Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paralyzed by Fear

I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
Moroni 8:16

In a rather tearful conversation with my father recently, he said something that struck through my heart and lodged there. After quoting the above scripture, he said, "fear also casts out love."

That is when it struck me. I have been living in fear for far too long. Fear has become my shroud, my protection against the world. Even my faith is motivated by fear, fear that all my efforts will not be enough to utilize the Atonement and return me Home. I am afraid people in my life will be turned against me by a good lie and a happy mask. I am afraid that I am unmodifiable, that I am like clay with too many inclusions, that the Lord will someday give up in disgust and move on to work with purer material. I am afraid that no matter what I do, my daughters will grow to hate me and I'll be alone. I'm afraid that I'm not learning fast enough, that I'll never be good enough.

All these fears mean that I'm aimed to fail in my quest for charity before I even begin. No wonder I'm floundering, feeling lost. No wonder I'm failing to let that pure love of Christ root in my heart. The fear-crows are plucking out the seeds as soon as they sprout.

The problem is that I have no idea how to get rid of fear. Theoretically, perfect love will cast it out for me. But that leaves me in somewhat of a quandary.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Identifying Abuse

The first and hardest step for me in healing from abuse has been to understand and admit that I was in an abusive relationship. If you are in an abusive relationship, or have a loved one who you wish to help, the first thing you must realize is that it is very difficult for a victim to realize the truth. If a victim admits they have been abused, they must accept that they have been used by the person they have loved the best, spent the most time and energy on. That is no easy thing. (For ease of discussion, I am going to use "he" for the abuser and "she" for the victim for now. In a future post, I will discuss tendencies between genders in abuse.)

There are many excuses a victim makes for an abuser. Two of the most common are 1) but he never hit me*, and 2) everyone does that, so it's not really abuse. Both excuses downplay the impact of the abuse. The first operates under the very common and unfortunate attitude that abuse is physical violence. In actuality, physical violence is only the more easily demonstrated portion of abuse. Look at it this way. If a husband tripped and fell against his wife, breaking her arm, it would be merely an accident. If, however, a husband wanted a wife to make him dinner and pushes her against a wall, breaking her arm, it would be abuse. The difference is not the injury. The difference is the emotional environment around the injury. The injury itself is incidental.

The second excuse I have heard (everyone does that) is used when a victim has been convinced that the behavior is normal. Sometimes it is because the victim was abused as a child. Rarely it is because the victim herself is an abuser. Often, it is because the victim does not want to be seen as different from everyone around her. Some abusers use the fear of being unloved to isolate their victims by convincing them that they deserve the abuse or that it is normal.

In an LDS framework, abuse has a particular outlet. The LDS Church is structured under the order of the Priesthood. When the priesthood is misunderstood as a tool of authority, it becomes the method of abuse. The scriptures call this "unrighteous dominion". Spouses are taught to honor each other, to look first within themselves to make changes in the marriage, and that marriage is a sacred and holy covenant which should not be broken. All of these things are true and good most of the time. However, without a complete understanding of the Priesthood and the covenant of marriage, these attitudes can utterly trap a victim.

To use an analogy which was used on me, imagine you are at a baseball game, and a man trips and spills beer all over you. You tell him not to worry, that it was an accident, and you forgive him. Nine people out of ten will look at you and think "Oh, what a nice person." The last will see potential prey. There are two parts to an abusive relationship: the abuser and the victim.

When I was presented with that, I thought to myself "but I want to be a nice person! I don't want to turn my back on Christian values of kindness and forgiveness, simply because there are those out there who will take advantage of me." Victims tend to see the world with a paradigm of mutuality. They want relationships to be mutually beneficial. Abusers tend to see the world with a paradigm of control. They want to be in control of their environment as much as possible, and are willing to go to lengths they would otherwise be horrified by to obtain it. A victim does not need to abandon divine compassion. It needs to be tempered, however, with divine judgment. We spend so much time avoiding judging others, we sometimes forget to judge situations. Relationships need to be examined with guidance from the Holy Spirit to make certain that they are divinely balanced. If the bad in a relationship cannot be pruned away to leave room for the good, sometimes the entire relationship must be "hewn down", however painful the process is. Otherwise, it will take over the entire life of the vineyard. Once a victim has done her best (and that can only be determined by the victim and the Lord), and the abusive relationship is destroying the rest of her life, it is time for the final harvest.

One last thing I would like to mention. Couples counseling is strongly not recommended for couples in abusive relationships. Couples counseling only sets a new playground for abuse. Unless a counselor is trained and experienced with abuse, the abuse can go on during counseling. The best way for a third party to measure abuse is not in the actions of the abuser, but in the reactions of the victim. When a person becomes familiar with the patterns of abuse and otherwise seemingly irrational reactions of a victim, it is easy to spot the difference between true abuse and "mere" marital disharmony.

For more information, please read this. It is a wonderfully balanced discussion on abuse in an LDS framework.

*If you have a loved one in an emotionally abusive relationship, I strongly recommend "But He Never Hit Me" by Dr. Jill Murray. I believe that book literally and figuratively saved my life.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Abuse Without a Bruise

I have been unable to write about this topic for some time, but I feel in my heart that there is something I can add to all that has been said about abuse. I will probably be doing several posts on this topic, as I have learned far more than I ever cared to know about abuse and how our society, culture, and government deal (and not deal) with it.

Although there are pages and pages of information about abuse, and many organizations to help women escape from abuse, I feel there is a huge gap between the reality of abuse and popular understanding of it. Much of that gap can be filled by understanding the mechanics of what abuse really is and in using gospel principles to heal.

Putting hands on a person, which tends to be the only recognized sign of abuse, is only the pinnacle of the problem. Like the worn-out analogy of an iceberg, the reality of abuse, the substance of it, lies far below what can be seen and measured.

There is a problem with this, however. A government or organization cannot deal with something unmeasurable. The government can only punish for what it can see, it cannot protect. It cannot stop abuse in time to save the hearts and souls of the victims. By the time bruises can be seen, the pattern of abuse has progressed too far. Lives are often irrevocably damaged, and people are left to live with some element of fear in their hearts for the rest of their days. No, the government cannot see, understand, or stop abuse.

There is only one person who can free a victim of abuse, and that is the victim.

Unfortunately, there is little information about all that lies below the surface until a person lives it. If you are like I was, you believe that abuse is easy to define and then to stop. If a person hits you, that is abuse, and you can get out.

Unfortunately, all the hard work of abuse has already been done by the time a finger is laid on the victim. An abuser spends a great deal of time and energy emotionally and mentally destabilizing a victim. Much like a torturer, the abuser carefully manipulates a victim into a state of mind where the victim believes their pain is their own fault. They come to believe that if only they were (good, smart, strong, beautiful, giving, obedient, hard-working) enough, they wouldn't hurt any more. An abuser creates a world for the victim where the victim continually searches for something—anything—to change in themselves to make it better. As soon as a victim finds a way to comply with the demands of the abuser, the abuser changes the rules and the victim is left standing on shifting sands, with nothing they can do to make things better, mired in a downward spiral of self-recrimination, desperately searching for the magic change that will never exist. Then, when the physical blows come, they are left with no strength of mind to resist, and they are at the mercy of the abuser.

Yes, the substance of abuse happens long before the first wound is inflicted. Otherwise, no one would tolerate being abused.

The only way to stop abuse cold is to educate people. Neighbors and friends who recognize signs of isolation will not allow a victim to be isolated. Victims who recognize the struggle for control that abuse really is will be able to identify the problem where it really lies: within the abuser.

I intend to educate as well as I am able, within the small framework I have been given, and in the light of gospel principles. If I can help one person recognize that they are in an abusive relationship before they actually get hurt, it will be worth it.

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