Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Love is a word misused by those who abuse. Love shouldn't be used to describe continual control or forced coercion. Friendship isn't even a good word for a relationship where one person uses another and regularly utilizes manipulation, lies, and trickery. It isn't loving when someone steals another's dignity, tramples another's boundaries, or slams another's esteem to the ground with cruelty, harshness, and force. No one shows caring by hitting, or threatening, or raping.

So, how amazing it is after leaving abuse to discover that love can really be about respect and care. It can be characterized by gentleness, humbleness, and kindness. Loving relationship it turns out involves two people who want what is best for each other. Love between humans isn't perfect all the time, but it isn't abusive even on its worst day.

And love sublime--isn't found in marriage or in a romance novel. It is found in relationship with God, who is always loving, without fail. We can count on him to care at all times and in all situations.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Running from Pain

Why do we try to avoid facing the pain of abuse? How does denial serve us?

I think that we fear the pain. We're afraid that if we face the pain it will destroy us or destroy our world as we know it. I can remember fearing that if I stepped out of denial I would never stop crying or I might get so angry I might do something crazy. I feared I could not handle the truth. I feared that I could not survive what the truth would do to my primary relationships.

Fear was my captor. I was its slave. I didn't directly face my pain, but my pain leaked out anyway. I lived in a fuzzy fog. I did and said strange things to try to maintain the lies. I was rarely aware of sadness, but I was just as muted with happiness. I rarely laughed with true joy or happiness. I rarely cried. I was mostly numb. I told others and myself that I was "fine" or "okay." I survived. I was a bound prisoner of fear, stumbling along without hope in my eyes, dragging my chains of fear along. Not a good way to live.

Have you been there? Are you in that place of mere survival right now?

There is a better way. Facing the pain of abuse does not destroy us. The enemy of our souls reinforces this fear--but it is a lie. Facing our pain ultimately strengthens and frees us. Abuse cannot freely continue in the face of truth. Abuse ends when the light is shone on it or when victims get help and leave the abusive situation. Abuse derives power from instilling and reinforcing fear; abusers lose power when the victim's desire for freedom becomes greater than her or his fear.

And this better way is not a journey we must do alone. God can strengthen us beyond our wildest imaginings. God can help us to face truth and find hope. God can lead us out of abuse. God can use other people to help us first climb out of abuse and then recover from abuse. God can heal us over time--transforming us into joyous people of strength and hope who walk in Him through all the trials of life.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Grief is Necessary

It’s not just okay to mourn, it is essential to grieve losses in order to heal from abuse. Loss is huge when another has violated you with their actions and words.

Not that we are likely to grieve abuse right away. Many of us are so traumatized by abuse that it takes years to acknowledge what happened and then it may take even more years before we are willing to examine how the attacks against our dignity affected us. It is amazing how long we can put off healthy grieving—but we cannot put it off forever.

It reminds me of the holes I used to dig just outside of the water’s edge as the ocean’s tide was coming in. I’d dig a hole quickly and deeply and then wait for the waves to reach my hole. A little would go in with one wave and then a little more a few waves later. Each wave would lap into or over my hole and then recede away, but each time a little water was collected into the hole. Eventually there was so much water in the hole that it would spill over. A short while later, the waves were hitting with more force as they advanced up the sand and my hole would grow less and less distinct as it was filled and dragged with pounding surf.

We can be like the holes I dug, receptacles for the waves that are our pain and defilement. It can fill a bit at a time, until the day when the pain is just too big and it begins to spill out, whether we want it to or not. If we keep stuffing the pain back in, we become less and less distinct, losing all sense of ourselves as individuals. The pain engulfs us and we get pounded and dragged, pounded and dragged.

Grief can be delayed and buried, but it will rise to the surface eventually, demanding attention. The good news is that when the pain is faced and dealt with, it becomes smaller and smaller and we become more and more free to move forward with our lives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

God's Gender

In the Bible, God reveals Himself as a He. I trust that He knows what His own gender is. I am aware that not everyone agrees. I have met people who are recovering from abuse who try to think of God as a she or as a neutral it. Their reasoning is that a he of the human race abused them and so they can't relate to any God who would be known as He.

I feel the pain that leads to such reasoning. I was abused by several males. I too struggled with God's maleness for awhile. I had some negative associations with the word father. I wanted to believe that my heavenly Father was different, but I felt fear and doubt. Yet, our Heavenly Father helped me to walk through my associations and feelings and He redeemed His name for me step by step.

I learned that my Heavenly Father is good, kind, and patient. He is honest and just. He cares deeply about our best welfare. He is loving. I learned by reading and believing the Bible. I learned from personal experiences of God's faithfulness and love. Over and over, God showed me how good He is.

One evening almost twenty years ago, I had an amazing experience that added another layer of understanding who God is. I was grieving and I curled up in my ottoman chair and wept quietly. I asked God to help me feel His comforting presence and the next thing I knew I could feel Him literally holding me as if I were a small child on his lap. It was a supernatural experience. I knew I was being held by my Heavenly Father and it was deeply comforting.

I am convinced that accepting God's Word as true and allowing Him to heal our broken hearts and spirits is far more productive than trying to change God's revealed identity to our own liking. Remember Readers, the gender of our abuser(s) is not what led to our abuse. Non-repented sin is the culprit, and sin knows no distinction between the genders.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Measuring with a Faulty Ruler

How significant are you? How do you know?

For way too many of us, we have measured our significance by an ungodly standard. We have accepted lies about our lack of significance. Because another has trampled our needs for love, respect, and dignity, we have assumed that we must not be very valuable. This is especially true if we were mistreated in our childhood by those who were authority figures.

Incest taught me that I was powerless and that my needs were not important. Abuse of all sorts, undermines our self-esteem and our understanding of our place in the world.

I've met people who are enthusiastic about the power of affirmations of the "fake it until you make it" type of philosophy. If your self-esteem is low they teach, then repeat positive statements about yourself until one day you believe. This philosophy did nothing for me. Deep inside I was totally unconvinced that empowering statements declaring our worth had anything to do with me. "Those positive statements are true for others," I'd think, "but I'm different. I'm damaged. There's something wrong with me."

What has powerfully changed my view of myself is time spent with God. His Word teaches me that I am a sinner but that God wants relationship with me. He teaches me that none of us can do anything of eternal significance without Him, but when we operate in Him we can do all things. For with God all things are possible and nothing is impossible. I am not less than other people. I am the same--with the same need for God. And God is delighted to meet that need.

Whenever we feel worthless and unacceptable, let's seek God. His answer is different--radically different-- from what an abuser will teach you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Never too Late

Abuse and children are a toxic mix. No child should be abused or witness a parent being abused. There is no doubt in any of our hearts about these truths. Most people know deep in their being that children need to be protected from harm.

And yet...too many of us who have been abused spouses have to deal with the knowledge that our own children were exposed to things we wish they hadn't.

I doubled over in pain, when my denial cleared away and I realized what my children had seen and heard in their formative years. My heart felt irrecoverably shattered. I couldn't believe that I had let things go on so long. My denial to protect myself from pain had cost my children dearly. Many of you reading this site may have had a similar moment of reckoning.

Over a decade later, I want to encourage all readers who are raising children who were born into an abusive environment to not give up in despair. It is never too late to begin providing a much better environment for our children. At first it may seem hopeless to repair the damage done, but I can assure you that it is not hopeless. Children need love and they need at least one caring, committed parent.

One of my adult children called last week to thank me for leaving her abusive father and for the parenting I did after leaving. What a wonderful blessing! I never imagined such a call would occur when I prayed in desperation for God to lead me and teach me to parent my precious children. I didn't know a day of reward would come, when I had those times when I listened to children and didn't know what to say, so I prayed asking God to help me to say something that would minister to their wounded hearts. When I was so tired as a single parent that I wasn't sure sometimes how I kept going, I didn't know that my humming as I washed the dinner dishes helped one of my children feel safe. I didn't know when I was juggling three children in an emergency room, one of my children would remember feeling loved and secure. I just kept inviting God's help, and he responded faithfully.

My children do still bear some signs of how their childhood began, but they also possess many things they wouldn't have today, if God had not worked many healing moments into their childhoods. They each know deeply that their mom loves them and is available anytime to give support and encouragement. They know that they have a home that is safe and loving. They know that God is real. They know that they can create a positive adulthood for themselves. They know that they never need to tolerate abuse. They know that they can love someone who is unhealthy-- while at the same time maintaining healthy boundaries. They know that trials are part of life. They know that it is possible to overcome failures and problems.

Keep on loving your children no matter how "messed up" they might seem from the trauma they have been through. Keep on asking for God's help with parenting. He is faithful. He will help. It is never too late.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Haunting Perfectionism

I'd like to throw away perfectionism! It keeps popping up in my life like a noxious weed. I pull it out and pull it out, but it finds new places to crop back up.

I know when I developed the drive to do things perfectly. I may have born with extra drive and a desire to excel; genetics may play a part. I was also the oldest child and oldest children often are achievers. Also when I was a small child, my dad often told me to redo something that I'd already put my best effort into. And both my parents were stern and strict and often seemed displeased with me. I tried harder and harder to win their approval. I did the same in school--always wanting straight A's and miserable if I got an A- or B+ in something. Even when I got an A, I was blue if someone else got an A+. I left childhood with the feeling that I could never do anything well enough. I did "good" and even "better than the majority", but it was still never "enough."

As a young adult, I spent years with a man who was never happy. I seemed to displease him no matter how hard I tried to avoid trouble. Instead of quitting, I tried harder and harder to please him. And once again, I couldn't. No matter how much effort and concentration I put into it, I could not make our home peaceful or safe. My husband actually became more out-of-control the longer we were together. My efforts weren't enough.

Now I can easily see that I was trying to manipulate abusive people into being nicer to me. It was doomed to fail.

Years ago, I confronted the idea of "being perfect." I know it is impossible. I am human. I discovered that perfectionism isn't desirable in many situations. In relationships, it actually hinders intimacy and realness. Being around someone who is always trying to be perfect isn't much fun. It's stifling.

So, I see the uselessness of trying to be perfect. And yet...that weed still reasserts itself.

I just finished phase one of a weight management diet. During phase 1, most people lose 20-40 pounds and some lose 15. It was explained to me that people closer to their ideal weight tend to lose 10-15 and those who are extremely obese tend to lose 40 or more pounds. I heard the information, but it was really irrelevant. I had already decided I would lose 40-45 pounds. The only thing I had control over was whether I followed the diet instructions strictly. I followed them to the letter, perfectly if you will. I lost 16 pounds and 2 inches off all the really visible trouble spots. Instead of celebrating the great progress, I was mourning this week because I really thought I should out perform the norms. I should be an A or A+ student. Hence my need to pull out some weed pesticide.

What pesticide will work? I prayed to see if I needed to look at any new issues or re-examine old ones. I think that in this case, I just need to accept that I've had perfectionism in my thinking since I was very young, so it will still pop up sometimes. I have choices though. I am going to celebrate the weight loss. I am going to treat myself with respect and not punish myself for desiring something unrealistic.

In that spirit, I went clothes shopping yesterday. I am happy to report that I am down a full size! It is actually my normal size. I still have some excess pounds, but I am back into my normal pant size at least with some brands. I will be fully back to normal when I can wear any brand in that size. I am getting close! My efforts did pay off. I have done enough with phase one of the diet plan. Ah! Just writing the words brings added relief. I've done well enough. Yes!

Does perfectionism creep up in your life? If so, how goes the battle? Are you learning how to see if it leads to a train of thoughts that need healing? Have you done that healing and now it is a process of retraining your thoughts and beliefs? Wherever you are in the process, God understands and can help you to know what your next step is.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blessed? Are You Kidding?

Blessed are the broken in spirit? Blessed are those who are facing horrible loss? Blessed are those who are non-aggressive and bear the bruises to show it? Really?

Jesus' teaching on what it means to be blessed in Matthew 5 has been taught about from many a pulpit. But I want to write about it today anyway. The passage is often called the Beatitudes. This old Latin word doesn't mean much to most of us but all it means is blessed or happy.

Because when you are abused by another, you don't feel blessed. You feel cursed. But if you trying to be a "good Christian" you are often comforted with platitudes just as a widow at a funeral is. We are left confused and further traumatized when well-meaning but mistaken people try to comfort us with explanations such as "God must have a reason" or "Count all trials as joy" or "This must be your cross to bear."

And many of us have had not-so-well-meaning friends and acquaintances who rub salt in wounds with other words such as "Maybe if you just worked harder at not making him mad" or "well, you do dress a little inappropriately" or "God doesn't give us more than we can bear" or "Have you ever thought that God might be trying to teach you something?"

And all of us have felt the sting of rejection, when we honestly tell another that we are feeling anger at God or doubt about God's goodness. The feelings are real. They are a natural part of untangling abuse's damage to our hearts. But try bringing it up at a bible study. Unless you are very lucky, at least one person will judge you as being "not very spiritual." Share the full story of all the trauma you have experienced and you will probably encounter people who do not believe you, people who minimize what you said, and people who rapidly change the subject.

None of these experience makes us feel "blessed," do they? Hardly.

So why did Jesus say that people in miserable places are blessed?

Is death a blessing? Is abuse a blessing? Is poverty a blessing? Many people try to make out that it is so, putting on a happy face at church when they are miserable. But no matter how effective our masquerades as happy, blessed Christians, it doesn't change how ugly and frightening bad times feel.

We'd all be so relieved if we tuned into the end of each of the sentences. For example "Blessed are those who mourns, for they will be comforted." If we study each sentence of the Beatitudes they are giving a coherent, repetitive message. Basically, they shout out wonderful news that no matter what our circumstances are in this life, we are blessed by the presence of the living God who joins us right in our circumstances. The blessing is God's loving presence, even in our darkest nights.

A problem with abuse, is that we shut down in self-protection, so it is easy to miss how God is present. We feel all alone, abandoned and rejected. Nonetheless, many of us have discovered as we are healing that God is present with us now and he was present with us in our worst times as well. If you are one of these, please take a moment to once again thank God and rejoice. You are blessed.

If you aren't in that place right now on your healing journey, then please hold onto knowing that God is much more real and loving than platitudes make him seem. Keep searching to see who He actually is. Read through the Beatitudes again and read about what Jesus did and said here on earth. Invite God's Holy Spirit to show you the truth about God and about how He feels about you and about the abuse you have suffered. If you keep turning to God, I know you will discover that you are blessed.

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