October is National Domestic Abuse Awareness month so this topic seems apropos. Clearly if there is a whole month devoted to something it indicates that it’s a pretty serious and common problem in society. How tragic…
For Catholics this can be particularly challenging. After all, our Catholic faith has a pretty strict view of marriage and its indissolubility. It’s a very good thing…it gives us a sense of the serious nature of marriage, helps fortify our commitment and keeps us persevering through the tough times.
We also have a whole theology of suffering and offering up our pains in union with the cross. Also a good thing…let no suffering go to waste. There’s power in it when united to the cross.
But what are you supposed to do when “tough times” cross the line into abuse? Should you just take it all and offer it up? Do you need be compassionate because the abuser had a tough childhood?
You may be compassionate, but that can boomerang back at you and get ugly. Abusers know how to use that compassion as a weapon against you and keep you in emotional chains.
You may wonder if you’re actually being abused…are you overreacting? Would the priest see it the same way? Too often after years abuse, you may have been manipulated into thinking the problems are your fault, that you deserve such treatment or that this isn’t actually abuse you’re dealing with.
So let’s define abuse. It can be physical violence, sexual violence, mental, or verbal put downs and manipulation or even financial control. The hallmark of abuse is control. This graphic from the National Domestic Violence Hotline breaks these out in better detail.
So I want to speak to those living in abusive situations of any kind. You do not deserve abuse. Let me repeat that…you do not deserve abuse. If you’ve been in an abusive situation for any period of time, you may have trouble believing that. That’s what abuse does to a person. It plays with your head. It destroys your self-esteem. It isolates you. But I’ll tell you again…you do not deserve abuse. Abusing another person is an affront to human dignity and to God who loves and died for us.
If you are in an abusive situation, please reach out for help. Call the National Domestic Abuse hotline. There are support groups and experts in abuse that can help you. Attending a group and listening the others in similar situations can help you see your situation more clearly.
Talk to a priest for spiritual support. Yes, the sacrament of your marriage should be respected, and a solid priest can help you explore the legitimate options for you. There are times when leaving is the right thing to do…but that should be undertaken with prudence, both with respect to your safety (it can be dangerous getting out of the clutches of an abuser) and with respect for the sacramentality of your marriage.
This is something I’d like you to think about seriously: You have an obligation to protect your own health and safety (both physical and mental) as well as your children’s. But you also have an obligation for the soul of your spouse…and enabling or accepting abusive behavior may facilitate their route to perdition. Consequences here for their abusive behavior may be the only thing that can help them turn from it to save their soul in the long run. Think hard about that.
This book, Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, is one of the best I’ve read on the subject and I strongly encourage anyone who is suffering abuse, who knows someone in an abusive relationship or who, as a therapist, works with people in abusive relationships, to read it. His decades of experience in working with abusers is invaluable and his insight that it’s not their childhood wounds but their thinking that fuels the abuse is spot on. Truly a must read.
Again, for Catholics, addressing issues of abuse and navigating your options can feel especially challenging. Reach out to one of our Catholic therapists who respect your faith and your marriage and can help guide you in addressing and recovering from abuse.
Pray with perseverance and with hope. Our God is a God of healing and restoration. No situation is too complicated for Him, no mess too big that He can’t clean up and no soul too far gone that He can’t redeem. In these battles and struggles, the Rosary is the weapon as well as the balm for all our wounds. Hold it tight and expect miracles.
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Allison is also the Founder and President of www.CatholicTherapists.com, a nationwide network of dedicated Catholic therapists.
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