Monday, May 23, 2011

Dealing with Abusive People

It seems I have been around abusive people my entire life, starting with my dad and his violent alcoholism.  From my exposure to abusive people, I've made quite a few observations about their communication methods and I believe they are noteworthy in the sense that making note of them might help someone else recognize that they are in an abusive relationship.

By the way, I don't participate in abusive relationships any more.  But, I will say that non-participation can be tricky as abusive people have a strong agenda that depends on their targets' cooperation.  It's tricky in that you can actually be lured into participation without full realization of your participation!  And, thus, an abuser's agenda has momentum to continue.  When it comes right down to it, though, this is actually a powerful realization for a person under the oppressive behavior of an abuser.  When we realize their agenda depends on our cooperation, we have realized the end of their agenda - at least for ourselves.  Just don't cooperate. Hmmm.

No doubt this is easier said than done but the Bible really gives clear examples of this very thing. Throughout the Bible, we see a consistent, effective method for dealing with abusive people.  In the book of John, John, himself, gives us a great example.  What I learned from John is to have my own agenda, my own plan, making the abuser's agenda much harder for him to accomplish.  John had his own agenda and it was clearly in place whenever he had encounters with the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were highly abusive and openly tried to trap John many times.  Their agenda was to expose his "false" teaching.  His agenda was to proclaim Christ. He saw to it that his agenda was not derailed; he kept his focus, always directing the Pharisees back to Christ. He did it without apology. He did it without hesitation. He did it with consistency.  He was focused and his focus was Jesus Christ.  More on this in a minute.

An agenda, or a plan of your own, is a powerful tool when it comes to dealing with abusive people.  When I was little and my dad was on yet another abusive rampage, it was all about him and what he wanted.  If we didn't appear to understand his demands, he got louder. If we resisted in any way, he got violent.  When he wasn't yelling, throwing things or beating us up, he was emotionally and mentally manipulating us. Growing up that way, it really never occurred to me that I could actually have a plan of my own; that I could actually have my own ideas, thoughts, plans, etc. It always had to be about him and we cowered in fear when he didn't get his way.

For the victim of any type of abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, etc., having a plan of their own is not only essential to breaking the abusive pattern for themselves, it's essential for their own well being and sometimes even survival.

This is a starting point.  If you are in any type of abusive relationship or know a loved one who is, help them start with a plan of their own.  It can be as simple as a plan for a given day, a plan for the week, a plan for the year.  Sometimes, the abuse is so intense that a person can only plan for the moment.  That's okay, too.  The greatest starting point for this plan is the Bible.  Jesus Christ knew how to deal with abusive people; He did it all the time.  He dealt with them by telling them the truth, standing His ground with them and He never really answered to them.  This infuriated them, of course. Because Jesus had His own plan, He was not vulnerable to their abuse.  He had His own reason to be in the conversation and that's what He stuck to. He was not all about them!

Read the book of John and see how John dealt with his abusers.  John chapter 1, starting with verse 19 has John's first recorded encounter with abusive men who had their own agenda. John kept his focus, and he kept control of the conversation.  Read through verse 28 and see how he managed all that!  It's quite remarkable and a great example to us all.

Having my own plan has led me to develop personal policies that have shown to be powerful tools as well. There's something decidedly intimidating to an abusive person when their target does not cooperate and instead, cites that it's "against policy."  Now, granted, we might not be in a situation where we can actually say that out loud, but we can certainly remember it for ourselves, remind ourselves mentally, and focus on that. I created my policies through the Scriptures, trying to make sure I was not manipulative myself, but focused on what God would have me do.  God would not have me tolerate abuse, so that policy came easy.

How does my theology play into this?  First of all, I use only Biblical principles in this process. I have learned to not be afraid of my own emotions, but use them as though they are really gifts to help me through a certain situation.  For example, abuse often produces feelings of anger.  Well, there's nothing wrong with being angry; the Bible says "be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:6).  Anger is a real emotion and The Lord acknowledges that it exists and never tells us to ignore it.  But, what do I do with that anger?  I use it as a tool. It's a great motivator, keeps adrenaline flowing and helps my momentum.  In anger, I have more courage to resist my abuser and it motivates me to keep my focus on God and what He would have me do.  Anger does not have to be acted out in a negative way.  Anger was motivation for our Savior when He overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple.  Anger is a great tool.  It's important to control our actions even when our emotions are high and/or negative and using anger as a motivator instead of a destructive force will result in a more positive outcome.  Quite honestly, there are some things that should make us angry!  And there are things that will produce angry feelings.  There's no profit in denying the anger or acting as though it's wrong to feel that way.  What we do with it is what counts.

Secondly, my theology plays into this because I realize that I don't answer to any abuser, I answer to God. This is also a powerful realization for a person being abused, because it frees them from thinking that their abuser has any authority over them.  While there are times when an abuser has authority (as in my case, my abuser in the past was my dad), ultimately it's your life and you will have the ultimate say in what you do with your life. A child does not have as many options (this is topic for another post), but when a child grows up, they DO have options.  And even a child has more options than they might think. I realized early on that my dad could control my actions, but he could never control my thoughts, desires and plans.  I made lots of plans. I wasn't able to carry them out as a child, but I made them anyway.  Those plans led to dreams and those dreams led to motivation and that motivation led to my success in overcoming abuse.  It also led me to create a set of guidelines for overcoming the effects of abuse and all its trappings.  This is all according to the grace and leading of God; I'm not going to ever take credit for what He has done, but I will tell you the steps HE took in my life to free me from the debilitating effects of abuse.  All these steps are a result of His leading, His grace and the power of His Word in my life.

I have a lot more to say about abuse and will continue to post in hopes that I can show how my theology comes into each and every situation I find myself in. Whether it's spiritual abuse from a misguided Christian or emotional abuse from an insecure relative, you can have victory over that abuse, one step at a time.


No comments:

Post a Comment