Monday, June 22, 2009

But I Love Him/Her!

Your reaction to today's post title will vary tremendously depending on how long you've been away from abuse and how much recovery work you've done so far. When someone is in abuse she or he feels an extremely strong (super glued to the max) connection to her or his abuser. Sometimes this emotion is labeled hate, but in the vast majority of cases it is called "love."

How does one recover from being betrayed by someone that says "I love you" before and after abuse? How does one heal a broken heart that gave love freely and received back love tainted by abuse in one or more forms? How does one ever learn to trust or love any other after the shame and treachery of abuse has ripped one's soul to shreds?

Some of you who are well down the road of recovery have answers now to these questions. Others of you near the beginning of the journey can hardly imagine or hope that there is any life worth living after being abused.

Psychologists and sociologists have studied the bond that occurs between an abuse victim and the abuser. They don't call it love, but rather it is named the Stockholm Syndrome. It is a condition in which the person being held captive by a controller ends up feeling strong positive, protective feelings toward their captor. It is a situation that abusers foster with small acts of kindness mixed with threats and abuses. Isolation, sleep deprivation and control of finances can be used by abusers to heighten the abused person's sense that their whole well-being, or total lack thereof, is completely within the control of the abuser. The Stockholm Syndrome that leads to us believing that we love our abuser too much to leave him or her is a testimony to the survival instinct. It serves a purpose while we are trapped and feeling threatened. It is our best attempt to stay safe--or as safe as we can in a horrible situation.

But once we are contemplating leaving an abusive relationship or a relationship has ended and we are needing to heal, we will be much healthier after we recognize that the powerful emotions that we felt and the intense relationship we participated in wasn't about love. It is essential that we be able to sort out the differences between love and the psychological trauma that we've endured. If we don't do the hard work of untangling the experiences we thought were love, we are prone to become another statistic. Many abused people enter multiple abusive relationships because they don't know what love is. Too many abused people die every year before they can figure it out. And countless others suffer daily indignities and never reach anything close to their potential because they are trapped under mounds of emotional and/or verbal abuse that they have been taught by circumstance to believe is love.

When I first learned about the Stockholm Syndrome, I didn't know whether to be even more ashamed or whether to be relieved. Relief won out. There was a name and descriptions that matched the intense, crazy, all-consuming relationship that had held me captive for so long. Other men and women had done some of the same "crazy" things that I'd done, too. I didn't like remembering how I'd worked so hard to please someone who was intentionally abusing me, it felt degrading--but it is the reality of how I worked to survive. I sort of liked remembering how intense things felt at times, how flowery some of the compliments were in the beginning and how "sweet" some of the early gifts seemed, but I hated remembering how frightened I felt at times, how helpless I felt for years, how small and dumb I felt on a daily basis. There are many tangled chains in the "love" an abuser chokes his/her "beloved" with.

God's love is radically different and freely available. God doesn't offer love with heavy hidden chains. God can help each of us with love that refreshes our souls, binds our wounds, and heals our brokeness. I am sure about it. He did it for me and he's helped many other abuse victims. He cares. His love is real--it is not an illusion used to control us. Try to trust God even just a little and see what good things will happen. You have an eternal friend who loves you in a way that is healthy and wonderful.


Anonymous said...

Your posts are so utterly genuine. In a post recently I spoke of "treasures of darkness". Your life and ministry are evidence that such treasures are found in the string of midnights we walk through.

I was chained for 9 years. When I left, though physically free, I remained chained within. It takes a concerted effort to get loose and our own hands can't fully accomplish it. But God can and dies surely disassemble the chain link by link and when He has set us free, we are free indeed!

Tanya T. Warrington said...

How very true, girlinaglasshouse. It takes time, far more time than we'd like, for us to recognize the power of emotional bondage that is initiated through abuse. It takes time to bring our broken pieces to God. It takes time to trust God and seek every bit of healing that He can give us.

How wonderful that you've sought God with your chains and allowed him to free you in every sense. We are free indeed in Christ Jesus.

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