The first step to emotionally and spiritually heal from any harmful relationship requires self-reflection. Self-reflection involves examining how you got into and chose to stay in your relationship. For this blog, I will focus on domestic abusive relationships. And I will address some of the changes you might need to make as you seek healing.
When I talk about self-reflection, I am talking about discovering how your partner’s abusive actions affected your emotional and spiritual well-being. I am not talking about taking the blame for what your abuser did. You are never responsible for someone else’s actions. But your responsibility is to understand what happened and what you did about it.
You can start by asking yourself, how did I get into this mess? I believe that when we self-reflect and try to answer that question, we will discover things that we might need to address as we seek healing. I will attempt to answer that question and suggest some things you can do to change and heal.
Self-reflection: How did I get into this mess?
Yes, love is the number one reason why we stay in an abusive relationship. Most people I know married for love. I certainly did! But I think my concept of love wasn’t as clear as I thought it was. It was influenced by others’ perceptions of who I was and was performance-based. The truth was, I didn’t love who I was or saw myself as important, due to past experiences in my childhood and teenage years. In addition to those experiences, my parents weren’t around to nurture my sense of self-worth. This led to a faulty concept of love which made it difficult to tell the difference between healthy love versus sick love.
Love in an abusive relationship means one person does all the giving and the other person does all the taking. Once you realize that fact, you can change your unhealthy concept of love and replace it with healthy love. As Christians, we don’t have to look too far because Christ demonstrated what healthy love is.
We can’t move forward without addressing fear. Fear is what keeps us frozen and unable to seek change. Although fear is healthy if it keeps us out of danger, some of our fears are irrational. For me, I feared my husband’s wrath more than God’s wrath. You might ask, how so? I mean that I wasn’t afraid to break God’s commandments, such as lying to please Xavier or covering up for his abuse; in other words, I was more fearful of what my husband would do if I didn’t follow his wishes. Some of us fear our families, or what the church might say when we speak the truth. We let our fears stop us from seeking change.
We can’t let fear stop us from doing what we must do to change our abusive situation. If we’re ever going to move forward, we have to face up to our fears and realize that the alternative may be worse.
As we self-reflect, I think shame is second only to fear in preventing us from seeking help. Shame is inwardly self-inflicted. Shame tells you that you are unimportant, or don’t deserve any sympathy because you made some bad choices. Embarrassment, on the other hand, is being affected by what other people think. Both are damaging to one’s sense of self.
I believe that educated women who are accustomed to being in control or who can access the resources to end the abuse are at more risk of letting shame and embarrassment stop them from seeking help. I know friends who have left their abusive relationships but haven’t started the process of healing from “domestic abuse” because they weren’t ready to accept the fact that they were victims. Accepting that fact will mean having to face their shame.
Confronting our shame in a safe environment will help us to overcome it so that we can move forward to freedom from abuse.
Self-reflection will help us uncover our anger, which is required to heal. Self-reflection means asking questions like, “Why didn’t I leave early?” and “I can’t believe I let him treat me that way, and why didn’t I do something?” These types of questions may produce anger and regret. Anger itself is not bad. Anger allowed me to take back some of my power; for instance, I refused to have a joint bank account so that I could have control of my money.
But the thing about anger is, if you stay in that state, you will become resentful and bitter. We have to make a conscious effort to use anger only for positive change and not let it control our lives
Abuse can cripple our sense of trust. It hampers our ability to trust ourselves and even God. I know of a woman who was angry with God for allowing her abuser to get off without any consequences. Mentioning God will send her into tears, and her resentment will be obvious in her face. She didn’t trust God anymore.
But I believe we have to retain our trust in God so that we can trust ourselves. Also, we have to understand what trust means.
I am glad the scriptures don’t command us to trust everyone who says, “I’m sorry.” Regardless, some of us were urged by others to trust our abuser when he said he was sorry without showing any signs of meaning it.
Even though I have forgiven my abuser, that doesn’t mean I have to trust him. I had to realize that I am not required to trust him even if he apologizes or shows tearful remorse. Trust is earned, and he would have to demonstrate that he deserves my trust. There was no time limit attached to the acceptance of my trust in him. I had to be okay with that choice.
As we seek healing, our priority should be learning to trust God and to trust ourselves. Trust that we have the power within ourselves to change our situation. In addition, trusting our abusers is not based on what others want from us.
I think our greatest challenge as we self-reflect is learning to forgive. We can spend hours on this topic. Forgiveness is the key to healing. Here, I am talking about self-forgiveness. For most of us, it is easier to forgive others than ourselves.
It was difficult to forgive myself. Why did I allow his abuse to happen for so long? Why did I expose my children to an environment that was damaging their emotional health? My responses to these questions produced anger that I had to confront and let go of.
If we don’t forgive ourselves, abuse will continue to control us. I believe the key to self-forgiveness is understanding God’s grace. It is easier to extend grace to others than to ourselves. For me, extending grace to myself means that I am not taking responsibility for my actions, nor am I taking advantage of God’s kindness. But if we don’t extend grace to ourselves, we are not allowing the scriptures’ power to change us.
In conclusion, we have to realize that the scriptures have the power to heal us. But we must still do the work that is required to heal. Self-reflection will help us identify areas that we can address as we seek healing. I pray that when you self-reflect, God will grant you the knowledge to change the areas in your life that need his healing.
The content of this blog is adapted from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman.