Tag Archives: healing from abuse

Stuck in the Muck!

Ten Signs You Haven’t Healed After Domestic Abuse

I lived 23 years of my life as a victim. Well no, that’s not exactly true. I left my abusive husband after 23 years, but my victim status didn’t go away until several years after that. Becoming a victim was not my choice, and it was never my fault, but eventually I learned that moving out of the victim mindset was my responsibility. In the years after I got out of the abuse, my misery and God’s providence graciously led me to truths that enabled me to overcome and move from victim to victor. It was not a quick or easy process, but it was an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. God lifted me out of a pit despair and taught me how to walk in complete dependence on him in the midst of incredible turmoil. He grounded me in truth and made me a better person than I ever was before the abuse.

Even as I was working through my own healing process, I began working with victims of domestic abuse. I still had so much to learn, but I was willing to share the truths God was teaching me. In the beginning it was really hard for me to hear survivor’s stories without experiencing strong feelings of outrage and anger. I am sure that my support during those early years was iffy at times, but nothing could stop me from pursuing my passion to help. Over the past 23 years of doing this work I have learned many valuable lessons from hundreds of survivors. One of the hardest lessons has been seeing what happens to victims of abuse who never take the time to heal, or try to fast track the process by skipping the hard work it usually takes. Here’s what I’ve come to believe:

There’s no subtle way to say it. If you don’t find healing after your abusive relationship, there’s a good chance you could end up with some negative repercussions. You may find yourself moving on to another abusive relationship. You could end up suffering from severe depression or anxiety, or worst of all, you might find yourself chronically angry, perhaps even abusive yourself. *

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these outcomes. I’ve seen scores and scores of women move from one abusive relationship to another, because they were still operating out of trauma from previous relationships, and because they never became healthy enough to recognize what to look for in a new relationship. The hardest part of overcoming abuse is overcoming the warped thinking that comes with it. I often tell people that it took a lot longer to get the abuse out of me than it did for me to get out of the abuse (and getting out wasn’t easy or quick). I had come to believe so many lies, which were aggravated by the physical impacts of post traumatic stress. These lies were so deep-seated in me that took years to recognize and replace them with truth. Meditation on His Word was powerful, but even after attaining the major healing milestone of forgiving my ex husband, I had a long way to go. Forgiveness did help alleviate the anger that almost destroyed me, but it did not stop the fear and anxiety that continued to rule me. Healing was a process that required honest self- appraisal along with sheer determination not to allow lies to control me any longer.

Where are you in the healing process? Have you determined to work through the impacts of abuse, or are you too afraid to face the truth of what happened? Sadly, that response is the quickest way to stay stuck or end up repeating destructive patterns. Many times people start the work towards recovery, but then try to skip over important steps like forgiveness, grief or self-examination. Are you willing to take an honest look at yourself? If so, below are some signs you have still some work to do.

Ten signs that you’re stuck in the trauma of your past.

Health Illustrative

  1. You feel a strong desire or need to be in another relationship— or maybe even back in the destructive one you left. You may find yourself longing for your abuser. You may have no idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, but that doesn’t stop you from trying again.
  2. You still see yourself as a victim. While you were victimized by someone, allowing it to become your identity is very dangerous. You may find yourself unable to trust even those who have good intentions towards you, and assume their motives are evil even when they are not.
  3. You find yourself easily triggered by anything that reminds you of the abuse you experienced. A sound, smell or even a word can thrust you into a state of panic or dissociation.
  4. You struggle with depression or anxiety. While there are chemical and hormone imbalances that can contribute to these conditions, it’s important to recognize that trauma also changes brain chemistry. Recovery work with a trauma informed counselor, and meditating on truths to counter warped thinking, can help rewire the brain so that it may be possible to overcome long term depression and anxiety.
  5. You can’t move past the anger. Anger, in and of itself, is not wrong. We are made in God’s image, and there are things that anger him. The problem comes when we become consumed with anger and are unable to let it go. Anger like this becomes destructive, and compels us to want to control things rather than releasing control to God. It is self-focused versus righteous anger which is God-focused.
  6. You are easily offended and overly defensive. When we haven’t healed we tend to take things too personally. We often read into the motives of others and make faulty assumptions based on our past experience rather than reality. This can cause problems in most of our relationships. 
  7. You are critical and controlling of others. Part of healing after abuse involves learning to let go the need to control things that are beyond our control, particularly other people. When we become hyper aware of others’ faults and feel it’s our job to correct them, we are in danger of treating others the way our abusers’ treated us.
  8. You struggle to make decisions. When we’ve been controlled and criticized for years, it is hard to move forward and feel confident about our choices. Most of us were told we couldn’t do anything right, so the simple act of making a decision can become paralyzing. 
  9. You can’t get past grief and regret. There’s hardly anything more traumatic than being maliciously betrayed by someone we love. It’s hard to get over the shock that their intentions were so evil, especially when we loved them so much. Many times we struggle to get past the guilt and regret we have for failing to recognize the abuse sooner. Grief is a normal part of the healing process that we can’t avoid, but it becomes a problem when it turns to self-pity.
  10. You feel hopeless and have lost your faith. Living with abuse can make us feel like our abusers are even more powerful than God. It’s especially difficult when they use scripture as a weapon to convince us that God is on their side. Nearly every victim of abuse I’ve ever met found their faith was damaged in some way, and most struggle with hopelessness at some point.

Has abuse left you angry, fearful or distrusting of people in general? Do you find yourself having difficulty with relationships in general? Are you easily offended or do you assume evil motives on the part of people who are truly trying to help you? Are you stuck in regret over the past? If so, you are not alone. These are normal responses to trauma and betrayal. The abuse was not your fault, but finding healing after abuse is your responsibility. Are you willing to do an honest self- appraisal and determine to do the work it takes to heal?** If not, you will miss out of the hope and healing our God offers. My prayer for you today is that you will encounter His life-changing truth, and that He will give you the grace and wisdom needed to walk the path to freedom. 💗

 

*Forrest, Joy, Called to Peace Companion Workbook, Blue Ink Press, p. 141.

**If you don’t know where to begin your healing process, Called to Peace Ministries’ offers a scripture based curriculum and support groups that can help. Visit http://www.calledtopeace.org to learn more

    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 People Hurt Us

    I’ve always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis (37-50), because it is a story of redemption. In fact, I often tell his story to children who have witnessed and experienced domestic violence, because Joseph had some rather traumatic experiences and overcame them. While the world tells us that such trauma sets us up for a lifetime of misery, I believe this account shows that, with God, that does not have to be the case. Joseph entrusted himself to God in spite of his circumstances, and recognized that God’s plan for his life included using the trauma he experienced for good purposes. Even though he was abused, betrayed and suffered severe injustice, Joseph recognized and proclaimed faith in God’s good and loving plan.

    “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Gen. 45:8)

    “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Get. 50:20)

    Time and time again Joseph recognized God in his negative circumstances. It is obvious that he was hurt by them, but he still acknowledged God’s hand in them all. He could have easily become bitter and angry with God during this time. After all, many injustices had occurred. He had every right to be upset. His circumstances just weren’t fair, but he continued to entrust himself to God.

    We have a choice people hurt us. We can allow it to make us bitter, and give them power over us, or we can let God make us better and realize he is ultimately sovereign over it all. This is not to say that we shouldn’t get out of an abusive relationship when we can! Scripture is filled with godly people who ran from harm. (See Ac. 9:25 and 1 Sam. 19:10).  Jesus himself escaped harm until it was his appointed time to die (Jn. 10:39). However, even when people do us harm; he has the power to use it for good. No life experience is wasted when we belong to him. I think that coming to understand this is one of the keys to healing from abuse. Our feeble minds cannot see the long-term agenda, but he can.

    There have been many times that I thought people had control of my life, but in reality God was still on the throne. I assumed people had all the power, but he wanted me to surrender it, and allow him to use it for my good. That is what he has always done. Many times in my life I have questioned why bad things have happened. I have wished I could go back and do something different so the outcome would be different. I have wished that I could control it all. I have lamented that people were hurting me, and yet when I look back, I see very clearly how God used it for good in my life. No, being abused was not good. Being betrayed by loved ones was not good, but as I entrusted myself to God in each situation, he was so faithful to use all the bad for good. I have a relationship with him that I wouldn’t trade for the entire world. He has been completely faithful in it all.

    When I look back at the worst of times, they were also the best of times spiritually. Jesus held me and spoke to my wounded heart in the most awful circumstances. My experiences have been amazing tutors that have worked together for good in my life (Rom. 8:28). I have learned to stop asking why these days, and instead ask, “God, what do you want to teach me in this?” He always shows me, and in due time, he always lifts me back up. What an amazing God we serve!

    Thank you Lord that you are sovereign over hurtful people. Even when you allow bad to happen, you always have a redemptive agenda in mind for your children. I praise you that nothing is wasted in your economy, and stand amazed that everything can be redeemed and used for good. This life is but a breath, but you have an eternal agenda that surpasses anything this world has to offer. I can rest in your goodness, even when things seem bad and out of control. In reality, they never are. Amen