"i just don't see how he could do that" & some thoughts on abuse

emily dickinson

**warning: this post is about sexual abuse (and emotional, physical, and spiritual too) and so if you are extra sensitive to this topic, please know there could be possible triggers.

abuse is one of the most damaging things that can happen to someone. and there’s never an excuse for it.

young or old, male or female, or all of the different circumstances of where, when, and how the abuse happened don’t make a difference in its impact. once it happens, that person’s life is forever changed.

i’ll say it again:  once it happens, that person’s life is forever changed.  

whether it’s emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or spiritual abuse, the dynamics are similar:

  • someone has unhealthy power over the other.
  • that power is forcefully wielded in a damaging way, robbing the person on the underside of our basic human dignity.
  • the shame associated with the pattern seals a deal in our head that we are damaged and not worthy.
  • the victim of the abuse is now forced to live with the realities for the rest of our lives.
  • the perpetrators of the abuse are rarely brought to justice. and if so, rarely do their consequences mirror their crime.

one of the reasons that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice is that the power that victims lost is hard to get back. most victims never, ever say what happened to them, and live with the shame for years, even lifetimes. however, many also do find the courage and come forward and tell their stories to someone. some might share a spouse’s emotional or physical abuse, that someone touched us inappropriately or harassed us at work or forced themselves on us, or call out a pastor’s emotionally abusive control patterns.

so many times, far too many times, an unacceptable amount of times, survivors of abuse are met with these kinds of responses:

“i just don’t see how he (or she) could do that.”

“that’s so hard for me to believe”

“that’s not the ______ that i know”

“are you sure you’re not exaggerating?”

“that just doesn’t add up”

“why didn’t you say something sooner, then?”

immediately, once one of these kinds of statements are made in response, the victim is left with even more shame. and confusion and start to think:

“maybe i am crazy”

“maybe i misinterpreted what happened.”

“maybe i deserved it”

“maybe i am as dirty as i feel”

“maybe it’s all my fault.”

“maybe….”

and then we are left with two big gaping wounds–the original abuse plus not-being-believed to boot. 

many perpetrators are very charming, charismatic, powerful, and convincing.

i can’t tell you the number of women i have journeyed with who got out of an abusive relationship with a super successful pastor or upstanding christian or successful businessman and no one around them saw the signs.  abuse crosses socioeconomics, religion, color, and age.

there are also a number of men out there who have been in abusive relationships with women and because of the stigmas and misperceptions attached, they are often not believed if they bravely share their experience.

this week there’s all kinds of stuff floating around on the internet related to woody allen, bill gothard, and bob jones university and ways they abused their power, position, or God’s name and took advantage of the vulnerable and managed to keep it secretly contained for so long.  i am so glad that more and more people are shedding light on the realities of abuse.

i am so grateful for the brave women & men coming forward and telling their painful abuse stories despite the risks on the path toward freedom.

i am so grateful for friends who get it and are a healing presence for others.

i am so grateful for safe & awesome therapists who help people tell their stories and find new courage.

i am so grateful for abuse advocates and local agencies who work tirelessly to raise awareness & journey with survivors on the path to healing.

i am so grateful for pastors and faith leaders who believe victims and are willing to enter the pain instead of cover it up or minimize it.  God is so tied up in all of this and the responsibility to participate in restoring dignity is great.

as we move this conversation forward, may we keep learning how to respond to the horrific realities of abuse, no matter the type, in better ways so that justice and mercy can prevail.

may we become safer people who can hold these stories in tenderness & hope and in ways that break shame’s power.

may we break out of denial and our tendency to say “i just don’t see how he or she could do that” and start with “thank you for your courage to share your truth.  i am with you.”

and mostly, may we play our part in helping truth emerge so that men & women & boys & girls can find the hope & healing & new life they deeply deserve.  

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

21 Comments

  • :*( this is soo hard!! I do often beleive anything that happens is my fault. .. yes you are right peoples lives changes cause mine did… its hard talking about it when u relive those experiences and the feeling of being violated …. again… anf havin no support system makes it easier cause u wont habe to talk about it but sometimes harder cause u cant live with the pain, memories, flashbacks feeling havinh to deal with this alone… it sucks when you feel like you’re going to lose it and the feeling of beinh dead inside

    Reply
    • Steph, Please, please, please believe us when we tell you that it’s NOT your fault! You are precious to God. You are soooo worthy of true love and affirmation. I’m sorry…I just don’t have the words to express how important and unique you are in this entire universe! There are lots of folks who are capable of walking with you through the trauma that you’ve experienced. Please, take a moment to look for them. Or, ask me or Kathy to do the checking for you. YOU ARE PRECIOUS!!!

      Reply
    • Steph, you don’t know me, but I hear you. I know that pain. Yes – our lives were forever changed. There is no restoring what was taken. Not possible. And it sucks. And talking about it is the freaking hardest thing I have ever done. When I finally decided to tell someone, I ended up hiding in her closet close to melting down. But I let the words come out….and then cried for two days. A few months later, when I realized that I needed to get professional help to deal with it, I called the local women’s crisis center to get a number for a counselor…and I had to take the phone into my bedroom and close the door and found myself scrunched up in the corner, whispering so softly the lady on the other end had trouble hearing me. When I went in for the first meeting, I was litterally shaking. I had no control of it. And I fully expected the professional to tell me ‘it was all in my head’ or that ‘I was making too big a deal of it and needed to just grow up and get over it.’ She never did tell me that. In fact, the first thing she did was clearly confirm that it was abuse and the bad one was the abuser.

      hmm…flashbacks suck. God…how they suck. For me, it seems the more I tell my story, the more of the poison is drawn out of me and the flashbacks have minimized greatly over time with therapy and a good friend. I know that feeling of being dead inside. It sucks, too. I wish I was there and could just listen to you..hear you…share with you that you are not crazy.

      I understand that it is hard to believe that anyone really cares. We are so used to believing that no one does. For so much of our lives, it seemed like no one really did. But there are people who really do care. Hmm…I used to feel guilty about sharing my story with people (still do sometimes) because I KNOW it is hard to hear. Its hard to TELL. But over time, I have come to realize that I am not nearly the burden I felt like I was…was conditioned to think I was.

      The only way I have found out of the pain is to walk through the memory of it and let it wash back out. I remember someone telling me that those who are abused suffer the pain of it twice: once when it happens and again when the walk back through it toward healing. The need to walk back through it in order to heal is daunting. But it won’t anihilate you. I know it feels like the pain with suck you under and destroy you, but it won’t – just almost.

      To those who would help, sometimes, the only thing we really need is just someone to listen, and just be with us – hold our hand – while the waves of pain crash through. As Kathy touched on in the post, don’t try to minimize it or contain it or ‘fix’ it. Just be willing to sit with us and be.

      Hmm… there is some much more to say, but it becomes difficult through the emotions, sometimes. And I don’t want to write a post on Kathy’s blog. 🙂

      Reply
    • thanks for sharing a piece of your story here, steph. finding the right support can be such a hard road and cement so many of those messages in our head.

      Reply
  • I recently shared about Bill Gothard on my Facebook page. One ‘brother’ took me to task about airing our dirty laundry in public. Where else are we to air it? Bill Gothard is a sexual predator and should be in jail! For crying out loud! Should we try to bury this stuph like the Roman church did? No!!!

    Reply
    • it is so fascinating what people do in reaction to truth, and so wrong. light is what changes things. there’s a lot of pushback on bringing what’s in the dark to light.

      Reply
  • This is such a tough issue and a brave one to address. I hope in the way I comment here it is not to minimise the trauma of whatever abuse has been experienced for anyone but to usher in healing and fullness of life.

    I once saw a TV programme where I was amazed that rather than the confrontation and anger expressed towards abusers, a girl came having healed from what had happened to her and was even thankful (I know this is going to sound crazy) towards her abusers because what had happened had made her strong. Saying that she could heal and recover from what had happened and be strong, but that she pitied her abuser for the consequences of the abuse that they conducted had on them.

    I remeber reading something not dissimilar about the Dali Lhama having loving kindness for those that desecrated Bhuddist temples, for the effect that doing do had on them. And ultimately, I remember Jesus weeping over Jerusalem at those that plotted for his death and had stoned the prophets.

    Kathy, you are right to call out the shame associated with the abuse. I just this last week have been able to give comfort to someone who took things on personally to be about him where it was about there being a problem with the institution. Recognising where woundedness has happened, that it was wrong what happened and not because there is something wrong with the individual. Doing your walking wounded class with Phyllis last year and having compassion for myself, meditation and addressing wrongs has for me put me in a better place to be a comfort for those who have been abused and to enable power for them for healing and strength in the Lord, that they may be equipped to encounter and push back powerfully, with real power in the Lord whenever similar happens.

    Isn’t that what we are all here for, to be that for each other. Blessed are you when you receive all kinds of insults and hardships because of Christ, for great IS your reward in heaven, blessed are you who mourn for YOU will be comforted.

    If this comment has helped just one person, it will have been worth making. Thank you for the opportunity to share here Kathy.

    Reply
  • A friend of ours grew up in a family with a molester. He had multiple victims. When our friend got older and confronted some of the relatives, they wanted it all swept under the rug to protect the family’s “good name”. Same happened in a church we attended – Staff person was also a molester, but the church wanted it swept under the rug. Same happened in a scout group where we once lived.

    It amazes me that families, churches, scouting and others conspire to protect the abuser. The victim, on the other hand, often must endure being abused again by those who protect the abuser if the victim decides to speak out. I’m former law enforcement and know that this regularly happens. Yes, I know that not all allegations of abuse prove true.

    We must stand with the victims of abuse, not with those who abuse, even if it is the scout leader, church leader, rich uncle Harry or whoever it may be. Abusers usually continue abusing, often with multiple victims, until they are exposed and dealt with.

    Reply
  • So good. I purposely did not read any of those aforementioned news stories.. Stumbled across one, and was like, um no. I was thinking yesterday that maybe, I am getting closer to integrating my abuse story as part of it. And that was closely followed by a thought that perhaps I could one day expand my practice to see kids who have dealt with abuse. Starting to see how viewing myself as so badly broken doesn’t do anything but perpetuate the cycle. #duh But really, starting to get a kindling that maybe I can lean into I feel so dirty less, and lean more into my journey to become a safer person. No more time to waste. #aintnobodygotnotimeforthat

    Reply

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