Feeling Conviction for Not Helping Victims More
Recently MarkQ, one of our commenters, expressed his difficulty and his feeling of conviction for not reaching out to those who have been abused. Barbara responded to his comment with some very good insights. We want to highlight MarkQ’s comment and Barbara’s response for those who may not have seen them in the original post.
MarkQ said (link):
… I’ve been struggling with the guilt / conviction of not reaching out to those who have been abused. I have connections to a few people who have been spiritually abused, but I’m aware of two problems. One is that I don’t know how best to approach those people, some of whom have joined new churches that aren’t as abusive, but still have authoritarian views of leadership. The other problem is that, being a victim of spiritual abuse, I don’t necessarily have the energy to stand up against it in any material way.
My last church was not as abusive as the church before. I was on somewhat of a path to healing. About a year after we joined, I learned about a horribly abusive situation at the previous church. I spent a lot of time and energy encouraging my friend and giving him the tools to confront the abuse, but ultimately he lost his appeals. So, I tried to get my church involved, and they refused. I realized, at that point, that I was nowhere near healed, and that I really didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I also lost my respect for my church leaders, who trumpeted the Presbyterian church’s ability to correct these very kinds of abusive situations, and yet, when one came up, they washed their hands of it.
My new church seems to have the same problem, but for opposite reasons, more like mine. I think members recognize that there are a lot of hurting people coming through the doors, and while they are not trying to get those people to put on a holy facade, they aren’t taking the time/energy to reach out, or even put themselves out there (e.g. joining/creating small groups) to encourage each other. I’m still trying to get the feel for how I can encourage change in a way that is gracious and not legalistic.
Barbara replied (link):
MarkQ, I hope I can offer you something in response to your comment.
You are not alone in feeling conviction for not doing enough to help abuse victims. I have a similar sense of conviction. I know that I do reach out to abuse victims via this blog, but I feel I often am falling short of what I could do. So I relate to your prickings of conscience.
“I have connections to a few people who have been spiritually abused, but partly, I don’t know how best to approach those people, some of whom have joined new churches that aren’t AS abusive, but still have authoritarian views of leadership. The other problem is that being a victim of spiritual abuse, I don’t necessarily have the energy to stand up against it in any material way.”
I believe that having awareness of one’s own limits — one’s energy, time, triggers, etc. — is a really important capacity for all supporters of abuse victims to have. We are better helpers when we know our limits: when we can recognize our own early warning signs of too much stress, triggering, etc.
Those whom we may be attempting to help will respect us more if we can speak up when we are finding stuff too hard, too personally triggering, etc. By speaking up about our felt limitations, we are in fact modelling things that most survivors can benefit from: self-awareness, self-care, humility, the capacity to live with uncertainty, respect for the individuality and uniqueness of every other person.
I believe that words spoken from this place of experiential humility, this place where we are acutely aware of our own limitations, are indeed often the best balm we can offer to victims of abuse. Victim of abuse are so accustomed to hearing the patronizing know-it-all advice from people who haven’t been there, that the fragrance of truth comes through to them in our offered words —— even if they may not be able to process it for some time.
So I encourage you to let yourself off the hook of having to meet the need of each spiritually-abused believer that you personally know. I encourage you to just let God lead and point you to what you can (and what you can’t) do at this point in time.
If you want help in thinking through how best to open up a potentially helpful conversation with someone who has been abused, these posts may give you some ideas: