To read about my own experience with domestic violence (in two parts), start here.
I think our culture still tends towards minimizing and discrediting the stories of DV survivors. Is it that we have trouble comprehending the actual existence of such things? Or is it that we just don’t want to?
As an adult, I have presented as a strong, somewhat confident woman. I believe this is why the people in my life at the time had great difficulty believing something like this could happen to me. But it did happen to someone like me.
In the past, there has been a tendency for clinicians to label victims of DV as co-dependent. The backlash against this “victim blaming” is the perpetuation of a purely victim mentality, which eventually morphs into a victim identity.
I, personally, believe that while acknowledging the forces at play lying outside of a victim of DV (for example, identifying how social gender norms and culturally enforced inequities between the genders lead to abusive dynamics) may empower an individual for a short time, it fails to allow the individual to reclaim the personal power they themselves now tend to deny.
So, do I blame my abuser? Can I justify villainizing him?
No. I cannot.
If I had known then, what I know now– the true value of my personhood in Christ– I would have never allowed myself to continue a relationship with that man. NEVER.
Long before I met my Ex, from the day of my infant baptism onward, I was raised in Christian churches to believe that women should not follow their own thoughts or hearts. That was Eve’s sin, and why all women need to be under the authority of a man.
As I grew older, I was raised by my church to believe that men are at the mercy of their sexual impulses (women were viewed to not have biological sexual impulses I guess…), and that it was my job as an attractive woman, to mitigate the opportunity for temptation in any way I could. If I dressed in a way that caused a brother in Christ to sin, his sin was on my head.
I was taught by my church that my true value, as a female, could only be found in protecting my virgin status until finding a man to marry me. (my parents even had a purity ring ceremony for me… Oh the irony!) And once married, I could only please God if I was completely pleasing my husband in perfect submissive obedience. (While birthing as many babies as possible….)
Notice here, that as a female, who I was and who I felt called to be didn’t matter.
As a female, my identity was defined strictly in relation to males. What I wore, how I behaved, it only mattered in how it affected the men around me. I wasn’t taught that I was, and could be, a separate person with value. My relationship with Christ had to teach me that.
I believe that the church culture of my youth set me up for disaster. I came of age obsessed with finding someone to be with, and could not fathom being on my own. I wasn’t “pure” any longer , so my value as a female had already been diminished… No good Christian boy in his right mind would want a sexual assault survivor like me as a wife. I’d been tarnished. And there was no going back…
So I made the best of the situations and romantic relationships I found myself in. Which is so very sad to me now, looking at all of this in hindsight…
Even after leaving church, I carried their teachings about my body and my worth along with me. And it very well could have gotten me killed.
So, you see, I believe Domestic Violence is complex. The only way to stop it is to separate the two people involved, and protect victims from their abusers. Victims need to make that journey from victimhood to blossoming into Survivors. Their ability to wisely discern actual threats to their safety relies upon rediscovering their own value as individuals. As DV victims, we found ourselves passive and reactive. As Survivors, we become active and proactive. We no longer define ourselves by our pasts, or by the abuse we experienced. We no longer let others define us at all. We know we are so very much more than what happened to us in the past, and more than what others may think or believe about us now.
That’s why I’ve chosen to share this chapter my story here. Not because it is something that still plagues me, but because it is something that I lived through. And I emerged from it all with a greater sense of wholeness. Christ has been able to use it towards my ultimate good.
If Christ can use the hurt of the past to further strengthen me in the present, you better believe He can do it for you too.