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Recognizing Abuse
by Naomi Deutekom
05/08/04
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RECOGNIZING ABUSE

Abuse is not a subject that we like to talk about, but everyone faces it some time in their lives. You may get pushed around or even beaten up by the school bully, experience demeaning comments from a boss or family member, or be the victim of a violent physical or sexual attack.

Abuse comes in many forms. It can occur in any context or situation. It is not limited to any specific situation or relationship. Abuse can be blatant, as in a physical or sexual attack, or it can be more subtle. Any relationship can be involved: parents, children, elders, teachers, employees, extended family members or immediate family members, siblings or friends. Unfortunately, God's people are not exempt from abuse. The statistics are the same in the church as they are in the general public. As Christians, we need to be aware and compassionate, able to help. Understanding abuse and its forms, helps us develop healthy ways of dealing with it.

Defining abuse can be confusing because it means different things to different people. Abuse can be defined as: any action, passive or aggressive, that violates the personal boundaries (physical, sexual, mental, emotional or spiritual) of another individual. Boundaries include the personal rights, space and responsibilities of an individual. Healthy boundaries can be anything that defines you as you, and anything over which you have legitimate control or responsibility.

Abuse is not about the act itself, but about control. It often arises out of the abuserís own past hurts and back ground. It is a desperate need for control or power. In long term abuse, he/she cannot see the otherís individuality as good and healthy. He/she sees it as a threat to his/her own security and must absorb that individual into his own identity in order to feel safe. The abuser may also see his/her needs as more important than the needs of others and simply takes what he/she wants.

Physical and sexual attacks are the most blatant forms of abuse. These abuses have legal definitions and charges can be laid for their violations. They are always damaging and carry long lasting effects and deep personal scares. Unfortunately, many people suffer from less obvious forms of abuse. These abuses occur in subtle ways, leaving the individual filled with self doubt or feelings of helplessness.

Emotional abuse can be blatant or subtle. It violates the deepest core of an individualís identity. It can be the parent who constantly ignores or demeans the thoughts and ideas of the child, the spouse who tries to control all the movements, thoughts, and choices of the other, or even the friend who takes advantage of anotherís kindness simply to please himself/herself.

Emotional abuse can also take the form of role reversal in a family. This can be defined as emotional incest. The child is forced to take over the parentís duties (not just normal chores!), or become the emotional support for either one or both parents, or other family members. He/she can be forced to take the spouseís place emotionally. Emotional incest can lead to, but does not have to include sexual abuse.

Making fun of someoneís religious beliefs is spiritual abuse. Religious beliefs are often used as an excuse for physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Religious beliefs can be used by an individual to justify his/her attempts to control the actions and behaviour of his/her spouse. Spiritual abuse is often ignored in both secular and religious contexts, but needs to be identified as unacceptable.

Abuse can be active or passive, verbal or non-verbal. The parent or spouse who does not speak for a week is just as abusive as the one who screams and yells. Sexual abuse can come in the form of words, looks or violent attacks. Alcohol, drugs and other addictions can cause passive abuse to escalate into violence or neglect. Neglect and lack of emotional support or nurturance are also abusive. Non-verbal messages can be just as destructive as abusive language, name calling, and ridicule.

The best defence against any form of abuse is a strong internal boundary structure. Everyone needs to feel valuable and worth while. As Christians, we find our value in our identity in Christ. Abuse devalues people. Learning to recognize the forms of abuse, give us tools to keep our internal structures intact. As we learn the difference between what we can control and what we cannot control, we also learn what others can and cannot control. This helps us recognize and define abuse as abuse and keep ourselves safe.

If you are struggling with an abusive relationship, a bully at school or work, or the effects of abuse in the past, there are many resources available to help you. Crisis intervention, counselling, support groups can all be helpful in your healing process. Look into programs or counsellors before you go. Do they have a good reputaion? Your community may have listings of the services available. The yellow pages list counselling agencies, Social Services, and Crisis Lines. Churches and other non-profit organizations may also offer help to individuals in need. Help is available, but only you can take the first step.

Bibliography available on request.


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