How can I overcome the pain of past abuse?According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, to "abuse" is defined as to: "1. use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse; 2. treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly." Abuse takes place in many ways and is a distortion of a person or thing's true value and purpose. For example, medicines can be extremely beneficial, even lifesaving, but when they are used improperly, that is substance abuse and it can lead to death. There are many types of abuse, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, substance, and spiritual. Many forms of abuse can be connected at the root to the abuse of power and authority. Abuse is always wrong because it deviates from God's true purpose for a person or thing.
Childhood abuse is especially traumatic, because it affects how children will view the world and themselves from that point on. Abuse disrupts the victim's identity, sexuality, self-worth, and trust. Many times, abuse is perpetrated by someone in a position of power or natural authority in the child's life, someone they should be able to trust. Many times, abuse victims have great difficulty in relationships, even healthy ones, because of the abuse they endured in the past. Abuse is generally other-inflicted (physical, verbal, sexual, etc.), but it can also be self-inflicted in cases of self-harm or substance abuse addictions.
A lot of times, abuse victims feel incredibly worthless because of how they have been used and mistreated. They feel ashamed, like it is their own fault they were abused. They may feel that there is no hope for them moving forward. Nothing could be further from the truth.
At the very beginning of creation, we see that all humans were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). When God looks at us, He sees His own image within us; He Himself originally defined who we are. This image can be marred or distorted, but through Jesus Christ, we can be born again (John 3:16–18). We need to be saved. In Christ, all things can be healed and made new: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21). All things can be healed and made new in Christ, but this process takes time.
Recovery from abuse is not something that can be rushed; it may feel like overcoming an addiction or rewiring the brain. Memories of abuse cannot be magically erased, but as we surrender our pain to God, He renews our identity and those memories do not hold the same power over us that they once did. Jesus restores our souls (Psalm 23:3).
It may be difficult for some abuse victims to feel as though God can be trusted—He might seem like just another angry being who is impossible to please. Or abuse victims might question: if God were truly good, how could He have let me be abused in the first place? When Adam and Eve sinned, the world was cursed and now groans under the weight of it until Jesus returns (Genesis 3:17–18; Romans 8:22). The Bible says that God does not tempt anyone to sin: "God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away" (James 1:13–14, NLT). Instead of running from God due to fear or shame, abuse victims (and all of us) need to take steps to develop a close personal relationship with Jesus. When we pursue God, we will get to know Him and His love on a deeper level, the kind of love that led Him to sacrifice His own life for the sake of ours (1 John 4:19; John 15:13). He is the friend who is closer than family (Proverbs 18:24).
When people have been abused, it tends to define their value in their eyes; it's all too easy for them to believe Satan's lies about who they are and who they can become. Unlearning these lies and replacing them with truth takes time and should be done with the help of a qualified Christian counselor. A godly counselor can help abuse victims to see their experiences through the lens of God's truth, forgive those who have caused them pain, and move ahead in their life from a position of strength. Learning and believing God's truth restores a right understanding of God and of self, both of which are vital in overcoming the pain of abuse. Forgiving those who have caused great pain (i.e., the abuser) restores power to the formerly abused (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness does not mean condoning the behavior of the abuser, nor does it mean removing appropriate civil and judicial consequences for the abuser. But forgiving those who harm us does help to remove false shame and open the door for trust and love in our lives. The abuser no longer determines the life path, worth, or future of one who has been abused—Jesus does.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the pain and effects of abuse can be overcome. We can have hope that God dignifies those who have been dehumanized by abuse. As we submit our pain to God, He vindicates us, makes us strong, removes our shames, and silences the guilt that tries to invade (Isaiah 50:7–9). Jesus is the Truth that sets us free (John 8:36).
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