I’ve lived through my fair share of traumatic moments. And I’ve learned that no one will ever stand up for you the way that only you can stand up for yourself.
Even if you have amazing friends, family, or are married to someone who is ready to stand up for you at any given moment, no one will EVER speak for you the way that only you can speak for yourself.
I want to share THREE things I’ve learned about setting boundaries with chronically abusive people…
ONE: People will tell you you’re a bad Christian for setting boundaries that are too firm
You guys. The guilt tripping is real. But that doesn’t make it right or true! Does it?
When I first started setting boundaries with with chronically abusive people I kept it very general. You are not allowed to call me names. You are not allowed to accuse people of committing heinous sexual crimes they did not actually commit.
I mean. We are truly talking about very basic stuff here.
But when my boundaries got firmer, because my initial boundaries weren’t being respected, like… you may no longer call my cell since I never know when you’re going to suddenly cuss me out and make me cry…people got pretty huffy. And when I dared to say…I don’t feel comfortable with going over to your house because of the false accusations you make against people…you would have thought that I opened the flood gates of Hell. (Oh, drama! How you never cease to amaze me!)
And then followed a whole slew of accusations and honestly really ridiculous theories about how angry and bitter and unforgiving I must be to set such boundaries.
Angry. You betcha! Angry at the injustice that was allowed to go on and on for so freaking long with NO ONE standing in the gap. Bitter. No, I honestly don’t think so. Unforgiving. I hope not…becuase forgiveness is something I have wrestled through for most of my life. How do you forgive someone for who they continually are?
It is not easy! (I honestly believe that forgiving someone for who they are is the hardest thing on the planet.)
So I asked myself:
- Am I honoring God by allowing this abusive behavior to continue?
- Is this behavior ok? And if not, why am I making exceptions for people I love to treat me this way?
You guys! I realized that I could no longer make excuses for the abusive behavior. It wasn’t a one time thing, it was the norm!
So, I stood up for myself over and over until even the most basic requests for respect could not be met. And then, I learned something SO HARD: that I will never be able to make someone love me or even treat me decently. So, I walked away.
I was/am justified in my expectations for common decency and basic respect. I wasn’t asking for or expecting anything else! I didn’t need a touched-by-an-angel/come-to-Jesus moment to occur. I didn’t even expect there to be any heart change. All I wanted was to be treated decently: no cussing, no name calling, no threats, no illegal behavior, no manipulation.
I really didn’t ask for anything fancy.
TWO: You are going to feel afraid, and that is ok.
The first time I ever really stood up for myself, I literally shook the entire time and then had a two-day-long melt down.
But I did it!
Abusers are selfish to their very core. They basically throw fits when they don’t get what they want. They will call you names, spread rumors about you, cry and cry and cry to anyone who will listen; they may even stalk you or send other people, usually children or unhealthy adults, to talk to you “on their behalf”.
This behavior is ridiculous and almost laughable. Let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?
Basically, what I’m saying is…look at fear right in the face and you set those boundaries anyway! Because you are worth the blood of Jesus, and no one gets to degrade you and belittle you…even if they are your own parents.
Don’t make excuses for someone to treat you horribly just because you share the same blood line.
THREE: You will learn the difference between ACTUAL LOVE & CONDITIONAL AFFECTION
When I initially went no contact with my abusers, I desperately wanted people to understand what I was going through. I felt this incredible freedom that I’d never felt before, and my depression/anxiety/nightmares significantly decreased. Within a month I felt more free of the weight of shame than I’d ever felt in my life and it showed in tangible ways: I started a blog, started working out, started a handmade wood toy and home decor business. I put myself out into the world in way I never had before.
It was a lifting that I’d prayed for for most of my life. I wanted to share this incredible freedom I had found with people who I thought loved me. Because…how do you even keep something like that inside of you??
But I found out the hard way, that a lot of the “love” I thought I’d had wasn’t really love at all…it was all just conditional affection.
It was affection for me based on who I was able to be for my abusers. It was based on what I overlooked. It was based on this super messed up idea that I would just go on pretending everything was ok. And I’m not really sure why…becuase no one was really winning anything. So, why keep pretending?
Can I be super honest? I have a REALLY hard time sorting through these emotions. Because on one hand I totally get how manipulative and charismatic and controlling chronically abusive people are. But on the other hand, I felt this deep sense of betrayal…becuase it didn’t seem like anyone really cared that I was better. It didn’t seem like anyone really cared that an enormous weight of stress had been lifted off my shoulders…that my body was physiologically better off going no contact. That the nightmares subsided.
Here is what I know: people who love you will come around. They have things to wrestle through just the same as you. Be patient and love them the way you would want to be loved. This is impossibly hard; do it anyway. Trust that God has his hand in this.
But don’t back down. Keep your boundaries firm. And keep your word when you say, “…or else.”
SO, WHY EVEN BOTHER TALKING ABOUT ALL OF THIS?
I get a lot of questions about why I choose to write about abuse.
Why write about your abusive parents, about child abuse, about domestic abuse, about gas-lighting and manipulation and going no contact? About Child Protective Services and being hit and all the times I begged God to take my life or take the lives of the people who so deeply damaged me.
I’m writing about it because precious few other people are…
I’m writing about it because when I started to ask questions I struggled to find any answers that both honored God and kept me safe. I struggled to find a single story like mine.
I’m writing about abuse because I want other people to know that the injustice of child abuse, specifically, is NOT OK. It is not ok legally, and it is not ok Biblically…and it is POSSIBLE to tell your story and call out injustice without dishonoring the inherent value of your abusers, without degrading them, and even while hoping for restoration and COMPLETE healing.
Being brave doesn’t mean that you speak out in hate. Being brave means you speak out and yet you STILL dare to hope that these broken relationships might be healed.
Speaking out just means you are challenging injustice by bringing it into the light. And anyone who says that speaking out also means that you’re hateful, doesn’t understand courage.
I want survivors of child abuse to know that they have a voice. That they have value. That they aren’t destined to repeat the same generational sins. I want survivors to heal and learn and grow. I want survivors to know that it is possible to come out of an abusive home and establish a new home that is healthy.
I don’t want women settling for abusive men because they think that’s all they deserve. And I don’t want men settling for abusive women because they think that’s all they deserve.
I want EVERYONE to know that it is possible to THRIVE even after you’ve been deeply wounded. Because we love and serve a God who is in the business of making all things new, of redeeming all things.
And just because I am never going back to the place where it all flamed into being, doesn’t mean that I’m never going back to the people who caused me irrevocable pain. Because really, I love them. And it hurts to even say that.
But it’s true.
Because God can do AMAZING THINGS when you actually dare to let him. Stand back and watch him move when you take that leap of faith and actually do what he says to do: confront injustice, stand up for the oppressed, refuse to be degraded, call out sin, and love, love, love with so much of yourself that you get lost in the wonder of it all.
In then end, we all still have a choice. Do we shed the pride and dare? Or do we shrink into ourselves and hide?
Everyone has a choice. Your abuser has a choice, and so do you.