Needing to Feel Safe: Going to same church as abusers

Recent posts addressing my blog stalkers seem to have brought them back out of the woodwork, which was predictable.  Hopefully I will now be able to heal faster because I told them what I did, and because I have not allowed them to intimidate me into silence.

(No, I don’t want to end up like the lady in Sunday’s Hoarding: Buried Alive, who has spent my entire lifetime–39 years–still stuck in her abusive childhood, and began hoarding because of it.  The main reason I write memoirs/blogs, and put past experiences into fiction, is to deal with this stuff and get it out so I don’t end up like that.)

When your husband keeps encountering them at the store (and going the other way), and you keep seeing them driving past you, not just a few times during the two years since your breakup but twice in the few days since you wrote such messages, you start to wonder if they’re following you or if your city is just too dang small.

(The same thing happened with my ex Phil, too, constantly seeing him drive or walk past me, making me wonder how often it was just coincidence.  Wondering if he parked right next to my apartment building, which I believe was against the rules for commuters, on purpose to rub it in my face that he had a new girlfriend just a couple weeks after we broke up.  But this is no college campus, this is a city of some 40,000 or 50,000 people, with thousands of cars driving these city streets every day.)

But at least they behaved at church on Sunday.  At the very least, I have to feel safe at church.

That’s what all abuse/bullying victims need when they go to the same church as their abusers: to feel safe.  Otherwise, they will stop going there because the stress is too much, the chance of re-victimization too high.  This contract addresses this: When the Abuser Is Among Us: One Church’s Response to a Perpetrator

This particular article refers to a case of sexual abuse, but the idea can be adapted to the needs of an individual situation.  Some quotes:

I explained that there is always a desire to push for speedy forgiveness and reconciliation, but that the church’s goal must be to be a naming and healing congregation, to model living with integrity. I identified three choices they faced as a congregation.

1)  Naming versus denial. Naming creates the environment for providing support for both the victims and offenders, allowing the congregation to work more openly and effectively. It requires saying, “Sexual abuse is a sin. If sexual abuse has happened among us, it is our business.”

2)  Offering safety or doing nothing. Of central importance was comforting and protecting victims, as well as working to prevent further violation. To the victims, they needed to say, “It was not your fault,” and “We are sorry this happened.”

3) Accountability or collusion. I explained that in responding to the abuser it was essential to focus on behavior, not characteristics; otherwise we may succumb to the great temptation of identifying with the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s pain instead of being focused on the victim’s pain.

Identification with him can mean that we feel anxiety over his being called to accountability and may prevent us from doing what he most needs.

Within Christian communities there is often confusion about calling to accountability in that we think that being loving and Christ like is releasing someone from their sufferings, rather than saying, “I will be with you as you experience the consequences of your behavior.”

…..I then read these powerful lines from Judith Herman: “All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.”

I suggested that churches that are bystanders will be seen as churches for abusers. In fact, it turned out that some congregational members were disconcerted by the lack of response by the church leadership.

I asked where has Jesus’ voice been heard in all this? Where does our faith call us?

The congregation could either welcome the abuser, ignoring his behavior and thinking it was nothing that they had to do anything about (especially since it had now been adjudicated in court), or they could address his behavior, saying,

“Abusive behavior is a choice and I hold you accountable for it. We care enough about you to hold you accountable for it. There is a part of you that desires a better life, a healthier relationship.

“We will be an ally of that part of you that gravitates toward change, but we will continue to judge that part of you that resists change and hurts another.”

…..Message to the Perpetrator:
Abusive behavior is a choice and we hold you accountable for it. We care enough about you to hold you accountable for it. There is a part of you that desires a better life and healthier relationships.

We are an ally of that part of you that gravitates toward change, but we will continue to judge that part of you that resists change and hurts others.

We care enough about all people who desire access to this Christian fellowship to establish these guidelines for your access so that everyone may reasonably expect freedom from direct and indirect hurt.

I found this one day while Googling for others’ accounts of what it is like to see your abuser again, whether at school, church, in your family, around town, whatever.  What I found is that it is perfectly normal to not want to see that person again who has hurt you, to feel rage, to want them to go away. 

And why should you feel otherwise?  This is natural instinct, to be wary and upset around your abuser, even to lash back like a cornered animal if they try to hurt you again.  They’ve hurt you before, so they’ll probably try to hurt you again.

We need to listen to that instinct rather than those who try to tell you that you need to reconcile with this person, relax, whatever.  It can take many years to heal from the repeated traumas of being abused or bullied, but even then, we still need to be watchful.

Childhood bullies may just need to grow up and mature, but oftentimes, bullies do not grow out of it, while abusers often continue justifying their actions for the rest of their lives.  If we forget our past with that person, we could be re-victimized and have even more issues to work through.

Another article on that website, Structures of Forgiveness in the New Testament, has an interesting view of forgiveness as it relates to abusers and the abused.  In fact, there are various resources on that website dealing with church responses to abuse.

Also see It’s Perfectly Normal to Dread Seeing Abusers Again, Seeing Abuser is Rough for Abuse Victims, Especially When Abusers & Enablers Blame the Victim: Annie’s Mailbox, Fighting the Darkness: Seeing the abuser again, and Fighting the Darkness: Mutual Friends.