Six Ways Abuse Damages Your Faith

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The damages of abuse are well-documented and include PTSD, mood disorders, physical illnesses, and a host of relational difficulties. Less discussed are the damages an abusive relationship can inflict on a victim’s relationship with God. Often a good deal of spiritual abuse accompanies any other type of mistreatment and can really hamper a person’s belief in and relationship with God.

Because our relationship with God serves as a basis for both deliverance from the abuser as well as healing from the damages of abuse, the enemy often targets a victim’s faith. For most of us, our experiential belief trumps our intellectual assent in terms of any religious beliefs we may have. What this means is that our experiences with God have a more powerful effect on our emotions and bodies than a thought that we agree with on a purely intellectual level.

For instance, if I have been bitten by a dog, my body instinctively recoils from dogs, especially ones that I don’t know. I may be told that a particular dog is safe, but while I can acknowledge the words as being probably true, I still have to overcome some strong emotions to reach out and pet that dog. Because abuse of any kind has such a visceral effect on our bodies, souls, and spirits, our painful experiences set up a theology that is in opposition to what we ‘know’ about God.

Here is a short list of some of the damages that an abuser can cause in the spiritual life of his or her victim:

  1. The abuser seems more powerful than God.

In fact, an abuser often becomes a terrible idol that one must constantly appease. Because God follows His own rules regarding free will, He does not force evil people to do good. This is a difficult truth to accept if one is caught in a cruel relationship. If the victim is an adult, they must grapple with their choice to stay at some point. When the abuse is directed at a child, the damages are more severe because the choices a child has are limited.

  1. The victim is all alone.

The goal of an abuser is to isolate his or her victim from all sources of support, including spiritual ones. While I was married to my narcissisticdamages ex, I could not keep friends. After I left, I learned that he regularly threatened them in order to get them to leave.  While in the crucible of this relationship, I found God to be my strength. However, this only came after desperate seeking and many, many lonely moments. He had been there all along, but my abuser made that difficult to believe.

  1. God can’t be trusted.

Continual abuse damages the emotional foundation that is required for trust to survive. For many victims of emotional, physical, or sexual exploitation, the unpredictable behavior of an abuser sets up an atmosphere of fear. A victim of abuse walks on a bed of very fragile egg-shells as they constantly try to predict the next mood swing. Because of the imposition of the abuser as a god-like, all-powerful figure onto the psyche of the abused, trust is simply not possible.

Trust is the ability to be at peace and live without fear in the presence of another. If one has never experienced these emotions, then trust is inaccessible. Of all the damages, this one takes the longest to heal from because it requires a full rehabilitation of emotional and physical experience. In other words, these sufferers need others committed to long-term relationships to model healthy love.

  1. Victimhood can set up a false sense of righteousness.

A common dynamic I see in marriages in which mistreatment is the norm is that of the long-suffering wife or husband. The abuser gets away with outrageous behavior but the victim develops a martyr complex that offers just enough emotional reward to stay. The excuse often used is God’s hatred of divorce and ‘doing God’s will’. In truth, the victims are aiding and abetting their abuser’s bad behavior by enabling it.

This one was a very difficult one for me to admit to. I didn’t want to face the fact that my children sustained significant damages because I thought I was doing the right thing. When God called me out of my marriage, I was shocked. I realize now that God will never require a husband or wife to sustain long-term abuse. Such maltreatment is the abandonment of the non-believing spouse talked about in Galatians. In other words, God honors people over institutions, even marriage.

  1. Abuse damages the true self of a victim and attacks their calling.

damagesBecause the nature of an abuser is mercurial, a victim often learns to become a moving target, morphing into whatever seems to allay the wrath of his or her torturer. The difficulty with this is the sufferer of the abuse becomes disconnected from their own self. Sometimes they dissociate because to be in their own mind and body is too painful. Other times they simply become social chameleons, becoming whatever the person they are with at the time wants them to be.

This disconnection from self derails their calling. They cannot be who God called them to be if they have no connection to themselves. We are called to be the most authentic self we can be in the presence of the God who created that self. When that sense of being is interrupted, growth is often stunted.

  1. Abuse causes a deep sense of worthlessness and shame.

One of the most puzzling things about the nature of consistent abuse is that shame and worthlessness attaches to the victim and not the predator. But a deep conviction of one’s lack of value can really interrupt the ability to hear from or experience God. If one feels utterly unlovable, then believing in God’s limitless love can be difficult. Think of it this way. If you have a three prong plug and a two-prong outlet, accessing electricity can be difficult.

Sufferers of abuse have a difficult time believing in or experiencing love. Their two prong outlets simply don’t have room to accommodate God’s three-prong plug.

The good news is that more and more resources are available all the time to those who have been preyed upon by any kind of predator. The evendamages better news is that God is close to the broken-hearted. I always find God to be a tender healer and restorer of my damaged self. The damages I sustained after twelve years of narcissistic abuse have not determined the course of my life.

But if you have sustained similar damages or know someone who has, remember that an intimate relationship with God may take some time to accomplish. And one of the truest things I learned in the healing process is that God sends us helpers if we ask. So seek out those who best represent His heart and they will help lead you back into love.

The Intense Vulnerability of God

14 Replies to “Six Ways Abuse Damages Your Faith”

  1. I just shared this to my facebook page, pinned and tweeted, too. This really hit home for me. I just read an article last night about The president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who was fired for suppressing a rape in 2003. He said to forgive the guy and not tell the police. At other times, he has made comments in favor of the man just being a man. Those days are up. #timesup #metoo
    SBTS not only fired the man, but they took away his benefits, etc. I am glad the church is finally getting on board with this kind of abuse.

  2. “Trust is the ability to be at peace and live without fear in the presence of another. If one has never experienced these emotions, then trust is inaccessible.” Wow… just wow.

  3. Heather Hart says: Reply

    That last point about feeling the shame and worthlessness can be so powerful. And it’s a direct contrast to who we are in Christ.

  4. keisharussell84 says: Reply

    Thank God that he is close to the broken hearted and always a present help in the time of need. It is hard to focus your mind around God’s goodness when you are dealing with some kind of abusive relationship in which someone makes you feel powerless. But once you start finding out who you are in Christ..your mindset changes and you will no longer allow someone to abuse you. Great post!

  5. Every word is true lady. But God… I am so thankful that God brings healing to all those broken places. Though the scars remain, we are able to step out into the truth with Him holding us together!

  6. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ll be looking into the book suggestions. Is there a book that would speak most readily to someone who feels unsaved because of past abuse? Despite all knowledge to the contrary?

  7. Thank you for disputing these lies ! I’m glad that God has given us promises in His word to be near the hurt and despairing.

  8. This is such a struggle for the children I work with who have been victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Their understanding of love is so skewed and circumstantial. It takes significant time, patience, and prayer by all involved for the person to get to a point to allow God to love them and enter into a relationship with Him.

  9. As someone who has dealt with some kind of abuse I am so glad you’re bringing these things to light. As always I love your vulnerability. Praying for you!

  10. inkblotsofhope says: Reply

    Such a powerful and important post, Alice! I especially liked the part where you touched on how it’s difficult to trust God after an abuse occurred. I think that’s a topic the church doesn’t think on and address enough.

  11. Alice, this is such an important post. I’m glad that you shared your wisdom and experience on this. I agree with you wholeheartedly that abuse affects a person’s relationship with God. It certainly raises hard questions about how God can still be good and still be trusted. I hope many find help and healing in this post!

  12. A very well written post on a difficult subject. I pray it will help those in these situations to see that there is hope. Thanks for sharing your heart with truthful compassion.

  13. You pointed out the feelings of lies we embrace which are contrary to who we are in Christ.

  14. Thank you for speaking out about this topic. I’m sharing this on Pinterest and Twitter!

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