Safety is Important Too

It's a beautiful winter day. You and a group of good friends drive into the country and lace up your ice skates for a fun day on pond. You are leisurely skating when suddenly you hear a sharp crack and the glassy ice gives way, sending your friend plunging into the frigid waters. You rush to help her out of the water and onto solid ground. But what next? How do you save someone from freezing to death in the middle of winter, covered in ice water? If you don't take action quickly, they could lose all of their body heat and they could die from hypothermia. When the body can no longer regulate internal temperature, other measures have to be taken to get them warm ... and quickly.

Someone suffering from hypothermia couldn't get the warmth and healing they needed if part of them was still stuck in an ice-bath. Warming up requires stripping away the cold, wet, clothing and bundling up in thick warm blankets and drinking warm liquids. Warming up requires a lot of effort and absolutely no exposure to cold.

My point is ... sometimes the only way to real healing is by getting away from the cold. Sometimes healthiness and wholeness require warming up fully before ever allowing the cold back in.

This is like emotional abuse. At some point, someone who is abused can no longer regulate their internal thoughts and feelings without help. Putting truth into our brains can only get us so far. Putting blankets on top of icy, wet, clothing will only do so much. If we are piling truth and grace on top of layers confusion and anxiety, perhaps we aren't really treating the core problem after all.
 
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The hardest part about navigating the aftermath of emotional abuse, for me, is actually in the spiritual realm. The person that hurt me and failed to protect me is the same person that regularly spouts out bible verses. The person that turned my own brain against itself is the same one that "prays for me every day" and "wishes I understood".

It would seem as though these traits couldn't co-exist within the same person, but I assure you, they can. The one who is a master at manipulating and is capable of making me question my own reality (gaslighting) is the same one that consistently tells me that they are proud of the woman that I have become and don't understand why I'm so cruel and unfair. It's quite a contrast of mentality and an extraordinarily confusing place to live.

She "prays" that I can learn to forgive. She "doesn't know where this is coming from". She thinks that my behavior is unfair and uncalled for. She sends me texts and notes and letters explaining how God has changed her, how she "had to work through hard stuff too". She sends bible verses and bible story books to my kids and writes sweet notes about when I was a little girl. She wishes that I could "just work through my hurt and open up to her".

She has all the right words, and they often sound so nurturing and natural and sweet ... so why does it sting so deeply?  Why do words about God and faith,  forgiveness and love and "opening up" still hurt so terribly? Why do these words feel like slinging sand in a raw wound?

Because for years I witnessed her manipulate and blame, all while putting on a loving and helpful Christian front. I watched as she said one thing and did another. I watched the rage and the tearful meltdowns. I saw that reputation was much more important than integrity.

Why does it hurt? Because year in and year out, my feelings didn't matter. My opinions didn't matter. My best wasn't good enough. I was made to question who I was and if any of my efforts could be "good enough" for her ... and for God.

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I see this darkness and resentment in myself. I feel so ashamed of thinking so poorly and not offering grace upon grace to her when I offer it to others so much more easily. When I'm beside her in church, I feel the anxiety boiling up inside of me. Each little comment and nod and "amen" poking holes in the grace that I try to cover up my overwhelming anger with. When she stands next to me in church, hands raised in worship, or nudges me after the delivery of a sermon statement, I feel like throwing up. Not because she doesn't belong there but because it all feels like a lie. Because I have seen the other side. From small exaggerations to huge issues of integrity, she knows how to create the narrative that suits her best.

Why would I believe her notes about her unconditional love and devotion to family and God and prayer? Why would I believe, knowing what I know, that her words are honest and good and not full of manipulation and selfish ambition. Everyone else may not believe it, or see things for what they are, but I know what happened and continues to happen. I spent years believing and defending. I spent years trying harder and harder to win approval. I tried to be a better daughter, a better sister, a better example, a better christian. I never measured up and I had no escape from the constant mental and emotional push. But right now, safety is more important to my soul than reconciliation.

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We are all broken and in need of healing. We all fail and need the Lord's grace, and the grace of other's to function well and move forward. Without God's extraordinary grace and mercy, I would be condemned. Therefore, as a believer, the last thing I want to do is be destructive or cruel but when someone is an abuser, truth and caution have to reign.  At least for a while -- maybe long term.

I don't have an answer about how to put the resentment and hurt and anger to rest right now. I so wish that I did. I am working through it as more pieces of the puzzle come to light. Perhaps sometime in the future, the process of reconciliation can begin. But I have to get warm before I can be brave enough (and healthy enough) to go back towards that icy pond. And maybe the danger is too great to return. I'm not sure yet.

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Every situation and story is different. People are flawed and sinful and selfish, and grace is so necessary in forming and preserving loving relationships. BUT... being emotionally stable, and whole and safe is just as important.

For anyone reading today that is going through this process of anxiety, anger, disappointment, guilt ... I just want you to know that I'm in the trenches with you.
I am for you -- and you are not alone.

I indefinitely ended a relationship in order to preserve my emotional and mental stability. I don't regret it.  My life is calmer and my inner committee of critics are much quieter these days.  I have more space for good things because I made less space for the negative input.  I have more space for the truth because I've cut out the lies.

I'm growing. I'm learning. I'm actually "trying" less than I ever did before, but I feel more spiritually successful. And even the smallest victories count in overcoming the chaos inside my head and heart. Knowing my smallness in this area makes me appreciate God's greatness all the more. I can't. But He can. He is doing good things inside of this heart, just one piece and one small certainty at a time.
 
Perhaps someday I'll be stronger. I'll be able to separate the truth from lies and decipher and deal with false guilt and true shame as it comes. I hope that someday I can extend the same grace to her as I do to so many others. I can't wait for the day when I can feel confident enough to just "let it roll off my back" when something negative gets thrown my way. But right now, in this moment, all I can do is work on me and have faith that heart-change is coming.







4 comments:

  1. Really well explained and provides a sort of gut-check for all of us who don't want our Christian jargon to become a "cloke of maliciousness" to wear when we want to justify our selfishness. Very good. (I deleted my first comment because of a grammatical mistake.)

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  2. You are not alone...I, too, have had to step away from the abuser, my dad. Unlike yours, mine says there is no God, but He will see one day. God has a way of putting people in your path to show you His Love and the comfort to know that you are important and necessary for His Purpose. If I could change my past, I wouldn’t...All the physical and mental abuse I endured was building me for strength and purpose. I praise Him ���� for keeping His loving arms of protection around me, even when I didn’t realize He knew me ❤️ Thank you for sharing your pain �� Praying for comfort and Peace ����

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    1. "If I could change my past, I wouldn’t..."
      Phew. That's a hard place to come to sometimes, but it's great mentality. -- Thank you. I am glad you had the strength and clarity of mind to do what you needed to do to be healthy. <3

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