You can read Part One of this two-part series here: 3 Ways to Spot Emotional Abuse and Manipulation.
An important note: This article is geared toward encouragers of women whose partners refuse help. As a woman of faith and a marriage and family therapist, I don't advocate divorce. I do, however, agree with "proactive separation" in unsafe circumstances, with the primary goal being healing and reconciliation.
Sadly, that goal of safety and accord is not always possible for every couple. All things are possible with God, though not all of His children choose to follow His example of love in the mistreatment of their spouses. Should that be your experience, I join you in prayer, recognizing that the pain of divorce is a relational death that requires us to mourn. You are so loved and never alone!
- We're not always sure it's happening, or what to call it.
- We do believe our loved one, but don't always know where to turn for help.
- We know for sure that we don't trust their partners.
- We find it tempting to try to confront and "fix" the situation.
- We realize that it can be difficult to maintain a friendship with the person experiencing the abuse.
- We don't want to leave our friend or family member in isolation, but find ourselves avoiding the situation due to discomfort.
What should we do or say once we're certain that somebody we care about is living in an unhealthy situation? It's not uncommon to feel so ill-equipped or frustrated that we avoid helping all together. Prayer, boldness, and patience will certainly be required of any of us who are willing to love the abused through a difficult season.
While yes, this call isn't for the faint of heart, I want to encourage you with a few simple ways to offer support while maintaining healthy boundaries yourselves. Women often stay with their partners until their lives become virtually unbearable. They reach a tipping point. When the pain is overwhelmingly worse than the fear of leaving, they'll consider a change.
That's our cue! We can't fix anybody or make decisions for them, but we can be ready with the safety net once our loved one takes the first step toward healing.
The work can be slow and tedious. It's God's discipline working through us that will allow a once powerless woman to experience His freedom through her own choices, rather than by us forcing our "care" upon her. We have an opportunity to lay a slow and steady foundation by building up her faith, helping her to dream again of a joy-filled life, and having a support network already established for the day she's ready to make the change.
Here are 3 ways we can plant seeds of freedom:
1. Empower. Encircle. Remain.
We Empower. It can be incredibly difficult for women who are being emotionally abused to keep healthy relationships outside of the home. They often do so at the risk of being bullied by their significant others. Looking back, Julie recalls this in her marriage:
I never recognized it then, but there was always a fight the day or two before I was supposed to see my family. He didn't like them very much...mostly because they never liked him. They saw right through it, the hurt he would cause and then the promises he would make to do better. I ended up rescheduling visits because I would get so tired of arguing. I just wanted to keep the peace.
If you've seen this cycle played out before, you're likely aware of how difficult it is to observe it without feeling helpless. A righteous anger festers as we watch our friend or family member "allowing" the controlling behavior to continue. Many of us have very little understanding of how beaten down, insecure, or numb she's become to survive in that environment.
We aren't capable of "saving" her and that's the truth. I believe we know that deep down, but that we're so passionately pained by the situation that we'll try to control or "fix" it. We must change our focus from "fixing" to "building up." When we do that, we allow God the ability to strengthen His gifts in us to exhort rather than to take control.
Abused women often feel more confused and weak than they can admit to even themselves. Their partners have forced them to make choices that have not been their own. Their sense of worth is quite possibly "nil" and the energy necessary to leave can feel elusive. When we build up a sister's faith to the point that she calls on God in prayer and for rescue, the atmosphere completely changes. She is infinitely more empowered as she leans on His strength to weather the storm.
"The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
We Encircle. We offer love, hope, and support. We invite her to dinner, book club, baby showers, and we pick her up for church. We behave cordially around her partner so that we don't ignite conflict, yet never apologize for our adamant reinforcement of God's crazy love for her. We gently teach that she is worth every drop of blood poured out by Jesus Christ, Himself. And then we repeat it, over and over again, until it begins to take root in the soul.
We praise her gifts and provide her opportunities to use them. Most importantly, we accept her ability to make choices for her own life. She needs to know that we're convinced she's capable of hearing God's voice and receiving direction from Him. Then, should we have earned the privilege of her trust, we challenge her to follow His direction and help in any way possible!
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Eccl. 4:9-12, Para.)
We Remain. This can be tough, but it's also the most important point. Would you consider with me this question:
Will we be sincerely OK when she doesn't take our advice?
If we're really in this thing, we can't baulk from texting another invitation when she's declined the last two. Our consistent presence in her life will reek of trust and love, and at the end of the day, it will be us that she calls when things get really bad. No strings attached. Interceding. Leading. Holding a hand. On her terms and in God's timing. If we truly care to minister, our needs take a backseat in this season.
Ministering to her (regardless of her choices) is not the same as condoning her partner's behavior!
"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." (Heb. 10:35-36)
2. Cast a Net. Leave a Trail.
Are you gifted with administrative skills? Type A's unite! This is an awesome place to begin small and quietly. Gather as many community contact numbers as you are able and make a resource sheet for your loved one. If you're uncomfortable giving it to her directly, pass it out to your entire small group, post it at church or work, and give a copy to anybody you think could benefit from such a great contact list. Here are some people to include:
Crisis Hotline Numbers
Short-Term Housing: Family and Friends (if giving to your friend or family member specifically)
Child Care Providers
Transportation Phone Numbers
Emotional Abuse hurts because there are no visible scars, marks, or injuries otherwise. However, it's not uncommon for less obvious forms of abuse to escalate into physical forms as the cycle is perpetuated. It's important for our loved one to receive care, not only for the most obvious reasons, but also so that documentation of the abuse exists.
Paper trails make it possible for women to receive help more quickly, because more is known by care providers about her home situation. Also, many counseling offices provide crisis services after normal business hours. If they don't, they make sure to give their clients contact information for an agency in the community who does.
As much as we care, we cannot be a friend's "on call" safety support all day, every day. The wider we cast the net, the better able she'll be to receive help. The better her paper trail, the more efficiently workers will be able to assist her in time of need.
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared." Exodus 23:20
3. Plan a little. Pray a Lot.
If you're close enough to ask some of these questions, they're worth planning for!
- Where will you go if you need a place to stay?
- How will you get there?
- Do you have money and transportation?
- Who do you need to call?
- What about your children or pets?
- Do you understand that the police will escort you to retrieve your personal items from the house?
We have an awesome opportunity to be THAT to somebody in need, to be the support that could change a life forever. That's kingdom work and a love that resonates to eternity.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 18:18)
Freedom starts here, in prayer to the One who breaks all our chains. Let's pray, deeply and genuinely, for all of us who've ever experienced "such a time as this", knowing He makes us ready when challenges arise!
Thank you for the opportunity to walk alongside all of you as we fight heavenly battles together in this life!
Please comment below if I can assist you further with resources or answers to questions.
What other advice would you give to people wanting to help somebody suffering from emotional abuse and manipulation?
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
They were helped in fighting them, and God delivered the Hagrites and all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him. (1 Chron. 5:20)
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives...being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Col. 1:9-12, paraphrased)