Ugh…I hate that word. It’s a nasty label isn’t it? Abused. It feels like poison on my tongue, showing every weak point and vulnerable crevice of my heart. Abused. Might as well be “confused” sometimes. Abused. How could something so past tense be so ever-present? Abused. Oh but I’ll wear it like a badge of honor some days.
Abuse is awful. It rearranges our relational expectations and twists our perceptions of people. It makes friends enemies and enemies friends. It turns affection into a distorted game. It perverts authority and power. It is awful and I know its awfulness first hand. I know the devastation of discovering those you should trust you cannot trust and the upheaval of mind and heart in the wake of terrible abuse. Despite how awful I know abuse to be, I’ve found it’s merry-go-round addictive, alluring, and almost impossible to get off of. From victim to perpetrator to victim and back again, round and round the cycle continues.
I’m terrified of being out of control. White knuckle, panic attack, terrified. I’ll manipulate you before you ever have a chance to control me. I’ll never believe you love me so I’ll make sure you prove you don’t. When expectations are infused with fear, there’s no way for anyone to win. But do you see the problem? I may not be beating you or forcing you to perform a heinous sexual act…but I’m abusing you. I’m using the “power” I have to secure myself and un-secure you, often without even realizing it. Why? Because when you’ve tasted the bitter wine of abuse you do everything you can to make sure that second (or third or fourth or fifth) cup passes from you. Abuse is awful, and without the hands of the healer, we just end up chained to its dancing horse.
Staying on the merry-go-round doesn’t always look like being “bulletproof and black like a funeral.”1 We continue on in the cycle of abuse in as many ways as there are people on this planet. The cycle is self-seeking, self-protective, and self-fulfilling and is often, almost always, at the expense of someone else’s well-being. It is control: control of others, control of self, and control of circumstances. Whether it’s appeasing expectations and securing praise or failing expectations to ensure we can live life “on our own terms” or it’s refusing vulnerability and convincing the world we’re not hurting at all through being the life of the party or trying to go unnoticed. Control doesn’t always look like a power play.
Abuse teaches us to use what we have to ensure our safety and disregard the needs of others. It teaches us to wield our pasts, wealth, social status, relationships, education, position at work, emotions, or any other way we have power over others, as weapons to keep us safe. We become strong, but it’s not a strength birthed and fueled by grace, it’s a strength mangled in dark power. Abuse is awful.
But the biggest problem is our blindness. We don’t want to see abuse for what it is and so on and on the merry-go-round spins. We refuse to acknowledge being abused or we acknowledge it and make it our “get out of jail free” card; either way we don’t see abuse as the twisted reality that it is. When the Holy Spirit stirs our abused and abusive hearts, how quickly do we shrink back into ourselves and yell, “Victim!” praying that the sting of conviction leaves and we don’t have to face the truth. Oh, we are victims. Victims of power. Victims of ourselves. Victims of the past. Victims of shame (there’s a word I hate even more). Dearest brothers and sisters who have felt that heavy hand of abuse—whether it was emotional, sexual, physical, relational, or verbal—come out of hiding and get off the merry-go-round. Control is no path to healing. More abuse, more hatred, more isolation does not help. It does not help. The only way to heal is to get off the merry-go-round, stop the cycle, and give yourself over completely to Jesus.
I know what you’re thinking…that this is all just a bunch of spiritual marshmallow fluff. That you’ll get a taste for healing and have it ripped away again. I mean, that’s what we’re trained to believe, right? That healing has to look like perfection and perfection is impossible so why try? We build our walls and we keep people and God out, perpetuating the shame, control, and isolation that is birthed with abuse. But there’s a new birth and a new life that changes everything. It’s not about perfection, it’s about you being perfected. And being perfected is a process, a process that starts with admitting your need.
You need Jesus, friend. You need his Spirit to empower you, to transform your mind, to heal your crushed, warped, distorted heart. Realize that your abuse of power will never be dealt with until you acknowledge the power of fear that has taken over your life. Those fears are rooted in real things, real situations that had real and horrific consequences. But that fear has no power over you, the merry-go-round has no chains on you. God stands beside you in your need2. Confess. Get honest. It does no one any good to let this stuff fester. Drag your pain and your warped view of everyone around you into the light. You can’t get off this merry-go-round with sheer will-power. And you can’t do this alone, either.
Get in a comGroup (or stay in your current group!), commit to Bible Study, get with fellow Jesus followers. You need Jesus’ people to teach you how to love without a bulletproof vest strapped around your heart. You need them to fail you, to misunderstand you, and to share things that you think are silly if you are to be perfected in loving them as Christ has loved you. You need Jesus’ love to empower you to forgive your abusers, see people as image bearers and not threats, and surrender control to the One who will never take advantage of your trust. Jesus doesn’t condemn you. He doesn’t shame you. He doesn’t want to hurt you. He loves you. You, victim and perpetrator, confused and controlling, nonchalant and uptight, isolated and vulnerable, successful and rebellious, you are precious to your God.
If all of that seems impossible to you or like salt in a wound of loneliness, I know. Oh…how I know. Maybe comGroup isn’t safe for you; not all groups are ready to walk through hell with each other. Maybe Bible Study has proven to be bedrock of gossip rather than a place to be honest and open about your pain. Maybe church sucks. But don’t let those negative experiences keep you strapped to this merry-go-round. If you feel trapped and like you have nowhere to go, don’t give in to that lie. You’re reading a blog written by a heart wounded from abuse, just like yours, who would count it all joy to walk through this with you. I mean it. I’m not perfect and I will fail you but I promise to share Jesus and war stories with you. You’re not alone.
Jesus is calling you off this dark merry-go-round and into his light. Stretch out your hand and go3. He will give you the strength to endure; his power is made perfect in your weakness. It won’t be easy because when is healing ever easy? Healing hurts, but it carries a promise of relief, relief from the pain inflicted both to and by you. Jesus carried it to the cross and he teaches us to carry one another.
- from “Fairly Local” by twenty one pilots
- Psalm 109:31
- Mark 3:1-6