The Loneliness of the Abuse Victim
I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. (Jeremiah 15:17)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. (Psalm 102:6-8)
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. (2Timothy 4:16-17)
One of the most painful and damaging results of abuse is the isolation that its victims must endure. Aloneness. You look around and it seems that most everyone else is enjoying good company, fun times, and friendships. But you, you are alone. A lonely sparrow on the housetop.
There are several reasons for this. Here are at least a few:
- Abusers, as we know, work to isolate their victim so that they can control them more easily. An abuser frequently moves his victim and family far away from her family and friends, distancing her from her most natural allies.
- Abusers often work to sabotage his victim’s work environment or career path. Success in the workplace is a threat to his control.
- Abusers alienate the victim’s friends and associates and relatives by telling them lies about her.
- The church, yes, even her church…the place where she should find the warmest fellowship and support ostracizes and abandons her when she leaves the abuser or even reports the abuse.
All of these dynamics, as you can see, produce profound aloneness and enhanced isolation. The victim finds that she is, literally, on her own.
But there is still another very powerful and common factor that isolates victims of abuse and in some ways this may be the most common and damaging of all. Let’s call it the “no one wants to be around a whiner” dynamic. Let me see if I can explain it.
I have been the target numbers of times of wicked abusers, sociopaths, and narcissists all parading as sons of righteousness in local churches. Sometimes, and for long protracted periods of time, the intensity of the abuse caused me to be downcast, depressed, traumatized, and . . . well, you can fill in more adjectives I am sure. Now when you are in the midst of such suffering, you think of little else. You can’t think of much else. You don’t even fully understand what is happening (the fog, you know) and that confusion adds to dwelling on the thing because you are trying to sort it out.
So you talk.
You talk to whoever you can — to whoever seems to be a friend. (This is when you often get accused of being a gossip, you know). But you talk. If you and your wife go out with another couple, for instance, you find yourself pouring your heart out, telling them about the whole mess. And it takes quite some time to tell it. The details of the evil. It’s intricacies and plots. Your fears and pain. You might even resolve that “next time you won’t talk about these things,” because you sense that people don’t want to keep hearing about them. Often they don’t. But sure enough, next time you talk again.
It has been years, in some cases over two decades, since the worst abusers I have been targeted by departed or were expelled from our church for their evil. But I still find myself recounting the wicked things they did. Not as often as I used to. With I suppose diminishing frequency. But I fully expect that I will tell these tales to some degree until the day I die. Such is the nature and depth of the trauma inflicted by deep evil.
But the isolation and loneliness. There are very few people among professing Christians who are willing to share one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Very few. Very few who are willing to weep with those who weep. Many have never experienced the pain of abuse themselves, so they are rather clueless. And often what happens is a distancing. “You know, he always has to talk about abuse. Why can’t she just let it go and get on with her life? It’s such a downer.” So such people draw back. They want to keep on the sunny side of life, just like they order their eggs. The result? Loneliness.
I remember one very good friend and a true Christian to whom I was doing my usual outpouring of the pain which the deceptions and crafty evil of an abuser had caused sometime before. I caught myself and said “Sorry, I will try not to talk all evening about this stuff.” His reply? “It’s ok. It’s therapeutic to talk about it.” Now there is a wise man and a true friend. It IS therapeutic to talk about the abuse to someone who truly believes and understands.
I still experience the loneliness caused by abuse, but nowadays as a result of a bit different reason. These past five, now going on six years, of ministry to abuse victims here at ACFJ, I have heard story after story after story from victims which really largely turns out to be one and the same story, doesn’t it? Abuser claimed to be a Christian. Victim eventually reported abuse to her pastor. Pastor….you all know what the pastor told her with very rare exceptions. We hear it over and over again. There is a huge body of witnesses to the thing. Abusers left in good standing as a church member. Abuser even the pastor or a missionary. “Famous” pastors and church leaders and counselors giving these poor victims absolutely horrid (should be criminal) commands and counsel.
And what do I do? What do all of us do here at ACFJ along with all of you? We talk about it. Often I suppose I even rage about it. I smash my fist down on my desk about it. And when we are out there in the social arena or hanging out with friends, what do we do? Well, I can tell you what I do. I talk about this stuff. I hate it. I despise it. I want to tell everyone about it and I want to name names. The result? A continuing degree of loneliness and isolation. Oh, I don’t really blame the people around me for it. For the most part they are right behind us here at ACFJ. It’s just that, well, here we are and guess what subject is going to come up?
But that is how it is. How can we keep silent when so many victims are suffering terribly? How can we keep silent when inept, naive shepherds of the church fail to protect the flock of Christ? How can we keep silent when we see abusers actually standing in pulpits in churches? We can’t. We won’t. And so while we do occasionally see the sunny side of life, more often than not it is the dark side that is on our minds. So when you want to help a victim, understand this — she has been and probably still is living in that dark side, probably for decades. Do you really expect that she is going to be able to talk about much else?
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