How Abuse Affects the Soul, Identity and Dignity by Megan Cox

Abuse is oft referred to as being rooted in entitlement. I could not agree more. And we frequently speak of character disturbances, coined by George Simon, who believes that entitlement is the epidemic of our age. I agree with that, as well. We have statistics on what abuse does to the mind . . . the trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, triggers, anxiety, depression . . . it is all there and it is all very real. All kinds of abuse are especially harmful to the physical body, as well, as it causes tremendous stress, which can cause irreparable damage to the immune system (see this very scholarly article here). But, recently, a friend (who is also an advocate for those suffering from parental alienation) asked me about the damage abuse does to the soul.

I don’t know how to measure that. There are no statistics on what the heart suffers, as a result of abuse. The scars on the soul? They cannot be seen. But we all know that they are there. I have been thinking quite a lot about this lately. Here are some ponderings:

I would like to expand our definition of abuse as rooted in entitlement AND add that abuse is an assault to the dignity of a person as a human being created in the image of God. It is an attempt to remove that dignity and damage the soul. And the overwhelming anguish of such treatment threatens to break the soul into minute pieces — the very core of our being threatens to come undone.

Dr. Donna Hicks, credited with her insightful work in the field of human dignity, describes ten essential elements of dignity in her book simply entitled Dignity:

  1. Acceptance of Identity
  2. Inclusion
  3. Safety
  4. Acknowledgment
  5. Recognition
  6. Fairness
  7. Benefit of the Doubt
  8. Understanding
  9. Independence
  10. Accountability

I can say, without a doubt, that victims of abuse are neglected in every single one of these basic human-soul-needs. Further, violations of victims’ dignity are perpetual and, over time, reduce what is left of the healthy and thriving soul to something very, very diminutive. What I am trying to convey is that abuse attempts to take a person and make her a non-person. Abusers treat victims as though they are not actually people. We know this. But, that right there is the tremendous damage done to the soul. At the heart of abuse, it is a stripping of a person’s dignity as a human

Someone recently asked me this: What is the worst thing you could say to a person? Without blinking, I said, “The worst thing you can say to someone would be to express apathy and/or invalidation for their existence. Something like, ‘Your words mean nothing; you do not have your own thoughts; you are nothing.'” This idea is deep hatred . . . the opposite of love. It is purposeful unresponsiveness when a person has a clear need. It is abuse.

We all need love, acceptance and safety. To deny a person any of those things, with malevolence, is just . . . its own kind of evil. And breaks a person down in their core — in their souls.

So, what do we do about this?

All of us, at Give Her Wings, strive to help a woman realize her dignity. Because here’s the good news: Dignity can be wounded, but it cannot be removed. We all have inherent dignity that was placed in the core of our being when God breathed the very first breath of life (soul) into our persons. No one . . . nothing can EVER take that away.

Further, we come from a long line of humans created by God and loved by Him. We are part of a legacy. We are connected. We are worthy. No one can take that away, either.

But, sometimes, dignity has been so masked that it takes a lot of effort to find it again. When people sustain an injury to their self-worth (for long periods), the cure is time with people who know how to treat them in a dignified way. Time, sensitivity, kindness, attention and listening may be the best tools to help victims of abuse. We honor their stories and hold them dear. We remind them, as often as possible, how precious they are to God and to us. We listen to their (very good) ideas. We include them. We try to foster independence. I could go on and on . . .

I do not know how to measure the stress, strain and damage done to the soul due to abuse . . . but I know it is massive. I remember all too well. But, here is our hope:

The body can be broken . . . the damage is done. And many of our mamas face debilitating physical pain and losses due to the abuse they have suffered.

The heart can be broken . . . how does one ever trust again? Be intimate with others? The mind can be broken . . . many are on medications for anxiety and depression, due to trauma, and may not ever be relieved of it completely.

But the soul . . . the soul that belongs to Jesus will never, ever be crushed. Pressed down, yes. Shaken, yes. Hit hard, yes. But the dignity that God has given us, as sealed children of His, as marked by our Maker and created in His image will NEVER be taken away. And that’s a fact. It is inherent, indestructible and undeniable. 

A person is a person through another person. My humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. We can only be human together. ~ Archbishop Tutu

In the end, we belong to Jesus. That is that and no one and nothing can separate us from His love (see Romans chapter 8). As hurtful as it is that others wound our dignity, our dignity is wrapped up in our soul, which is wrapped up in God’s love and held safely and firmly in His hand. For this . . . above all else, we can be thankful.

You have harmed my body; you have broken my heart; you have done all you can to break my spirit — but you will not destroy my dignity. You cannot. You will not. You never will. 



2 Replies to “How Abuse Affects the Soul, Identity and Dignity by Megan Cox”

  1. This piece touched me deeply. I have been connecting with so many who are experiencing the loss of their dignity, and it never ceases to break my heart. So many souls wounded and broken, so much guilt, shame and anxiety. Yet so little understanding and compassion. Thank you for getting to the heart of the matter. People need to know that they are seen, heard and loved – no matter where they have been or what they have been through! May we be the hands and feet of the One who loves them, the One who will one day bring us home.

  2. I was so moved by this article – the loss of dignity – is so true. Now that I am out of the abusive relationship, I am finding true peace from God and also finding out who I truly am. You mentioned a friend who is an advocate for those suffering from parental alienation. I am looking for some help with dealing with two of my adult children. Ideas?

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