after abuse – the journey to self

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By Liza Borstlap, Pastoral Counsellor and Head of our Hope Centre, mom of two, a woman with a strong artistic streak and a heart for God’s people …

Courage gives us a voice
and compassion gives us an ear
without both,
there is no opportunity
for empathy and connection
Brené Brown

Life happened and she carried a story. She tried to gather the pieces of her fragmented life to produce a picture.

My heart opened up to receive her vulnerability, her innermost secrets and emotional nakedness.

Holy ground.

She was subjected to domestic abuse and her self-esteem was corroded to the core. She realised that the scars that no one could see would be the hardest to heal.

Domestic violence is a serious crime. It can be understood as everything that happens within the private boundaries of your life that are not positive.

Physical Abuse

Any act or threat of physical violence that is intended to cause physical pain, injury, suffering or bodily harm.

Sexual Abuse

Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Emotional, Verbal And Psychological Abuse

A pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards the victim privately or publicly, including repeated insults, ridicule, name calling and/or repeated threats to cause emotional pain; the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy, which is such as to constitute a serious invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity and/or security. It also includes forceful efforts to isolate the victim.

Economic Abuse

The unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which the victim is entitled under law, or requires out of necessity.

Intimidation

Uttering or conveying a threat, or causing a victim to receive a threat, which includes fear.

She felt guilty, helpless, as if she had no voice. Her family couldn’t deal with her attitude anymore, they thought she was weak and passively awaited each and every discomfort.  She experienced rejection from friends who could not understand why she felt emotionally and physically dependent upon her abusive husband. No one realised that domestic abuse was all about control and power.

She came for counselling when her sister told her that she was suffering from the battered woman syndrome.

While speaking to her it became evident that she was conditioned to believe that she was stuck in her situation. She became passive, submissive, depressed and overwhelmingly fearful of life. She was unable to see that she had choices. She needed to understand the vicious cycle of abuse.

The cycle of abuse

Tensions building – tension between the parties increase; breakdown of communication; the victim becomes fearful and feels the need to appease the abuser.

Incident – verbal, emotional and physical abuse; anger, blaming and arguing; threats and intimidation.

Reconciliation – abuser apologises, gives excuses, blames the victim, denies that the abuse has occurred, or says that it was not as bad as the victim claims.

Calm – incident is ‘forgotten’, no abuse is taking place; the ‘honeymoon phase’.

I find it difficult to speak about these counselling sessions; to construct sentences, to describe the journey towards emotional healing. I find solace in resting my head against the chest of Christ, in silence, where I can contemplate the inherent imperfection of human beings. My ears witness immense cruelty and my eyes see tears, but it is in those heart-breaking moments that I realise we are at our best when we are completely vulnerable. We are beautiful when we realise that our private struggles are also universal. We are not alone.

I learnt long ago that I know nothing.

Just be present.

Just be.

Connect.

God meets us in the sacred spaces where we feel welcome, accepted and understood. He turns belief systems upside down and sets us free. He frees the tongue to put our experiences in our mouths – to speak out.

His Spirit teaches us that our inner being has an influence on our outer being. He touches us in the secret spaces and shows us that we can live happy lives. We can be productive and fulfilled despite previous experiences. He frees us of the desire to control the outcome of our lives. He guides us through the painful process of healing to get to the point where we live intentionally. He renews our mind to understand that our lives can be rewarding and calm.

We have one life.

Our own.

We can rejoice.

We are resilient because we are spiritual beings.

Authenticity is the daily practice
of letting go of who we think
we are supposed to be
and embracing
who we really are
Brené Brown

I learnt that God can restore us, He can bring order and calm to our lives. He can ignite a fire deep within us that enables us to reach for life again.

Pastoral counselling: Hope Centre (012 368 2444)

Resources: www.wlce.co.za/images/domesticviolenceguide.pdf

Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Stabilis Treatment Centre (012 333 7702) or www.stabilis.org.za

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