse is never okay. Nobody deserves to be abused—not you, not anyone. The problem lies with the abuser, and this is true no matter how hard the abuser tries to place blame on the victim.
If you are being abused, you deserve better. You cannot fix the problem by somehow doing things differently or trying harder, because the problem is not with you. It’s important to know the truth about abusers, abuse, and what to do. Your only responsibility is to yourself: remove yourself from the situation, seek help, and heal.
Abuse can leave lasting pain – seek help now
If you have been abused in some way, you probably already know that it can leave lasting emotional scars. Whether you were abused or neglected as a child or as an adult, abuse causes both short-term and long-term negative effects. These effects vary widely, but can include anxiety, shame, insomnia, chronic pain, and more. Being abused as a child can have impact well into adulthood, and can even affect future relationships.
If you have experienced abuse at any point in your life, it’s wise to seek counseling. Recognizing the problem and asking for help is a huge first step. If you are still in an abusive relationship or situation, reach out immediately so that you can remove yourself from potential danger.
Remember that whatever is happening to you is not your fault, and the results of past abuse are not your fault, either. You are valuable. You are a human being, and that in itself means that you are loved by the God who made you.
Abuse happens in the church – speak out against it
Abuse is a terrible evil, and one that should never have a place among followers of Jesus. For a pastor, priest, youth group leader, or anyone at church to commit abuse is an affront to God and a terrible sin against humanity. There is no excuse for it. It turns what should be a place of healing into a place of pain, and that is flat-out wrong.
If you have experienced or witnessed abuse of any kind in your church, it’s important to make it known. No one has the right to harm, harass, or abuse others. In fact, church leaders ought to be held to an even higher standard of moral decency (James 3:1). It can be difficult to stand up and speak out against abuse when it involves people whom many like and respect, but by telling trusted individuals (or the authorities) about what you see or experience, you can help protect others from similar trauma.
SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is a respected support group and resource for people who have experienced abuse in the church. And although the Catholic Church has received more press for its rampant cases of abuse, the protestant church still has its problems. The issue is one of human sin, and sin exists everywhere on earth, including the church. It can be helpful to remember that the church is not inherently flawed; it’s just full of imperfect humans. Nonetheless, that is no reason for any abuse to go unspoken or for any abuser to go unchecked.
God redeems all
Sin causes heartache in the world. Evil kills and destroys. But Jesus came to this earth to bring life and wants all people to have life to the fullest (John 10:10). Emotional hurt can take years to heal, and sometimes the pain seems unending. None of this should be taken lightly, and no Christian should be made to feel worse if he or she doesn’t “feel better” right away after experiencing abuse.
But there is hope. There are many stages to recovery after trauma, and they should be honored and allowed to happen. Healing from abuse takes time. Seek shelter and counsel. Reaching out and connecting to other Christians can be an important part of the healing process. Spending time in God’s word and asking him to illuminate relevant scriptures can remind you of his love for you. The Bible is full of true stories about people who experienced suffering, and God brought them peace.
In the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah endured many hardships, but ran to God for hope and healing. And God was faithful. In chapter 3, Jeremiah calls out to God in praise, “You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’ You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:57-58).
No matter how horrible the pain or how horrific the past, God can bring restoration and new life:
“Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (Jeremiah 33:6).
In the book of Revelation, God promises that ultimately, all will be made right: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying our pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Any way you spin it, there is no “upside” to abuse. But God makes all things new, and can take something ugly and make it beautiful. Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe….”
We follow a God who knows what it means to be abused, even to death. Jesus is now alive, and he’s Lord over both the universe and our lives. He offers healing and new life to those who have also been victims, as we put our trust in him.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
To find a domestic shelter in your area: Domestic Shelters.org