The Staying Power of Emotional Abuse

The Staying Power of Emotional Abuse

“At least he didn’t take your virginity,” the leader of my Bible study group murmurs sympathetically, handing me a tissue to wipe away the tears brought on by my choked confession of a previous abusive relationship. I tense, mutter “that’s true,” and escape the conversation feeling just as broken and empty as before I worked up the courage to talk to her.

I have this conversation with three separate spiritual leaders at my Christian college, a roommate, and several close friends, and when they hear my ex-boyfriend never abused me sexually, their well-meaning first response always falls along similar lines: “It could have been worse—he could have raped you.” “At least he never laid a hand on you.”

I leave each conversation with none of the relief I expected, and each time, I spend a restless night staring at the walls of my dorm, wondering, Is my depression wrong because I was never sexually abused? and the more destructive, Maybe if he had taken my virginity, someone would listen to me.

“It could have been worse,” is never the right response to someone who has experienced abuse. Emotional abuse can lead to very long-term psychological damage, and we of the church should be providing a shelter for healing. Sometimes the most understanding thing to say is nothing at all. Just listen.

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2 thoughts on “The Staying Power of Emotional Abuse

  1. I have also found that quite often preachers or church leaders don’t like what they can’t “fix”. So well meaning or not I have often wanted to say “really live my life for one day and see if you’re still standing”. Just because my issues don’t look like yours or “aren’t that bad” doesn’t mean that I deserve any less than to be taken seriously and have the right to be loved and loved on when someone treats me badly. Too often they don’t realize how much they do that. They don’t know how to handle issues of the mind except from a general stand point. And my issues may be so far removed from theirs that they could never comprehend what it is like. Ugh! Sorry for the ramble, and if it kind of went off script. 🙂 be blessed

    1. I think you have some great points, especially in terms of looking at someone else’s struggles and deciding they “aren’t that bad.” I know I’ve experience and have even been guilty of having an empathy deficit, and, as followers of Christ, we should instead be full of compassion for each other — even when we don’t get it.

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