“i just don’t see how he could do that” & some thoughts on abuse

kathyescobar crazy making, healing, identity, incarnational, injustice 21 Comments

emily dickinson

**warning: this post is about sexual abuse (and emotional, physical, and spiritual too) and so if you are extra sensitive to this topic, please know there could be possible triggers.

abuse is one of the most damaging things that can happen to someone. and there’s never an excuse for it.

young or old, male or female, or all of the different circumstances of where, when, and how the abuse happened don’t make a difference in its impact. once it happens, that person’s life is forever changed.

i’ll say it again:  once it happens, that person’s life is forever changed.  

whether it’s emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or spiritual abuse, the dynamics are similar:

  • someone has unhealthy power over the other.
  • that power is forcefully wielded in a damaging way, robbing the person on the underside of our basic human dignity.
  • the shame associated with the pattern seals a deal in our head that we are damaged and not worthy.
  • the victim of the abuse is now forced to live with the realities for the rest of our lives.
  • the perpetrators of the abuse are rarely brought to justice. and if so, rarely do their consequences mirror their crime.

one of the reasons that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice is that the power that victims lost is hard to get back. most victims never, ever say what happened to them, and live with the shame for years, even lifetimes. however, many also do find the courage and come forward and tell their stories to someone. some might share a spouse’s emotional or physical abuse, that someone touched us inappropriately or harassed us at work or forced themselves on us, or call out a pastor’s emotionally abusive control patterns.

so many times, far too many times, an unacceptable amount of times, survivors of abuse are met with these kinds of responses:

“i just don’t see how he (or she) could do that.”

“that’s so hard for me to believe”

“that’s not the ______ that i know”

“are you sure you’re not exaggerating?”

“that just doesn’t add up”

“why didn’t you say something sooner, then?”

immediately, once one of these kinds of statements are made in response, the victim is left with even more shame. and confusion and start to think:

“maybe i am crazy”

“maybe i misinterpreted what happened.”

“maybe i deserved it”

“maybe i am as dirty as i feel”

“maybe it’s all my fault.”

“maybe….”

and then we are left with two big gaping wounds–the original abuse plus not-being-believed to boot. 

many perpetrators are very charming, charismatic, powerful, and convincing.

i can’t tell you the number of women i have journeyed with who got out of an abusive relationship with a super successful pastor or upstanding christian or successful businessman and no one around them saw the signs.  abuse crosses socioeconomics, religion, color, and age.

there are also a number of men out there who have been in abusive relationships with women and because of the stigmas and misperceptions attached, they are often not believed if they bravely share their experience.

this week there’s all kinds of stuff floating around on the internet related to woody allen, bill gothard, and bob jones university and ways they abused their power, position, or God’s name and took advantage of the vulnerable and managed to keep it secretly contained for so long.  i am so glad that more and more people are shedding light on the realities of abuse.

i am so grateful for the brave women & men coming forward and telling their painful abuse stories despite the risks on the path toward freedom.

i am so grateful for friends who get it and are a healing presence for others.

i am so grateful for safe & awesome therapists who help people tell their stories and find new courage.

i am so grateful for abuse advocates and local agencies who work tirelessly to raise awareness & journey with survivors on the path to healing.

i am so grateful for pastors and faith leaders who believe victims and are willing to enter the pain instead of cover it up or minimize it.  God is so tied up in all of this and the responsibility to participate in restoring dignity is great.

as we move this conversation forward, may we keep learning how to respond to the horrific realities of abuse, no matter the type, in better ways so that justice and mercy can prevail.

may we become safer people who can hold these stories in tenderness & hope and in ways that break shame’s power.

may we break out of denial and our tendency to say “i just don’t see how he or she could do that” and start with “thank you for your courage to share your truth.  i am with you.”

and mostly, may we play our part in helping truth emerge so that men & women & boys & girls can find the hope & healing & new life they deeply deserve.