How Can a Formerly Abused Woman Heal?
How should a woman who has left an abusive relationship begin to heal from it? This is a question that many women I speak to struggle with.
I believe the first thing she must do is set boundaries around any continued relationship she has with their former abuser. As long has he continues to harass her, she will never have a chance to heal. If he must still be in her life because they have children together, she will need to limit her exposure to him as much as possible.
This will look different for each woman:
1. Some will need to get a restraining order if possible. If he breaks it, she will need to call the police after each infraction until he is arrested and put in jail.
2. Others will need to stop taking his calls. If she must talk to him to schedule the children, she can do it through a dedicated email address. This way, she only has to look at messages from him when she decides to.
3. If he harasses her when they drop off the children, it is possible to drop them off at a police station, or other neutral location. In my city there is a Safe Exchange Program which provides a safe and comfortable place for children to wait for contact with the other parent, under the supervision of the Safe Exchange staff. The mother can drop her children off early, and safely leave before her abuser arrives to get them.
Her local women’s crisis center/shelter can help her decide how best to safely set these boundaries.
The second thing she must do is take care of herself, i.e. have good self-care. For a long time, her days have revolved around making life good for him. Now, she might be focusing on taking care of her children and/or her parents. She may not have given thought to herself and her needs in years.
So, if you are in this situation what can you do to begin to take care of yourself and begin to heal?
1. Don’t isolate yourself. Your first instinct may be to pull away from others. Why? You may be suffering from depression, or you may feel embarrassed by your situation. Or if you are a Christian, you may believe that you “only need God” right now. I believe that God gave us each other to be His hands and feet. We are not meant to live in isolation, as it says in Hebrews 10:24 – 25a: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. And I don’t think cyber friends are enough. We need real flesh and blood friends that we can see and touch.
2. Counseling. Try hard to find a good counselor. If you can’t afford one, look for one that will charge you on a sliding scale fee. This means that they will charge you based upon how much you can afford. Some churches will help their members with money for counseling. Also, many companies offer counseling with their health insurance. Be creative. When looking for a therapist, try to find one who is trained in treating domestic violence and trauma. You have been through trauma, whether your abuse was physical or not. There is a technique called EMDR Therapy which is very helpful for victims of trauma, but not all therapists have been trained in it. Click here for a link describing it.
3. Support Groups. Many women’s crisis centers/abuse shelters offer support groups for abused women. Some churches also offer them. I have been in groups in both settings, and have had great healing from them. It is so helpful to hear other women describing their experience with abuse, which may sound very similar to yours. It is healing to realize you are not the only person to have suffered in this way. It is also healing to see how others have grown from their experiences.
4. Grow your relationship with the Lord. Don’t pull away from the Lord now, instead, grow closer to him:
a. Read the psalms. In them David and other psalmists poured out their hearts to God when they were treated abusively. I was constantly amazed by how close their prayers sounded to mine.
b. Read the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these books, you will get to know the Savior, Jesus. You will see him loving tortured women (John 8:1-11), healing the sick (Luke 8:40-47), and dying for the sins of the world (Luke 23).
c. Join a women’s bible study. In addition to getting fellowship with other women, you will learn about the truths of the bible with the help of others. I can personally recommend two outstanding ministries that have bible studies all over the United States and all over the world. Community Bible Study, and Bible Study Fellowship. Here are the links to both: http://communitybiblestudy.org and http://www.bsfinternational.org. There are also bible studies given at most local churches.
5. Learn to forgive your abuser. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. But, forgiveness is not for him, it is for you. The purpose of forgiving him is to free you, so that you are no longer tied to him. Read my blog about forgiveness. Here is the link.
6. Give your time to others. The act of giving your time to others will free something in you. This is especially true if you are able to help other abused women. What are some ways that you can help other abused women?
a. Train to be a domestic violence advocate and volunteer at your local women’s shelter.
b. Help your church:
· You could ask your local women’s crisis center/shelter to come to your church and do a training session for the members.
· You could talk to your pastor and give him books to read about domestic violence. (Check out my Get Help page for a list of good books to recommend).
After being trained as a DV advocate, you could offer to help women in your church suffering from domestic violence. Or,
c. Volunteer in any capacity that moves you. Some examples:
· Feeding the homeless
· Holding preemie babies at a hospital
· Raising money for AIDS orphans in Africa, etc.
7. Don’t get involved with another man. The last thing you need right now is to begin another relationship! For one thing, investing your time in a relationship with another man will take your time and attention away from doing the things that you need to do for your healing. But even more importantly, if you haven’t spent the time doing the healing you need to do, you may end up in yet another abusive relationship. It may take you quite a bit of time to unlearn the habits that allowed you to choose an abuser in the first place. Allow the Lord to be your lover/husband right now. Lean on him, and on your women friends for a time.
8. Finally, be patient with yourself. Healing will not happen in a day. Some days you will feel great. Others you will struggle with self-esteem issues, depression, and even with wishing you could be back in your abusive relationship. Give yourself grace and realize this is a season of your life. It might take all you have to get out of bed on some days. Keep working at the above items, and those days should get fewer and fewer. If you are really struggling with depression, make an appointment with a medical doctor, and ask if you should begin taking anti-depressants.
There is no sin in this.
You may need to take anti-depressants for several months, a year, or the rest of your life. Either way, it is OK. Remember, Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, but for the sick. As it says in Romans 8:31-39:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.