A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

You said:

“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:

Converting statements into questions – a skill for bystanders who want to help victims of abuse

Respecting & Listening to Victims of Violence — a handbook from Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter


Further Reading

Temptations and Pitfalls of Helping Victims Victim Advocacy

Thursday Thought — How to Support an Abuse Victim


  1. M&M

    I’ve been thinking about something that relates to helping victims. When the victim defends the abuser, I generally have learned from this site to view it as a survival mechanism rather than a genuine support of abuse. However, I read in the news about a situation that looks like an exception to that idea.

    Recently in Michigan, a guy was on trial for abuse related crimes and he grabbed an officer’s gun and shot some people. With 2 dead and 2 wounded, his ex-wife told the press that he’s really a good guy and is just misunderstood. At that point I felt like she was abusing the families of the shooting victims. I’m just thinking that it’s a complicated issue when the victim defends the abuser because I can understand the reasons, but I don’t want her defense to abuse other victims.

    • I agree, M&M, it is a complicated issue. I think that the media were pretty unethical to publish her comments. Her comments didn’t add a lot of substance to news story, and they were certainly going to offend the victims of the shooter.

      Many people in the media are not educated in how to report on or discuss domestic abuse and abuse-related crimes in an ethical manner.
      Here in Australia there has been quite a lot of effort put in in recent years into up-skilling journalists on this, but of course some sections of the media still do it badly. And my guess is that Oz is doing better at this than a lot of what is being done in America.

      At least in Oz now, whenever there is a news story about domestic abuse, at the end of the story they almost always give the DV Hotline number. That is a giant step forward!

  2. Seeing Clearly

    A peaceful sense of well being comes over me as I read MarkQ’s concerns and Barbara’s assurances. A wounded, worn-out individual longs for an encounter with someone who is also wounded but a little further along in their healing journey. (sometimes) Often, it isn’t that we need to do something, but more that we need to be someone who is genuine and broken.

  3. I Can See

    What I have learned about being the survivor and what helps me when others talk to me: Show me EMPATHY. Show me what was / is done to me is an outrage. Validate my thoughts and feelings. Never minimize. Acknowledge my pain. I’m a survivor, I’m scared, I’m healing. Dont rush me or “yeah yeah yeah” me. Ask questions to understand me more NOT to fix me or my problem. I’ve found when I’m asked obvious questions or told obvious advice without asking for it I feel patronized and it seems they’re not listening. I don’t like to explain abuse to those who doubt it so learning about abuser’s tactics is very helpful. Mow my lawn. Find out a need I have and help. Really listen. Don’t advise unless asked. Be yourself. Know your triggers and limitations — I like that, yes.

    Love them as you love yourself. Thinking of those in pain this way is helpful for me. Recognizing my triggers and limits is super helpful.

    I have friends that may be tired of dealing with me. It sounds that way sometimes. But I’m not going to be ashamed for the pain that’s coming out of me sometimes. It’s not my fault that I was abused and for so long. If someone doesn’t want to talk they don’t have to. I’m not anyone’s project so if they feel that way they can go. I’m equal to others not lower than others.


  4. Un-Tangled

    (I don’t know if this is something that ought to be posted as a comment at ACFJ or answered by you privately.)

    I loved MarkQ’s question and Barb’s thoughtful answer! I have a question that is sort of a twist on MarkQ’s question.

    I think a very powerful form of encouragement is to simply listen to victim’s stories — without minimizing or disbelief — since most victims are not believed. However, we know that many abusers are very skilled at pretending to be victims. ACFJ’s tips on how to discern between a true and a false victim have been extremely helpful to me. I want to be sensitive if a person is a true victim and not minimize or disbelieve her and end up supporting the abuser. My question is how do we respond to a person who appears to be a victim but there is growing doubt about whether she really is or not? How do you respond if you have doubt but are not sure?

    My mother is a Narcissist who rejected me and after years of me trying to reconcile with her, I finally went No Contact with her and the rest of my family. I have a FB friend whose children want nothing to do with her. I know and am sensitive to the fact that abusers can be anyone — spouse, parent, child, extended family, church member, etc. What I am struggling with is that most of the time when I share anything about abuse at FB, my friend comments, “But there is another side to the story…” and she counters whatever I am sharing. It doesn’t matter if I’m sharing about victim-blaming, minimizing abuse, having No Contact, guilting / pressuring people to have unwanted contact with relatives, or sharing my own personal story, it’s always “There’s another side of the story…” I have repeatedly tried to explain all these concepts to her — in the post comments and privately in chat — but she doesn’t seem to ever “get it.”

    So I’m beginning to have growing doubts about whether she is a true victim. I don’t know if the abuse I suffered — as a daughter who has No Contact with her Mom — stirs up her own pain and feelings of guilt as a Mom whose children want No Contact with her or if she is actually just pretending to be a victim. I’m having growing doubts because she counters almost everything I say or share and it’s almost as if she is always taking the side of the abuser against the victims. Sometimes she says that I don’t know her story or what she’s suffered, but she never really tells me. It’s getting frustrating and I don’t know exactly how to respond to her. If she’s truly a victim, I don’t want to add to her pain. But I have begun delete her public comments and telling her why: That since we have repeatedly discussed these things to no avail, I would prefer that in the future she limit our discussions to private chats rather than public comments because I think most people don’t understand much about abuse and I don’t want her to add to the confusion with her comments or to negate important information that people need to hear.

    So how do you respond to someone who may or may not be a true victim? How do you figure out who is the one who needs support? How do you keep from being deceived by a skillful false victim?

    I hope this makes sense.

    • Hi Un-Tangled, Facebook is a platform on which people often say things more harshly than they would do in face to face relationships. And it’s a platform which enables people to present very fake versions of themselves. So in the instance you are talking about, I think its possible that you are dealing with all that too…

      Did you know that you can set your FB settings so that you can put this woman in your ‘acquaintance’ pile rather than your ‘friend’ pile. And then each time you post to FB you can choose whether you want that post to be visible to your friends AND acquaintances, or just to your friends. And of course you can unfriend her entirely from FB if you wish.

      Now to the bigger question you asked:

      How do we respond to a person who appears to be a victim but there is growing doubt about whether she really is or not? How do you respond if you have doubt but are not sure?

      I would handle it on a case by case basis, but if this lady was a friend / acquaintance of mine and I was feeling unsure about whether to believe her claims, I would simply tell her: “I am having trouble with what you are saying. It seems like you keep responding to me as if you are personalising everything I’m saying and applying it only to yourself. You don’t seem to be able to hear what I’m saying without taking it all ultra personally. And frankly, I’m not sure whether to believe what you’ve told me about yourself. Furthermore, since you keep telling me ‘there are two sides to every story’ that keeps reminding me that I don’t know your kids’ side of the story. So because I’m feeling uncomfortable about all these things, I’m deciding to disengage a bit from our relationship.”

      .. or words to that effect.

      The main thing is, you have the right to tell someone that you are not feeling comfortable with them and you don’t really know what to make of them …

  5. Anonymous

    So important–that the abuse victim who survived and reaches out to others doesn’t feel like they have to be everything to everyone–and those of us being helped by them don’t expect them to be everything to us.

    Often those of us who have been raised by abusers tend to think in “all or nothing” thought patterns. That something or someone is either all good or all bad, or that we must be all things to all people all the time or it’s the same as doing nothing. If you don’t perform a function in a certain way it is wrong rather than understanding that there may be MANY ways to do a procedure or get to the desired outcome and that the amount of time that it takes to do this is different for everyone.

    I am constantly reminded of this type of thinking by my husband. He’ll say that something has to be done a certain way or that he expects a certain behavior from someone and if he doesn’t get the response he expects or the outcome he wants he says the other person is wrong or defective. I now answer him with something like, “Yep. That’s the ONLY possibility isn’t it? It’s either the way you said or not at all, right?” And then I’ll immediately give an alternative answer that is just as correct and so proves the point that HIS expected outcome is not the ONLY possibility. My husband always laughs when I do this because it’s so obvious that what I said is valid and that his way is NOT the only way. He has no idea that in the past if I would have done this he would have been livid that I had learned to think outside of his narrow view of things but now that it’s been years of me learning things outside of his world, he has forgotten that it wasn’t always like this.

    And I think this type of thinking (the all or nothing approach) tends to leak into our current situation even when we know it’s not our job to be everything to others and this includes when we are recovering and still have so much pain. Even though we’ve come a long way, we know there’s still much we need to deal with and if others get frustrated with us because they get tired too, we tend to think it’s because they don’t care when it may be that they too need time out from it all.

    Jesus was / is God. Yet when he was in the flesh he still wasn’t all things to all people all the time. He NEEDED time alone to heal and recover. Think about it. He could’ve fixed every persons problems, healed ALL people from all their sicknesses INSTANTLY! Yet he dealt with those who were near him or who sought him out and even then he didn’t fix all their problems for all time even though He could have.

    The woman who was bleeding for many years who had spent all her money looking for a cure. She was healed instantly–healed physically of the bleeding. But what about afterwards? We don’t know for sure because it’s not written in the Bible but she may have had to heal emotionally from this after so many years due to the hopelessness she may have felt at trying to get help from others for so long but not being able to, or she may have been weakened physically after so many years with so much blood loss that she may have had permanent physical damage. Would we fault her for this? For needing time to emotionally and physically heal or would we call her ungrateful for not instantly “getting over” herself and telling her that she should wear herself out for the rest of her life doing things for others? Well, we sadly know some people WOULD tell her she needed to do nothing but give but we know by Jesus’s and Paul’s examples that they’d be wrong. That we can help with those who are in front of us and we can also, we NEED also to spend time away from others in order to recuperate. Jesus didn’t fix everything for everyone. God doesn’t expect us to either.

    And one last thing. When I look back at my healing process, at the times when I was all alone and no one understood what I was going through, I was forced to rely on God. He worked in my mind and heart when I would call out to Him, when I would demand that he show me the truth and to not let me be deceived. He worked things out with me. He put me in situations that clarified that what he had shown me was true — the things He had shown me in my mind and heart through His word. He was able to scrape away all the lies and he did this when I was alone with him, when he was the only one I had.

    Maybe God deliberately makes those of us with a heart to help unable to do so sometimes in order to allow HIM to reach the suffering — so that they too can have a deep intimate relationship with him because He was all they had at the time.

  6. Finding Answers


    Barb commented:

    I would handle it on a case by case basis…..

    I had a healing business practice for about ten years. (Omitting details for my protection). For the most part, I kept regular hours, knowing I did not have the capacity to stretch myself beyond those limits.

    On one occasion, when a more emergent situation arose, I scheduled an individual outside my regular work hours because I knew two things:

    1) The individual had always been respectful of my scheduling policy.

    2) If the individual was wanting to arrange something different, the situation merited evaluation.

    It’s odd. I just realized….the times I was self-employed, I could maintain the structure necessary to stay working without giving in to outside pressures. When I was an employee, I tended to go wwaaayyyy overboard on the work end of things.

    I now have different information. As an employee, I was an abused person working in abusive workplaces. I reacted accordingly.

    I worked best when I had flexibility with my schedule, a steady income, and without the distractions of red tape.

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