In an effort to continue our question and answer series, we have asked Michael Ramsey to be a guest author on our blog. Michael is a youth pastor, currently residing in North Carolina. He has studied counseling and has a wonderful blog called “Faith, Film and Food” that you can find here. Michael has a great big heart and I am sure he will be guest-blogging often. Thank you, Michael! Read on:
The decisions made by abuse victims are often misunderstood by those closest to them. Many people wonder and sometimes openly ask questions like:
How could she have children with that man who has been abusive to her?
Why won’t she just leave him?
Why would anyone accept that sort of treatment?
These questions expose the fundamental misunderstanding of many family and friends who have not experienced abuse themselves. Abuse damages its victims in more ways than just physically and sexually (although that damage is very difficult). At a deeper level, abuse begins to alter the way the abused person perceives reality. The changes can be subtle and are often not visible in other parts of the person’s life. For instance, their performance at work may remain unchanged or their friendships can be very balanced and healthy. Inside the microcosm of the abusive relationship, however, the person who has been abused is filled with doubt and oftentimes feelings of guilt. Added to this is the fact that many abuse victims tend to be “givers” by nature. Wonderful character traits such as loyalty, devotion, and a willingness to sacrifice for others can be twisted and used against someone by an abusive person. In those settings, it doesn’t take long for someone to begin to lose clarity in how they perceive the abusive relationship they are in. Many people who have been abused believe things like: “If I were more careful with my words, he wouldn’t get so angry” or “I don’t understand why I can’t make him happy”. These thoughts betray an unhealthy shift in terms of her understanding of relational boundaries and responsibility. It’s even possible for the abused to believe that she is close to being “good enough” to make relationship work. At that point, she digs her heels in and works harder than ever to please her husband, protect her children, or whatever she feels is needed most.
It is often in the midst of this storm that family or friends step in and in an effort to “help”, push the person to make a change, or even criticize their decisions. It’s important to note that the family or friends may be right about the injustice the person is suffering in their relationship but, their callously spoken right answers will only cause the abused person to doubt themselves more and at times, like themselves less. So, if you have a friend or loved one who is suffering abuse, but is unable to escape it, keep these things in mind:
1)Unconditional love is better than uninvited advice.
What an abused person needs to know more than anything else is that she is loved, and that you believe in her as a person. Critical words and pressure only contribute to the dark place they are in, it doesn’t help.
If asked or given the opportunity, always be honest about the nature of what your friend is going through. Your love for her allows you to say that it is never ok for her to be physically harmed or degraded, but also that it doesn’t change the love that you have for her.
People don’t normally make life altering changes overnight and those enduring abuse are no exception. Don’t begin to doubt yourself or the impact your friendship has in her life simply because visible changes don’t seem to be occurring. Hang in there! Your friendship means more than you could possibly know.
People who are enduring abuse need good people around them, and by remembering these three simple things, you will able to offer an honest, patient, and loving relationship to people who desperately need it.