To move forward and heal from a domestic abuse relationship, or any painful life experience, we have to go back to the past to see how it affects our present. Self-reflection is required to start the healing process. This means looking back to see how these painful experiences have impaired our thinking. The hard work will be to change those thoughts that keep us from healing.
As Christians, we have the incomparable power of God’s word to help us change our perceptions of painful experiences. For this blog, my primary focus is the spiritual aspect of breaking free from the thoughts that keep us stuck. These behaviors and beliefs that stop us from changing are what the scriptures call “strongholds.” Our strongholds can control our lives and make us susceptible to dangerous situations, such as abusive relationships.
What are Strongholds?
In the spiritual sense, strongholds are the walls that Satan uses to hold us captive. These walls keep us from understanding how God can change us from the inside out and allow us to do his work.
Strongholds stop us from achieving the plans God has for us. It stalls our spiritual growth and maturity and prevents us from transforming into his new creation.
For most of us, our emotions and emotional reactions are where Satan manipulates us to build his stronghold. He exploits our anxieties, fears, mistrust, lack of confidence, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, envy, and many other emotions. These emotions might not be evident as we interact with others. We might not even be aware of how they hinder our ability to change. This ignorance allows Satan to fortify his walls, making it difficult to tear them down. As a result, we feel trapped.
Self-reflection is Required to Identify Strongholds
As I self-reflect, I am able to identify two significant strongholds within my Christian life. They are a lack of trust and a feeling of insignificance. When I became a Christian, I had difficulties surrendering to and trusting God. It didn’t mean that I didn’t believe him or his word. My lack of trust didn’t stop me from changing some of the behaviors that were contrary to his word—for example, gossiping or revenging when someone did me wrong. I tried to do the right things, yet I found it hard to let go of situations that were beyond my control.
The things that were beyond my control required trust in God. The way I dealt with them was to prepare for failure. When things didn’t work out as I expected, and since I had emotionally prepared myself to fail, it was easy to shrug it off and try something different. There was no residue of negative emotions such as bitterness. Instead, I felt a strong sense of motivation and the determination to try something new.
The feeling of insignificance, my second stronghold, has been a challenge to break. Piggybacking on this feeling is insecurity and lack of confidence. These emotional reactions influence my interactions with others. I am always analyzing other people’s responses to my presence. I allow them to define my self-respect. If they respond in a way I think is negative, I internalize those negative feelings. As a Christian, I am still working hard to break through that wall.
How to Break Strongholds
First, we have to become aware that God has given us the tools or weapons to destroy them. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 states, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (NIV).
We must develop the conviction that God has provided the weapons to fight, and they have the spiritual power to break down any barriers set by ourselves and others.
On the other hand, to achieve victory with our weapons, we have to identify the target—which means we have to recognize our strongholds. Furthermore, to effectively demolish them, we have to find the root or foundations of those strongholds and bring them down with God’s weapons.
For me, finding the root took a lot of prayer and self-reflection. When I was nine years old, my mother developed complications during the labor and delivery of my brother. On the way to the hospital, I stopped in the middle of a path and knelt down and prayed to God to let my mother live. After praying, I felt God’s presence. I thought that he had heard my prayer and would answer it. I walked the rest of the way imagining all the fun things my mother and I would do together after her discharge from the hospital.
After a brief visit with her, I skipped back home. A couple of hours later, while playing next door, I heard loud cries coming from my house but ignored them. I said to myself, “Why are they crying? My mother is OK.” I went home later and found out that my mother had died. What a shock! I did not cry. Instead, I felt a sense of anger and disappointment towards God.
This anger and disappointment towards God became the foundation of my lack of trust. I didn’t consciously tell others or say to myself, “I don’t trust God,” but that lack of confidence was embedded deeply in my heart and evident in my actions. For example, in all of my plans, there were always alternatives in case plan A didn’t work out.
The root cause of my feeling of insignificance also started during early childhood. I was told that my father didn’t want a child. When I was a preemie lying in an incubator, my father took one look and said, “That thing will not survive.” He later married and did not reveal to his wife that he already had a daughter. Not having a relationship with his new family made me feel as if I didn’t exist. And that led to the feeling of insignificance.
This feeling of insignificance was transferred to my adult and married life and has had an enormous impact on my self-image. For example, in my abusive marriage, one of the tactics used by my husband was to walk into the room, and when I said “Hi,” past me and walk by as if I wasn’t present. This behavior triggered the same feeling of insignificance conveyed by my father.
Apply God’s Truth
After finding the roots of the stronghold, we demolish those roots by attacking them with God’s truth. John 8:32 states, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Replace the lies with the truth.
As I return to those childhood experiences, the reality is that God was there, and he took care of me and protected me. He was there when bad things happened and when I didn’t understand the reason for those unfortunate events.
In Isaiah 46:3–4, the writer states that God was there since you were born. He “upheld you” and “carried you.” And he promises to carry you even when your hair becomes gray. He will “sustain” you and “rescue” you.
Psalm 139:13–15 states, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb” (NLT).
As I applied these truths to my life, it awakened the realization that God was present during the painful events of my life, and he used them to lead me to reach out to him. The truth is, he allowed me to survive as a preemie in an environment that had no sophisticated technology to support a premature birth. And he protected me from harm even when I didn’t have a mother or father. When I can visualize God protecting me, it strengthens my faith. My lack of faith leads to lack of trust. But when my faith is increased, I am able to break my strongholds.
For my insignificance stronghold, many scriptures talk about our worth. For example, Matthew 10:29–31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (NIV).
Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (NLT).
James 1:18: “He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession” (NLT).
Exodus 9:16: “But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth” (NLT).
These scriptures tell the truth about God’s view of me. I am part of God’s masterpiece. My piece may be a small part, but it has a place in his magnificent work of art. Without me the picture is incomplete. When completed, it radiates his glory. Yes, I am important!
After applying God’s truths, we also have to forgive and let go of all the emotions that keep us chained within the strongholds. The facts of the event that started the hold on us will also help us to forgive.
For example, I had to go back and view the events of my early life and apply the truth. My father and mother were very young when they met. He just wanted to have fun, and not interested in any kind of serious relationship. And he definitely did not want a child. In his culture marriages were arranged by the family. Marrying a black woman could have led his family to disown him. I used those truths to find compassion for my father and forgive him. When I did that, I was able to break the walls and set free the emotions that held me captive. This process took time.
Build New Walls
After breaking the walls and foundation, we have to build new walls using God’s tools to stop Satan from having an opportunity to rebuild.
Matthew 12:43-45 states, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (NIV).
We have to protect ourselves. We can’t afford to keep an empty space or else we become easy targets for Satan. Some of the tools we can use to build our new walls are found in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. We can grow strong walls when we are filled with the fruits of the spirit.
Change the Way You Think
To stop Satan from attacking our new home, we also need to change the way we think. Our thoughts trigger our emotions; therefore, we have to change the way we think. We can change the way we think by first accepting the truth of Proverbs 4:23, which states, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (GNT).
Do not let every thought run freely in your mind. Choose carefully what you want to think about. 2 Corinthians 10:5 states, “…we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).
We make our thoughts obedient to Christ by thinking about what Paul listed in Philippians 4:8–9. He wants you to “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT). He wants us to imitate him. When we do, we will receive God’s peace. With God’s peace Satan will have no power to break our walls down.
Regardless of our past experiences, such as abuse, God’s word has the power to help us break any hold caused by those experiences. But we will have to do the hard work to change our thoughts. When we are obedient to thinking like Christ, we have the power to break our strongholds and demolish Satan’s ability to keep us captive.
Image: Jon Shireman