A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Thursday Thought — Step 1 in Trauma Recovery: Establishing Safety

It is exceedingly difficult for abuse victims to give up their defense mechanism and come alive to healthy intimacy when their safety is still threatened. Powerlessness makes deadness and denial extremely enticing — particularly for those who have experienced chronic abuse.  Thus, the first step in trauma recovery is establishing safety.

It’s hard for those who haven’t lived with an abusive husband or parents to appreciate the emotional and psychological toll of chronic abuse.  Imagine the child who goes to bed every night wondering if tonight will be the night her father will fondle her.  Imagine the wife who never knows when her husband will come home from work in a blind rage.  Imagine the families who can never relax on the weekends or the holidays because that’s when Mom or Dad gets drunk and abusive.  Even if the abuse only takes place a fraction of the time, the abused child or battered spouse is constantly on the alert, never knowing when the next eruption will occur.  Thus, parents and church leaders  — Church leaders, You need to hear this** —  [You] must be particularly sensitive to the need for abuse victims to have a safe environment in which they can begin to heal, where they can regain that crucial sense of power and control over their lives that abuse strips them of.

While God can and does use suffering to build character, there is no virtue in enduring avoidable suffering.  In fact, the Bible teaches that we should avoid abuse and seek safety whenever possible.  Jesus repeatedly avoided physical assault and sought safety by hiding (John 8:59), by maintaining physical separation from his abusers (Matthew 12:14-15; John 11:53-54), and by eluding them (John 10:31,39).  Other godly individuals in the Bible, such as David and Paul, also repeatedly fled from physical abusers (1 Samuel 19:12; 27:1; Acts 9:22-25; 14:5-6; 17:8-10, 14).  Creating safety for those traumatized by abuse has a strong biblical basis.  The Bible frequently instructs those in positions of power to ensure the safety and protection of those who are vulnerable (Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 24:11-12; Isaiah 1:17).

(excerpt from Steven Tracy’s book, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse [affiliate link*] p143-144.)

** emphasis to church leaders added by editor 

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

13 Comments

  1. Still Reforming

    Amen! I don’t think many church leaders comprehend or fully appreciate the effects of long-term unpredictable abuse. I also don’t think they acknowledge the definition of abuse as stated on this website – if they even truly care at all beyond lip service.

  2. Anonymous

    “While God can and does use suffering to build character, there is no virtue in enduring avoidable suffering.” And we as brethren are NEVER supposed to be the CAUSE of abuse or the perpetuator of evil in the lives of God’s children.

    • Still Reforming

      Amen, Anonymous, and I would add that in addition to NEVER being the cause of abuse, His children are never to stand idly by permitting abuse by our silence or complicity. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

      • Anonymous

        Amen to both your comments! Apart from never being the cause of abuse, as well as never standing idly by permitting abuse by silence, His children are never to respond to cries for help by giving a sermon on suffering!

  3. freeatlast8

    Just yesterday I came across a verse that I taped on to my mirror so I could read it every day. When I saw the title of this article, “Establishing Safety”, it sounded like the verse:

    2 Thessalonians 3:3
    The Lord is faithful. He will ESTABLISH you and GUARD you against the evil one.

    Establish and guard. Hmmm… Sounds like “Establishing Safety” to me! I love how God shores us up on our path to liberation, especially people like me who have had fear dominate them all their lives. Well, not anymore. Here’s a quick word study…

    The Lord will ESTABLISH (set up, bring about a secure position), and GUARD (protect, watch over…a place or person, for example…in order to keep from being damaged, robbed, or injured).

    And it says HE WILL do this. Like David, Paul, and Jesus though, we need to step away from the abuse (hard, hard, hard to do, I KNOW!!!), and then trust HIM to do what HE says HE WILL do…establish you and guard you.

    I stayed for years in my mess praying for God to do something. I finally did something by removing myself from a NEVER changing cycle. When I question my actions in hindsight now over a year later, I wonder if it was the right thing. I see fruit in my life and in my children’s lives that would not be there if I had continued on in the cycle. How God will work this all for good is still to be seen, but I know that I know it would not have gotten better if I had continued being passive and walking in fear of making a change and trusting God to take care of me.

    And in going back to verse two of this same Scripture, it says: And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.

    Yes and amen.

    • thank you for this, freeatlast! It’s wonderful exhortation.

    • StandsWithAFist

      Spot on, FreeAtLast8.
      Liberating, clarifying, empowering.
      Can I get an Amen??
      Amen!!

  4. I would also add that I think many church leaders don’t comprehend how difficult it is to reestablish healthy intimacy even *after* finding a safe space to do so. For victims of long-term abuse, certain survival mechanisms (like suppressing needs, avoiding intimacy, etc.) are so ingrained that it often takes years of consistent care to undo the damage. Even for those leaders who are compassionate and willing to help victims, they often express frustration when victims are still struggling after months of prayer and support.

    • Still Reforming

      April,

      I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve had some contact from a recent church I attended suggesting a church closer to me, which I appreciate. Then the contact emailed me to say that the local church has an outreach program and asked if I would like a visit.

      I emailed back that “I’m happy to have someone visit, but my husband just filed another motion against me that I have to prepare a defense for that will eat up all my time … before I go before a judge. He’s also working me down to my last dime in legal fees this way. I’d be really delighted to talk with someone from the church, but frankly I’m a bit of a mess right now. I don’t know how many people understand the effects of what I’m going through on a person continually bullied and badgered. I’m not much good to anyone at the moment. Trying to hold it all together for my child’s sake.”

      I haven’t heard back yet – because I think that people just don’t know how to approach someone who’s been through this or how to even understand it. After all, it’s taken we who have lived it for years just as long to realize what’s going on. People generally don’t understand abuse; They think it’s just something much lighter like bullying or badgering (as I called it), when in fact it’s much, much darker. I don’t blame them for their not understanding, but I likewise don’t know how to breach the gap either. In the Lord’s time, and as the Lord wills. It’s a daily thing – walking with Him and having Him guide my path back to “normalcy” – or a “new norm,” I hope one where I can be involved in shedding light on this present evil and the truth of it. Because far too many – even and especially in the church – believe the lie.

      • Yes; and most people have no idea how vast the gap between rhetoric and reality can be in the legal system, esp in America. The principle (the rhetoric) is that in cases involving domestic abuse, the victim of abuse and the children ought to be protected by the courts. The reality can often be quite the opposite: the courts tie the woman down while the abuser and the abuser’s attorneys flay her alive.

  5. a prodigal daughter returns

    I’ve noticed as a person that has some awareness about “trauma informed care” how often shelters, court systems, and counselors are oblivious of the principles of creating a safe space for survivors. Things like privacy, quiet, a sense of protected space without chaos is the exact opposite of what you get landing in a shelter fleeing the chaos of DV.

    • I am not sure of this, but I think that some shelters offer more privacy than others. Not all shelters have the same kinds of living arrangments for the mothers and kids. One I went to had a small bedsit type of flat for each resident and her child/ren. I had my own room with kitchenette and bed and tiny dining table in it, and a small bathroom off it. There was a communal loungeroom and communal laundry. But you din’t have do use the communal loungeroom if you didn’t want to.

      • a prodigal daughter returns

        The ones I went to had bunks in shared rooms, with kids and singles and mothers clamoring in din in an overcrowded space. Many women left and went back because it was anything but a peaceful environment. Throw a bunch if disrupted children in a group of women in the throes of PTSD and with counselors that are clueless, yes, they will go back to the trauma at home.

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