Losing friendships because of the stress of abuse
Jeff and I received this email from one of our readers, Jesus’ Beloved, and she’s kindly agreed to let us feature it in a post. Here is what she wrote us:
I was wondering if anyone has ever had the unfortunate circumstance come up where they lost a friendship because the heaviness of their abuse was too overwhelming for another person to help them with? This just happened to me over the weekend.
I have a close, Christian friend I have known for over 20 years who has heard more than anyone about the abuse I have experienced. I confided in her more than anyone else because she is a believer and I knew she would give me Godly advice grounded in the Word. She also has the gift of encouragement so she has been a tremendous help to me. She was the first person that recognized before anyone else that I was being abused. She was the one who told me to leave my marriage in fact.
She told me though that in the last two years I have not been giving too much back to our friendship. Only taking. And sometimes disappearing completely as I dealt with being a single mother, court hearings, my hurting children, CPS, my husband’s abuse, and numerous financial issues. She said she began to feel used by me, that I only had time for our friendship when I needed someone to talk to and wanted her counsel. But when she wanted mine, I didn’t have time. It’s not that I didn’t want to be there for her. Often times, emotionally I could not. Or I had to take care of my kids, or stay up all night documenting abuse incidents. I also work full time. She said if I really wanted to make time for her I would have, because I was able to make time for me when I needed to reach out to her for help. She also said that she could no longer hear about the details of what my children and I were going through because it was too upsetting for her. The burden was too great for her to carry any longer.
I just wonder if it’s typical for abusive women to become one way friends as I fear I have become, as they deal with their suffering and try to sort through the mess that their mind becomes after living with an abusive man for so long. Is it our fate to lose our friendships at some point because we are too needy, we are too self absorbed, and our stories are too hellish for some people to stomach.
Should we keep in mind that we should be going to Jesus first and foremost with our pain, and human beings secondarily? Because maybe losing friendships is the natural course for abusive women at some point if we don’t. I feel like I burdened this friend with too much for too long and it ruined our friendship.
I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.
Oh yeah. I’ve seen it. And experienced it. Speaking from my own experience, I had “friends” who bailed on me or who at least sent out the “vibes” that they had heard enough about my troubles with wicked people. I can remember more than one of them saying, when we were maybe going out for dinner, “now tonight we aren’t going to talk about church troubles. We are just going to talk about good stuff.” The problem was that those “church troubles” that went on for years and years were STILL happening to me, ie, I was the target of wicked, evil people who were trying to destroy my ministry and the church. I didn’t have the luxury of “not thinking about it tonight.” Eventually those people bailed out and left not only our church but us as well.
In your case, Jesus’ Beloved, I would say that this friend of yours maybe tried to carry too much of your burden without others to help? Or maybe she just decided she wanted to think “happy thoughts” and you were a barrier to her doing that? In the end, what you have in these abandonments is most often something like this:
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:9-11)
Think of Christ and how he died alone except for a very few.
As to your faults in this experience, the fact is that when we are the targets of abusers and all the fallout, we really do not have much to give after we devote what we do have to our children. I don’t think you should be critical or accusing toward yourself in this. A car wreck victim with broken bones and internal injuries can’t do much at all for others until she gets healed. And in many cases of abuse, the victim is in an ongoing car wreck for a long, long time.
Jesus’ Beloved’s reply to Jeff:
I related very much to how you said you didn’t have the luxury of not thinking about it. Indeed, when you have a King Saul chasing you down with no intention of letting up until either he wins or God stops him, it is so painfully consuming. What we’d give if we could only flip a switch and think about and talk about something else for a change. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could talk about, think about and pray about something else besides my husband’s abuse!
And thank you for the analogy of the car wreck victim. That is perfect. It’s exactly how I have been feeling for years, but most especially after I left my husband. I thought his abuse was bad before then but I had no idea what I was in for when I dared to stand up to him and tell him, “no more.” Seeing him use my children to hurt me has been excruciating and has left me walking with a limp ever since. And thank you for the reminder that Jesus went through this as well. He was abandoned as He was subjected to abuse, too. He knows how I am feeling.
Barb offered some links on vicarious trauma (VT).
The links are aimed at professionals who deal with trauma victims, but vicarious trauma can affect friends of victims as well as professionals. Victims and victims’ friends can also find these links useful, even if only to help them have a bigger persepctive on what they may be experiencing when friendships have gone pear shaped. The links also give tips about how to avoid VT and how to notice its early warning signs and take preemptive action.
What is vicarious trauma? — a video from the Headington Institute. We encourage readers to explore the Headington site for more resources on VT, as they have a lot of good material
Note: the last two links are to Australian site, so phone numbers given on that site will be Australian numbers.