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By Julie Cole

No one begins a relationship hoping to be abused.

Abuse, however, is happening at an alarming rate. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

That means that every day we encounter people who have experienced or who are currently experiencing the pain of abuse. Maybe you are one of those people.

While some abuse leaves a physical mark, the bigger blows most often hit the self-worth, emotions, and thinking of victims and leave behind a pain that feels impossible to control or forget.

But there is hope for healing.

Over the past three years, I’ve been honored to lead several small groups of women who have experienced some form of abuse and are bravely walking through their healing process. While each person’s journey is unique, there are steps to take toward healing that enable any victim to find the full freedom God provides.*

  • Establish Safety

When a person is in an abusive situation, it takes every ounce of energy to survive. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to have the capacity to explore deep emotions and work toward healthy intimacy when he or she is still living in a dangerous situation. For any person trying to help an abuse victim, the first step for healing is helping that person find safety. More information on forming a safety plan can be found here.

  • Choose to Face the Truth and Feel

Once a victim has found a safe environment, the body usually senses this and feelings begin to surface. This experience can be terrifying because the person has spent so much energy trying to keep the pain down. They fear that once they start feeling the pain it will never stop. Coping mechanisms that numb or ignore painful feelings aren’t easily discarded. Some of these, such as addictions, bring further damage. Coping mechanisms bring only temporary relief. Making the deliberate choice to trust God and lay these coping mechanisms down and face the truth is a process that requires a huge act of faith.

  • Tell and Feel the Story

Abuse victims often know how to tell their story in a surface way that reports key facts but stays away from the emotion of it. This tendency minimizes the importance of what happened. By slowing down, telling the details and connecting to the emotion, victims acknowledge the gravity of what was done and begin to feel for themselves. This openness to feeling enables them to connect with God’s care for them in a deeper way. The outline of their story begins to get colored in. This step is usually done with a counselor or in a supportive small group.

  • Identify Distortions and Reclaim God’s Original Design

Satan uses abuse to embed lies within a person that come to feel like reality over time. If unchallenged, lies such as “No one would ever love me if they really knew me” or “God hates me” distort a victim’s life. It may take a pastor, counselor, or friend to help identify these lies because they often function at a subconscious level and keep a person from receiving God’s truth about who they are. The enemy’s lies distort God’s original design for a person. Often the very traits that were shamed or taken advantage of are gifts or talents God placed in a person. For example, a young woman who was shamed for “thinking too much” may find that as she heals, her passion for deep thinking and pursuing education returns. God is restoring.

  • Repent of Deadness and Denial

Numbness and denial are human ways of coping through situations that feel too painful to face. These defenses can become habitual ways of living that block the ability to trust God. For instance, a victim may subconsciously keep herself from trusting too much in happiness because “it will only bring disappointment.” Surrendering these places to God as He shines His light on them brings deeper healing and increases the capacity for joy.

  • Mourn the Loss and Dare to Hope

While denial minimizes the damage of abuse, mourning responds honestly to what happened. When mourning happens in connection with God and a caring community, it actually opens the door to hope. A victim can eventually look through his or her painful history into a future filled with hope.

I am consistently amazed that as deep as a person is willing to go into her or his pain, God is waiting there ready to heal and restore. This brings a wholeness that connects a person to herself or himself, to others, and to God.

*These steps and much more helpful information can be found in the book Mending the Soul by Steven R. Tracy.

About The Author

Julie Cole

Julie Cole is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an Open Bible minister desiring to inspire people to connect with God and to see His hand in both the miraculous and the mundane. She serves as the Associate Director of Vocational Development and as an adjunct professor in undergraduate counseling at The King’s University in Southlake, Texas. She and her husband, David, live in Trophy Club, Texas, and have four children and four grandchildren.