Survivors invariably say that family members, friends in the ecclesia and out of it and the abuser tell them, “Surely it is time to move on”, or words to that effect.
Here is where we all (and we count ourselves in that number) need to “walk a mile in their shoes”.
Firstly if are not victims we don’t know the severe mental anguish and overwhelming challenge that abuse makes on their everyday functioning. The effects of constant fear, regular intimidation, belittling and insults through verbal, emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse are a serious onslaught to bear and the effects on mental health are well documented.
When we have had no experience with mental illness in addition to no experience as a victim of abuse we compound the difficulty we face in understanding the situation of a victim. People with mental illness can find many day to day tasks difficult and many people around them cannot understand it. Recognising that perhaps the abuse happened many years ago, and now their abuser has left them and they are safe does not stop them being affected. We have been told by victims of nightmares years after they left their abuser. We have been told that they still love and want to share life goals with their abuser 8 years after he has left them and remarried and had a child. We have been told by one victim of abuse that the taunts of her abuser from 14 years earlier still framed many of her decisions about socialising - she says she had believed him and they had become part of her psyche all those years, yet they were profoundly detrimental to her finding a happy life.
It is never our position to tell a survivor or a victim how they should feel. Supporting them requires we listen closely to their story about the impact of abuse on their lives and give them credit for the most difficult decision - to leave their abuser, whilst never minimise the extent of the emotional and psychological impact and being understanding that it is real and difficult to overcome.
But lest we think the impact is just about mental health and balance even a cursory understanding of the plight of a Godly person who has been abused will help us empathise with them. No doubt they had plans for the relationship - God-centred plans for a shared enterprise, heirs together of the grace of life, bringing up a Godly seed and ultimately sharing eternity. When their partner in this enterprise demonstrates that the fundamental basis of that relationship (a shared love of God and His ways) is missing, confusion and grief begin to set in. When it is clear none of these things (often) are realistic goals anymore because they have had to leave their abuser it is understandable how the level of loss and grief is extreme. When others around them do not understand and they find that perhaps the ecclesia doesn’t know how to help them, or they find themselves trapped and unable to report their abuse to others this just exacerbates the problem.
This is why it is vital that we recognise that counselling, particularly if it can be provided by Christadelphian counsellors, and if not that other Christian counsellors who might understand the victim’s faith, is an important part of helping survivors. We have heard some survivors say that they never truly recover, but rather the abuse has had life-long impacts, even when they had good psychological support.
Let everyone involved - ecclesia, family and friends, encourage survivors to get professional help as early as possible and at the same time as providing them safety and any other material needs they have and understanding spiritual support. If they are not ready to face attending ecclesial meetings, we can support them with private memorial meetings, for instance. Their children may need normal socialising with other children which can be arranged in smaller groups than the bigger ecclesial groups whilst they are suffering acute effects from the separation. And let us remember that we must provide them as much time as they need to get over the serious effects of grief and suffering in their lives.
We know the Father cares for all these little ones and promises to lift them up. May we be the humble and prayerful vehicles of His love.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.