Helping women of faith find hope and healing after emotional and spiritual abuse

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You Have Ten Strengths That Will Help You Find Freedom from Emotional Abuse

by | Apr 26, 2018 | Advocacy, Articles, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Survivor Identity, Waking Up | 16 comments

In the last article I wrote, What Kind of Woman Does an Abusive Man Go For?, I talked about ten strengths that actually work against her when she’s been targeted and groomed by an emotional abuser in an intimate partner relationship. Today, I’d like to talk about how she can harness those very same strengths to get her abuser out of her head and find freedom and peace.

Ten Strengths That Will Help You Find Freedom from Emotional Abuse

1. She has the kind of character that puts the needs of others before her own.

While she’s been brainwashed by her religious community and her emotionally abusive partner to believe that THEIR needs are paramount to hers (so convenient for them), when she finally sees herself as also having needs and also being beloved of God and also precious and also worthy of repect, she will turn her attention to her own neglected personhood and begin to make amends.

She will learn that God’s Word teaches us we love and accept others to the degree we love and accept ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Meeting the needs of others while feeling resentful inside, broken down physically and emotionally, and drained spiritually due to hearing the Bible used like a warfare weapon against her for so long, isn’t what God had in mind when He told us to take up our crosses and follow His Son.

Jesus didn’t live that way, and neither should we. Jesus said hard things to religious control freaks (Pharisees). Jesus didn’t run after people who walked away from Him (rich young ruler dude). Jesus didn’t work 24/7 to meet the demands of the masses. He rested. He hung out with supporters. He took care of His body, His spiritual health, and His mental health.

Next time you are in front of a mirror, do this: Say to yourself, “Self, you are important to Jesus. He loves you, and guess what? If He loves you, SO DO I. I love you, Self. And from now on, I’m not just going to burn out trying to make all the control freaks in my life happy. I’m going to enter into the rest and joy and peace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m going to HAVE YOUR BACK.”

Do it. I double dog dare ya. At first you’ll feel silly and maybe even blasphemous. I mean, loving yourself? That’s SO selfish, right? Wrong. To not accept who God made you to be and to reject yourself and your humanity is to be arrogant in the opposite, more subtle direction. Are you too holy to take care of your flesh and blood body? Jesus wasn’t too holy to take care of His! And He was the most humble, most unselfish person to walk planet earth!

Imagine that you are your own mother. How would you encourage yourself? I mean, think about it. Do you have a daughter or niece or some precious little girl in your life? Would you stand up for her if she were enduring what you’ve endured all alone? Or would you abandon her, saying that her purpose for existing is to service controlling men?

Yet this is what you do to yourself so you can keep all the daddies in your life satisfied. You abandon yourself.

Stop it.

Time to not only love others but to also love yourself. This is the first step to getting abusers out of your life. Their voice, telling you that you’re a worthless hunk of road-kill except when you’re giving them sex and making their favorite meal and taking care of all their emotional garbage – is a lying voice.

And it needs to go.

2. When she makes a commitment, she sticks to it. She is faithful and trustworthy.

So you’ve made a commitment to your abuser, and you’ve stuck to it for years and years. You’ve been faithful to your vows to him, even though he’s broken his (without flinching or remorse) too many times to track. You’re faithful in every way, and you tell the truth even when it gets you into trouble (and oh, it does.)

But how about this? How about making a commitment to yourself, for a change? If Jesus says you are worth dying for, how about you proclaim the truth that you are worth living for?  I know your abuser tells you otherwise. His voice is in your head, reminding you of all your supposed failures and shortcomings (many of which are just HIS issues projected onto you, and you’ve graciously accepted them because. Love.)

But this is where the “talking to yourself in the mirror” thing comes in. You’ve got to stop betraying yourself. You’ve got to start TRUSTING yourself to take care of YOU.

You know who hates your freaking guts? The enemy. Those verses about how we don’t fight against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and all that? True. So true, but guess what? Those powers and principalities use destructive human beings to do their dirty work. So even while we can pray for our human enemies, that doesn’t mean God wants his daughters to be servicing them every night. That doesn’t send the message that what they are doing is wrong.

It tells them that what they are doing WORKS.

So they keep doing it with the full blessing of the church.

Go back to that mirror and say, “By God’s grace, I’m going to make a commitment to you – to be faithful to you. To be honest with you. To TRUST you to take care of me.”

And then go forward with a new resolve to do it. I promise, Jesus will support you in this, because He loves you just as much as He loves your abuser and the church that colludes with him. But what’s loving toward them is CONVICTION OF SIN. And what’s loving toward you is SAFETY AND HEALING.

3. She takes responsibility for herself and those around her. She’s a woman of integrity.

Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. The state of being whole and undivided.

Responsible: Having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action. Able to discharge obligations or pay debts. Reliable or dependable. (Source)

When I think of a conservative woman of faith working hard in her home, the word “responsible” comes to mind. Nobody has to check in on her to make sure she’s doing her job. That’s because she not only does her job, but she does the jobs of many others as well.

She makes sure that when her abuser fails in his responsibilities, she picks up the slack for him. She is the “helper” (wrong interpretation, by the way) so she HELPS. Part of “helping” an abuser is covering for his bad behavior. Making him look good to the kids. To the church. To the friends. This is the expectation, and she delivers.

Abuse survivors have strong principles, and they live by them.

  • But what happens when they realize they are not living up to their very own values of integrity when they hide the truth from themselves and the rest of the world?
  • What happens when they recognize that they have been unintentionally living a duplicitous life because of the lies implanted in their psyches by their abusers and their religious communities?
  • What happens when they see for the first time that they, themselves, are divided into several parts, unable to bring a coherent wholeness to their existence because of the confusion and brain fog abuse intravenously fed them for so long?

I’ll tell you what happens. They wake up and roar. Because that’s not who they are.

Once they wake up, watch out. They are just as passionate about taking responsibility for their own well being as they once were about their abuser’s.

Now they see the lies, and they start exposing them in spite of the hateful kickback they get from every corner of their lives.

Though this is emotionally excruciating, they now begin to feel the pieces of their life come together into a complete and accurate picture, and it empowers them to shake off the abusive, lying voices in their head and speak their experiences out loud.

The voices of these Truth Tellers are rising every day. They are now passionately taking responsibility for themselves and other victims while placing the responsibility for the abuse back where it belongs: squarely on the shoulders of the abusers.

4. She is generous to a fault—giving more than she takes and doing it with pleasure.

She has used her skills and gifts to gain earning power, and then she turns around and uses her gain to bless her husband, her family, her church, and her community. But when she wakes up to see how abusers take advantage of her generosity, taking control of her earning power, criticizing her hard work, demanding more and more from her while withholding more and more from her, she considers the situation and stops.

She stops giving to abusers. She stops giving to abusive religious communities. She stops giving to anyone who is simply using her for their own agenda.

And she takes back what is hers. Not because she is suddenly selfish and rude and greedy. But because she is a wise steward, and she sees how her investments are squandered and trampled on by abusers. To be true to her values, she can no longer permit this to go on. She stands against it and looks at other ways to protect her assets.

Of course, the dysfunctional folks in her life will go into emotionally violent fits of protest. They will accuse her of being a greedy gut. A stingy, selfish shrew. A “tearer-downer of her own houser.”

But when she is finally free of them, she will build a life and career for herself and be more generous than ever. To those who truly need what she has to offer.

5. She is kind and compassionate. Empathy oozes from her pores.

She has historically focused so much of her compassion on her broken abuser. Why? She feels bad for him. He can’t seem to pull himself together. He can’t seem to rise up and be the man she thought he wanted to be. He had a bad childhood. He wasn’t picked up as a baby when he cried. And the list goes on.

She knew she had skills and love that would help him. That was her job, right? Helper? But nothing she ever did actually helped. He’s still the exact same dysfunctional man he was when she first married him as a young woman.

When she realizes her compassion and kindness and empathy were misplaced, she is able to focus it where it belongs: on those who actually need and want it. And this includes HERSELF.

What about you? Are you kind and compassionate to yourself? Do you empathize with yourself? Or are you still beating yourself over the head for failing your abuser? For failing yourself by failing your abuser?

When you can truly see yourself through the eyes of Jesus, you will break down with kindness and empathy for your own plight. And this kindness will enable you to make choices that are protective and safe rather than betraying and dangerous to your future.

Make the decision today to take yourself under your wing and be your own best advocate.

6. She is intuitive. Sensitive to the emotional environment around her. She picks up on tone and body language, and she adjusts her approach accordingly.

While she is hooked in to her abuser, her sensitivities, introspection, and intuitive nature are used against her to shake her up and confuse her. The abuser’s words and subtle behaviors don’t match, and this forces her to regularly battle with cognitive dissonance.

But, all the millions of big and small things she learns in her abusive environment will one day inform her decision to break free. When she does, her abuser and his flying monkeys (very often religious people who think women aren’t worth as much as men) will put on an excellent outward show of change and support.

She’ll be sorely tempted (for a while) to go back. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, after all? They’ve got a good show going on, and it’s inviting. Plus leaving is hell, and she’s pretty sure they’ll murder her personhood, reputation, and anything else they can get away with once she does.

You know what will keep her on her path to freedom? Her uncanny (and well-practiced) ability to see through bullshit.

And I think that’s all I really need to say about that.

7. She is forgiving. She will forgive and forgive and forgive – without being asked.

Up until now she has forgiven her abusive partner, her abusive friends, her abusive church, and her abusive family. Now, she will forgive herself. And she’ll need to, because when she wakes up, she’ll see things from the past however-many-years that she will believe she should’ve seen a long time ago. Things she should have admitted a long time ago.

She will also see how, as time progressed and the abuse got worse, she responded with less and less grace and self-respect. She yelled and cursed when her abuser trapped her in a corner of accusation and projection. She tried to control his abuse so she could find relief.

She’ll be tempted to hate on herself. Tell herself she’s a failure. Stupid. Blind. But then this beautiful strength will kick in, and the same heart of forgiveness she freely gave to everyone else will turn in kindness upon herself. She will look back on her younger, vulnerable, brainwashed, naive self—and she will forgive.

She will also accept the love and forgiveness of Jesus for her wildly panicked responses. For her anger and desire to fix things on her own. For her lack of surrender to His painful plan of freeing her from the abuse HIS way. (Which is NOT the way of the Pharisees. Make a note of that.)

And this forgiveness will bring a new peace and joy to her life.

8. She is patient and long-suffering. She will endure the attacks of her partner, believing in his potential as a human being.

The stamina she has built up over the course of many years will be exactly what she needs to extricate herself from her abuser and his flying monkeys, because once she stands up for herself, she will be attacked like never before. The lies will not only multiply, but they will become more colorful.

Since the truth is not palatable in religious circles (hey, men are awesome and women are trouble unless they are submissive to a controlling authority), many of her former “friends” will believe the lies and withdraw all love and support while she enters into one of the darkest moments of her existence.

But now she believes in her potential as a human being, and she will endure not only the attacks of her spouse, but the attacks of many people around her while commiting her future to the God Who sees and loves her.

9. She is courageous. She survives the rejection of her love and the dehumanization of her spirit, and still she goes into each day with hope.

During her marriage she would get up each day with a renewed sense of hope and faith. She would love her family and care for her home in spite of chronic rejection and criticism.

When she takes steps to get out of her abusive environment, she will need this courage—because getting out is a red-hot hellish journey.  She will now need to survive rejection from her religious community, her extended family, some of her friends (the “fair weather” ones), and sometimes of her own adult children (sadly – very common).

Yet, she will rise. Given time, this woman WILL RISE because her faith isn’t in people. It’s in Jesus.

10. She is resourceful. She takes what she is given and multiplies it even though she is offered only criticism and rejection in return.

Many times an abuse survivor has lived on very little. Even if her abuser makes a decent amount of money, they control it and dole it out only as necessary. This means she needs to make the best use of the budget she’s given. And she does. This skill will come in handy when she divorces her abuser and he hides money and assets from the court so she is left with less than she should get as a contributing (OVER-contributing) member of the union.

She’ll bravely start over with nothing. Often she will have sacrificed her own career and continuing education to focus on her spouse and their children and their home. When he strips her of all of these things, she will need to jump start a new career in the middle of her life. Not an easy task. But she’ll do it. And she’ll gain new footing because people will like her. She’s a hard worker, honest, and good. She’ll build a new life for herself from scratch, and while it won’t be easy, she’ll do it because she’s a steel magnolia. Tough and beautiful.

A few last rabbit trail thoughts…

After my article What Kind of Woman Does an Abusive Man Go For?, a woman sent me this email:

It’s hard for women to move from victim to survivor if they don’t see themselves as a victim. When the world can’t see the abuse, and the church says it’s just the normal burden of marriage (your cross to bear), then it’s hard to see it for what it is– ABUSE! Even the person being abused is brainwashed: “This can’t be abuse. It’s hard, but ABUSE is such a strong word.” Taking that label of victim is as hard as any other part of this journey. I actually kind of skipped over it. I didn’t accept the victim label until after I was flying free and could see the situation for what it was. It’s still really hard to swallow. But I can enthusiastically say he was an abuser. That’s for sure now. I see it clearly.

What about you? Can you accept that what you’ve experienced is abuse? And if so, this means you were a victim of abuse? There is no shame in being/having been a victim. Victims of rape or murder don’t become victims because of something THEY did wrong. They are victims because of something a perpetrator did to them through no fault of their own. The perp could have just as easily picked the next woman in line.

I’ve written about what emotional abuse actually is HERE and HERE and HERE. If you read those articles, and you are nodding your head in recognition, that means you are—or were— a victim.

The conservative church (the one that says men are higher than women and claims that the Bible teaches male hierarchy in five cherry picked verses that could actually mean many other things according to Bible scholars) says you’re not a victim because they don’t believe in emotional abuse in the first place. They lie to themselves and to their people.

They don’t believe they have a problem with male entitlement and an inbred, brainwashed bias against women. Just like abusers, if they don’t see their blindness, they’ll never have any insight, and if they don’t have insight into their issues, they’ll never change. They don’t think they need to.

Women of faith want to trust in these kinds of men to help us know if we are doing right or wrong. But they aren’t our Lord and Savior! We must start looking to Jesus Christ alone for our direction, our help, and our strength. Jesus was a truth teller even though it made Him a few religious enemies. He didn’t pander to the Pharisees, knowing they had the power of influence in the people’s lives.

Here’s the thing about Jesus. He was God – and He was a victim of every type of abuse imaginable. But He overcame his victim status when He conquered death. In Christ, we are also overcomers. We will also rise up and conquer our enemies. How? By shaking free of oppression and putting all of our energies and strengths and skills toward HIS kingdom rather than the little kingdoms of entitled, religious, abusive men.

So to summarize, let me say that while an abusive man made you his victim, the power of Jesus coupled with the strengths He has built into your life have you destined to be an OVERCOMER.

You are destined to go from crawling to flying!

Want more? Sign up at the top of this page to get on my mailing list! I’ll send you the first chapters of my book and companion workbook. In those chapters you’ll find an assessment to help you figure out if your relationship is abusive or not. 

16 Comments

  1. abrianna

    Having a hard time admitting I am a victim and he is an abuser. Other people around me say those words and I just can’t seem too. In fact the other day I said to myself that I am not a victim, I will see myself as a survivor and skip the victim part.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      A victim is simply a person who has been harmed. There is no shame in being a victim. If you haven’t been harmed, you are not a victim. None of us can be survivors unless we have been victimized and survived something. It doesn’t make sense to be a survivor when you haven’t survived anything, right?

      Reply
      • abrianna

        Oh I was harmed….a lot.

        Sigh.

        Reply
        • Natalie Hoffman

          I’m so sorry, Abrianna. We do a lot of work with our thinking and healing and moving forward in the Sisterhood education and support community. I’m opening that group up to the waiting list tomorrow for 48 hours. If you’d like to find out more and get on the waiting list – go here: https://joinflyingfree.com
          I’d love to see you truly be a survivor who is able to move into a powerful and peaceful life in spite of the ways you’ve been harmed.

          Reply
  2. Sharayah

    I am wondering what your thoughts are on accepting your abuser the way they are without trying to encourage them with ways on how to be better(which i have stopped doing because i know he doesn’t listen to that and he just thinks i am judging him) because clearly as an abuser i don’t think God accepts them that way (although He does love them) and i don’t necessarily accept bad behaviour either. So it’s hard for me to say to him, “yes you are good the way you are” when he is clearly not okay. He tells me that i don’t accept him or love him for who he is and that’s one of the reasons he resents me and i struggle with that, because i do love him as a human being made in the image of Christ, just not his behaviour. I feel like i have to apologize to him for trying to help him be better, but i feel like if i do that, he will think he doesn’t have to be better. What a confusing journey!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You can accept him, as a human being, without accepting his poor behavior. Yes, you are judging his behavior (as you should) and saying it is not appropriate for him to violate the human rights of others – including yourself. We all make judgements every day on what we will and will not tolerate. When he tells you that you are judging him – ask him why he is judging you for that? Everything they say can be turned back on them because they are simply projecting their own folly onto you. If he insists on exhibiting these kinds of emotionally stunted behaviors, then he will be unhappy in his relationships because people don’t like to be treated like that.

      Reply
  3. Mimi

    This article describes me to the T. Every word is so true!!

    Reply
  4. aashley

    Wow. Knowing that I keep forgiving my abuser because he is my spouse and allowing his hate to overshadow my love is powerful. I kept thinking that all I needed to do was keep laying myself down and dying, forgiving, and moving forward in daily life is what actually keeps me stuck in this perpetual cycle of abuse.
    I now realize that if the cycle is going to stop, I must say” enough”! I cannot allow him to steal my joy anymore. Nor must I try harder to ease his suffering while he uses me like a verbal punching bag.
    For the sake of my children I must step out of the dirt and fly.
    Thank you for your encouragement and insight. It has given me the light I need to find my way home in Christ.

    Reply
  5. SouthernDarling

    At mid-life, I am “coming to” from years of deception and abuse. This gives a voice to my silent pain and suffering, and the destruction that has overcome my family at the hands of our “spiritual leader” and also gives me tools and hope. I had wondered why he had so much support from friends, attorneys and pastors who enabled and even coached him how to hide, embezzle, manipulate and erase electronic footprints, while I had no support, no tools, no defense. Well here it is!

    I pray your ministry is seen by every woman who needs it. I forwarded this to 5 friends immediately and within in minutes, my phone blew up with sighs of relief and THANKS!

    Reply
  6. Denise

    I offer my thanks too, Natalie! As someone who is still climbing the steps of that ladder to freedom, your encouragement and straight talk have helped me immensely.
    Reading what you wrote about victims/survivors, reminded me of something I read recently. It’s from the book, But He’ll Change by Joanna V. Hunter (which I think is a good complement to Don Hennessy’s books and is written my a “survivor” and I highly recommend it). She writes: “A Note About Labels: Recognizing yourself as a victim is an important first step in recovering from domestic abuse. Then you move on to understanding you are a survivor, a person who has the power to survive in a horrid situation. These labels serve a purpose in the beginning of our healing journey, but we don’t want to embrace the labels or let them define who we are. As we begin to heal, we will eventually see the abuse as one period in our lives, something that happened to us, but it is not who we are. So with time and work, labels fall away. Otherwise we spend the rest of our lives seeing ourselves as damaged. We are not damaged. We are strong and capable.”
    Seeing our selves as victims is definitely one of the first steps out. Then as we climb that ladder we realize we are survivors. But I want to move even past that and realize I am “more than a conqueror”. We can reach that place where we truly are the victors.
    Again, thank you so much!
    God bless!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you for sharing that added insight, Denise!

      Reply
  7. Amy

    I found this site/blog almost a week ago and honestly, it’s wrecked me in every way. Of course like so many I’m sure, I felt like she was talking directly to me about my life. But then realizing it was common enough to have all of these points laid out. That was almost worse. Then realizing I was and am a victim?? Saying the words “I was abused emotionally and so were/are my kids” – those are really heavy words. I didn’t think they’d be hard to say but, goodness. BUT there is this freedom that comes with those hot tears pouring down my face. Knowing I am in the process of freedom and will continue to be free from daily oppression. This site has helped me more than I can say. “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      The initial realization is mind-blowing. But it’s the first step to healing and wholeness. (((HUGS)))

      Reply
  8. Suzanne

    Thank you for these words…it feels like you crawled inside my head and have written about me and my struggles. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Amy

      Totally. Same here. <3

      Reply
  9. Annir

    Thank you I love this and identify with so much of it ,well written and empowering because I see the truth in it.

    Reply

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