There’s a difference between still being a victim of abuse and a survivor of abuse.
A person that still carries the shame, guilt, unforgiveness, has not healed the emotional issues from abuse, or is still being abused is continuing to be a victim.
The person that can stand tall, speak out with no shame, no guilt, and has walked the healing path is a survivor of the abuse that was perpetrated in the past. It isn’t just having “lived through the abuse.” It is a matter of having walked the healing path and by God’s grace has over come the emotional issues and is walking in freedom from the past.
Many people want to be helpful and many think that their questions and statements are innocent and do not affect those that have been abused, be it childhood sexual abuse or spousal rape and abuse, or physical and emotional abuse.
Over the years I have heard many testimonies of the added pain inflicted upon victims and survivors of these types of abuse. I have experienced many of them myself and I can tell you from experience the survivor of abuse may steal herself/himself for the onslaught of “innocent” questions and statements but these questions and/or statements are knives deeply imbedding in the heart of the one who has survived the horrors of abuse.
Never, never, never, ever say these things to a victim/survivor of abuse:
1. “You could have done something to defend yourself.”
Let me ask you how a small child can defend herself against an adult? Or how can a wife defend herself against a husband that is bigger, stronger and wields some object, including his fist, at her? Or a teen girl or boy defend themselves against an angry father or mother? Children are taught to obey! Obey no matter what the parent says to do! Wives are taught to be “submissive” to their husband.
2. “Why didn’t you just leave?”
In the case of a small child, where would they go? A two-year old cannot support themselves, nor a 5-year-old or 7, 10, or 12-year-old. Teenagers? Some do leave and they end up on the street, homeless, the property of a pimp, or within a gang doing drugs, robbing, stealing, scavenging for food in dumpsters, and the Lord only knows what else. Many do not have relatives that will sympathize and take them in. For the grown woman, some are threatened with death if she ever leaves, she has children to consider, a homeless shelter may be a temporary answer IF they are not full, she may not have ever held a job in her life and has no means of support. The list can go on and on and on. I highly recommend the book, “The Walking Wounded: The Path from Brokenness to Wholeness” by Secret Angel for a better understanding of a wife and mother living with an abusive husband. Available at: www.amazon.com.
3. “Why didn’t you tell someone!”
Many have, most won’t. With young children some have been told to “keep the secret no matter what!” Many were accused of lying, blamed for the assaults, beaten for “telling such lies,” ignored, threatened with family members being killed (and many other guilt-ridden consequences) Most have been subject to mind control from an early age, manipulated and controlled, blamed for the abuse by the abuser. One of the things I was told over and over as a young child, “Just stay away from him!” At two and three years old I was told, “If you wouldn’t sit on your dad’s lap…” We are made to feel it is all our fault! For teenagers some have been actually thrown out of the house at fifteen or sixteen years old or have run away because no-one believed them and the abuse continued. Some married the first guy to come along only to be abused now by a husband. Victims are seldom believed! Males are laughed at. “Men can’t be raped!” If that’s your attitude then read, “Unhelpful Myths About the Sexual Assault and Rape of Men.” Posted on this blog, June 10, 2015.
4. “Well you should have……” or “Why didn’t you…..?
Unless you have been in our shoes there is no way you can even begin to understand or comprehend the dynamics that are or were going on in an abusive home. To lay this kind of condemnation on a victim is to jab the knife in real deep, smile sweetly, and then twist it!
5. “Did you call the police?”
Young children don’t know to do that. Some teenagers do and end up in foster care only to be abused again or bounced from one place to another to another to another. Some, when the police arrive the abuser convinces the police the teen “has some mental problems.” Unless there are obvious bruises and cuts the police will file a report and leave. With adults, many do but out of a false sense of “I love him” or “He loves me” they refuse to press charges once the police have come. Many do not get that opportunity for the control is so great there may not even be a phone available in the home.
6. “Just get over it! It happened a long time ago!”
There is no way that dagger can be shoved any deeper into the heart of the recipient of this remark. It is one of the most devastating, demeaning, accusatory, condemning and hurtful remarks that can be made to a victim of abuse. Particularly sexual abuse or rape. Which by the way, sexual abuse that involves intercourse is rape!
7. “What’s the big deal? It was just sex!”
This shows total ignorance on the part of the speaker. Sexual abuse encompasses the mind, the will, the emotions, and the spirit of the victim. The ramifications and emotional consequences of childhood sexual abuse can last a life time. In spousal abuse, where the wife is raped by the husband (along with beatings, etc.) the same thing applies. The mind, will, and emotions are all involved and emotional damage can be severe as well as possible permanent physical injuries.
8. “I’m sure they (parents) did the best they could.”
In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse that can be given for a parent to turn his or her back on a child that is being abused emotionally, physically, psychologically, or sexually! There is always something that can be done or someone who is willing to help. We have had police and laws for centuries. By ignoring the abuse happening is emotional abandonment and anyone who knows or even highly suspects abuse is taking place and does nothing is a co-conspirator to the crimes that are being committed. That means by doing “nothing” you are doing “something” – agreeing with, condoning the abuse.
9. “You just need to forgive and move on.”
Oh, this sounds so Christian! And of course this is done in “love.” Again, it shows the ignorance and total disregard for what abuse does to the victim; physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The emotional pain of the victim is never taken into account with this statement. This statement gives the impression that the horrors the victim has survived are merely minor infractions. “Here’s a band-aid, I’ll kiss it and make it all better.” The knife goes really deep and twisting it hurts even more!
10. “Are you sure it really happened?”
There’s that knife again! Survivors have questioned themselves until they are blue in the face with this very question even though they KNOW it happened. They do not want to believe that someone they trusted and possibly loved would betray them in such a horrific way. It is very difficult to accept the reality of being hurt, betrayed, and used by a loved one. To have this thrown at them turns the knife at least a full turn deep in their heart. Is essence you are calling them a liar and they’ve heard that from many others.
11. “Give it to God and let it go.”
Oh such a simplistic and uncaring statement! Just twist the knife a little more for this is a platitude that many Christians will spew forth when they can’t think of anything intelligent to say. Yes, we seek the Lord, if we are not so angry at Him for not stopping the abuse. Some beg, plead, and scream to the heavens. Many victims of abuse carry great anger and through the grace of God we do heal but to tell us to just hand everything; emotional damage, memories, scars, and what we feel to God like we’re handing Him a stick of gum is irrational on many levels. The issues run deep and much emotional damage has been done. Each issue is dealt with in time with God’s help. We can not put an entire childhood or 20 years of an abusive marriage in a box and just cast it off and go about our merry way.
12. “Maybe it was just a bad dream.”
You have not only stuck the knife in but have slapped the victim hard in the face. In my case, that would have been an 18 year nightmare! When victims of sexual abuse begin therapy, or even before, this thought does come to mind. “Maybe I dreamed it up. It isn’t true.” Again, it is that deep need to not want it to have had it happen. The bruises in spousal abuse prove this was not dream. A night mare in reality but not a dream during sleep. No, we didn’t dream it. We wish we had because we would wake up and it would go away after the 2nd cup of coffee.
13. “Just don’t think about it!”
Total disregard for the hurt, betrayal, physical and emotional wounding of victim! Absolutely no compassion is being shown. Victims do not have control over what the Lord will bring to mind that He may deem as time to deal with or the memories popping up “out of nowhere.” Walk away from this person! They do not have a heart for your pain and will only cause more.
14. “Well you must have done something wrong!”
In other words, “It’s all your fault!” We’ve heard this from the first encounter, be it as a child or an adult. Abusers NEVER take the blame! It is ALWAYS placed on someone or something else (usually the victim) and the knife is being twisted around and around as it has been sunk very deep into the heart of the victim. The child victim is NEVER to blame! With adults, there’s no excuse for a man to hit a woman, ever! Or a woman to hit a man unless in self-defense.
Are you ready? Here is the one that tops all that I have heard over the years! Out of the mouth of a youth pastor that had a seventeen year old victim living with he and his wife to escape the sexual abuse at home came these mighty words of wisdom so confidently spoken to me:
15. “A one time rape is more devastating to the victim than continual sexual molestation, they get used to it.”
I’m still speechless!
Am I saying not to talk to survivors of abuse? NO! I’m saying be sympathetic, compassionate, and caring. If the person brings up the subject, listen before speaking. Think long and hard what questions you may want to ask. If you are sincere in learning more about what we have to face as the results from the atrocities done to us ask if there are any books we might recommend. Don’t give the platitude or outright lie by saying, “I know just how you feel.” NOT IF YOU HAVEN’T WALKED IN OUR SHOES!
Some survivors, like me, are willing to answer even the questions that you never should have asked. But that’s only because I have had years of therapy and by God’s grace and Christ’s healing I can stand up to the intrusive and inconsiderate questions and remarks. Many survivors will wilt, feel condemned, and damage beyond belief can be done. Words hurt! Words can be that knife in the heart!
Many victims of abuse are sensitive, guilt ridden, filled with shame, low self-esteem, angry, hurt, and pain so deep only God can bring it into the light. Many continue to feel isolated, unloved, dirty, and unworthy of anything positive.
Love them to life!
Feel free to add additional hurtful comments in the comment box. People need to be aware of how they can help, not hurt.
Blessings to you.