I am realizing that healing after emotional abuse is not easy. I have said a few times since this has been brought to my attention that I honestly think emotional abuse is more damaging, or at least equally damaging, as physical. I think more because the physical abuse we readily admit is wrong. Deep down many abused women may think they are provoking the abuse, but they likely know that hitting, etc. is wrong. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is more subtle and less obvious.
Because of the deep scars that emotional abuse causes, healing is not easy. I think many assume, “Good, she is away from her abuser, she is fine now.” This is NOT true. In talking with those I love who have suffered from abuse, I am realizing that getting away is just the start of the healing process. The emotional abuse can continue through contact with the spouse, and the woman’s emotional state is quite battered. It takes tremendous support and encouragement and prayer for her to once again recognize her worth. If the spouse cut her off from any spiritual venues she loved during the marriage, it is going to be even harder.
So, if you are friends or a relative of someone who has dealt with abuse, how can you help? Honestly, I’m not sure I know all of the answers here. Each woman is going to be different in her approach to things. Here is what I think:
- First, do not push too hard. Let her share details when she is ready. If she is willing for you to ask lots of questions, she will let you know.
- Second, do not be afraid to ask how things are going, but only ask if you really want to know. The casual “how are you?” that we all are guilty of asking is less than helpful. She may need someone she can really open up to, so do not ask if you cannot be that person.
- Third, do not give her advice on how to fix her marriage. Unless you have been there, you DO NOT understand what she is going through. You DO NOT understand what abuse does to someone. You DO NOT know how to tell her to be a “good wife” and “respond to her husband well” (This one gets me a little riled up but that is a whole ‘nother post.)
- Fourth, talk about other things. Abuse is an ever-present situation, and the friend may want to talk about normal life. Are there kids/hobbies/a job? Ask how those are going. Let them talk about their non-hurting life. Do not be afraid to talk about your life, even if it is going well. The person is your friend and needs to see that life can be normal. I know for me it is sometimes hard to talk about my blessings when I know someone is hurting, but it’s OK to do so.
- You must remind her that she did not do anything to cause the abuse. Often abused women feel like they sinned, they upset him, they did something to cause this. They must understand that the abusive nature, the problem, lies with their husband. It is a deeply rooted part of who he is as a person, and she did nothing to cause it.
- Be willing to offer practical advice IF IT IS ASKED FOR. Do not butt in and try to run your friend’s life, but if she needs help thinking through the next step and asks you for it, then by all means, help. She will likely be facing some pretty big decisions in the immediate future after leaving her spouse, and may need a sounding board.
- Finally, and this one is hard for me, listen to her talk about her abuser, but do not start tearing him down. She needs to know that the behavior is not normal and is not ok, but if she is praying for reconciliation, tearing down the man she wishes to reconcile with is not going to help her, and may make her shut off from you. When she tells you things that seem so crazy, it seems to be ok to mention that that is sin and that is not normal, but proceed with caution.