Getting over the experiences that have harmed our lives requires healing. Yet, (though our bodies might heal from physical injuries) healing from emotional damage isn’t always automatic. We have to make a choice to heal. When we make the choice to emotionally heal, we might be faced with barriers that stop us from achieving that end. It seems that when we move one step forward, we find ourselves sliding two steps backward. Why? Because those barriers hold us back. This article will discuss the five barriers that need to be removed before we can start our healing process.
As Christians, we can find in the scriptures compelling stories that can help us see those obstacles that stop us from changing, and then show us how to overcome them. From my own experience, the stories of the people in the scriptures were instrumental in helping me to see what I needed to change on my journey to heal from abuse.
I am going to focus on Christian women, but this lesson can be applied to anyone, even nonreligious people, who have experienced any type of abuse or any stressful life events. Most of our barriers are within ourselves. I will describe our self-imposed barriers that need to be changed by examining the story of the Healing at the Pool.
Afterward, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! (John 5:1–9, NLT)
Let us now look at the five barriers that the sick man had to overcome, and how they can be applied to our own personal healing journey.
Barrier 1: Lack of motivation
What do I mean by a lack of motivation? The man in the story had a condition that required a change. He had been sick for thirty-eight years! He wanted to be healed. He knew where to get his healing and was in the right place, but he couldn’t do what was needed to receive the cure, which was to get into the pool. Yes, his disability was a barrier that made it difficult to get into the pool. Yet I can’t help thinking that, with enough determination, he could have pulled himself to the edge of the pool and waited for the water to bubble. The act may have required a lot of physical and emotional effort and might even have been painful, but it would have been worth it.
Maybe he did try. But at some point, he must have given up, because he didn’t receive his healing. When Jesus asked him, “Would you like to get well?” his lack of motivation was evident when he responded with, “I can’t.” He had lost all hope of getting well.
As survivors of abuse, how can we relate to this story? I know I can. Admitting to others and accepting that I was an abused woman was painful. People will look down on you and blame you for the failure of the relationship were thoughts that flooded my mind. They wouldn’t believe your story and will think that you are trying to damage your husband’s name. These thoughts became barriers that made it difficult to try to seek help. As a result, I had to get rid of my self-imposed barriers before I could start my healing process.
Healing will require a lot of physical, emotional, and spiritual effort. Some of you will have to relive the past and talk about the abuse. It might re-open old wounds that you thought had healed long ago. Talking about your abuse might bring to the surface the shame and embarrassment that you are not ready to face. You might have tried and failed to change your situation, and now it seems a voice is whispering in your ear, “It’s no use trying.” As you reflect on these difficulties you might even despair of trying or lose what little incentive you had to try.
Barrier 2: No plan
Back to the sick man in the story. I often wonder if he had a plan. He had found ways to eat, sleep, and take care of himself physically, so why didn’t he have a plan to get in the pool? Maybe he did have a plan and it didn’t work. But from his conversation with Jesus, it appeared that he had given up thinking about it.
Leaving your abusive relationship means having a plan. That plan could include a safety plan, a list of financial resources, legal support, and support from others. Likewise, healing requires a plan.
To heal you must have a plan for coping with the psychological effects of the abuse. That could mean seeking help from others, in addition to giving yourself emotional and physical self-care. You have to learn to recognize and refute to the lies that you have been told about yourself and the abuse.
As Christians, we can apply the scriptures to expose these lies. If you are struggling with your faith, you might need to ask others to help you understand God’s character and embrace his promises so that you can be empowered with his strength so that you can remove your barriers as you seek healing.
Professional counseling is part of the plan. I believe that counseling in conjunction with the scriptures is essential. Some might think that praying is enough, and therefore not bother with professional counseling. Yes, it is important that you pray regularly, but counseling could be part of God’s answer to your prayers.
Another part of the healing plan could be participating in support groups to encourage and empower you to realize that you are not alone and that other women like you have freed themselves from abuse.
Barrier 3: Making excuses
The man in the story made excuses when Jesus asked him, “Would you like to get well?” He responded, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” The man didn’t take responsibility for his inaction.
What about you? You cannot blame others for keeping you in your abusive relationship. Perhaps you did receive well-meaning but faulty advice from the church, or from professionals, or friends and family to stay in your relationship. Yes, they were in error, but you have to acknowledge that you accepted their bad advice and are ultimately responsible for following it.
You are responsible for seeking change and healing from abuse. Don’t expect someone to come to your physical and emotional rescue. You cannot expect others to reach out to you; you have to reach out to them.
Barrier 4: Fear
Maybe the man in the story feared for his physical safety; maybe he was afraid of getting mishandled by others. He may also have been afraid to heal. Healing would have required him to change the way he had been living for the past thirty-eight years. He would have to learn to take care of himself and work for a living.
Fear is the number one reason why people stay in abusive relationships. Most of our fears are legitimate, like fear for our safety and the safety of our children, or lack of financial resources and support from others. But I do believe that some of us might fear change because it will force us to leave our familiar way of life. Fear of the unknown or even the unfamiliar can prevent you from moving forward to heal.
Barrier 5: Not seeking help
His response to Jesus, when asked if he wanted to be well, was, “I have no one to put me in the pool.” As I mentioned before, he didn’t have a plan, but he was surrounded by people at the pool. Couldn’t he have asked one of them for help? It’s worth noting that he did not even ask Jesus for help! Jesus had to come to him.
Many women, including me, find it difficult to ask others for help. Most women who are in or have recently left their abusive relationship can’t solve the problems associated with the abuse alone. You need the support and resources of others to help you change your situation. Your family, community, and church all have their part in helping you change and heal. Healing cannot be done alone.
Overcoming the barriers
Let’s look at Jesus’ response again. He told the man to “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” In other words, do something! He didn’t waste time talking about all the man’s sins or bring up his past failures or try to make him feel that he wasn’t doing enough to get well. He knew all the barriers that kept the man from healing. Yet he placed the choice for healing in the man’s hands, by asking him if he wanted to get well. The man’s desire to heal had to be so strong that it overcame all the barriers that he had.
I believe that Jesus not only took care of the man’s physical needs, but he also attended to his emotional needs. By giving the man the confidence to overcome his fear and doubts, Jesus made him believe that he could walk, and thereby find the inner strength to stand up by himself.
What about you? You also have the choice to heal. Jesus is not going to bring up your lack of motivation or listen to your excuses. But like the man in the story, you have to trust that you can overcome every barrier that stops you from moving forward to heal. But remember, you have to reach out to others who might offer you a helping hand. The key here is that your desire to heal has to be so strong that it will overpower your pain and fear of failure. Then you can take that leap of faith by knowing that Jesus will be with you along your way.
The content of this blog is adapted from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman