Abuse victims/survivors go through enormous amounts of trauma, and it sometimes seems as though we may never see them get out, let alone heal. It can be discouraging for the loved ones who are helplessly watching from the outside. They want to help, but they don’t typically know what to say or how to say it. It can differ from person to person depending on who the abuse came from, for how long, how old they were when it started, etc. No two abuse victims/survivors are the same. But, the one thing an abuse victim needs to hear will work for every single one of them no matter who they are, how they got there, or what stage of abuse, escape, or healing they are in.
The One Thing
Yeah, that’s it. Seeing it makes it seem so small and insignificant, but when we actually ponder what that word is, what it means, it should make the most sense.
As a bystander of a loved one being abused, it’s devastating to see all they go through, to see how they’ve changed. But, if you really try to understand what they’ve been through, you will understand that they no longer have a firm grip on reality. Through the gaslighting process, real truth was gradually replaced with a “truth” that fit the abuser’s agenda. Your loved one is now a shell of their former selves. They may have once been strong and vibrant, but now they don’t even know how to make a simple decision.
As a victim myself, I didn’t understand the abuse for what it was until after I was physically separated from it. I was always told it was love, and that nothing was ever enough for me. Basically, I was being told I was ungrateful for being treated like trash. It sounds silly, but it was never put so plainly for me. I didn’t want to be ungrateful or have unattainable expectations. I wanted to love well, but I was convinced that I was unlovable. Too much, yet not enough at the same time.
My Eyes Opened
Since I didn’t have the words I needed for a long time, counseling was focused on self-improvement. I thought I was the problem anyways. That’s what I was constantly being told, shown, and reminded of by my abuser. I remember crying so much every session, I never thought I would stop. We never spoke of abuse directly or terms relating to it. But, the single best gift that counselor could have ever given me was validation. Not in myself or my own gifts, but just in truth. I was sitting in his office, crying as usual, and I said, “I don’t even know what truth is anymore.” He had a simple, yet profound response for me. “Yes, you do.” He reminded me that I was raised on truth, that I had access to truth everyday, and Who the source of truth is. It was life changing for me, setting me on the path to destroying the web of lies that had taken years to weave.
Not everyone who has or is being abused was raised on truth or even knows it. Many abuse victims were abused as children, and so the cycle continues because they don’t know anything different. But, for those of us who love them, we have a responsibility of giving them the truth.
I’m not suggesting that we throw Scriptures at them every time they mess up or guilt them for putting up with abuse. There is already so much shame tied to victims of abuse. Truth has to be delivered carefully and lovingly. Think of how Christ approached the woman at the well, the adulterous woman, and Mary Magdalene. Each of these women played a part in the bad situations they were in, but Jesus didn’t scold them about that. He knew others had shamed them, and they were living lives shackled to that shame. He wanted to give them freedom. Freedom doesn’t mean that we are free of the consequences of our choices, but in abusive situations, the beginning of freedom doesn’t start with condemnation.
To give our abused loved ones freedom, we have to approach them with basically the whole basket of the fruit of the Spirit. They need love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and so much more. They don’t understand truth yet. They have been living a life being lied to. Their reality is altered to say the least.
Truth isn’t a one time conversation. Truth is something we have to gift to them often. It isn’t always going to be as easy as telling them to pray more or to trust in God better. That’s not helpful, they don’t know what that looks like, even if they did at one point.
Truth practically looks like spending time with them, and listening to the lies, then correcting those lies for them. Even when it becomes redundant. I had one major lie that was reinforced, and to this day, I still have to fight it.
Victims and survivors need validation. They need to be told that they aren’t crazy, and that you believe them. They need to know that you don’t just love them, but you like them for who they are. They need to understand that it’s okay to not have to go back to exactly who they were before the abuse (because they can’t, and it sometimes causes deep grief to know that).
Build on truth gradually, over a long period of time. They need to know that your love is not conditional (even though boundaries may be necessary, but that is still love). They need to know that you won’t leave them or turn your back on them. They need to know that they can trust you. They need to know that they have your forgiveness for not listening to you before or during the abuse.
It Takes Time
Walking someone through healing from abuse is an extremely long process, so you have to spiritually and mentally prepare yourself for the long haul. The victim will need you most when they begin to realize that their life wasn’t at all what they thought it was. When they realize that this part of their life was made up of mostly lies, it is an unimaginable grief that needs to be properly processed through. There will be a lot of processing, bargaining, and revisiting to make sense of it all. Some of it cannot be made sense of. Dealing with people who have personality disorders is extremely hard to comprehend when you don’t think or process within the same reality. Abusers are usually somewhere on the scale of narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath or anywhere in between. They don’t think or function like healthy human beings. So, even though the victim may not be healthy yet, they most certainly have empathy, which is why the abuser sought them out in the first place.
The First Truth
One of the best and most immediate truths you can give to an abuse victim is to make no major decisions in a hurry. Victims tend to make a ton of mistakes as they realize the abuse for what it was/is. They tend to make fearful and hasty decisions, which leads to danger and consequences. The only “hasty” decision that would be wise to make is to flee from physical or sexual abuse, taking any children with them that they are legally allowed to. There are domestic violence shelters that they can stay in safely until they get long-term arrangements sorted out. Authorities will need to be involved to get it on record, and hopefully protect the victim as well as future victims. Also, it is typically beneficial to physically separate themselves from the abuser for an extended period of time if they are not fleeing for their safety, but instead, seeking clarity and healing.
God’s truth is the only truth, but how we understand it and present it in situations of abuse is crucial to helping or harming victims and survivors. God has graciously given us resources in the form of psychology to help us put to words what is happening to us, so we are able to make sense of it and move on to healing. Sin is sin, but sometimes we need the sin to be defined to understand that we aren’t crazy after all. We don’t need to take all of the answers from psychology if they go against the Word of God, but why pass up a life boat, waiting for God to help us, when the life boat was sent by God? God sends help in all different ways. Give truth to victims from His Word, and don’t be afraid to use other resources supported by His Word in addition.
- The Three Stages of Abuse
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233