Some abuse victims want as adults only to forget their past. That is an entirely legitimate response, and their prerogative.
By contrast, a surprising number of us want to use our suffering to ease the suffering of others. We want to make something purposeful – even beautiful – out of what was painful and ugly. That is a lofty goal which may or may not be achievable .
In either case, a few things should be clear.
A Strong Spirit
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40: 29).
Those who somehow survive abuse – physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect or domestic violence – have a strong spirit. This is true no matter the scars we carry forward from abuse or the fears abuse bequeathed to us. We would not otherwise be here.
To say that we are strong does not denigrate the abuse victims who did not survive. Even heroes are mortal. If anything, we are their witness regarding the horrors inflicted on abuse victims (not to mention the long-term consequences of abuse).
Abuse can be multi-layered. While we may consider a single individual responsible for our abuse, many are likely to have contributed to it.
The abuse of a first individual will begin the lesson that we are undeserving of love and concern. As others follow in the same footsteps, we come to believe this untruth.
Then there are those in our lives who could have intervened, but for reasons of their own did not. This is another aspect of the tragedy of abuse. While a non-offending parent may wield less power in the family dynamic than an offending-parent, an adult is always more powerful than a child.
We had every right to look for rescue to the adults aware of our situation.
And still we make excuses for the loved ones who abandoned, battered, and raped us.
They didn’t understand the harm they were doing. They led hard lives, were under a great deal of strain. It was our fault. We deserved it. We were disobedient, rebellious. We expected too much. We complained too often. We were too pretty, too flirtatious. Deep down, they “really” cared.
Excuse after excuse after excuse…none sufficient to justify abuse.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4: 23).
Strength and kindness are not at odds with each other. That is a mistake bullies and abusers make. A strong man need not beat up a weaker one – let alone an unarmed woman or a harmless child – to demonstrate his power.
Small acts of kindness – from a grandparent, a teacher, a friend, even a stranger – nourish the hope natural to the soul. These can remain with us long afterwards and may be what, in the end, saves our sanity.
Outsiders are far more likely to recognize and respond to abuse than the members of a family of origin who tolerated it.
In the abusive family setting, non-family members are often looked on as hostile and dangerous. What goes on in the home – the abuse secret – “must” be kept from them. Even as adults, we may feel that outsiders will not understand what we endured. Better to leave them in the dark, we assume.
But the reaction of an outsider to the circumstances we were forced to endure can actually help us to see that we were victimized children (or that our own victimized children require intervention only we can provide).
Family members may deny for decades the abuse we experienced. They may convince themselves we are lying, vindictive, or unhinged in disclosing (or, as they might say, fabricating) the abuse. However, those protesting our version of events most loudly may be the very ones most in denial.
Lies by those who actively participated in our abuse can be even more destructive. This kind of duality – experiencing pain and violation, while being told we are loved – is crazy-making . No wonder we have difficulty establishing and sustaining supportive relationships later in life.
Making Sense of Things
“The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118: 14).
Abuse victims often spend years trying to make sense of themselves and their lives.
The abuse which so heavily impacted us may have taken place while we were still too young to understand it. Even if the details of our abuse are lost to memory, its ripple effects can continue to the present day. Dissociation, for those of us subject to it, can wreak yet more havoc.
It takes strength on our part, but finding the truth is worth the effort.
 This observation is not meant to discourage abuse victims. Rather, it is intended to emphasize how far we have come, and persuade us to be patient with ourselves and our efforts.
 Other examples of crazy-making behavior can be found at Life Hack, “Ten Examples of Crazy Making in Relationships” by Mandy Kloppers, http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/ten-examples-crazy-making-relationships.html; and Verbal Abuse Journals, “CrazyMaking: Domestic Abuse Intended to Cause Self-Doubt”, http://verbalabusejournals.com/about-abuse/crazymaking/.
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