How to find healing if you are a victim of abuse

Erica Hamence outlines some resources for healing if you are – or know – a victim or survivor of domestic and family violence.

Content warning: This article involves discussion of the experiences and impacts of domestic and family violence. Some survivors might find its content troubling.

Healing from recent or historical experiences of domestic and family violence is not easy work, nor is it instantaneous. Whether you were the targeted victim of the abuse, or a child or relative of the victim, the healing work in front of you can feel daunting, painful and relentless.

There are often scars, both emotional and physical, after an experience of domestic and family violence. Below, I’ve suggested some resources for healing for victims and survivors. I’m conscious that any ‘recommendation’ that asks a victim to do something about their abuse can feel like subtle victim-blaming. It’s a great injustice that not only have you been abused, but that you also carry the weight of the often hard work of healing as well. I don’t want to add to that in any way.

So let me say first: we know a Healer.

This is His work, and He’s really good at it. What I’ve attempted to do below is list some of the ways I think He has provided for healing for us. Each of us is free to make use of them, but we do so trusting in God’s timing and provision. It’s possible that some of the resources I’ve listed are not available to you. God is both incredibly powerful, and creative. Whatever your circumstances, I pray that you will see God use His incredible power, and creativity, to bring healing to you.

1. Seek out God's true voice.

You have had traumatic experiences which have damaged your sense of yourself. Give yourself a chance to hear the truth. Are there particular Bible promises or truths that have been twisted by your abuse?

Have you begun to think that you are worthless or unlovable? Know the truth that God is love, and is it because He is love that we are loved by him (1 John 4:16). Would it help you to spend some time meditating on this truth? 

Have you begun to believe that God condones or excuses what is happening to you? Would it help you to spend some time reflecting on what 2 Timothy 3:2 says about abusers, or Revelation 22:12-15? When you find yourself repeating the lies your abuser told you (through their words or their actions), could you replace those lies with truth from the Bible?

Perhaps you could place key Bible verses around your house, in your car, or place of work – anywhere that might help remind you of God’s unfailing love.

2. Reclaim some of your damaged boundaries.

You might not be able to reassert all of your boundaries but there are likely to be other areas of your life where you have said “yes”, but would have liked to say “no.” Have you given more of your time to a task or another person than is healthy or necessary? Practice reclaiming your boundaries and showing respect for yourself wherever you can. 

3. Reclaim a sense of control.

If you have recently left an abusive relationship you may go through the stages of grief both for your ex-partner, and for yourself and who you felt you were within that relationship. Victim-survivors will often feel a strong euphoria after they initially leave a relationship, which is often followed by grief, anger and depression. Most victim-survivors will feel a strong urge to return and/or reconcile. To regain a feeling of control in your new situation develop a daily routine; set and accomplish small goals each day; control where you go and who you are with so that you are safe.

4. Do some gentle exercise.

Exercise both symbolises care for ourselves (which is important in itself), but also is care for ourselves. This is valuable because it helps us recognise and begin to reassert our boundaries and needs, but also because it helps us to reconceive God as a God of compassion and care.

Could you do something really gentle on your body such as yoga, or Pilates, or meditation, anything that might help you regain respect for your body, and will help you become more in tune with your pain or stress? I know many Christians object to yoga on spiritual grounds. That's a conversation for another day, but here are some of the positive things I hear in yoga class: 'if it hurts, don't do it', 'don't push yourself', 'recognise your limits'. It may be that you need to hear these things in order to re-draw your boundaries around pain, as they help to emphasise that you do not need to put up with pain and you do not deserve to be hurt.

On the flipside, would it help you to do exercise that makes you feel strong and powerful? I know many survivors who find a lot of healing in seeing what their body can do, and in feeling that they know how to defend themselves. Feeling (and being) powerful in healthy, non-violent, ways can be a redemption of power.

5. Nourish yourself with good food.

We tend to think of food – whether 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' – as punishment or reward. Could the next meal you eat be one that speaks of the value of your body? Christianity conceives of ourselves as whole beings; our being is an integrated one. What happens to our bodies affects our emotions and vice versa. Psalm 104 reminds us that God is constantly providing for us through His creation:

“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.”

Would it help you to remember God’s care for you by eating something good for you?

6. Ask God where he has been in your darkest moments.

If you reflect on those hardest times, where do you 'see' God? Is He near you? How would He look at you? What would he say? It can be re-traumatising and confronting to revisit painful memories, so tread carefully here. However, you might find comfort in revisiting these moments seeing them through a particular ‘lens’ – God’s gracious and loving lens. When He looks on your experiences, we can be confident that He does so with compassion for you, clarity and anger at the abuse done to you, and with power to rescue, heal and redeem.

7. Reach out to trusted and safe friends.

They might not understand everything, and they might say things that do more hurt or add confusion. Please don’t give up or isolate yourself further if the first friend you disclose to is not very empathetic. If you have the energy, help them to understand so that they can offer you more support. Our friends will not be perfect, but they are part of God’s provision to us to help us. Even if you’re not talking to them about what you’ve experienced, just having consistent, loving, encouraging time with safe friends is incredibly restorative. Could you pray for, and arrange, regular times with trusted people? Could you pray that God might provide people to check in, and to send you that message that you really need, just at the moment you most need it?

8. Get out into nature.

Could you go somewhere beautiful and be reminded that beauty is possible? Could you go somewhere peaceful and be reminded that peace is possible? You don’t have to make these times especially reflective, but I do often find that I’m led to more reflective thoughts when I’m surrounded by trees or water. Jesus instructed his disciples: ‘consider the lilies’ (Luke 12:27). When I look at trees, I’m reminded that God knows every leaf. He has nourished each one, causing it to grow. I’m reminded viscerally of God’s providence. Would something like that be restorative for you?

9. Consider legal options.

Would taking legal action be appropriate for what you’ve experienced? Not every incident of domestic or family violence is an illegal act, but there might be legal recourse available to you. You could contact your local Police area command and ask if there is a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer available to speak to. You could also speak to someone from a Community Legal Centre or Women’s Legal Service.

Asking for advice doesn’t lock you into taking further legal action; it can simply make you aware of the options available to you.

10. Prioritise sleeping, rest, and recovery.

If you are in an abusive situation, or coming out of one, you’ll probably need more sleep and rest than usual. What will help you with that? Perhaps speaking to a GP will give you some pointers.

And on the topic of rest: Give yourself a break. A fun break. A ‘no reading about this’ break. A ‘no talking about this’ break. You may be used to pushing yourself to do what you ‘should’ do, or have been forced to do. But what is your mind and body and spirit telling you to do? Is it saying you need rest? Is it saying you don’t need to spend all day thinking about what has happened? It’s good to heed those voices.

11. Consider specialist psychological help.

Again, talking to a GP is a good starting place for working out what might be needed. It’s important to find someone who understands the particular nature of the abuse you’ve experienced, so ask for recommendations for therapists with expertise in domestic and family violence, and trauma. Crying Out For Justice has some good tips for finding a counselor.

Many women’s shelters and refuges have outreach and counselling services, offering specialised and practical support to victims of abuse. These are available to women even if they do not require accommodation support.

12. Create new norms.

Establish new customs for yourself and/or your children. Holidays and special occasions such as anniversaries can be particularly hard. If you’re aware of events or other things which might be triggering, could you create new customs which avoid those things, and which actually bring joy or comfort to you? You can choose to initiate new customs on these days such a BBQ with close friends or a holiday out of town. 

Healing is often a frustrating process. It’s neither simple nor easy. When I consider the pain and trauma that many of us have experienced, I find comfort in the words of Revelation:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) 

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2).

These words tell me two things:

  1. Healing is coming. It is coming surely.
  2. Healing is what God wants for us. It is possible, because it is his business, his intention for the world.

May you find the healing that God wants for you.

Erica Hamence is an Assistant Minister at Barney’s Anglican Church in Sydney, and a part of the Common Grace Domestic and Family Violence team. Photo by Jonatán Becerra.

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