Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What We Wish You Knew; How to Support a Victim of Abuse Part Two.

 So this is the second half of the post; What We Wish You Knew: How to Support a Victim of Abuse.
   Number 1&2 can be found in the first post, found here.

    Your response to the knowledge of our experience has the power to help our healing, or further our pain. I truly believe the more we are all able to openly discuss abuse and abuse recovery, we weaken its destructive power, and can even prevent new victims.

     3)      Ask us good questions and really listen to our answers.

     One factor that I now believe is indicative of a healthy relationship, environment or faith is the presence of questions and a comfort with some level of uncertainty.

    Controlled environments, groups or relationships do not permit ambiguity. Doctrine, beliefs and authority are rigid, absolute, and completely enforced.

      Because in an abusive or unhealthy situation the goal is control, compliance and conforming instead of actual individual learning, expression, and growth, someone who has been in a controlled environment has learned to ‘think’ in very rigid, black and white ways. All or nothing. Black or white. Right, wrong. Good, or bad. You are in or out.

      This means that for us to question any part of our relationship or beliefs means we may feel that we are automatically swinging to the opposite side and by default are losing EVERY thing we once knew and believed.

      It will take time for us to recognize that life is full of nuances and gradations.

      The more accepting you are to our questions and new ideas, the more comfortable we will feel in exploring our own head and heart.


      Someone leaving a controlling situation will find thoughtful, kind questions invaluable, because they help re-frame difficult topics from fresh perspectives. Be sure to be kind and patient through this process.  Remember the point of this isn’t to demand something of us, but for you to offer two invaluable things we desperately need, very real support presence and a fresh perspective.


   In a controlled situation, when we  feel troubled by something, we are often used to shutting down that part of our heart and mind. In the past there have usually been negative results from questions and challenge.

     If we tend to be a peace loving personality we will probably feel incredibly uncomfortable with any conflict, and conflict inside us may be terrifying and confusing. We would rather deny their own feelings than to have to face the discomfort of turmoil.

     We needs assurance that our feelings/thoughts are completely valid, and to be asked, ‘Why do you suppose you think feel that way?  Or, why do you suppose that you feel that your thoughts/feelings don’t matter?’
    If we are a strong personality who tends to buck the system, we probably do not see this as a positive quality about ourselves; in a controlled environment we are usually labeled a troublemaker. We tend to see our naturally independent attitude as something we have to fight to overcome, and feel guilt for the problem we feel we are for others.

    An indication of this kind of these kinds of inner conflict might be if we make a statement about how we feel, quickly followed with a dismissive or depreciating comment.

‘Sometimes I wonder/feel/think _____.     *Nervous chuckle*

‘But I’m just being silly’- or

‘I’m not smart enough to figure these things out’- or

‘But I’m just the troublemaker- I always throw a wrench in everything’ –or

‘Not that it matters.’ or

‘I know I shouldn’t feel that way’, or

 ‘I know I need to just trust in God!’ or,

 ‘I just need more faith’ …

      These kinds of statements reveals our inner uncertainty, and that we have learned to discredit, dismiss, or ignore what we are thinking and feeling.

   (Something else interesting to note in comments like these is how we may identify ourselves – as ‘silly’, or ‘stupid’ or ‘rebellious’ or with some other word.

   A person with emotional health is able to separate to some extent what they think or feel from who they are.

    For example, - a good person may feel angry about something quite justifiably, this does not make them an angry or mean person.  This is a great place to ask more questions.

Why do you call yourself _____? What do you think that means? What does that say about you? Etc.


   Good questions help us lean into the discomfort of evaluative thinking.  


   *Do ask good questions and allow them to hang in the air. Allow us to think our answer through even if it means the next time you see us. It may take us a while; give us the gift of time. Be sure to gently follow up.  A mind that has conformed is out of practice asking or answering good questions.

   *Do openly acknowledge your own personal areas of uncertainty when they arise. We need to know that we aren't the only ones who don't have everything figured out.

4)      Allow us to grieve the loss of innocence, time, relationship, and more.

     Especially when we feel the need to fight outside perception of our abuser, relationship or group to convince you or others that it was destructive this is something that often gets over shadowed and may be unseen by those around us.

    The desire to be strong, the courage to speak, and the power to stand paradoxically produce incredible vulnerability, and ever emerging awareness of loss; to admit what we have experienced, means that we must face the parts of ourselves, of our ideas of what should be, of trust, of safety, of faith, of innocence, of time, and more that were taken.

     It may be harder for us to express our grief and loss than initially sharing our experience.  It is an area that I still struggle to express. 

    Admitting loss is hard enough, owning the pain of that loss is vulnerability. It is often hard, messy work to sort through the interwoven good and bad of past relationships and experiences.

Grief and loss are hard. There are no shortcuts; no way to just skip over the hurt to healthy acceptance and healing.

 *Don’t be surprised if we have shared hard terrible things , but at some point also share a wistful nostalgia for something good that shared space in that point in our life. This does not mean we have exaggerated the bad, or that we are taking back out former statements, but that we are recognizing the sometimes inconceivable mixture of good and bad that is life.

*Do allow us to grieve the losses we have experienced in our own way.


5)      Support Our efforts to form opinions and make decisions

               If in the past we were in a controlled relationship or environment we were told what to think, what to feel, or how our life ‘should’ look, and making decisions is scary. While personal responsibility is a much touted idea in controlling sects, the truth is that personal choice is highly limited and therefore personal responsibility in practice is about personally conforming and only choosing from certain approved options, or practicing allowing others to make decisions in our place.

          Real personal responsibility means accepting the results of my choices and decisions, and owning the good, bad and ugly. This is terrifying if you have believed in the past that this is something you should not do, should avoid by doing what you were told, or did not practice because you were following a certain set of very rigid principles/rules/ideals which guided all decisions.

                 For children raised in rigid controlling environments, it is common for us to feel frustrated and behind their peers in their decision making abilities, because often we are.  It is a skill we have to learn for ourselves one tiny little step at a time.

                There are several good articles written by now grown children raised in controlled environments who describe the difficulties they have had trying to discover and develop their authentic, independent identities, (links below).

      Part of controlled ( black and white) thinking is the sober feeling that every mistake, every decision is serious and irreversible. In a controlled environment mistakes are not seen as a wonderful part of learning and growing, but as failure of our very personhood and ability to conform, and calls to question our loyalty, standing, and value. “A ‘good’ child, or church member, or group follower doesn’t  _____.”

         Someone who has been controlled may actually find themselves leaning on others, like you for input, and unconsciously try to rely on your opinions; this is where asking us questions helps us remember to identify our own thoughts instead of becoming dependent on you for advice.

        Others of us may strongly react to anything that sounds like control; even innocently made suggestions or even just the opinions of others. Until we feel comfortable and confident in what we know and have decided; other’s input can feel threatening. Again, - supportive comments and questions that allow us to state out thoughts will assure us that you are trying to support, not control us. 

   *Don’t flood us with your thoughts, feelings and opinions as a substitute for our own, allow us to learn to hear our very own quiet voice.
   *Do encourage us to follow our own instincts, be there to celebrate our victories, and be there to give us a hug to let us know that failure is just a temporary setback.


       Have you been in an abusive relationship? Have you experienced a controlling relationship or environment? Of those who have had the most positive impact in your life, what and how have they helped you most? What would you add? What do you wish your friends knew?

     Have you struggled because you didn’t know how to help a friend? Are you concerned that the word abuse is being exaggerated and used to freely? Do you wonder how ideas of faith and family fit with topics of abuse? Do feel like you need to know more?

       Stay tuned. We will explore more on these topics together.

This Present Mom,


I recommend these books as excellent resources for anyone who wants to learn more about recovering and healing from abuse, controlled enviroments, or relationships.

 Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs
  by Steven Hassan

 Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women
  By Susan Brewster, M.S.S.W.

Keep Your Love On! Connections, Communication & Boundaries
By Danny Silk
Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse
Gregory L. Janitz PH.D.
with Ann McMurray