When I sit down to have coffee with a brave, brave woman who has left an abuser, one of the recurring themes in her lament is, “How could I have gotten myself into this? I saw the red flags and I married him, anyway. I should have known. I’m educated and smart. I never thought I would find myself in this position.” Listen, I understand. I will never forget standing in the middle of my mess and saying to myself, “I have a counseling degree and here I am . . . ” And the comments that others make about how they would never have put up with abuse for so long . . . or that they would never have been in that situation in the first place . . . these things hurt. They make it all worse. Its just a little bit more of re-victimization and a lot more judging.
So, here are the thoughts I have regarding self-compassion and the entanglement of “I should have’s” for former victims of abuse:
- Anyone who feels the need to tell you they would have never ended up in an abusive relationship is simply not your friend and not worth your time. We have the Holy Spirit, thank you very much, and we do not need people to point their fingers our way to tell us, right upon our leaving, how foolish we were to marry this person, in the first place. If there are extenuating circumstances, we know what they are. People who say foolish things about abuse are not educated in how abuse works (thought-reform). They have not been in your shoes, in your home or in your difficult relationships. They do not get to judge. Let them go. In these vulnerable moments, our need is support and empathy. Period.
- If you park your emotional car in the parking lot of “I can’t believe I am finding myself in this position . . . “, you will stay stuck. There is plenty of time, later, for allowing the Lord to help you to understand what happened. But, for now, it is not your job to condemn yourself. Don’t you think you have had enough of that? Sadly, it seems the Church’s default is legalism. There is some tough condemnation there. Then, there are the lingering and ever-present words of your abuser(s). A cornucopia of finger-pointing and blame. Friend, be your friend. You need a friend, right now. And move forward. Be proactive. Do what needs to be done.
- There is not some deficiency in you that would cause the abuse to have occurred. Do you hear me? It is not you. It is your abuser’s psycho-pathology. He has used everything possible to abuse you — your loves, your vulnerabilities, your pain and fears, the Bible — because of his sickness. No more self-blame. NO one deserves to be treated that way.
- You got out of it is as quickly as you could. I know, I know . . . we all wish we had not stayed as long as we could. But, considering the kind of oppression we were all under (from all sides!), the fact that we escaped or walked away is nothing short of a miracle. As soon as you could understand the full extent of the abuse and pain, you left. You are to be commended. We all know the courage that entails.
- Look how far you’ve come. Do it! Just look back, over the past weeks or months or years and be amazed and wonder-filled. I mean, you have choices now. You did not have those choices before. You can make a decision, right now, about what you will do with all you have learned. That’s exciting! What you have accomplished, in the face of perceived hopelessness, is incredible. You have been brave, in the presence of intense fear. Each time you choose to stand up a little bit straighter and look people in the eye . . . each time you do not give into terror but breathe through those panic-attacks . . . each time you take one, tiny step toward independence or self-improvement, you are looking evil in the face and saying, “You will not conquer me.”
- The Christian life does not work this way: If I do thus and such, I will have a good marriage and a good life. This is the fallacy that is rooted in legalism and is can cause severe depression. Affliction happens to the best and shiniest of Christians because Jesus told us affliction would happen. The promise is that He will not leave us when affliction occurs. So, rather than beat yourself up, trying to figure out where you went wrong when you were trying, so hard, to make the right decisions before God, accept that life is messy. It always has been! And then look at the mess, knowing that Jesus loves you and is with you in the mess, and figure out what to do with it all.
Listen friends, treat yourself with compassion. In Jordan Peterson’s incredibly successful book, “12 Rules for Life: and Antidote for Chaos”, the very second rule is “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.” But, for an even more meaningful reason, consider this: Jesus cares for you, for your heart, soul and body. He adores you. His desire for you, beautiful and broken one, is that you live in a whole relationship with Him and others. In order to do this, you must start with being in a whole relationship with yourself. Jesus feels strongly about how you are treated — by others — but, also by you. You belong to Him! Show yourself compassion because, dear one, that is what Jesus shows you, every day. Be like Him.