Healing From Emotional Abuse

“One hard question I deeply struggle with is how do I know if God really loves and cares about me? I came from an abusive background and ended up marrying an abusive man. I feel like I was set up to fail from the start. I have difficulty reconciling God’s genuine love with putting so many of us wives in these situations. We seem to be created to be the punching bags of such abusive husbands. It doesn’t feel like love to me. I know that God loves me, but I can’t figure out why even those I sought help from didn’t treat me as he did. They told me God had called me to suffer, and it was my job to suffer well, especially as a wife. It was confusing since I know the character of God is not that of a cruel and heartless punisher.”

This story is an example of the emotional abuse that many people struggle with. Many people are struggling with emotional abuse and desire to know what God says about it.

Emotional abuse refers to the debasement of a person’s feelings that causes him or her to perceive self as inept, not cared for, and worthless. The abuser uses their emotional strength to control, intimidate and manipulate the other party. Emotional abuse may result in heart wounds that take so long to heal. The heart wounds can only be healed by God (Psalm 34:18). Emotional abuse may lead to verbal or even physical abuse. For example, when the Babylonians killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes (emotional abuse), they then gauged out his eyes, ensuring the last thing he saw was the death of his children (physical abuse) (2 Kings 25:7). 

Individuals who have experienced emotional abuse struggle with a lack of self-confidence, identity issues, and the inability to function independently, especially later in life if they were abused as children. Both men and women may suffer from emotional abuse, especially if involved in a toxic relationship. The Bible speaks of how Delilah nagged Samson day after day until he was overwhelmed (Judges 16:16). Abigail, as a lady, had an emotionally abusive husband since Nabal is described as harsh and wicked by the people who knew him (1 Samuel 25:3). The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). In God’s perfect plan, intimate relationships like marriage are crucial for encouragement, support, and identity building.

The Healing Journey from Emotional Abuse

It takes time to heal from any form of abuse. Sometimes, the abuser might issue threats that may discourage the abused from seeking help. Emotional attachment, like in a marriage relationship, children’s involvement or even distance from relatives who may assist the abused, might worsen the situation. At times, the abuser could be financially well off and able to buy judges or bribe police officers in the case of countries where corruption is rampant. It usually takes a lot of courage to seek help when one is in an abusive relationship. In order to heal, one needs to be honest with themselves, set healthy boundaries, tell their story, look to God, and anchor their life in God. We shall focus on these key points to better understand how to heal from emotional abuse.  

God Hates Emotional Abuse

Considering the introductory story, it is good to remember that God hates abuse. Proverbs 6:16-19 speaks of things the Lord hates, which are abusive in nature. God says that an abuser is a fraud and that his religion is worthless (James 1:26). Anyone who claims to be a Christian and is abusive is living inconsistent the faith they profess. As Paul calls them, such people are wolves in sheep’s clothing and false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:26). 

God cares about the anguish of our souls (Psalm 31:7), but He does not care from the point of ignorance. Christ himself was despised and rejected (1 Peter 2:21-25). He was said to be a man of suffering and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3). He healed the brokenhearted and bound their wounds (Psalm 147:3). God affirms your worth as his creation (Isaiah 43:4). He calls the abusers to change from their ways (Ezekiel 45:9).

Be Honest With Yourself

Many people who are victims of emotional abuse tend to struggle with denial. Statements such as “he just had a rough day, he is not that bad, he did not mean it; he was just upset” are often said by people suffering from abuse. These are signs of denial. It is not easy to admit how hurt or abused one is. Many women especially would want to portray a perfect relationship and hence end up persevering through abuse. Living in denial and ignoring the hurt one is going through becomes an enabling situation for the abuser. Learning to confront our painful emotions is essential in our healing journey. Talking to God and trustworthy friends to help you process your thoughts and feelings is highly recommended. David says that in his distress, he called to the Lord and cried out to him for help (Psalm 18:6). 

Tell Your Story

The family of believers creates a safe space to share our struggles without feeling judged. It is good to surround ourselves with people who genuinely care about us. Paul shares his affection for the Thessalonians and how he, Silvanus and Timothy were ready to share with them not only the gospel but also their own selves as they had become very dear to them (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). He shares his suffering while in the province of Asia with the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. The Bible commands us to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). The early church carried each other’s burdens, and we are to emulate them in handling the news of our own who are struggling or in any kind of bondage (Acts 12:5-12). Sharing our stories with those who care helps us deal with our struggles effectively. Keeping them to ourselves will damage us and the relationships we have. Expressing our inner feelings also helps us get counsel to help us in our struggles (Proverbs 19:20). Through sharing our stories, we can not only receive comfort from others but also give comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4-5).

Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries usually help us know what is permissible and what is not (1 Corinthians 6:12). They ensure protection. In most cases, abuse in relationships happens because boundaries have been crossed, or they were not there, or they were there but not managed. From the beginning, it is good to be clear about what you can or cannot tolerate. The Bible asks us to guard our hearts with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Establishing boundaries may include:

  1. Speaking the truth to the abuser 
  2. Having the support of others in the Christian community  
  3. Informed withdrawal from the abuser (informing the abuser and physically removing yourself from interactions with them).

Anchor Your Life in Christ

Lastly, anchoring one’s life in Christ is necessary because, as one’s heart is hurt, a person’s identity and worth are affected. Many also develop contempt toward God, especially when a believing brother or sister hurts them. The abuser may have used very demeaning language that affected various areas of one’s life; it is vital to then shift to what God says about us. This is a long journey of constantly preaching the gospel to yourself to stay focussed on how God sees you. Even as you heal, pray that your healing journey will bring God praise even as he gives you grace for every day. Even in suffering, aim to be firmly grounded in the truths of the scripture, seeking the things above (Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:2), trusting that no matter the hurt, God will be with us to the very end. 

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