Friday, October 17, 2008

High School Violence

High School years are a time of growing, of backpacks and lockers, homecoming and prom...and for some teens a time marred by a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship that spins into violence. "Approximately one in five female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner," according to statistics. I remember when the stat was 1 in 6; the problem is growing larger or more girls are feeling freer to report the violence.

I have heard the stories of betrayal from many women and I too was raped in high school. I remember the sunny afternoon when my boyfriend tricked me into going to his home while his mother was at work. I called his home to check on him (no one had cell phones yet) because he had missed classes. He claimed he was so ill he he couldn't make it to the kitchen to get any water to drink. He had a severe flu and he wondered if I could come over and bring him some water.

We had been dating for almost a year. I felt nervous, however, about going over to his home without parental supervision, because he'd been pushing me the previous couple of months to say "yes" to sex. I felt I was too young and didn't want to have sex until I was married someday down the road.

But despite my feelings of caution, my sympathies were aroused. He must be so weak...he sounded so weak. What could a few minutes matter? I hurried over after school and called out to say I was there, filled a water glass, and grabbed a Popsicle for the poor guy. I headed for his room...but he wasn't there. Then he called out to me that he was in his mom's room so he could be close to her bathroom.A few moments later, I found out that he was far from weak. He overpowered me easily.

I'm sharing these details as an introduction to share important information with any teens or parents of teens who might be reading this post. This is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and teen experiences of dating violence are an important matter that can lay the ground work for young men and women later falling prey to a violent marriage partner.

Did you know...
- teens are most often raped by someone they are dating, not by a stranger wandering the streets
- some teenage girls and boys are grabbed, tripped, bruised, or hit by their dating partner
- a beverage is frequently the delivery method for date rape drugs that can render intended victims defenseless
- violence in a dating situation is a traumatic betrayal that can send a teen on a downward spiral of lowered self-esteem and new behaviors. A drastic change in clothing (to either baggy clothes to hide behind or sexualized clothing), cutting, anorexia, sudden anger explosions at family members are some possible reactions.
- adolescent and teen boys can also be victims of rape at the hands of a male friend (often an older friend)?

If you're a teen who has been violated by a date or a friend, tell someone who can help. If your family is not a safe haven, consider talking to a school counselor, a doctor, a teacher you respect, a coach, or a pastor. Stuffed inside, the pain will only grow bigger and more damaging so seek help. If the first person offers nothing helpful try another trusted person. Dealing with the situation while you are young will help you considerably in your future. No one can fix what happened, but with proper help you can begin healing. Right now you might helpless and hopeless...don't give up; get help.

If you are a parent or friend who is concerned about a teen, consider sharing your concern and asking direct questions. If that doesn't reveal anything, you can give your teen an article or book to read that gives information to read about date rape and teen violence. Or you can give your teen some hotline phone numbers in case she or he or one of their friends ever has a relevant need.

For more information try:
--RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) 1-800-656-HOPE

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Abuse kills. Did you know that more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in the United States every day?

What can we do about it?

Those who read this blog because they are recovering from abuse can share their story with others. You don't have to say much. Just acknowledging that you are a former victim will have an impact. Over the years women and men have approached me after church, outside my children's school, and after writing meetings to discuss their personal abuse situations. You don't have to be an expert to help by sharing your heart, any wisdom you've gained, and any hope that has carried you through to where you are today.

As a survivor you can also be prepared. You can have your local shelter's phone number and the national domestic violence hotline phone number (1-800-799-SAFE/7233) handy on your refrigerator and in your wallet to share with others.

If you are able, consider giving donations of time, clothing, or money to your local domestic violence shelter.

Each of us can make a difference.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Self-care challenge

I used to only think about what I needed to do to take care of others around me. Not because I was born a saint. Not because I was a super strong Christian.

If you've been abused you can probably guess why I invested so much into taking care of others. I did it because I was trained from early childhood as a caretaker. It was my job to take care of others. And other's needs were always more important than my own.

On the bright side: I am kind and caring, willing to help others no matter what it takes.

On the dark side: I spent most of my life oblivious to my own needs and ignorant on how to meet my own needs.

Part of my recovery journey is learning to notice my own needs and then learn to care for myself. At first, the only way to do this was to look at myself as if I were my neighbor. Only by detaching and taking an objective look could I identify my own needs, because otherwise I was clueless (it felt as if I just didn't have any needs of my own). At this point, I can be more direct. Now I can ask myself "What do I need right now?" and often an answer will rise to the surface. I am also practicing asking "What would be best for me in this situation?" I am learning and it is increasing my self-care and increasing my joy. I worried in the beginning that such work might make me selfish, but I am not finding that to be true. I still care about others. The change is that I now care about my own health and well-being too.

How about you? Do you care about your own needs yet? If not, why not take on this challenge: Start asking yourself what you need or what would be best for you. Try it and see if it leads to good changes in how you do things.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Forgive Yourself

We didn't ask to be abused, but healing from abuse requires forgiving ourselves for our reactions and our vulnerability. When we look back at our past it is easy to feel shame over both the things we had some control over and the things over which we had no control. It can be a tangled mess that we either wallow in or avoid at all costs.

Some of the things I have needed to forgive myself for include the following:

--not succeeding in my attempts to protect myself from my abusers (in reality, my experiences as a minor were beyond my ability to stop--but I tried to end the abuse and I judged myself for the failure. I needed to let go of harshly judging myself as a failure)

--the years of my life that were negatively affected by my attempts to suppress all memories of abuse

--marrying at 19 to escape abuse--only to marry another abuser

--the lies of omission that I participated in to keep the abuse a secret

--the decision as a teenager to not tell the family doctor about the abuse

--continuing to date one of my abusers for several more months after he raped me, giving him the opportunity to heap more physical and emotional abuse on me

--being unsuccessful in protecting my little sister from my Dad (I'd already been a victim as incest and took it on as my responsibilty to protect her from incest)

--the times I have not trusted trustworthy people because of my past abuse

--the times I have allowed lots of my energy to be sucked away in codependent relationships

--the times that I have doubted God because of my history of abuse

--over-reacting emotionally to something because of my past experiences of betrayal

--under-reacting to my internal cues of danger (which have been amazingly accurate)

--ignoring my radar that tries to tell me when a new acquaintance is prone to codependency relationships

--the years of blaming myself as the cause of abuse

Each time I forgive myself for a real or perceived "failure" I move forward in my journey of healing and claiming an abuse-free life.

You have your own list of things that are crying out for forgiveness. Abuse is not your fault--you do not need to spend the rest of your life punishing yourself. Resist being your own emotional abuser! Giving yourself the same compassion and forgiveness that you would be willing to give to a friend, or even an acquaintance, is not too much to give to yourself.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Abuse is like an uncollected debt.

A small business owner feels used when a client knowingly writes a bad check with no funds to back it and then won't pay the money they owe. As long as the owner leaves the account open, he will be reminded of the unresolved problem each time he examines his accounting books. His aggravation grows as he tries to collect, sending reminder bills and legal paperwork that go unheeded.

In many cases, the business owner eventually decides to report the debt as a loss or write-off, so that he can at least move the offensive uncollected funds to a different page or column of his ledger to lower his tax liability for the job that has cost him time and stress. Forgiveness is similar to a write-off.

Forgiveness does not mean that the one has not been wronged and it does not fix being wronged--but it does allow the wronged party to move on, without constant pressure to try to collect on the debt. It eliminates the ever-present reminder of the person who has been abusive. It helps one to move on with life, allowing the forgiver to stop obsessing about how to "make" the wrong-doer take responsibility and make restitution.

True forgiveness:
--Acknowledges the debt/sin that has been done
--Understands that the offender cannot ever make the survivor's life the way it was before trust was violated with abuse
--Empowers the forgiver to set future boundaries
--Releases the one who forgives from trying to "fix" the wrongdoer
--Frees the survivor to be accepting of her or his emotional responses to the whole ordeal
--Lightens the emotional load on the survivor's shoulders
--Ends the tendency to feel stuck in the past, allowing any continued processing of the past to occur on a timetable that works for the victim
--Promotes spiritual growth as we trust God to help us forgive things we didn't think we would ever be able to forgive
--Gives us peace as we realize that Jesus has paid for all sins
--Allows us to put our trust in God as the final judge of all those who refuse to repent of sin

Forgiveness is part of the healing process. But don't rush forgivenss. Review the post entitled What Forgiveness Isn't to help you avoid false forgiveness that scars instead of being an effective part of the healing process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Forgiveness Isn't

I believe forgiving those who have wronged us is a vital part of healing, but I regularly encounter abuse survivors who are harmed by some well-meaning counselor pushing them to quickly forgive their abuser. I've also talked with many survivors who do not have a clear understanding of what forgiveness means.

Over the years, I've learned what forgiveness isn't. True forgiveness:
--does not assert that the abuse was "no big deal"
--does not claim there is no pain
--does not insist that the abuse is forgotten
--does not pretend that the abuse never really happened
--does not shield the abuser from natural consequences
--does not require telling lies to keep the abuser's reputation untarnished
--does not "fix the family" or "hold the family together"
--does not mean recovery is completed
--does not terminate feelings about the abuse (including anger & sorrow)
--does not change the abuser into a caring, responsible person
--does not demand that the survivor be a selfless martyr
--does not by itself make a survivor whole
--does not grant trust and access to the abuser
--does not have to be spoken to the abuser
--does not result in the victim feeling re-victimized

On the next post, I'll share some thoughts on what forgiveness does involve.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Interview with an Abuse survivor/Novelist

Yesterday, I had the privilege of interviewing an author, Beth Fehlbaum, of a novel that was published this month. Talking with other survivors who have engaged actively in a healing process always inspires me. Each story is unique, and yet we each have some things in common as a result of our past abuse. I haven't met Beth face to face, but I recognize certain important things about her: she is a survivor, she is courageous enough to face deep pain, she cares about others, she is healing from trauma, she is humble and at the same time is busy learning that she has value and worth regardless of how sinfully a relative mistreated her in her childhood. I hope the interview inspires you in your own journey of healing.

Tanya: Why did you write a story whose main character (Ashley) has been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually?

Beth: Courage in Patience came about, in a way, as a therapeutic suggestion. I have been in counseling for almost four years, dealing with my experience of being sexually abused as a child. About two years in to the process, I had been writing short stories and poems as a way of processing my feelings. One day, my therapist suggested that I try writing a novel. Initially, I was writing it for myself-- and the story as it is did not take shape until about four months in, because it was not until I was able to pull myself out of my head and be an observer to someone else's experience that Ashley Nicole Asher, age fifteen, came into being.

Tanya: What hope do you wish to give other survivors of abuse through this book?

Beth: I want other people who are on the same road that I have been on to know that they are NOT crazy to have feelings like Ashley has, and that they are not alone in their struggle to heal. Above all, I want to give them hope that they can make it through the darkest days of being on the journey to recovery, and come far enough to be able to SEE how far they have come.

Tanya: The episodes in the book that describe Ashely's PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) panic attacks and her skill at disassociating from painful incidents are vivid and authentic. If one of my blog readers were to read your book and its realism "triggered" a PTSD or disassociation attack, what would you like her or him to know?

Beth: That is a great question, and one that I do not take lightly. I will be really honest with you-- I am protective of myself with respect to what I read and watch on TV and in the movies so that I am not triggered-- and I hope that other survivors will also be protective of themselves. I sincerely worried about the possibility of triggering other people when I decided to publish Courage in Patience. At the same time, it is Ashley's story, just as we all have our own stories, and I felt it was important to tell it so that the healing that takes place would be just as true. I would never, never want anyone to be triggered by what I wrote, though, and if it does have that affect, please know that I know where you are in your struggle, what you are dealing with.

Tanya: I love the structure of your novel. The first 1/4 gives us an intense introduction to how Ashley is being abused by her stepfather and the remaining 3/4 of the book immerse us in Ashely's beginning healing process and the healing process of other teens with an assortment of different painful life issues to face. You could have made the book 1/2 abuse and 1/2 recovery. Or you could have done 1/4 Ashley's abuse and 3/4 only about Ashley's recovery (without the other subplots involving the new adults and teens that entered her world). Talk to us a little bit about how the structure ties into the themes of the book.

Beth: In creating the sub-plots, I was guided by this idea: "Nobody gets out of this life without a scratch." Ashley spent her formative years living inside her own head, and becoming an expert at disconnecting at what is painful. It was important to me that Ashley be a witness to other people's struggles and pain, to see that courage comes in all forms, and that all of the victories are realized when the characters lived in the light of the truth. Thank you; I'm glad you liked the structure. I love each of those teenage characters as if they were my own children.

Tanya: Ashley has to deal with not only an abusive stepfather but also a mother who does not believe her when she reports the abuse. I know this happens frequently in real life. Can you share with my readers what you've learned about how someone can cope with this horrible situation of additional betrayal?

Beth: I've learned that it takes hard work, time, the guidance of a skilled therapist, the unconditional love I find in my support system of my husband and daughters.. and that there are days that it still hurts like hell.

Tanya: I was glad that you did not try to have Ashley wholly healed in the three month period of her healing journey that we read about. Healing is a rewarding but slow journey for abuse survivors. What encouragement would you share with readers who are currently stepping out of denial and seeking healing for their battered hearts? What would you say to the reader who has already spent years working through healing issues but still struggles sometimes?

Beth: I am glad you appreciated that there is not an altogether "happy" ending-- but rather a hopeful ending. And, I'm working on the sequel to Courage in Patience now- it's called Hope in Patience. I agree with you-- healing IS slow. For those just starting on the path, I would say, "Hold on for the ride of your life." My therapist described recovery from sexual abuse to me in a few ways. One was, "It's like a roller coaster." Another was, "It's like walking, barefoot, from Texas to Alaska and back again." And, "It's like a walk through hell." I think most people who have been working at it for a while would agree that it feels like all three of those at once sometimes, and other times just one. It's NOT easy. It should be undertaken with the guidance of a competent therapist. You may not stick with the first therapist you find. And your journey may have stops and starts. Mine did. It was only when my life came to a critical point that I undertook the task and did not look back.

A strong support system helps immeasurably. There are going to be times that you feel very alone. But you're not. And that's a big message I'm trying to send with this book. With regard to people who are still working through the pain and still struggle-- well, join the club. As Bev, Ashley's stepmom says, "The side effects of sexual abuse are kind of like chemotherapy. You're going to have good days and bad days."

Tanya: You address self-injury desires and suicidal thoughts in your novel. What would you like to say to my blog readers who struggle with one or both of these issues?

Beth: From what I have learned, the desire to injure yourself and the suicidal thoughts are quite common for people who were sexually abused. But you don't have to act on them. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with a competent mental health professional. Don't try to be your own brain surgeon. This is too important an effort to try to do it, armed with just a self-help book.

Tanya: Courage in Patience includes some ugly portraits of hypocritical, judgemental, and unkind Christians. It is such a travesty when any religion is twisted and misused to abuse others. It leaves deep scars. I enjoyed reading that ZZ's grandmother, who urges mature and compassionate responses to the horrors of racism, carried her Bible into a meeting populated by a misguided group of people being led by a corrupt preacher. Would you like to share something about how faith can be a help or a hinderance in journey of healing from abuse?

Beth: I don't really have much to say on the subject, other than that some of the worst advice I got when I was in my early 20s and trying to start to deal with my "stuff" was given me by a person in a counseling center run out of a church. The advice was "Count your blessings" and "Forgive your abuser." I had not even started to deal with this stuff and I was being told to forgive? Unlike a lot of people, I do NOT believe that forgiveness of the people who were supposed to love and protect a child but did not is necessary for healing to occur. So, I guess I would say, anyone who tries to make that kind of forgiveness into some kind of litmus test for who's going to heaven (or not)-- is twisting religious faith into a toxic thing.

Tanya: What tool has helped you the most so far in your own healing journey? Is it something that is included in the novel?

Beth: Writing has helped me the most, along with a very talented therapist who, along with my husband and daughters, make up what I call my ROCK.

Tanya: Near the end of the book a character says, "I think there are a lot of us [those who were sexually abused as a child] in the world, a lot more than people want to believe. Nobody wants to think that adults force sex on children." What final thoughts would you like to share with those who have carried the shame and fear of sexual abuse and incest?

Beth: Even though it may not seem like it right now, you are not alone.

Tanya: Indeed, you are not alone, Reader. No matter what type of abuse you have experienced or who abused you, you are not alone. Thank you, Beth, for your honest answers.

Readers, if you would like to read Courage in Patience or would like to learn more about the author visit her blog:

Friday, September 19, 2008


What do you do if you are in the middle of watching a movie or reading a book and you are triggered? What do you do if your heart beat starts pounding rapidly, you break out in a sweat, and you are overwhelmed by emotions?

The first times these things happened to me as a young adult, I had no idea what to think or to do. I had buried the abuse deep down and did not acknowledge it consciously. My body and my subconscious, however, did not live in the same denial.

Those traumatic reactions gave me hints that I had things I needed to face. Now, many years later, I have opened up the closets and have dealt directly with many abuse memories--but I still feel triggered once in a while.

I've learned some things that help when I am triggered:
1.) The intense feelings pass quicker if I acknowledge them respectfully/gently. Recognizing that I am reacting to a present situation from unresolved past abuse helps me to take it easy on myself. I no longer tell myself that I am acting "crazy" or "stupid" or "over-emotional."
2.) I am less stressed when I remember that God is with me in the present and He knows everything about my life. I ask Him to comfort me, and to help me to remember what I need to remember in His perfect timing.
3.) It's okay to do something comforting while my mind is locked. I can snuggle under a warm blanket or go on a brisk walk or pace or talk to a friend or listen to music.
4.) After the panic has subsided, I can make an appointment with myself to explore what happened. I can choose to journal or draw or paint or talk to a counselor or a friend.
5.) The past is easier to face when I remember that it is the past. It already happened. I already survived it. It may feel as if remembering abuse will destroy me or rip apart my world, but I will ultimately feel much better after I examine what creates such big emotions.

What helps you when your body is traumatized by something you read or see on a screen?

Saluting Courage

Monday, September 22, 2008, I will be posting an interview with an author, Beth Fehlbaum, who has published a brand new novel about a teenage girl's journey through incest and the beginning of recovery.

I am pleased to salute the author's courage in delving into a difficult subject authentically. This is not a biographical book but the author writes with the power of someone who has been there. I will be asking her questions about healing from childhood sexual abuse in the interview.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Being Kind to Yourself

Being kind to oneself is challenging when you are in the process of healing from former abuse. It is easy to neglect your needs and be harsh with yourself.

Do you recognize this struggle in yourself? I sure do. I see myself denying myself the grace I give to others. I see myself neglecting my physical needs.

I don't have any quick fix. But I do have encouragement. As we focus on God, he heals our understanding of ourselves and helps us to recover the ability to love ourselves and others.

God is helping me to stop and ask myself new questions. If my child were feeling the way I do at the moment what would I say? do? think? Can I give myself the same loving attention I easily give to my child? What would happen if I were kind to myself in this situation?

Each time I succeed in catching myself in the old behavior and succeed in doing something kind for myself is a sweet victory!

Being unkind to ourselves perpetuates the abuser's work. Each time we risk trying new and kinder behavior we are participating in redeeming the former abuse damage. We can overcome and claim a much better life for ourselves!

Friday, September 12, 2008

To Stay or to Go?

As an abused child I remember standing in my bedroom at around six years old planning my escape. I was ready to run away. My Dad wanted to do things with me that hurt and weren't right. Even at that age I knew it was wrong. But I couldn't figure out a practical plan for running away that would keep me safe. I had no money and no where to go. I was stuck.

Many years later in my thirties, I prayed urgently for God's guidance as I struggled to stay awake one night. I could feel crisis coming. Each time my eyes slid closed I could sense the danger. My husband had been escalating, the next round of abuse was hovering, it wouldn't be long. I knew the children and I were in danger but I didn't know what to do. Fears clawed at me. I felt trapped by my fears about what he'd do if we stayed and frightened by what might happen to us if I took the children and left. I was a stay-at-home wife with three small children. I had no money and no where to go. No one knew about the abuse; I doubted anyone would believe me. I was stuck.

In the middle of the night there was another confrontation when my eyes snapped open to find him towering over me in the dark, his eyes full of anger in the light coming through a window. The tension was like sparking electricity--ominous and dangerous. The explosion was inevitable. It would happen soon.

I cried out to God again. What should I do? And then God's quiet voice let me know that I needed to get my children to safety in the morning after he left for work. I numbly did just that the next day. Once we were out of explosion range, I was able to hear more from God. He was inviting me to consider a new question. He didn't urge me to continue thinking about my fears that pushed and pulled at me. He asked my heart to think about what would be the most loving things to do. Should I return in a day and pick up where we left off or should I go report to a shelter and refuse to return until the abuse problem was directly faced and dealt with? what was the most loving thing to do for my spouse? Should I let him continue abusing without any consequences? I felt the God of love urging me to make these life changing decisions based not on my many valid fears and the huge unknowns that terrified me, but to act based on love.

I didn't feel in love anymore but I was very aware that I loved my husband and extremely committed to making my marriage work. I wanted to be loving. I wanted to be a God-honoring wife. These very things had motivated me on a daily basis to hang tough through lots of crisis.

But suddenly, once I was out of the home, God was shaking my soul with questions about my willingness to love. Did I love my spouse enough to challenge his sinful behavior that had become our way of life? Did I love my children enough to protect them even though it might cost me my marriage? Did I love God enough to let him lead me into a future I had never envisioned?

Over the next week, I wrestled with God, with all my old ideas of love, and with my broken heart. At the end of the week I knew the answers. Staying with my abusive husband was what I most wanted--I wanted things to magically get better, I wanted God to make my husband see what he was doing and make him get the help he desperately needed, and I wanted my marriage to be beautifully redeemed to be a glowing testimony of God's power to heal the broken. But, the most loving thing I could do for my husband of fourteen years was to refuse to return to our abusive home-- so he could understand that the abuse was unacceptable. The most loving thing I could do for my children was to protect them from further abuse, no matter what it took. The best chance our family had for health required that I let go of trying to force the marriage to work and allow my husband the opportunity to turn to God for help. And if none of my marriage mess worked out as I wanted, I could best love God by trusting Him anyway and following Him wherever He was leading me.

Fear can sound so practical, but it does not enable change--it actually feeds abuse. Love has the power to transform lives.

My husband did not choose healing or restoration. I ended up a divorced woman with three children to raise. I didn't get the happy ending I unrealistically kept demanding in my fear. But I did get deep and wonderful redemption. God was with me every step of the way--my trust in God became stronger than I could ever have imagined. The broken marriage was a tragedy--but one that had already been forged by years of abuse, not by my courageous act of love. Love in action is never futile; it bears eternal fruit that far exceeds the pain of laying our will and our plans aside. God has been incredibly faithful and has built for me a life that is far better (more joyful, peaceful, and rewarding) than the abusive marriage I tried for so long to hold on to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Don't Let Money Rule

Being responsible with money is a wise attribute--except when you are trying to decide what to do in an abusive marriage or dating relationship. When it becomes clear that your partner is willing to injure you physically to try to keep control over you, safety becomes more important than worrying about how you will survive financially if you separate.

Financial fears are one of the top reasons that abused women and men stay in harmful homes. They hope the other person will get better and they can't visualize how they will make it financially on their they remain.

It breaks my heart to hear the stories of people living in dangerous and painful situations because of money. When my children and I left my abusive spouse we had no income. I was a stay-at-home mom. I had absolutely no idea how things would work out financially. But when I felt God telling my heart that it was time to leave to protect my children, I left. God is our provider regardless of the existence or absence of paychecks. It may have been easier for me to leap because my spouse had already been unemployed multiple times during our marriage and I had personally experienced how faithfully God provides. It has to be much more difficult if you've been experiencing poverty already and are not sure how much God is or isn't helping. Perhaps more of my story will help. I left with my three children and rented an apartment with my parents as co-signers. We slept on the floor with borrowed blankets and pillows. But God consistently provided. I started a housecleaning business under God's leading even though I'd never considered starting any business, my separation timed with when my Dad received his first retirement money and my parents were able to help me with my basic needs for months, friends and family sent the children school supplies and gifts, the counselors discounted their rates, doctors discounted their services, people tipped me at the perfect times, neighbors thought of me when they moved and had food to leave behind, garage sales had just what we needed right when we needed it at ridiculously low prices, and fellow church members blessed me multiple times at God's urging. My kids and I had all our needs met by our gracious God.

Yes, we were financially well below the poverty line. But we ate three meals a day, every day. Even when it didn't look possible the day before.

And we were happier and less stressed than we'd ever been in our middle class suburbia home. We didn't walk in fear any more. We didn't have to hide tons of pain behind denial. We had priceless gifts--freedom, safety, and grace poured out abundantly upon us. God was in charge of meeting our needs and he came through with flying colors.

So cling to God and trust Him. Your safety matters.

P.S. And by the way, separating from an abuser is the biggest way (really the only way) that you can inspire him or her to get help for his or her issue with using violence as a power tool in your relationship.

Monday, September 8, 2008


When a memory haunts you and arouses your physiological responses as if you were back in the original trauma, it is extremely upsetting. Talking to others doesn't always work to take away such flashbacks. One particular incident of abuse tormented me for years--I kept seeing the delight in his eyes as my abuser saw my pain and my fear in response to his physical abuse. Whenever those eyes filled my mind, I was caught...lifted out of my present and stuck in a moment of horror that had happened long before. I was beginning to wonder if this memory would ever become just a memory. A few EMDR sessions with a qualified counselor turned out to be miraculous in transforming this trauma-producing memory into an old fully-processed memory of past abuse.

EMDR is an effective tool but I wasn't sure about giving it a try at first. I thoroughly trusted the counselor and had always done traditional counseling with her. I doubted that remembering while holding two hand devices that alternated vibrations would make any difference. I was wrong. The bilateral stimulation of the brain used in this technique makes a huge difference in how the brain can deal with a traumatizing memory.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The technique developed by Francine Shapiro uses eye-movements or bilateral sound (with ear phones) or bilateral tactile stimulation (with vibrating mini-paddles or tapping)along with traditional psychological therapy. It is an eight step process that helps the brain to look at what seems too horrible to examine and allows the person to process the memory.

If you have traumatic flashbacks, PTSD, or feel stuck with processing a bad memory, consider EMDR. If you decide to give it a try, make sure that you are working with a counselor who has been trained to use EMDR.

Claiming New Territory

Abuse bludgeons our acceptance of ourselves. Shame, false guilt, and ugly words tear at our perceptions of our value. Even after leaving abusive relationships of the past, I've needed to work on accepting myself.

I Will be Myself

by Tanya T. Warrington

I will not accept their words

Deep into my soul;

I am not selfish for stating my needs,

I am not too sensitive for feeling the pain of abuse,

I am not small simply because others took from me

I am me, after all, no matter what is said;

I am a caring person, who has been a victim,

I am a courageous soul, who has separated herself from abuse,

I am a maturing child of God, who isn’t done growing

I’m going to feel my own feelings

Even when someone tries to tell me I’m wrong,

I’m going to think carefully and trust myself

Even when others try to rush me,

I’m going to soar above my past

Even when others try to put me back in chains

I can’t change them, I know it is true,

But I can change my own thinking;

I can celebrate my healing,

I can accept who I am--

I’m ready to just be me,

Without paying heed to the old voices telling me I can’t--

Today, I will be myself

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Keep it Simple

My journal is a good friend whenever I am in the throes of an intense healing process. Over the years, I have filled over a hundred journals with words that searched the depths of my mind, heart, and soul. Recently, I've been filling up pages rapidly.

When we're working at a fast pace through old memories, changing old attitudes and claiming new beliefs it helps to keep our journal entries simple. Remember your journal is for your eyes only. Keeping yourself engaged in the process of growth is the crucial part.

Try these tips to simplify and stay in the flow of what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of you:

  1. Record a happening you want to reflect on with as few words as possible, so you can get to the processing part as quick as possible. For example, Argument with F might be the only heading you need to focus on the disagreement you and Francis had over how to organize the church potluck. Getting your internal reactions is far more important information under the heading than writing a precise description of everything that ensued concerning napkin colors, coffee brand, etc.
  2. Circle, underline, draw arrows to move around in your mind and on the page.
  3. Forget sentences if phrases will keep you moving better. Feel free to use abbreviations and acronyms as well--you're processing not documenting.
  4. If referencing a book(s) you are using as a catalyst, put a code in parentheses after the first use. Thereafter, just use the code. For example The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (CITH).
  5. Draw a line between entries made on the same day (instead of rewriting the date).
Be bold! Say exactly what you need to say in your private journal--for your own recovery from abuse. It's another step in honoring your needs and taking care of yourself. Healing is waiting between the covers of journals, especially when we pray as we write.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning to Heal

Summertime activities and extra attention to emotional healing work have kept me away from the computer the last few weeks. I have been reminded of several truths again:
  • Time in the out-of-doors is healing. Spending time in God's creation leads to quiet moments of reflection, recreating relieves tension and stress, and sunshine elevates the mood.
  • When you are working on new behavior and/or revisiting old memories to work through things--it takes extra energy. To find balance you need to accept it and make more time for stress relief and rest.
  • Each time we confront old beliefs with truth and are making new behavior changes, we are making progress and fashioning a better life for ourselves. But while you are first confronting and changing--life feels rocky, challenging, and downright uncomfortable.
  • Old memories that are hidden for a long time feel so powerful when we first unlock them--it is intense! But the very act of facing memories of abuse that we were afraid to look at starts diminishing their power.
What lessons have you been learning this summer? If you'd like to share remember that you can post a comment anonymously without giving your email address. If you run into problems--a few people have let me know that they couldn't post--you can send me and email and request that I post the content of your email. My email is; I hope to hear from some of you over the coming months.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Self-care Won't Come Easy

What do you do when you feel too tired?

Do you give yourself guilt-free time to rest--or do you treat yourself with harshness and push on until you get sick? How about when you notice that you work longer hours than anyone else at work...because you never say no, never state any limit of how much you can reasonably accomplish? Have you ever felt like you are doing too much, but keep pushing harder and harder anyway? Maybe you don't work too hard but you treat yourself in a way that you wouldn't dream of treating others. Maybe you're impatient with yourself or tell yourself lies. Learning to take care of your needs will be a struggle if you are recovering from abuse. Abuse taught you that your needs don't matter.

But the messages of abuse are wrong.

Each human being was uniquely created by God. Each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made by a creator who loves us. He urges us to treat our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. A temple is cared for and treated with respect.

Of course, agreeing with the preceding paragraph does not make it automatically easy to take proper care of yourself. But it is a start. A very good beginning. When I fall back into driving myself too hard and acting as if I have an indestructible body without any needs, I need to remind myself that it is not selfish to take care of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. I am honoring God when I treat myself as someone who is a member of God's kingdom--someone whose needs are normal and important.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Working Backwards

Have you ever lost something and then walked yourself backwards through your day mentally, trying to figure out what happened? Sometimes walking backwards through other processes is easier as well. In the last post, I talked abut how beliefs influence our feelings and our feelings motivate behavior. Sometimes when I notice an unhealthy behavior pattern I am repeating, I start with the behavior and search backwards because I don't know why I am behaving as I am. I look at the behavior, figure out what feelings lead to the behavior and then search for the beliefs that fueled those feelings. To help myself examine an unwanted behavior I make a worksheet for myself:

Behavior I wish to change:

Feelings that lead me into this behavior:

Beliefs influencing me to feel that way:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Healing Formula

Beliefs lead to Emotion which lead to Behaviors

Many counselors teach that beliefs shape our emotional responses and our emotions then drive our behavior. When abuse occurs, however, it shuts down easy access to internal information about feelings and beliefs. It is a survival mechanism to help one survive overwhelming trauma. A major key to healing is to begin noticing how we behave, name our feelings and identify our beliefs that are driving us. New beliefs can be chosen and that in turn will change our feelings and our behavior choices.

I believe each human being has her/his own unique combination of responses to abuse. Certain universal patterns of victim behavior have been identified by psychologists but exactly how your thinking has been shaped by abuse incidents has individual personality wrapped up along with it. For maximum healing, you need to be willing to do detective work within yourself to figure out what you believed when you were abused.

To give you an idea of how complex it can be, here is a chart I’ve put together to show just a few typical victim behaviors and possible beliefs:



Other Feelings

Current Behavior

Everyone is dangerous.



Dresses in loose, baggy clothing and picks an ugly hairstyle.

Everyone is dangerous.



Is suspicious and frequently gets in fights.

Everyone is dangerous.



Withdraws from “real life” with depression or compulsive behaviors

The abuse is my fault. I was too attractive.



Keep extra weight on to hide beauty.

The abuse is my fault. I wanted to be loved.



Dress provocatively or flirt incessantly.

The abuse is my fault. I wanted to be loved.



Refuse to love anymore.

The abuse is my fault. I was too weak.



Obsessive with weight lifting.

I will never be a victim again.


Fear & Anger

Earn black belt

I will never be a victim again.


Fear & Anger

Become cold and prickly around others.

I am bad.



Abuse self with addictions or self-injury

I cannot deal with the pain.



Become mentally ill.

I cannot deal with the pain.



Become alcoholic.

I cannot deal with the pain.



Become a workaholic.

Healing begins in earnest when we can truthfully examine ourselves. How we felt or what we believed at the time of the abuse does not need to remain fixed. By changing what we believe, we can change how we feel about the abuse in the present and how we will behave in the future: Changed Beliefs leads to New Feelings which leads to Healthier Behavior.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movie Therapy

Good movies affect our emotions. Remember the last movie that brought a smile or deep belly laughter? Can you think of movies that lift your spirits or move you to tears? Why not use movie-watching to help along your healing process?

When you need to cry but just can't, rent a tear-jerker.

When you need to lighten up and put hard emotional work on the shelf for an evening, try comedy. Try G and PG movies--family movies and old Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Lucille Ball, or Jerry Lewis movies. Honor your sense of humor. Don't force slapstick humor on yourself if intellectual humor is more your style. If you always thought it was more acceptable to enjoy verbal-jousting humor but you truly enjoy silly humor best--liberate your silly streak. If you are down but know you won't be able to laugh yet, try a movie that has a good-feeling ending (movies where characters overcome some obstacle).

For current movies, take the time to read movie reviews and ratings to maximize your chances of reaching your emotional goal. Ask God to help you to find the right movie. Remember, laughter is very healing--if the reason for laughing does not feel "wrong."

If you have suffered sexual abuse, I urge you to stay away from sexual humor and R or X ratings. Your goal is to help yourself relax and laugh, not to trigger gross feelings, bad memories, flashbacks, or PTSD panic (post traumatic stress disorder). If you were verbally abused, I would recommend staying away from humor that is based on cussing or making fun of others. If you are a Satanic ritual abuse survivor, then I would recommend staying away from any movie that includes sex, supernatural powers, or a demonic being. If you were abused by an alcoholic, then "drinking party" humor probably will not be humorous for you. Respect yourself and your past as you watch movies. If you pick a movie that you thought would be fine and it has content that is unexpected and upsetting--give yourself permission to walk out of the theater or turn off the vcr/dvd and then journal or talk to a friend about what upset you. After you are feeling better, you can watch a movie you have seen before and know is helpful.

Give it a try. Watching a good movie is a great tool to add to your healing toolbox.

Here are some movies that consistently move my emotions (just remember that your taste might be quite different than mine):
Sad: Steel Magnolias, Old Yeller, The Long Walk Home, We are Marshall
Funny: Princess Diaries, The Inspector's General (with Danny Kaye), Sahara, Singing in the Rain, Hitch, The Court Jester, Sister Act, RV, Short Circuit, While You Were Sleeping
Good-feeling/inspiring: The Rescuers, Cool Runnings, Pride, Freedom Writers (also sad parts and people overcoming abuse), Heidi, Sound of Music, Radio, The Cutting Edge, The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Hoosiers, Last Holiday
Sad moments and funny moments, ends happily: Galaxy Quest, Kate and Leopold, The Bells of St. Marys, It's a Wonderful Life, No Reservations, The Pursuit of Happiness, You've Got Mail, Groundhog Day, Three Musketeers (Disney)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What if...

Many inventions, novels, and businesses have been birthed from someone asking, “What if…?” Recently I asked myself questions about what would happen if I tried out some new behaviors, what if… I can tell already the questions are going to lead to more healing and character growth.

I’m wondering how much my relationships might improve if I stopped making excuses for people when they behave poorly. What if I didn’t “rescue them” (in order to save myself from feeling angry or hurt)? I thought I had gotten rid of all codependent thinking years ago, but this behavior still crops up.

That first question made me realize that another related remnant from the past needs addressing too. What if I stopped monitoring family members’ emotions too closely, while simultaneously losing touch with my own feelings? It’s no longer a daily behavior. But when I am stressed, it is so easy to slide down into the old way of coping. What if I worked once again on staying tuned into my own state, especially when I am stressed? I bet it would improve my relationships. I know it would increase my ability to meet my own needs properly.

Just asking the questions has me motivated to do some more learning and growing. How about you? Do you also have self-protection behaviors you want to explore? “What if…?” is a great tool to get you started.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Abuse convinces us that we are powerless to help ourselves and, at the same time, leads us to believe we have more power over others than we really do. Ironic, isn’t it. Most abuse victims and survivors struggle with assuming full responsibility for other people’s actions. The truth is that we are not that powerful.

We cannot make others do anything. Ask any parent of teens. They can influence by giving loving encouragements and appropriate consequences. But they cannot guarantee that their child will not buy cigarettes.

Each person operates within their own free will (consciously or unconsciously). It is not our sole responsibility when a relationship succeeds or fails—relationship implies two people are involved. It is not within our power to dictate the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and actions of anyone besides ourselves. We do not make other people abuse us. What we wore or thought or said on a particular day did not turn a non-abusive person into a sex-offender, batterer, or incest perpetrator.

Repeat to yourself, “I cannot control an abusive person. I can make better choices for myself.” You have the power to decide many things that could change your future, including who to share your thoughts with, when to walk away from verbal junk, where to live and with whom, whether to cover for an abusers lies, when to seek help, etc.

When we focus on trying to control other people’s choices we waste our power. To truly experience life-changing impact we must consciously direct our own choice-making. We can help ourselves and influence others—when we are courageous enough to make decisions about what we will and will not do.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

God is Here

Abuse damages our ability to trust anyone. When significant people in our lives abuse us, it twists our walk with God. It is easy for victims to put God in the same group with those who have let us down. We wonder why he let others do wicked things to us. We tend to fear that God may approve with how others have misused us. Even if we manage to trust God to a certain extent (like believing that He will let us into heaven after we die), we are haunted by distrust. He loves us, we accept that--but will he help us?

Help is what so many of us wanted but were afraid to ask for directly. And the few victims who do ask God for help are often frustrated at the type of help He offers.

Sometimes when we want miraculous intervention, God gives us His presence and His strength to overcome the horrible trials. Sometimes we are praying for action right now, and instead God sets in motion a slow journey out of abuse and into healing. Sometimes we ask God to save our broken marriage or to set us free from abusive parents, and instead, God focuses on redeeming our relationship with Him. He answers our requests for help from His big picture perspective.

The Bible is full of God's reassurance that He is with us always. He is ready to help, we just need to ask. When we ask, however, we need to trust Him. We need to believe that He is good and that He has a good plan. If we feel unable to trust so deeply, however, we still have hope. We can ask God to enable us to trust Him. He knows why it is challenging for abuse victims to trust and He is happy to strengthen our faith. He can help us to be fearless in trusting him.

"God is there, ready to help;
I'm fearless no matter what.
Who or what can get to me?”

Hebrews 13:6 (The Message Bible)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Two Faces of Coping

Inside Perspective of Coping:

Doing just fine
Can't remember much
Of the wounds
Hiding the scars
Pushing ahead
No one can hurt me
I'm on guard
My walls built high
Heart's encased

Outside Perspective of Coping:

Barely hanging on
Bound by the past
All about wounds
Oozing bitterness
Dragging burdens
Easily offended
Uptight and rigid
Difficult to know

Monday, June 23, 2008

Boundaries (Part 4)

Have you ever noticed abusers don't respond to boundaries in the same ways that healthy people do?

For people who respect others, encountering a boundary can cause some initial surprise and upset, but then they are supportive of the other's needs. They care about how their behavior is affecting the other.

But with abusers a boundary is information to use against the other person. If their victim is sensitive about something then it becomes an important tool or weapon in the abuser's hands.

For example, if a wife said, "It's really important to me to arrive to church early, a respectful partner might say, "It's not as important to me, but I am willing to make a special effort to get us there 10 minutes before the start of service" or he might say," why don't we go in separate cars on Sundays when I am running behind schedule so that you can get there when you need to." An abusive spouse, on the other hand, might regularly work to get to church late once he learns of her preference. He might do it by picking a fight, by waiting until the expected departure time to begin dressing for church, or by asking her to do things that make her run late and then attack her for making them late again. Or he might make a big production of getting there at the time she requested but finding ways to punish her by making the children angry at her over it, mocking her for her uptightness, or playing the martyr to "her demands."

Learning to assertively state our needs and wants is essential, but be forewarned that abusers will instinctively resist and tromp on boundaries.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Boundaries (Part 3)

How do we know if we are succeeding in implementing boundaries? My biggest clue is that I feel uncomfortable and almost mean when I work to clarify a boundary that someone continually tries to step on or over. But when I re-examine my words and actions, I find I didn't do or say anything mean.

It feels uncomfortable because I am not giving in to the other's demands anywhere near as much as I did when I was younger.
It feels almost mean because now I can do something for myself instead of focusing exclusively on the other's desires.
It feels strange to say "no" because I still need to say it more frequently.

I tend to feel fine while I say my honest answer, but then old tapes quip the guilt messages. But that's okay, the tapes are wearing out, the messages aren't so loud and clear anymore. I know I like boundaries and that they are good.

May God bless each of us on our journey of learning to use the word "no" appropriately. May he equip us to make our boundaries functional.

Father's Day Blues

Father's Day Blues
by Tanya T. Warrington

Tragic and happy memories collide
Leaving me blue.
Vacations, gardening, and holiday fun
And hurtful words and sexual advances
All tumble together like a load in a dryer

How much better it might have been
If only...
But ifs didn't happen
It's so sad, really sad

I can see it clearly now
The unhappy years
of bowing to fear
controlled, always controlled
pushed and pulled to meet his needs
Thankfully, it is all so long ago

Sometimes the best way through sadness is to look at it and give it a space to be, before returning to embracing the joys in life and holding onto blessings. Our heavenly Father, is so different than an out-of-control earthly father. He understands our pain and can carry us through to new days that include eternal hope and loving care.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boundaries (Part 2)

I love the movie Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The heroine has boundary issues that are ruining her life but she grows in boundary keeping before the movie is over. She is the child of an alcoholic. She has tried to get married multiple times but each time runs away when it is time to walk down the aisle. The hero of the story challenges her that she doesn't know who she is and what she wants--to the point that she eats her eggs, however, her current beau eats eggs. I love it when toward the end of the movie, she takes the time to really get to know herself, including tasting eggs cooked a bunch of different ways and deciding her culinary preferences. She, at last, gains functional boundaries and starts changing her life, using her talents to begin a new business, building a better friendship with her best friend, and proposing marriage to the man she truly loves. The process the movie reveals is truthful, how quickly the changes take place is Hollywood magic.

Last night, I was rereading a chapter in Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. My husband saw what I was reading and looked over my shoulder at the pages full of underlining, stars, and notes in the margins. "How many times have you read that book? You must have it memorized," he said.

I don't think I do yet. But he's right. I've read it more than a couple of times. The wise explanations and counsel in the book are relationship gold for me. As a former abuse victim, I have had to work hard to develop boundaries that function properly and I need tune-ups periodically. My natural instincts when I am under stress still return to old ways sometimes. It is irritating when I say yes to someone out of peacemaking or people pleasing. I like it much better when I operate within healthy boundaries--life is simpler and less stressful when I honor who I am and what I need and want.

God is the one fashioned our personalities, temperments, talents, limitations, and interests. We honor Him when we are ourselves.

So think about it today. How do you like your eggs? Who are you? Who is supportive and honest in your life? Are there any things, situations, or people you need to say "no" to in order to be true to yourself? Are there good things you could say "yes" to that would bless yourself and others? Are you honestly sharing yourself with others, or faking it on the outside and paying with negative emotions stuffed on the inside? Are your relationships intimate and real? Are you being who you long to be?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Boundaries (Part 1)

Growing up in an abusive home, prevents the formation of healthy boundaries. Abusers often don't recognize boundaries. When they do see boundaries, they intentionally bulldoze right through, ignoring the limits others have set.

Learning how to set healthy boundaries for ourselves is a huge step in the healing process. At first boundaries feel awkward. It requires practice and patience, but the benefits were well worth all the effort.

Boundaries are limits we set to define who we are and what we will allow in our relationships with others. According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend in their excellent book, Boundaries, "We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside." So the first step is to identify the behaviors and people that nurture us.
What nurtures you? What helps you to be your best? What helps you to grow?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Feeling Dry?

Focusing on healing from abuse can be draining. Sometimes it feels like the process will never end. Sometimes it leaves us thirsty for easier times.

As I write today, rain is steadily falling outside my window, soaking my garden with life-giving water. I know that soon I will notice that my chili plants and lettuce sprouts are dramatically taller. Each spring I marvel at the difference in benefit to my plants between rain and my watering can. Sprinkles from water that has seeped through the ground and then been drawn up in a well does not deliver as much life as fresh drenching rain.

When we are feeling fried or wilted by life’s hardships, we need a good rain too. Going to church, listening to Christian radio, and reading Christian blogs and books is like healthy well water. It is good. But a soaking of life-giving strength is delivered best through one-on-one time with God in his Word/the Bible. Receiving a fresh douse of the Holy Spirit’s presence and walking in Jesus Christ is irreplaceable. The pain we experience is temporary—life with our eternal Father is eternal. May God strengthen you with his outpouring of love today, Readers!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Life is flat when you are in survival mode. Muting the negative emotions wipes out awareness of positive emotions as well. In recovery, learning to celebrate is a challenge and an exciting step forward.

Celebrations mark an occasion in our memory. To celebrate is to honor. Our society honors historical incidents and people with holidays focused on remembering. Worldwide, people celebrate births and weddings.

When abuse saturates a home, communal celebrations are often tainted or ruined. Some people have such horrific holiday memories that it causes depression and flashbacks each year until they have processed the memories and feelings enough that they are able to start building new traditions and celebrations.

So wouldn’t it be easiest to ignore celebrations?

Easier, maybe. But if you desire full healing from abuse, you need to learn how to celebrate small and big turning points, anniversaries, achievements, and blessings. Giving it a try might feel strange at first, you might feel stupid or sad or angry or stunted—but it will improve with practice. Celebration is a skill that can be learned.

Have you ever celebrated your decision to pursue healthy living, abuse-free living? If not, then I challenge you to do so before the week is over. How? Any way that marks the occasion and engenders positive feelings. You can celebrate privately or invite one or more people to participate.

There are so many ways to celebrate. You could buy flowers or helium balloons, and put them on your coffee table, kitchen table, or nightstand—each time you look at the flowers think to yourself, I am healing from abuse one step at a time, I am building a healthier and happier life for myself. You can eat ice cream or cake with friends and tell them what you are celebrating. You can make a certificate on the computer and hang it up where you can read it frequently. You can dance, twirl, run, or skip. You can sing or hum a happy tune. You can fix a special meal and share it with a loved one. You can create or purchase a piece of art that reminds you of what you are celebrating.

Many adults like to include alcohol or food when they are in a celebration mood. Use prudence and common sense with this. If your abuser misused alcohol or drugs, I urge you to keep your celebrations substance-free. If you have a tendency to want to use mind-altering substances to numb yourself, to forget, then work on learning simple ways to celebrate your current life without any liquor or drugs. If you struggle with eating issues (excessive eating to hide from emotions, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or purging), learn to celebrate without making food the central ingredient. Make healthy choices when you honor some happening in your life. Be respectful to yourself.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving a Physical Abuser

Recent news coverage concerning a man in Colorado who killed a process server with a bat and tried to choke his kids to death is a fresh reminder of the dangers of living with an abusive spouse who is physically violent. The process server was delivering a restraining order as well as divorce papers. Clearly the wife was ready to take steps to end abuse but an adequate safety plan was not in place for the safety of herself and her children.

In case anyone who reads this blog is currently living with a physical abuser, I want to review some basics. If you aren’t in this group you still might find it helpful to read since you don’t know when a family member, friend, or neighbor might come to you for help.

Important Facts on Leaving a Physical Abuser:

  1. Abuse will continue to get worse over time. Some batterers worsen slowly and some quickly.
  2. If you leave successfully and then return, the odds are extremely high that the abuse will become much worse.
  3. Leaving a physical abuser is a catalyst for the most dangerous abuse. The majority of domestic violence homicides happen when the partner attempts to leave.
  4. If the abuser has ever threatened you with a weapon or has threatened to kill you or your children, the danger level is especially high and you need extra help to leave safely. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE/7233).
  5. A safety plan should be in place. Have one or two people who know that you are leaving, why you are leaving, and where you are going.
  6. If there has been any physical abuse at all, I advice leaving when the abuser is absent from the home. Leave a mild letter that says you and the kids are taking a trip. Specify when you will contact him via phone to touch base. You don’t need to say where you will be. This letter will avoid charges that you’ve kidnapped the children.
  7. Any note you leave for your spouse should be short and calm in tone. It is not the time to make accusations or get even. Saying you want some time to think is enough.
  8. If it is important to have a restraining order served, arrange for it to be served after you are already safely away. Restraining orders really deter some abusers and other abusers totally disregard authorities and legal orders.
  9. Sometimes abused women are determined that they should stay in their home and keep control over all their possessions. If you’ve only experienced verbal and emotional abuse, this might work out for you. But with physical violence and sexual violence in your shared history, I advice letting go of the house. You will be safer hidden in a shelter or at a friend’s home than trying to be safe in the house that he feels entitled to keep.
  10. If you need to be in hiding for a few weeks or couple of months, use cash, don’t log onto old email accounts, use a post office box, and always use a pay phone when contacting the abuser or any of his relatives.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Do You Want Healing? (Part 2)

It saddens me when I encounter people who have left an abuser, but do not seek healing within themselves. I understand the pain and the fear that pushes at them. But they are settling for a life of continued bondage.

Abuse damages our thinking; it plants buried bombs in our minds, hearts, and souls. Ending an abusive relationship is great—a huge improvement in quality of life—but it will not automatically heal internal wounds.

Some people have told me they can’t bear to remember abuse and just want to forget and move forward. It is good to move forward. Your forward movement, however, will be moderated by how much healing you seek. Are you willing to marry another, but never trust your spouse fully because of what a former spouse did to you? Do you want to attend church, but still have a chip on your shoulder because God didn’t help you the way you wanted him to when you were in an abusive relationship? Do you settle for loneliness and isolation because you are fearful and suspicious about everyone’s intentions? These are all common issues for those who have been abused. Having the issues is a natural by-product of abuse—but what to do with the pain is a choice.

If you desire to thrive, you’ll need to seek healing for the past wounds. We know this to be true in the physical realm. A broken ankle can be ignored. If it is ignored, it may do partial healing on its own. Doing nothing to support the healing process only works to a small degree. The most likely results will be a lifelong handicap, a limp. If on the other hand, someone breaks an ankle and then seeks healing help it will lead to setting the bone (which hurts), casting (which is time-consuming and irritating), and physical therapy (which often involves more pain and then improvement and strengthening), and then finally the reward of fully restored walking without a limp (which is the result of an ankle becoming as strong as before or almost as strong). Ignoring pain seems easier and can be quicker—but the results are not enviable. Facing pain and seeking help has a price at the front end—but desirable results. We have a choice. I’d rather walk, skip, or run as I desire, rather than have limited function for the rest of my life. How about you?

Are you willing to accept help and short-term pain to seek full, long-term healing?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Do You Want Healing? (Part 1)

“Jesus said, ‘What can I do for you?’

The blind man said, ‘Rabbi I want to see.’

‘On your way,’ said Jesus. ‘Your faith has saved and healed you.’

In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.’”

—Mark 10:51 (The Message)

When Jesus was approached by lepers and blind men, he often asked them a question before healing them. I used to wonder why he asked what they wanted Him to do for them. Their need for healing was so obvious. Why did he ask?

I now believe Jesus asked to increase the recipient’s blessing. Asking for help causes us to take stock of our situation. Asking helps us to humbly recognize our true needs. Asking helps us to humbly recognize our helplessness to fix things in our own strength with our own abilities. Asking engages our faith, and our hope. Asking prepares the heart for thankfulness and praise when our request is granted.

Have you asked for healing from the trauma of abuse? Have you asked for specific healing for wounds that affect your behavior?

God is able…just ask, saying specifically what you are asking him to do for you.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


So many abused people
Remember hiding
Trying to be invisible
To be out of harm's reach

Hiding, always hiding
under the bed or in the closet
in the woods or in the treetops
Under a bush or behind a chair

Hiding thoughts and beliefs
Burying feelings
Trying to keep pieces intact
Deep inside and far away

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Four Reasons to Rest

Emotional healing from abuse of any sort takes much hard work. It also requires seasons of rest. Have you ever felt burned out with professional counseling? Have you ever worked so much on trying to overcome an old coping behavior that you feel you are banging your head against a wall? These are normal parts of the journey.

When you feel ready for a break, go ahead and rest. There are four wonderful benefits of taking a rest period from emotional healing work:

  1. During a break you can see better how far you have come. You can notice how you behave now versus how you were behaving before the last round of counseling or the last stack of self-help books. Seeing the changes will help you to feel re-energized when you are ready to bite off the next chunk of healing in the future.
  2. A rest period allows you to enjoy trauma-free living. It helps you to get used to the idea that you don’t need all of your life to center around survival any more. You can explore and find out more about who else you are.
  3. A rest, a time in which you are not focusing on memories or digging up unresolved feelings, can be a great time to practice taking good care of yourself and loving others in healthy ways. Your successes will refresh you and bless others.
  4. A rest from healing work can help you to reassess if you are keeping God and His Kingdom as your first priority. You can rest in Christ Jesus and receive God’s wonderful care as your Good Shepherd. It will deepen your trust in God and give you greater faith and strength when it is time to enter another period of active healing work.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You are More than a Victim

You are More

by Tanya T. Warrington

You have suffered abuse,

but you are not solely a victim

You have tears to shed in God’s timing,

but you are not doomed to unending depression

You have secrets you have kept,

but you are not required to continue hiding the truth

You are more than the trauma

You are more than the heartache

You are more than the memories

You are more than a survivor

You are a traveler on a difficult road

You are a gift to others given by God

You are more than you think

You can nurture yourself

You can allow healing

You can walk in Christ Jesus

You can talk about things that excite you

You can explore things you’ve always wanted to try

You can be thankful for the blessings God bestows

You are a cracked pot that can shine forth God’s redeeming power

You are a unique creation with a specific job to do

You are an eternal being with many choices to make

You have suffered abuse,

but it can make you more empathetic

You have tears to shed in God’s timing,

but you can smile joyfully too

You have secrets you have kept,

but today you can sing out about God’s goodness.

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft