I do believe that successful lives are lived on the brink of counter-intuitiveness, standing on the middle of a tall, open and narrow platform, all vulnerable-like, pushing away expectations, narrowing down what is important, doing exactly what you do not feel like doing and facing (indeed, even embracing) affliction, rather than shoving it back. Our nature, in this current, time-space narrative, is to be comfortable. Happiness somehow equals comfort and we are all a little guilty of this. We want to avoid pain, not see it as a growing experience. That is counter-intuitive. We want to stick with “what we know”, not venture into something that challenges the thinking we grew up with. That would be counter-intuitive. We want to stay in the boat — not walk on the water. That would be counter-intuitive. And yet, Jesus has always been the Great Challenger. He was, when He walked this earth, and He continues to be. I’m so super-OK with that. I am finally learning to be comfortable with confrontation and stop evading; to buck the systems; to stand up to the stereotypes and simply be myself. I am willing to ask hard questions, if need be. But, it wasn’t always that way.
One of the most heart-breaking dynamics for us to watch, in ministering to former targets of abuse, is how often these precious women continue to hurt themselves long after they have left their abusers. It is natural, normal and very much what they are used to. I wonder if they even know they are doing it. The call, on their lives (and our call in exhorting them) is to press out of those pockets of abuse, in their minds. They are physically out, but not completely free. Some of our mamas are so steeped in the paradigm of abuse, that they carry on with it, themselves, because it is what they know. Here are some ways in which these precious ladies do this:
- Isolation. Oh, do I get this one. It is so much easier to hide away. Become an introvert. Do not let anyone hurt me, anymore. The belief is that the best way to protect oneself is to keep people as far away as possible. Yes. It will protect, in some ways. And, I believe it is necessary, for a time. Many have often heard me say that I wish I could give each of our mamas one year of healing, without pressure of finances, working, raising children alone and trauma-induced panic. I understand. But, for how long? Will you allow yourself to stay this way? When do you decide to struggle out of the cocoon and get real, life-changing healing? Being alone with your thoughts can be a dark place. After a while, everyone becomes dangerous. Your home was not a safe place, with him, and now your home is not a safe place . . . not really. Not with darkness looming. Not when people cannot fill it up with joy and laughter and peace. Now, look. He isolated you; you are isolating yourself. One of the bravest things, in the world, that you can do is step out. Take a little leap . . . a small step. Test the people around you. Most of them are not abusive. Most of them are just like you and me . . . . just looking for relationships and love and health. I know you are scared. I know. But, move toward that fear. Don’t let him have this part of your life.
- Paralyzation. Similar to isolation, this is when we become paralyzed to relationships. Everything is dangerous and nothing feels safe. Everything is interpreted to mean something else. What if they mean to hurt me? What if they mean thus-and-such behind their words? The best thing for me to do is to stay stuck. And, once again, that stuckness that your abuser wanted for you? You are now doing his job for him (this makes me want to cry).
- Self-Harm. I realize that this is a complicated issue. Self-harm comes in so many forms and for so many different reasons. But, he is no longer there to hurt you. But, each time you hurt yourself, you are doing it for him. You are doing what he wanted to do to you. Oh, my dear sister . . . wouldn’t you rather get healing and FIGHT to stop the self-harm than to allow him this victory? This is not to put false guilt on anyone. We have all done things that we wish we had not and we have no choice but to learn, put it behind us and try again. There IS help for self-harm. But, only you can take the step to move forward and get the help that you need. You deserve it. After all you have been through.
- Loss of Identity. Abusers see other people as extensions of themselves — not as actual people. I understand that deep, dark feeling of being invisible and used. Abusers are users and takers — it is what they do. So, if I allow other people to see me as simply an accessory or as someone who is to be used (even “for the kingdom”), then I have stepped right back into that place my ex-abuser wanted me to live. I cannot give into this. I have to fight, every day, to keep my identity as Megan, beloved child of God. I will not and would not allow my abuser to have the satisfaction of believing that I had, somehow, “fallen in line”. No way; no how.
- Allowing the Drama In. No more drama for this mama. Abusers thrive (seriously, they live and breathe) on getting a reaction out of you. A control drama, as coined by James Redfield in his book, “The Celestine Prophecy,” is played by a person who is feeling low on power or energy, to manipulate and steal the energy of another. Control dramas are unconscious strategies all people use to gain power or energy from another person and to essentially, “get their way with others.” They get their way with others by making them pay attention to us and then elicit a certain reaction from them to make themselves feel fulfilled. The positive feelings they gain are won at the expense of the other person and this often causes imbalance and drama in interpersonal relationships. But, again, it is the “normal world” for the former victim of abuse. This has to be de-toxed out. Again, therapy will help with this. Intentional effort. Grit.
It IS a fight. It is a daily fight, for all of us. But, I would rather fight, with everything in me, to grow up and out, than to do to myself what he did to me. I have made a covenant, with myself and with God, to take specific steps to keep the drama out of my life, to keep from isolating and to keep myself growing and embracing affliction. I am actually happier, as I do these things. Avoiding pain will get us nowhere . . . pain is everywhere, especially in the recesses of the dark sides of ourselves that everyone has.
Will you fight? Will you decide, today, to find a way to stop doing these things? Explore options? Get counseling? Reach out to someone? Take a step to trust someone? I don’t want this life for you . . . it is time for a new life. Make a decision beyond the brave decision you made to leave, in the first place. Did you know it was only the first in a long line of decisions for your health? Make a decision to climb out of the dark world he left you in, as well. Make a decision that he cannot influence you, anymore, in these ways. Make a decision to take care of yourself, so you can be the you that God means for you to be.
Be empowered in all the right ways. Get the ex’s influence out of your life for good. Start today. If you have any questions about steps to take to do this, please ask us. We have trusted resources that can help (like Leslie Vernick’s Conquer Groups and others). Or, you can reach out to us. But, by all means, stop doing to yourself what he did to you.
Be lion-hearted; Get healing. Be the opposite of the cowardly abuser. You are the brave one, here. You are the courageous one. You are the one who can take steps to freedom and gain your wings.