I was raised in a family that had struggled with abusive people in their lives. Yet, I was taught — perhaps unintentionally — that abuse was a shameful thing for the victim to talk about.
“Don’t tell anyone what so-and-so went through — it’s embarrassing.”
“Keep the negative stuff off the internet. You’ll put other people down.”
“No one ever knew that person was having such a hard time. They have such a good spirit for never saying anything. God doesn’t want us to complain.”
Blah. Blah. Blah.
Does anyone see what’s wrong with this concept?
I don’t have this plan of writing this great self-help book or anything like that. I’m not even 100% sure why I let everything out at once when I finally broke up with my ex. Mostly it was my word versus his, I’m not good at talking, and I am definitely the less dangerous person. So, I did the only thing I could to protect myself and just laid pretty much everything out there for everyone I knew to see. And that’s when I learned an important lesson:
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR STORY.
You wouldn’t believe the number of people who came to me in those weeks and months just to say that they’ve been through similar things with an abusive partner or relative. Some of them knew each other for years and never knew that they had this in common. It was shocking really. All because I had done something “embarrassing” by revealing a secret I kept for years.
No wonder the trend of abuse continues the way it has. If you bought a drink that was tainted and made you sick, would you hide it from everyone else? Or would you make sure that everyone knew it was poisoned so that they didn’t drink it themselves?
Why don’t we do the same thing for something that is so deadly? “1 in 3 female murder victims and 1 in 20 male murder victims are killed by intimate partners.”*
Yes there are movements to stop abuse — that’s wonderful — but it doesn’t really seem to hit home until someone you know goes through something awful. And if they keep it a secret, how would you know?
(This was supposed to be a short “aha” moment. So let’s stop the tangent.)
Anyways, one thing I was taught in youth group that stuck with me is that sometimes bad things happen to us so that we can help others who go through the same difficulty. And the more I heard stories from friends and coworkers and their friends and family, the more I realized that something good can come from the bad by putting my story out there. It had the plus of keeping me sane when I couldn’t tell the difference between my thoughts and his voice in my head.
And guess what? I had a good friend approach me this week because she realized she was in a toxic relationship. Apparently, I was the only person she knew who had gone through something similar. (I’m sure she knows more, but once again, people don’t like to talk about it.) We were able to get together tonight and talk things out. She just needed someone to not judge and validate the decisions she was having to make.
There was a lot of prayer going on the last couple of days! It’s easy for me to talk about what I went through (mostly — there are still things most people will never need to know, and those tend to be triggers anyway), but I’m no counselor! However, I can do my best to be there for my friends. We aren’t all called to be counselors; however we are called to lift each other up (I Thess. 5:11). We at least had a good time of catching up and venting. If anything, those 5 years of pain were worth it if they keep someone else from going through the same — and I truly believe that this is what God wants me to do with my experience.
So tell your story. Don’t be ashamed that you were once a victim. It may be difficult at first. Will it scare some people? Yes. Will some people be offended? Of course. Will it be embarrassing? It can be at times. If you need to do so anonymously, that’s perfectly fine. You should make sure to stay safe. But doing so will do two things — it will help others, and it will help you heal. And those aren’t bad goals at all. 🙂
*Bridges, F.S., Tatum, K. M., & Kunselman, J.C. (2008). Domestic violence statutes and rates of intimate partner and family homicide: A research note. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(1), 117-130. http://ncadv.org/images/Domestic%20Violence.pdf