October is national abuse awareness month. Domestic abuse has gotten a lot of attention in the media lately thanks to the NFL. I thought this would be a good chance to create some awareness about abuse in general.
Abuse is a hard topic to talk about…for a lot of reasons. It evokes deep emotions and stirs old memories of people who have experienced abuse. And for people that have no experience with abuse, it’s often something they don’t want to think about. It’s too disturbing and they can’t relate so they’d rather not think about it.
But if there is any group that should be aware of the problem of abuse, and how to help both the victims and the perpetrators of abuse, it should be the church. I mean, God has always fought for the defenseless and he calls us to do the same.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
If that’s what God does, then we should work to align our hearts and minds with God.
So what exactly is abuse? A simple dictionary definition is “to mistreat something.” Abuse is when you treat someone or something in a way it wasn’t meant to be treated. In regard to people, abuse means you don’t treat them with the care, dignity, and respect that God created them to have.
Here’s another definition that’s more specific: Abuse happens when someone crosses the boundaries of another person and enters their personal or emotional space for their own gain and to the detriment of their victim. Abuse involves a systematic pattern of manipulating, intimidating, or coercing their victim to gain and maintain power and control over them. This might sound a little academic but I think it’s helpful. It’s helpful to identify abuse that might be happening to us and it’s helpful to identify how we might be abusing others.
Five Types of Abuse
Abuse takes many forms. There is physical abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse. Most of us have a general idea of what those are about, so I won’t elaborate on them. But there are two other types of abuse that are subtler that I want to take a few minutes to explain.
The first is emotional abuse.
I listened to Joyce Meyers tell her story the other day online. Joyce is a well known Bible teacher and she told about how her father abused her. I was surprised to hear her say that as bad as the sexual abuse was, (and it was awful), it was the emotional abuse that hurt her the most. The way her dad talked to her was humiliating and degrading and it made her feel terrible about herself.
Let me give you a checklist to help you understand what I’m talking about here. Emotional abuse is when someone:
- dismisses your difficulties, issues, or input as unimportant or an overreaction;
- They don’t listen to you
- They ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments
- They act excessively controlling or jealous
- They limit your use of money, technology, car, etc.
- They restrict you from seeing friends or family
- They constantly check up on you Now, I know what teenagers are saying: My parents are abusing me! Well, parents have a little more right to control their kids than normal. Yes, if they go are excessive, it might be abuse. But parents should often some control over their kids to help them, not hurt them.
- They ignore logic and get dramatic and even hostile in order to get their way
- They make you feel responsible and guilty for things that have nothing to do with you – In other words, it’s always your fault. It’s never their fault.
- They attempt to destroy any outside support you receive by belittling your friends, family, church, counselor, etc.
- You “walk on eggshells” in an effort not to upset them.
I listed these out for us to help identify abuse that people might be committing against us as well as how we might be abusing others. As I look at this list, I’ve done some of these things. I have a very forceful personality and I’m capable of breaking into people’s personal space and wounding them. I don’t do it as much as I used to but it’s something I have to continually watch and guard against.
But I’ve also encountered emotional abusers in my life. Whenever that’s happened, I felt like I was going crazy. They were so dismissive toward me and so confident of their own thinking that I thought they must be right and I was the one who was mistaken. This was especially true when it happened in a vacuum, meaning that there was no one else around to help me know if I was right or not. Usually it wasn’t until years later that I was able to see that I WAS right and the other person was wrong. I’m sure we’ve all encountered someone like that.
The fifth kind of abuse is a form of emotional abuse and that’s spiritual abuse.
A lot of people don’t know what spiritual abuse is. Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship to God, to control your behavior. The physical abuser might use their fist to threaten you. The spiritual abuser uses God.
Parents can spiritually abuse their children by threatening them with what God will do if they don’t obey them. And ministers can do the same thing. I was talking to a friend once about why he left his church after going there for years and he said, “I was just tired of getting beat up every week.” I’ve actually heard this a lot. That’s spiritual abuse.
Now, if I went to that pastor and told him that people were leaving his church because he was spiritually abusive, he’d probably say, “No, I’m just preaching the Word of God. I can’t help it if they find it offensive.” But every Bible verse can be preached in either a condemning way or in an encouraging way. When you condemn people with the Bible that’s called spiritual abuse.
I think one of the most subtle forms of spiritual abuse is when a religious person speaks emphatically about God and faith with no room to disagree. I bet you’ve been in a group where that’s happened to you.
You were in a group and one or two people were going off on what the Bible says and it’s obvious how true it is to them and they can’t believe how the people of the world could ever disagree, and you are thinking to yourself…Well, I disagree. But you don’t want to say anything because you don’t want them to think you are a bad person. That’s spiritual abuse.
We need to be careful whenever we talk to people about God and faith. You are all ambassadors for God and ambassadors for this church. I want you to represent your God and Cedarbrook well. It’s okay to be passionate, but we need to be careful to give people the right to think differently than we do. I work hard at this. You probably notice it when I preach. I might be very passionate about some point but when I am, I typically take a step back and say, “That’s what I believe. You need to decide this for yourself.” I always want to make sure that I’m not forcing my beliefs on people. I want people to know that it’s okay to disagree with me.
That’s a brief overview of the five kinds of abuse. In my next post I will explore three important facts about abuse.
I recently spoke about this subject during one of my Sunday sermons. You can listen to the entire message here.
Something to think about until my next posting… and feel free to leave a comment about this in the comments section below: Emotional and spiritual abuse can be subtle. We don’t always perceive it as abuse at first. Where have you looked back and gone, “I think that relationship was actually abusive…I just didn’t know it at the time”?