Sunday, February 13, 2011

Standing Up, Speaking Out

I know two things: first, we are made in God’s image and we break one another's hearts when we forget that.  Second, all that is needed for evil to succeed is for those who see it  to stand by and say nothing.

I do racial reconciliation work.  That alone classifies me as a bleeding-heart liberal.   So be it.  I do a small part of the reconciliation work by standing with brothers and sisters of color against racism and prejudice.  As a white woman, I do most of my racial reconciliation work with whites who, like me, live lives based on the many privileges we enjoy because we are white.  Not surprisingly, it's a whole lot easier to convince white people that racism hurts people of color than to lead them toward the knowledge that racism hurts whites, too.

I do another kind of work.  As a woman who lived for many years with systemic familial abuse within my marriage, I also help other women recognize abuse.   I learned that abuse happens in every level of society, even among the rich and privileged.  Many women are afraid within their most intimate relationship and unsafe in their own homes.  

That was me.  I began this work when my own situation fell apart and I was in shock.  On that day I resolved to find my way to the truth about our marriage and family that had always been covered up.  Once I found the truth I began to tell about it and I went on talking until people I knew lined up into two camps: those who believed me and wanted what was best for me, and those who wanted to shut me up and send me back to the abusive relationship.

I have a story to tell.  It doesn't matter what others think of it.   If I can help just one woman recognize an abusive situation and successfully stand against it, I will count a lifetime of work worthwhile.   

Because it turns out the kindest women among us, the empathetic ones who hold themselves responsible when they hurt the feelings of others, are often at high risk for abuse. Abused women are not always helpless women with few options in life, but they are often women who have stopped believing in themselves.  They internalize the denigrating messages they hear in their intimate relationships.   Funny how the root of the word  applies here, isn't it?  One sort of abuse is very much like another; understand one and you begin to understand them all.

As much as I would like to think otherwise, there are people who cannot see the image of God in others; who are intentionally hurtful; whose hurting intentionally goes on behind closed doors so nobody will see and call them to account.  It is easy to become an apologist for abusive people  because they are tormented souls.  It defies comprehension to learn that abusers want the comfort, but despise the comforter.  They can’t see a single thing except their own need!  Except of course when they snap out of it for a time and show something like kindness and compassion to others;  a kindness directed almost always toward someone who will be impressed by it and expect nothing in return.   

I recall the words of Mother Teresa, who said it is hardest to love those in your own family.  It’s certainly true.  But if you or someone you love simply can’t treat a spouse with kindness and empathy, if contempt is served up with your daily meals and you walk on eggs in your own marriage…it’s time for a hard look at what’s going on.  You could be participating in an abusive relationship.

Nobody belongs in that place; I don’t believe God requires it of us.  Incredible as it seems, getting out and moving on is not the worst thing that can happen.  Wasting a lifetime serving as the scapegoat for the sins and furies of a dysfunctional partner, is.  Allowing a partner to denigrate you before the children until all respect for you is gone, is.  Pretending as if your marriage and family life is normal, and expecting the children to pretend not to see what they plainly do see, isIf you can't do another thing, at least try to stop doing that.

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