It’s common knowledge that abuse causes great damage to a person’s body, soul, mind, and spirit. While most people would agree that abuse is highly destructive, you may be surprised at how little, if any, legal protection is available for victims of psychological abuse. How is it possible that our modern legal system, domestic violence centers, and sometimes even the Church at large, do not understand how hidden abuse operates, recognize the impact of it, and often are not safe places for victims of abuse? How do abusers often escape legal responsibility for their destructive actions when the devastating consequences of abuse have been studied for years and are well documented?
As humans, we experience life through a full range of emotions and we often embody those emotions through both good and bad experiences. The impact of our life experience and their effect on our spirit, soul, and body cannot be denied. Loving experiences promote mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and create the ability to form healthy attachments. Healthy attachments in turn, create a sense of well-being and safety. Likewise, abusive experiences can deteriorate mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and undermine the ability to form healthy attachments. Unhealthy attachments in turn, destroy a sense of well-being and safety. While not an exhaustive list, below are some short-term and long-term effects of psychological abuse.
Just as physical and sexual abuse have obvious physical signs and effect so too, psychological abuse has physical effects. The only difference is that physical abuse is instantly evident, where as psychological abuse can often take years or even decades to become evident.
One particularly disturbing effect of abuse can be seen in the brain scan below. The image on the left is a brain scan of a person with relatively healthy relational attachments. The image on the right is a brain scan of a person who has experienced abuse. The damaging difference is very clear. Psychological abuse has physical ramifications.
As is well known, combat veterans have a high risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the effects of war. The more often they are deployed, the more their risk of developing Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) increases. If a soldier does develop C-PTSD, they are usually given the opportunity to come off the front lines in order to rest and heal.
Just like combat veteran, a victims of abuse can develop PTSD from the effects of abuse. Since psychological abuse is often never ending, even post-divorce, a victim will often develop C-PTSD. They may leave an abusive marriage, but that doesn’t mean that they are free from abuse. Most times the abuse not continues but is well known to escalate to extreme proportions, especially if a victim has children. These women do not usually get the luxury of leaving the front line of battle to heal. They are almost always forced to somehow find a way to heal, be emotionally present for their children, and still somehow show up for life, all while dealing with unpredictable and frequent assaults of violence against their souls.
The brain scan on the left is relatively healthy person. The brain scan on the right is of a person with C-PTSD. You can clearly see that scan of the victim with C-PTSD on the right is highly activated. As this type of abuse is hidden in nature there is usually no sign or physical trace, leaving victims defenseless and without legal recourse or protection. This is how you legally get away with abuse without ever leaving a mark on a victim’s body. Psychological abuse IS physical abuse.
While not all women in abusive relationships have children, there are many women who do. The effect of abuse on children has been researched and well documented for years. It’s no secret that children exposed to abuse experience a wide range of devasting and serious consequences. Studies show they are at risk for chronic health problems, mental illness, substance abuse issues, as well as negative impacts on education, job opportunities, and earning potential. One statistic from the Adverse Childhood Experiences reports up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been potentially avoided by preventing adverse childhood experiences. The key word, this could have been avoided!
Why are these reports not considered valid enough for domestic violence centers and judges across our country, to offer protection to at risk women and children just because they are not bleeding on the outside? If the system set up to protect victims of abuse does not actually protect them, then what recourse do victims have for both themselves and for their children to prevent the the staggeringly dark statistics for their future?
Domestic violence and psychological abuse training should be a standard requirement for all those sworn in as a judge in the US legal system. Just as medical workers often have to continue with periodic training to keep license valid, what if a simply tweak in our legal system could stop countless victims of abuse from continually being subjected to harm?
While there are many amazing and truly great pastors and leaders in the church, there are also pastors and leaders who cause great harm or allow abuse to happen under their watch. We can’t afford to be naïve to the fact that pathological people exist. Sociopaths and psychopaths are REAL. The Church is often riddled with them. Pathological imposters know the values and morals of the Christian faith and possessing neither themselves, often use those very things as a silencing noose of captivity around their victim’s neck.
These predators are often make themselves at home in the church and sadly sometimes in the pulpit, hidden under a banner of “sloppy grace.” Using a false meaning of love they often avoid accountability for destructive behavior or avoid confronting others who are causing great destruction, allowing toxicity to fester.
While there are no simple answers and I don’t believe any person can or should direct a church that they are not in leadership over, there are some simple adjustments that can help make the church a safer place. One helpful step might be having at least one safe person designated on the leadership team, who is trained in domestic violence and can recognize hidden abuse. Developing a safety plan, as well as arming them with resources and options for victims when necessary, can truly be an oasis of hope.
I will not make light of or sugar coat what victims of abuse experience on a daily basis. The fall out is great and the devastation is deep. I will not deny the severe injustice and gross negligence that victims often face, as they are often re-traumatized by a legal system that was supposed to protect them. Sadly, these victims often face injustice and gross negligence sometimes even the church. What I will say is, God is still a God of justice. His eye is on the oppressed and His heart is for their freedom and healing.
We live in a fallen world where injustice abounds and pain is almost a guarantee. The devil wars for our attention and seeking to destroy us, he will often tempt us to forfeit our identity and calling as nothing more than invaluable heaps of ashes on an altar suffering. Those ashes are not invaluable. They are the substance of miracles. They are your promise of beauty. “he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning” – Isaiah 61:3
While we don’t always get to choose the things we experience in this life and may sometimes feel powerless in situations, we do still have the power of choice.
Whether you ever see justice Earth-side or not, please know that God does not take likely what you have suffered. He intimately knows what suffering is like. I believe there is a sacred place of deep fellowship with God, in the midst of suffering, that not many allow themselves to experience the intimate depths of with Him. To know Him in the fellowship of suffering may just be a gift you may never would have chosen but eventually would never want to trade for the world.
Please know that you are not alone. I know the grief can feel insurmountable and you may sometime question if you heart can handle one more blow. I want you to know, grief is not a weakness and God not impatient with your pain. God wants to walk intimately with you through it all. He wants to take your history and add the redemption of “His” story. What a beautiful story it will become. Just hold on…
An awakening is needed in the Church and in our legal system. As more people become educated and outspoken on the dynamics and devastating effects of psychological abuse, the current systems in place will not be able to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. The tide is turning and a reformation is beginning, as God continues to shine a light on this topic. I believe there are administrators of justice being positioned even now, who carry reformation in their heart and a key in their mouth to unlock wisdom from God, releasing His divine solutions in the Earth.