There are a few reasons that abuse victims don’t “just leave” or end up returning after they have left. Abuse amnesia is one of these reasons. It’s when our empathetic brains remember the “good times” in place of anything traumatic we have endured. We think there actually were good times because of the grooming, mirroring, and gaslighting that we endured. What we remember as all good times were times of masks, lies, trickery, and manipulation. They were a facade put on by someone who wanted to control us. What was false to them felt like a reality to us, and it’s hard to make that separation in our brains and hearts when we want to know all people as mostly good or find the good in everyone.
What is Abuse Amnesia?
Abuse amnesia is when an abuse victim forgets times when their boundaries were violated. It is a common occurrence of those who were “chronically” abused. When asked how they feel about the abusive person, they will often have an overall positive response.
As a Christian who has been abused, I can tell you that abuse amnesia is one of the things I struggle with the most. I have been spiritually abused, having Scripture twisted and used against me. We want to believe the best in others because we want the best to be believed in us. Because of that, we excuse things that we shouldn’t excuse, and we remain in a fantasy world of what was (even though it was nowhere near reality) and what could be. Sometimes we remember the past fondly just because it seemed less lonely, even if they weren’t gentle or kind. We believe in our minds what we want to believe, and we ignore what we want to forget. Sometimes it is our brain protecting itself from the trauma, and other times it is our conscious selves avoiding the pain that accompanies the truth.
Both Sides of The Coin
Abuse amnesia is a blessing and curse. If it is our brains protecting us from trauma, it’s what we need in the moment. If it’s an avoidance tactic, so we don’t have to face reality, it can be dangerous. If we are living in a false reality, we are setting ourselves up for repeat abuse, whether it is from the same person/people or an invitation for others to invade our boundaries.
Acknowledging our abuse isn’t holding someone’s sins against them, it is believing what is true. Sometimes the truth really does hurt, but it doesn’t mean that we are condemned, it holds us accountable for change. Change is oftentimes scarier than staying in the abuse because at least the abuse is something familiar. It can be excused by us and explained away. Change, standing up against someone we fear, and facing the unknown are some of the scariest paths we will ever walk. But, many of us will get to the point where it becomes worth it to face our biggest fears of broken relationships and the unknown rather than continuing to be punching bags (literally or verbally/emotionally) for those we have put up with for all of this time.
There will be breaking points, and some of us put up with way more than others. That doesn’t make us better or worse. All of our journeys are different, with sad similarities sprinkled throughout. At the end of the day, we will all face abuse amnesia, even when we are far removed from the abuse. It’s because reality seems made up, our abusers told us that for so long. We question ourselves, especially when we start understanding all we endured. It seems like too much. It seems too harsh against the abuser to claim reality. It’s hard to believe that people put each other through this. Acceptance is the hardest part because with acceptance comes the acceptance that our life was nothing close to what we thought it was or what we thought it was going to be.
Abuse amnesia allows us to believe that our time wasn’t wasted. It helps us escape the shame we feel for being duped. It is an escape, whether a natural protector until our minds and bodies can handle it (often through flashbacks), or a self-inflicted defense mechanism to keep us from breaking down from what feels like too much to handle.
Fighting for Truth
It can be helpful to us for a time, but it is something we have to fight through in order to make it back to truth. We have to fight for truth, even when it is ugly. We have to stand up for truth, even when it makes us unpopular.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
In this passage a lot of people skip right over the truth part, and assume that God is instructing us to dwell on unicorns and rainbows. But we are mistaken. There is a reason that things in Scripture are put in the order that they are in. Truth is first, and can never be ignored. But, even if the truth is ugly, what is commanded of us is to not dwell on the negative, but instead to find the silver lining. To be thankful in every circumstance, even and especially the bad circumstances. God can and often does use the bad things for our good and His glory, which means something honorable, right, pure, lovely things of good repute, excellence, and worthy of praise can be found in our truth, even when our truth is ugly and painful.
Anytime abuse amnesia comes into play, we have to actively fight it with truth. This doesn’t mean that we have to constantly dwell on our abuse, the bad things that have happened to us, and our negative feelings towards our abusers. This just means when we start to believe that we are crazy, that maybe we were wrong about how our abusers treated us, we must instead remember truth.
For me, I have to keep a record. Not holding someone’s wrongs against them, but of truth. Forgiveness has to be carefully paired here to shield us from unforgiveness, bitterness, and pride. In our record keeping, it’s not a matter of us being better than someone else, but it serves as a reminder of what we have been through, so we don’t excuse it because abuse is inexcusable. It’s not something we are to go back and re-read to prove we are right or to simmer in our anger. I honestly don’t go back to read it at all unless my sanity, reality, and memory are questioned, even by myself. It’s not us against other people. We either choose the side of God or the side of His enemies. Believing or giving into lies or a false reality, gives God’s enemies hold over our lives. It’s about freedom in Christ.
If God is for us, who is against us?
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
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