Recovering From Abuse

Conversations over Lunch

I met up with a couple of friends recently, with whom I used to attend church with.

We have since gone our different ways.

One attends another church now, because of migration.

The other still attends that church.

And me?

I left that church – initially in extreme disgust.

Over time, the feelings of frustrations became moderated.

But still, some disgust.

But why?

Abuse Can Happen Anywhere

I spent ten years in that place.

When I left, I felt like I was released from a massive brainwashing.

And when that happened, I felt so cheated.

It felt as if the past ten years were spent under the thrall of a spellmaster, controlling my every move.

Wait, that description.

If I did not reveal the context in which it happened, it would have sounded like a sex-slave scenario, wouldn’t it?

(But it was not)

But why did it sound so similar?

Because one of the common traits of abuse it the excessive presence of control.

Abuse Can Come in Many Forms

But, of course, in my case, there was no sex involved, no confinement, not physical restraint.

Control still took place, of course, but indirectly, through the presence of what I now feel to be a controlling use of peer pressure and peer approval.

It might have been accidental, but that does not mean that it did not exist.

It existed.

And I felt so abused after the fact.

Like I did not realize how abused i was, only to realize that it was the case, and watching the past ten years of my life crumble before me.

It was extremely shattering.

Abuse Can Come from Previously Acceptable Actions

The most insidious form of abuse comes when people cannot transit between contexts.

What I mean is this:

An action that was previously acceptable might be unacceptable under a different situation.

For example, a teacher might insist on forcefully dragging a child away from a dangerous situation when the child is young.

It might even be acceptable, since the child does not know better – and would be in danger if the teacher does not do that.

But a teacher that attempts to do the same thing to a student – repeatedly – past puberty, could actually be a control freak.

And the exercise of control, which was acceptable before, is now excessive.

And excessive control is usually the start of abusive behavior.

Not just teachers, though.

As a teacher, I have seen such behavior in all forms of instruction-giving authority.

Teachers, parents, religious leaders, non-religious leaders, and so on.

And because such behavior usually have some form of authority backing it, it is usually the hardest to stop.

Because such behavior is usually disguised as “care”, such behavior is hardest to recognize.

It was hard for me to recognize that the system i was in, within that church, was abusive, because the preacher would say that it was in God’s name.

Or that these are the instructions of God, and are therefore good for me.

Don’t get me wrong – prayer is good.

Reading the scriptures are good.

But when people attempt to impose guilt on you for not performing it, rather than emphasizing the benefits of doing so –

When people get offended when you do not listen.

You know that they are attempting to control, rather than do the work of God.

You know that they are letting their insecurity poison the care for you that they may possess.

Or maybe not possess.

Every Reminder a Potential Trigger

For years since, I found it hard to meet anyone from that place.

I would not read anything to do with that place, unless it carried bad news – I hated them so much, I wished it would close down.

Otherwise, I simply avoided every reminder of that place.

I stopped reading the Bible, stopped listening to Christian songs, and stopped active participation in church services.

I would skip the first 30 minutes of every service, to minimize my presence in church to the sermon alone, and leave as quickly as I could.

This was extremely tough, though, especially since as a Christian, I am often advised that forgiveness is the higher and better choice.

While true, anyone who had tried to tell me that would have been coldly ignored at best.

But I was fortunate.

Eventually, the pain dulled, and meeting friends from there again did not seem so painful as before.

What If Distance Is Not Possible?

Not having the luxury of distance is far more common, though.

While not as eye-catching as sexual abuse, plenty of abusive behavior happens in the household every single day.

A simple google search for “abusive behavior at home” quickly brought me to multiple articles on the topic, such as this comprehensive list.

Another search for “abusive behavior in school” quickly reveals another list of websites, such as this one that reveals common emotional abuse of students by school authorities.

What next, then?

Recovery Is Not Instant

The first thing you must know is that recovery from abuse, like any type of recovery, takes time.

You must wait.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in waiting.

Do not let anyone guilt trip you into thinking that you need to recover quickly. 

Shut them up if they say so.

You have a right to ignore them. 

You have no need, when in recovery, to accept the advice of people who are not helping.

Even if they say they are.

You have the right to accept an advice, and reject another – even if they come from the same person. 

No matter how well-meaning they are, idiotic advice is idiotic advice.

And idiotic advice don’t need to be listened to.

Even if they are so-called religious leaders.

Recovery takes time.

Trying to hurry it – and especially worrying about hurrying it will only make it worse.

You see, one of the reasons why people end up needing recovery in the first place is because their thoughts and beliefs have been changed.

Sometimes traumatically, sometimes over time.

But the same result: A deep wound in the psyche.

So, take the time you need.

Do not hurry.

Pray for a miracle, by all means, but – don’t let anyone pressure your recovery process.

And don’t give up.

Baby steps are also good.

Many baby steps forward result in big progress.

But, really, if you feel it is taking too long, perhaps it is time to seek professional help?

There are some instances when this is absolutely necessary (see below).

You don’t have to feel guilty, there is nothing wrong with seeking help – in fact, that is a brave thing to do.

Forgiveness Does Not Mean That Protective Instincts Immediately Disappear

Thoughts are not the only things that are unhealthily altered, when you have fallen into a situation where you need recovery.

You reactions, too, have been affected.

Your protective instincts, too, also need time to adjust. 

Scientifically, we know that in abuse victims, the brain is so used to fight-or-flight hormones that undoing the damage it causes takes time.

But that is science.

Let’s talk about practical, day to day stuff.

And there are plenty of protective instincts that can take place.

Some react by flinching.

Some avoid.

Some retaliate.

Some cry.

Some eat a lot.

Some don’t eat at all.

Some eat a lot and then stop for a long time.

Some end up with mood swings.

And so on.

They all take time to adjust back to normal.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are a horrible person.

For one, I have heard of situations, (as a teacher) where the parent demands respect.

They say stuff like “my child is disrespectful”.

And when it is suggested that their past behavior might have triggered a reaction to past abuse, I get responses like “but it is so long ago, she should be okay now!”

And so on.

Oh really?

So you are telling me, that your behavior which triggered the problem, has changed since then?

Do you have a partner, or a person in authority, or a loved one that says such shit to you?

Don’t let them guilt trip you into feeling that you are not good enough.

Recovery takes time.

So what if you took a little longer?

Of course, there are exceptions.

If you are self-harming, clearly suicidal, or causing abuse to those under you – perhaps, like i said earlier, it is time to seek help.

You don’t have to feel guilty, there is nothing wrong with seeking help – in fact, that is a brave thing to do.

You should be proud for taking that step.

However, Do You Recognize What Is Happening to You?

Here, however, is the hard part.

We sometimes do not recognize what is happening to us.

This is a problem.

Firstly, we demand more of ourselves than we should.

That is a problem.

That is why I said you should not rush recovery, and why I said there is no need for pointless guilt.

But worse, we end up perpetuating abusive behavior against those under us because we fail to recognize what is happening to us.

That, my friend, is a very big problem – and if you are doing that, you need to seek help as soon as possible. 

Look, it is one thing to demand heavily from your peers, or your seniors.

But when you demand heavily on someone that should be taken care of, you must ask if it is fair to them.

Because it is not. 

Many parents, for instance, do not recognize that they are over-controlling.

I have seen that many times in the past as a teacher, and as a church member.

Parents who claim that they are doing all they can for their child or their congregation, and failing to recognize that the best thing they are able to do for them is to leave them alone for now.

To stop talking.

To shut up.

Yes, they are that unskilled or unaware.

Because all they say when they open their mouth is stuff like “you must do this, because it is good for you”.

Really?

Are you 100% sure that this has nothing to do with the fact that you are madly anxious, and am projecting your anxiety on your child or your congregation?

For example, by projecting your disappointment or hopes you had for your husband or wife onto your child?

I cannot answer that for you.

You must answer that for yourself.

Also, if you are harming yourself, would you consider getting help?

I say consider, because if you are not causing harm to the next generation… I guess the issue is less urgent –

Although it is still significant. 

You need to decide if you need it, though.

Help that is forced on someone is usually less effective than help that is readily received.

And, at the risk of sounding repetitive:

There is nothing wrong with seeking help – in fact, it takes courage to acknowledge the need, and to seek help for it.

You Are Still Important

Regardless,there is one thing I want you to know, as you continue on your road to recovery.

You are still important.

Significant.

You are not worthless.

You have a future and a hope.

You are somebody.

You time on earth is not a mistake.

You will make it through.

And when you do, you will be a force for good.

And someone you will come to like.

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