How Can I Ever Forgive Myself?

“How can I ever forgive myself?” It’s a question I’ve heard many times in my years of counseling. In fact, I get it! I know very well how it is to be plagued with guilt and remorse over a bad decision. When I finally broke free from a 23 year abusive relationship, I lived with regret on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to believe the lies  that had kept me bound up for so long, and couldn’t believe how I had foolishly disregarded the harmful impact on my children. As much as I tried to tell myself that I did the best I could at the time, I was overwhelmed with remorse. The fact that I was still living with the consequences of my failures seemed to make it even harder to let myself off the hook.

As with the many other struggles I faced as a survivor of abuse, I went to scripture to find the answer to overcoming the guilt and shame I carried. First of all, I found nothing there that spoke to a need to forgive myself. The Bible urges us to forgive one another, and to receive God’s forgiveness, but never once does it tell us to forgive ourselves. Rather, it reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). It also lets us know that if we confess our sin He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). My study of scripture led me to the conclusion that rather than focusing on myself, I needed to focus on His finished work on the cross. I needed to accept what He had done for me– anything less would be the equivalent of saying His work on the cross was not effective for my sin. It was also choosing to walk in condemnation even though He had set me free from it.

Although I finally realized I had no right to continue to condemn myself, I was still overwhelmed with sorrow about the consequences of my choices earlier in life. For many years after I left the abuse, I continued to watch my children struggle as a result of their tumultuous upbringing– and my failures as a parent. Over time, I finally learned to establish boundaries with them, but it seemed to be too little too late. In the long run, all I could do was surrender them to His loving hands. All my fear-motivated attempts to control them seemed to push them further away. One day as I was crying out to God about it, I sensed in my spirit that He was not done with them yet, and that He was even sovereign over my mistakes and failures. I realized that just as He was using my pain and suffering for His good purposes, He could do the same with my kids. It took many years to see things turn around, but as I surrendered them to His loving hands He worked in amazing ways.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the weight of guilt from your past, there are two truths that will set you free –if you apply them. First, you must choose to believe God’s proclamation that you have been set free from condemnation by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He took the penalty for all your failures, and took the shame on Himself. If you have received Him, you are free from sin, guilt and condemnation. Telling yourself otherwise is to believe the lie that His sacrifice was not good enough. Second, you must trust God’s sovereignty. This means that He will somehow use the pain and sorrow you experienced for His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). Believing He is sovereign is worthless if you do not believe He is good, so if you doubt His goodness you must start by remedying that problem. Scripture is filled with proclamations of His lovingkindness, and suffering does not diminish His character!

He specializes in turning ashes into beauty (Is. 61:3). As you choose to embrace Him in your pain you will experience the reality of this truth. Full surrender to our good God will never disappoint, but holding on shame and self-condemnation will keep you in bondage. Freedom is a choice, and you will find it as you shift your focus from yourself (and your mistakes) to His abundantly sufficient grace.

Deadly Counseling

A few weeks ago I posted a simple question to survivors of domestic violence in a few online forums. The question was, ” Could you share examples of bad counsel you’ve received from churches and counselors?” In less than an hour I had over 50 responses. Below are just some the answers I received.

  • Pray more, have more sex, ask God to show you what you’re doing to make him so angry.
  • “Read this book on how to be a better wife.” “Just stop pushing his buttons; you know what they are.”
  • You need to treat your husband like he has special needs. Step back from things so you can give him your full attention.
  • “He never meant you any harm. Just trust God- don’t fight for anything in the divorce settlement. You are bitter- you need to forgive him.
  • ” Well, I don’t think he was TRYING to kill you all.”
  • “You need to work on being more submissive.”
  • “You married him for better or for worse.”
  • ” Try doing things for him, pay more attention to him, be willing to sacrifice to make him happy.” They didn’t realize that trying to keep him happy was ALL that I was doing. Nothing for myself. And still, the abuse continued.
  • I was given a book on respecting my spouse. It was perfect ammunition for my abuser.
  • It doesn’t matter if he kills you– Jesus was killed too and you’ll go to Heaven too.”
  • “Love covers a multitude of sins”; “Forgive and forget”; YOU sin too.”
  • “It’s an anger issue– if there’s a fire, you can either throw a bucket of water on it or a can of petrol/gasoline.”
  • “Let God handle him; suffer for Jesus.”
  • “You are definitely suffering….we need to help you learn how to suffer well.”
  • “Keep telling yourself “the glass is half-full”.
  • “Forgive him and reconcile, he didn’t mean to hit you.”
  • “Just have more sex with your husband and everything in your marriage will be fixed.”
  • “There are only two biblically sanctioned reasons for divorce so you can’t leave and be in God’s will.”

I wish I could say that counsel like this is the exception, but in my 20 years of working with Christian victims of domestic abuse it has been the rule. Victims are dismissed, told to minimize the severity of what happened, or to try to change their abusers’ behavior by placating them. But it doesn’t work! One dear lady wrote the following:

Honestly, I think the most damaging thing is that pastors place ALL the responsibility on the wife’s shoulders to do things to “change him.” It never works. What’s really needed is swift and strong action against him- if just one person had looked at my ex and said “You are NOT going to treat her this way or there will be consequences” and then did exactly that—he wouldn’t have continued, then and now. His arrogance was fed in my former church—he still attends because it’s safe for him. He’s still abusive, and unrepentant.

This statement is loaded with truth. Studies show that abusers do not spontaneously change without strong intervention. In fact, every survivor I’ve ever met told me that the more they tried to appease their abusers, the worse things got. I know it was true for me when I was in it. The one and only time I’ve been involved in a successful reconciliation after domestic abuse, there was a long period of separation with lots of individual counseling and accountability for the abuser. Counsel that puts the burden of change on the victim not only kills any chance of overcoming abuse, but it could also get someone killed. At an advocacy training I attended this past summer, one of the other advocates shared a story that happened in her hometown. A local pastor told a victim in his congregation that she had to reconcile with her abusive husband, and shortly after her return her husband killed her. Why are counselors and pastors willing to take such risks with their counsel?

I have to conclude that most just lack the knowledge to provide effective intervention, because they operate under several faulty assumptions. 1) They believe that abuse is provoked or that it’s just the result of heated tempers on the part of both parties– rather than a pattern of coercive control on the part of the abusive partner. 2) They believe domestic violence is a marital problem– rather than the responsibility of the one choosing the violence. 3) They don’t consider a destructive relationship abusive unless there is physical abuse– even though domestic violence experts have identified a pattern of “nonphysical” behaviors that can clearly indicate lethality. None of these flawed conclusions are grounded in truth or empirical evidence, but are unfounded notions based on outward appearances.

The truth is that abusive people usually have two personas– one that is seen in public and another that is only seen in private. Abusers are very often charming and likable to outsiders, but cruel and demanding at home. Sadly they are able to instill so much fear in their victims that they help hide the truth. In fact, often they hide it so well that when they come forward people automatically doubt their stories. It is difficult to discern the truth without specific training in the dynamics of abuse.

Victims may also fear telling the truth about what goes on at home to their religious leaders because of their beliefs. Many times pastors and Christian counselors make marriage the priority in their counseling, rather than the safety and welfare of victims and their children. It seems the modern church has learned to elevate marriage over people, even as the religious leaders in Jesus’ time elevated the Sabbath. In our zeal we forget that marriage was made for people and not people for marriage, as Jesus reminded the Pharisees about the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27).

Recently I heard an ultimate example of such religious zeal when I spoke to a dear woman who fled to a local shelter for safety after her husband brutally attacked her. The shelter did a lethality assessment, and she was told the chances of her husband killing her was very high. Less than six months out, her church is telling her that she must reconcile with her husband, even though there have been no signs of true repentance or heart change. They’re focusing their counsel with her on how to stop provoking him. I’ve tried to convince her to stop the counseling with her church, but she won’t. All I can do is pray that she will break free before their foolish and deadly counsel does irreparable harm.

Won’t you join me in prayer for her and the thousands of victims who receive this sort of counsel each year? Better yet, join me in raising your voices to help increase awareness by sharing this post.

 

 

 

 

Raising our Voices Against Abuse

Twenty two years ago domestic violence drove my children and me out of our home. We got out with only the clothes on our backs and bounced from one friend’s house to another, as my husband went on the warpath threatening everyone who tried to help. When I called the police, they reluctantly went over to the house and “tried to calm him down,” but told me there was nothing they could do to stop him from destroying the antiques and other precious items I had inherited from my grandmother. They explained that once I married, my property became his, and he could do whatever he wanted with it.

Since he could not find us, my husband’s rage increased. He began chopping up and burning all the wooden antique furniture in the house. He also bagged up all my personal belongings and carried them to the town dump, making sure to ruin my most expensive clothes by pouring ink all over them. Several hours each day he was on the phone relaying threats against me to friends and family members. He also went to great lengths to convince them I was to blame for everything that was happening. After his own father called to tell me he was afraid for my life, I called the police again. I believed if he found us, I would be killed. The police asked me if he owned weapons, and when I told them he did, they became reluctant to respond and basically told me there was nothing they could do about the threats. In the weeks that followed, I called them several times. Once or twice they went over to try to calm him down. One of those times he told them I was going to “end up in a body bag,” but apparently that was not enough to warrant an arrest.

A friend of mine was married to a deputy, so I called and asked him for advice. He suggested I go take out a warrant against him, and get a protective order. I did it the very same day, and laid low praying that they would get him before he got us. After two days, when I still hadn’t heard anything, I called to find out what happened. They told me he had been served, but they weren’t sure he’d seen it yet. While I was actually naive enough to think they might put him in jail, I soon found that serving him only meant that a pink piece of paper was taped the the door of his house ordering him to court in 30 days . When he got home from a long shift as a staff physician, that piece of paper merely served to enrage him more. The threats through friends and family intensified.

I reached out to my pastor, and he went by to see my husband. Although he had only been a nominal member of the church, while I served faithfully, my pastor seemed to believe my husband’s story over mine. He seemed to think that I had done something to set him off, because nobody would go that crazy without reason. I tried to explain that I’d spent our entire marriage trying to avoid setting him off, but I never knew what might do it. One time, he tore the house up because he was mad at the cat. Another time, he became furious and started breaking things, because our daughter used his hairbrush and forgot to put it back. My solution to that was to go out and buy 17 brushes so that would never happen again. I always tried to smooth the way for him, but nothing was ever enough. We never knew what might set him off. The most stressful time of the day was when he walked in the door from work. Would he be in a good mood or a bad mood? If it was good, nothing would bother him, but if it was bad everything would anger him and all we could do was try to avoid him.

I explained all of this to my pastor, and he suggested we come in for a counseling session. As afraid as I was, I wanted our marriage to work so I went. I arrived 20 minutes early to avoid meeting my husband in the parking lot. When he arrived, he seemed calm and cool. We sat and listened as our pastor told us how he thought we could repair our marriage, but inside I knew none of it would work. In our 13 years of marriage, we had seen at least a dozen counselors or pastors, and nothing anyone had suggested had worked. Somehow they all put the burden for his behavior on me. I was told to boost his self-esteem, to keep a cleaner house, to pray more and ask God to show me my contribution to the problem. Most of the time, I was way ahead of the counselors and already doing what they prescribed. We had learned to tip toe around my husband quite well, except on those rare occasions when something unexpected came up. It didn’t seem anything we did could help us in those situations.

Even though he had been prone to fits of rage of the years, he had only been physically abusive towards me about 4 or 5 times in the entire length of our marriage, so I didn’t really consider myself abused. I just thought he lost control because of his troubled upbringing and long hours at work. I never thought he was intentionally trying to hurt me, so I made every effort to bring healing to our marriage. For a year and a half after that initial separation I reached out to anyone I thought might be able to help. After all, I didn’t believe in divorce! Yet, nobody had the answers I longed to find. Every earthly resource failed us–  from the legal system to law enforcement, from counselors to the church. The violence simply became more frequent and more deadly.

One day my twelve-year-old daughter asked me why I didn’t just leave and give up the idea of reconciliation. My response was that God hates divorce. Immediately she said, “God hates divorce, but he’s going to hate it a lot more when my mom is dead.” Even after hearing that, I refused to give up. It took nearly losing my life to decide I needed to leave, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, because everything in me wanted to save that marriage. Even after I left, I waited on God hoping he would change my husband’s heart. Not until he remarried five years later did I feel released from that marriage.

During that five year separation I struggled and grieved over the loss of the marriage. I was also overwhelmed with guilt and condemnation because I couldn’t make it work. Still, I knew I had no other choice. Even though I couldn’t find the right help, I felt I had failed somehow. One day as I was reading 1 Corinthians 7 regarding separation from an unbeliever, God gave me peace about leaving. Since my husband claimed to be a Believer, and since he kept saying he wanted to stay in the marriage, I didn’t think the passage applied to us. However, that day I saw that the reason Paul released believing spouses from such marriages was that “God has called us to peace” (7:15). That passage leapt off the page into my heart as I realized I had not had peace in the entire 23 years I had been with my husband (8 years of dating and 15 of marriage). Suddenly I saw God’s kind intention towards me. He wasn’t condemning me for getting out, I was condemning myself and many in the church did too.

In the years since I left my marriage I have reached back to help others in similar situations, and have seen plenty of victims face condemnation from the very people they approached for help. Like me, most have been made to feel responsible for their abusers’ actions. I’ve seen them struggle with the same unbelievable lack of resources I faced. It wasn’t that people didn’t try to help– they didn’t know how!  People perish for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6), and when helpers don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, they very often make things worse. They minimize or deny the problem and fail to believe victims who finally get up the courage to come forward. They elevate marriages over lives, and fail to recognize the deadly nature of domestic violence.

Recently a woman I know fled to the local domestic violence shelter for help. When they did a lethality index, it indicated she has a very high chance of becoming a victim of domestic homicide. Yet, a month later, her pastor was encouraging her to come in for couples counseling. I wish I could say it’s an exception to see domestic violence mishandled by the church, but sadly my experience with hundreds of women has shown me it is the rule. Every time I hear a story like this, I become more determined to make a difference.

The bottom line is that abusers continue to abuse, because we close our eyes to it. We try to pretend it’s not all that common– even though the American Medical Association says one in three American women will experience it– even though statistics are no better in the church– and even though it “is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.”

Not only do we ignore the problem, we actually make it easier for abusers when none of the systems in place are able to effectively protect victims, including the church. When I look at scripture, I see God’s heart for the oppressed and his mandate for us to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and.. break every yoke” (Is. 58:6).  That is our calling as his people, and we need many voices if we are ever to overcome this awful plight.

November 3-4, 2017 in Raleigh, NC, Called to Peace Ministries will be hosting its fall conference, “Developing a Church-wide Response to Domestic Abuse” with domestic violence expert Chris Moles. This conference will help equip those who want to help and be a voice for those oppressed by domestic abuse. To those not local to the Raleigh area, we will have live streaming via Facebook. Please visit our Eventbrite page to register. We hope you’ll join us and become a voice for the oppressed.

When God Shows Up

Many years ago, in a small church in Mexico, I interpreted a whole sermon from Spanish to English. That might not seem very remarkable to some of my readers, but to those who know me (and my very limited Spanish skills) it was nothing short of miraculous. We had just spent a week helping two small churches with their missions to the local community, but just before the end of our trip our interpreter had to leave early.  When we arrived at the church that Sunday, I looked at the two young men who had been interning with a local missionary, waiting for them to begin interpreting. However, they just looked at me and said they couldn’t. I tried to tell everyone that I was absolutely not able to interpret a sermon, but seeing that no one else was able or willing I agreed to give it a try.

As I opened my mouth, God showed up. Somehow I found myself understanding words I had never heard before, and in the few spots (at the beginning) where I got stuck the pastor’s gestures were enough to help me get it. By the end of the message I was getting nearly every word. To this day, I find it hard to believe that happened, but really I should’t have been surprised. If I’ve learned anything in the last few decades, it is that God does miraculous things when we step out in faith.

For years I knew he was calling me to begin a domestic violence ministry, and I sat back waiting for him to show me the details. I prayed and waited for him to provide the income, but nothing happened. Eventually the calling became so strong I began to pour all my effort into developing an alternative source of income so that I could do the ministry. But that didn’t work either, nor did any of my efforts to figure it out and make it happen in a way that seemed safe and secure.

One day as I was crying out to God, I clearly sensed his voice in my spirit telling me that his calling was not for me to make it happen, but to be obedient-– even when I couldn’t see how he was going to do it. I had been spending all my efforts trying to do it in a way that made practical sense, but he was calling me to the impossible. He was calling me out of my comfort zone into the miraculous. Often when God calls it makes no sense in the natural realm. Consider the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan. They arrived there when the river was at flood stage, but God told them to walk through the river.

“Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.” Joshua 3:15-16

Isn’t it interesting that the flow of the river didn’t stop until the priests put their feet in the river? It seemed crazy by human standards, but that’s exactly how God works. He calls us out of our own understanding into his ways (Pr. 3:5-6).  We simply have to be obedient to walk towards his calling. Until we put action to our faith, nothing changes. That does not mean we try to force our idea of how his plan might look. Instead, it means trusting as we walk towards his calling. When we do He shows up mightily.

 

 

Grace for those who Blow It

I get so much encouragement from the story of King David—up till the very end of his life. The fact that God called him a man after his own heart is what I find most encouraging. David blew it again and again. In 1 Kings chapter 1 we find that his parenting left something to be desired, but God still delivered him out of every trouble. This is not to say there were not consequences for his mistakes, but it is to say that God is gracious beyond what we deserve. He even takes delight in his flawed children. David continually turned towards the Lord for help when he messed up. Check out these passages below. David’s son Adonijah had set himself up as king against David’s wishes. He had the backing of Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Zadok. In his weakened state, it may have seemed impossible for David to overcome those odds, but he called on the One who had delivered him from every trouble!

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” …

The king then took an oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel…” (1 Ki. 1:5-6, 29-30a)

From David’s life I get the feeling that the Lord would prefer an honest, repentant heart who messes up a lot than a proud, hypocritical and judgmental heart. David is my hero, because I can relate so much to him. He ran from an abuser for years, and learned to cling to God. Perhaps his personality was a lot like mine in that he didn’t like to confront anyone—we do tend to be the ones who are targeted by abusers. We are also the ones who might fail to rebuke our children like we should, or allow fear of what people might do control us occasionally.

Still, our troubles send us to our knees, and we know where our help comes from. If you’ve ever found yourself in a position of complete desperation with no place to turn (except to God) you can understand David. When every human resource fails us, we have an amazing opportunity to prove Him faithful. In his early years, David’s brothers scorned him, his father-in-law the king tried to kill him, and he lost his wife. Yet, in Psalms we get a beautiful picture of how these trials drove him to God. In Psalm 42 he  compared his desire for God to an unquenchable thirst. Once we drink deeply from the goodness of God, we can never doubt him again– not even when we blow it. Hallelujah!

Lord, we are so grateful for your amazing grace that could even call someone who messed up a lot a man after your own heart. We pray that regardless of our flaws and mistakes we will be people after your heart. We pray for grace and mercy to cover the mistakes we have made. Father, redeem it all, so at the end of our lives we can say you “delivered [us] from all [our] troubles.” We love you Lord. Amen. 

Where Faith & Depression Meet

The first time I met with “Jennifer” she told me she was struggling with severe depression. As usual, I spent our first counseling session gathering information about her past, and wasn’t surprised to learn that she had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older cousin from the time she was 8-years-old until she was 13. When the secret finally came out, her mother told her not to say anything to anyone, but just to avoid being alone with her cousin. She wasn’t even sure if her mom spoke to her cousin’s parents, and somehow she was made to feel responsible for what happened.

For years Jennifer carried the shame of what happened to her. She grew up and married, but he turned out to be physically abusive, and by the time her son was 5 she was divorced. As her marriage was falling apart, a friend invited her to church. Within months of visiting the church, Jennifer fell in love with the One who suffered and died in order to redeem her soul. Her life was changed, and she felt peace like none she had ever known. Yet, five years later she was meeting with me because of depression.

As a survivor of abuse I could relate to Jennifer’s struggle. Getting out of the abuse was much easier than getting the abuse out of my head. It had warped my thinking, and caused me to believe lies about God and about myself. I found myself consumed with negative thoughts, and the more I thought about things, the more depressed I became. I wondered why God allowed the abuse to happen, and felt that my experiences had damaged me for life. It seemed as though I was engulfed in darkness, and suicidal thoughts plagued me. If  not for my children, I’m not sure I would be here today. But that wasn’t the end of the story for me. Misery drove me to scripture. Between my own private bible study, and a few solid group studies, I became determined to “cast down” the negative thoughts that overwhelmed me (2 Co. 10:5). I often tell people God brought me through an intensive period of supernatural cognitive behavioral therapy that eventually set me free.

Jennifer was looking for freedom from depression too, but when I asked her about her thought life, she just looked at me and said, “I really don’t think about anything.” That is the day I came up with the idea of keeping a “thought journal.” I asked Jennifer to set a timer to go off several times a day (especially those times when she was feeling depressed), and to write down what she was thinking about during those times. The idea was to write out any negative beliefs that were fueling the depression, and then to find scriptures to counter them. When I met with Jennifer a week later, I asked about her journal. She told me that the timer had worked, because she realized that she was constantly thinking discouraging thoughts. Even though she had been out of abusive relationships for years, her abusers still had power over her. Deep below the surface she felt she was unworthy of God’s love. Even worse, she doubted it altogether.

The solution for Jennifer, and for anyone struggling with negative emotions, is to identify beliefs that are contrary to God’s truth. I often tell ladies in our support group to print out specific passages of scripture, and to say them out loud any time the destructive thoughts come. I also believe that singing along with praise music is powerful, because it makes God bigger than our problems. In his presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11), and depression will have to flee. I used to imagine myself being held by the Mighty Warrior as he quieted me with his love and rejoiced over me with singing (Zep. 3:17). There is nothing more healing than being in his presence. Those who make the effort to find him in the midst of their pain will not be disappointed. He gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Is. 61:3). 

God is a healer! I have never seen him fail to restore those who have tenaciously determined to believe his truth. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a powerful one. Nothing gives me greater joy than to watch the faces of God’s precious children learning to embrace the freedom he offers. If you are plagued by depression or anxiety, please know that he offers “liberty for the captives” (Lk. 4:18), even as you learn to “take every thought captive” to his truth (2 Co. 10:5). Identifying false beliefs about God and about yourself, and replacing those thoughts with his promises will heal your broken heart. Ultimately, his peace, that surpasses human comprehension, will protect your mind from worry and your heart from despair (Phil. 4:7).

 

If you read this article, and are wondering where to begin, please contact me  for a list of helpful scriptures.

When the Abused Become Abusive

One of my passions in life is to help victims of domestic violence heal from abuse. In the twenty years I’ve been doing this work, I have seen some amazing transformations. God specializes in turning ashes to beauty, and I often tell people that those who have come through and overcome the traumas of abuse are some of the most remarkable people you’ll ever meet. They have a depth of character and faith that is unparalleled by most in this world.

But sadly, I have also seen many victims who have never healed. The vast majority of these individuals manifested symptoms like anxiety and depression, but recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my work. Lately I’ve had several encounters with former victims who have become abusive themselves.* Scripture warns us, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (Pr. 22:24-25). After living with abuse for 23 years, I know this was true for me. One day, about a year after leaving my ex, my children were misbehaving on a trip. When they didn’t straighten up after a first and second warning, I lost it. I slammed on the brakes, pulled over, and yelled at them with the harshest words I could find. The shock in their eyes said it all. They were used to seeing their dad that way, but I usually held it together better than that. As I pulled back onto the road, I felt a familiar tug on my heart. The Spirit of God within was so grieved, I finally pulled back over and apologized to my daughters for acting that way. I told them that we had all learned to be angry, but promised I would do everything in my power to unlearn and overcome it.

In the years that followed, God set me free from my anger. I learned to place my strong emotions in His loving hands, and trust His goodness so that I didn’t need to fret about the people who hurt me along the way. I learned to forgive, and leave justice in His hands. Unfortunately, some people who have experienced abuse never learn these lessons. Statistics show that children who grow up with abuse are more likely to become abusive, and the same is often true of adults coming out of abusive relationships. When people hurt us, it is natural to put up walls and try to protect ourselves. The problem is that those walls very often turn into self-made prisons. We grasp for control to ensure nobody will ever hurt us that way again, and usually the outcome is that we end up hurting others. We become quick to judge and slow to listen. We even assume evil motives in people who are genuinely on our side.

This is what I’ve been seeing in ministry lately. One lady we tried to help soon began to blame us for all of her problems. She wanted to dictate exactly how we helped her, and when we were unable to comply, she lashed out saying we were the cause of all of her troubles. The thing is that she had all of those problems before we even met her. She also had a trail of broken relationships, and had alienated nearly every friend and family member. We tried to help, but eventually realized that no matter what we did, it would never be enough. She would never be able to believe that our actions weren’t laden with selfish motives. The more comfortable she became with me, the more verbally abusive she became, and finally I was forced to cut ties altogether. As much as I wanted to help that dear woman, I couldn’t. The very act of trying ended up hurting me. This is probably the hardest part of working with victims.

Many victims who fail to heal end up repeating the same abusive patterns that caused them harm. It may not become physically abusive, but they are masters at stirring up misery. They come across as self-righteous, and critical of those who don’t agree with them. They twist your words to fit their own self-seeking agendas. Victim /abusers don’t have ears to hear. They only hear what they already believe, based on their past experiences. When you try to reason with them, it only ends up hurting you. Filled with self-pity, they use guilt to control you. They are easily offended, and assume evil motives on your part. Basically, their actions are the exact opposite of God’s description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7. Rather than giving their hurts to God, and applying His truths for healing, these wounded abusers simply continue to give power to their abusers by carrying on their traditions.

 

 

*Note: Many abusers accuse their victims of being abusive, and often counselors wrongly believe that abuse is provoked. This article is not referring to situations like that. Those who counsel these situations must learn the dynamics of domestic violence in order to be able to discern truly abusive patterns.

Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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