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The average American is more likely to complain, get fed up or frustrated when they encounter difficult people. Just look at how quick we are to get upset in traffic or when we have to wait in line.
Anything that upsets our little, comfortable bubble challenges our patience and understanding. That’s why talking about abuse and abuse awareness is so important.
We have a tendency to put blinders on…to try to make ourselves more comfortable. If we refuse to try to understand someone, we don’t have to feel uncomfortable.
In our last four podcast episodes we have discussed different forms of abuse: spiritual abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. The purpose of these episodes is to provide resources to those who are hurting from abuse and to educate those who struggle with understanding it.
“Abuse is any breakdown, overt or subtle, in the God-intended nurturance stream from parent to child.”
As therapists we see regularly the impact of abuse from present day to soul wounds that occurred generations ago. From the first day of counseling, we are learning about a person’s history. We learn how they have come to be who and what they are now.
One of the things that we are mindful about when working someone is to understand very early on what their definition of abuse is.
At a first counseling session, our clients fill out an intake questionnaire, and one of the questions involves abuse. When we get them in session, however, sometimes we find they answer “no” on their form. But when we discuss their experiences, we learn that they have endured abuse.
DEFINITIONS OF DIFFERENT FORMS OF ABUSE
Laura defines abuse, in general, as marked by a person using their position, relationship or authority over another person to control them. In Love Is A Choice by Dr. Robert Hemfelt, Dr. Paul Meier and Dr. Frank Minirth, abuse is described as “any breakdown, overt or subtle, in the God-intended nurturance stream from parent to child.”
In our episode, “Why Don’t Sexual Harassment Victims Speak Out”, we go into detail about how the cornerstone of sexual harassment is often the abuser’s role of authority.
There are a variety of sexual abuses. Sometimes married people, or people in sexual relationships, struggle to define an experience as “rape” because of their relationship status. It’s as if rape only happens by the hands of a stranger.
Another misconception about sexual abuse is that it only involves penetration. Many people do not consider being exposed to pornography as a child, being physically exposed to, having someone say inappropriate things about their body parts, or fondling as sexual abuse, but it is.
For spiritual abuse there are a myriad of things that can happen. A figure of religious authority or someone held in high esteem uses their position to control another person’s body, mind and/or finances.
Physical abuse also has a variety of definitions. Our culture has created an archetype of what domestic violence looks like. We’ve all seen the movies where the woman covers her black eye with sunglasses. All physical abuse is not that easy to detect.
More often than not victims of domestic violence experience physical threats. Pushing, choking, burning with cigarettes, tripping, neglect, the list goes on and on.
Emotional abuse seems to be one of the most misunderstood abuses. Many people do not recognize themselves as abused because they were never hit. This is why when we work with clients it is so important to get an understanding of what their definition of abuse is.
Emotional abuse often involves psychological control and manipulation—it keeps a person feeling unsure of their worth in a relationship and feeling like it is emotionally “unsafe” to share their feelings.
HOW DOES ABUSE AFFECT SURVIVORS?
Vincent describes codependency as a word that many do not like to hear, but it plays a large part in how a survivor behaves. The use of the word codependency really arose out of what we learned in the 70’s and 80’s about families with substance abuse issues.
The term “codependency” does not apply exclusively to alcohol or substance abuse. Compulsions and addictions may arise in other areas like perfectionism, workaholism, raging, people-pleasing, etc.
Codependency is the belief that you are responsible for another person’s feelings. When a person is abused, it usually affects their behaviors. They develop coping mechanisms that may seem helpful at the time, but really hinder their future relationships.
An example of this would be passive avoidance. An emotionally abused child may grow up to feel threatened in their marriage relationship when normal day-to-day conflict arises.
Or someone can be passive-aggressive because they never really learned a healthy way to express their anger. They find more subtle ways of taking out their anger on others.
In Love is a Choice, we learn that codependency is an epidemic. If someone says they do not have codependency, that usually means they are in denial.
In our interview with Christy Johnson, she discussed how she came to a point in her abusive marriage where she was ready for help, but her husband was not. There is such an overwhelming need for healing because so many people suffer from abuse.
WHAT IS OUR ROLE AS THE CHURCH IN HELPING ABUSE SURVIVORS?
Paula Mosher Wallace mentioned in our interview with her that we need to be open to those who approach us. She described how a pastor’s wife of thirty-five years denied that anyone in her church had been abused.
Paula exposed this fallacy. She says that those who do not make themselves welcoming and emotionally safe for others to open up, will only perpetuate the shame. The church has to uncover the lies of shame and secrecy.
Bible studies, Sunday Schools, Life Groups, DivorceCare, GriefShare, and Celebrate Recovery are all opportunities for us to engage. If you’re in the position of not knowing what to do when someone approaches you, the church needs to offer resources that you can point them to.
When you get frustrated with someone, take a moment to consider that you have not walked a mile in their shoes. When you are out and about, know that many people you come in contact with have been and are currently being abused.
We live in a broken world filled with secrecy and shame. As the body of Christ, we need to welcome our brothers and sisters. We need to help them break the bonds of secrecy and shame, and support them as recover.