How the Church can help victims heal
I left a comment at Chris Moles’ blog [Internet Archive link] and I wanted to share the thought with you:
Chris said, “When she is willing and able to walk through her pain in community, surround her with loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process.”
I would like to share what that looks like for me. My friends hold me accountable and it is very helpful. They hold me accountable to my boundaries. If I am allowing X to violate them, thinking that my showing “flexibility” will encourage him to do right, they tell me to stop it. If I am ever thinking that I should ____ to try to entice X to Christ or to change, they throw a flag on the play.
My friends also humbly recognized that processing my trauma was above their pay grade. One friend in particular would insist that I seek professional counseling. I didn’t want to. I knew the best counseling for my situation was at a shelter and I was ashamed to seek help from there. But I did and it was very beneficial to my recovery. My friends also asked what my counselors had suggested and then asked if I was doing those things.
One friend is in charge of the child protection policy at church. She has had a great deal of training in recognizing manipulative patterns and people who are trying to use guilt and people’s hope against them. She is not afraid to call X’s pity plays for what they are. I was so used to making excuses for him and I was still holding on to hope that he was changing or would change. But my friends, my pastor, and my counselor have NEVER suggested that he was/is changing. They pointed out that his boundary breaking behaviors are abusive and a changed man would honor boundaries without complaining or seeking adulation.
I would ask churches to not suggest to a target that her abuser has changed or will change, but to hold her accountable to no contact and other healthy boundaries until there has been evidence of a change in his heart; honoring boundaries, no deal making or manipulation, no complaining, doing right for Christ’s sake instead of for image management’s sake – and for a long time (at least a year). The target will know little things that you don’t. The target will know ways that he uses to demonstrate his superiority. There are code words and phrases. There are postures and facial expressions. Just the way X breathes sometimes was a signal that he wanted something. Please never try to persuade a target to go back. If that happens, let it happen because she has peace about it. Your priority, Church, is to keep the people in that family safe and lead them to the Cross, not to keep them married or convince them to remarry.