It all comes together.
Abuse. Devastates. People.
Not just the abuse that involves hitting. But abuse in all its forms – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,Psalm 31:7-10 (ESV)
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
David suffered from his own sin (vs. 10) and the sin of others as well (vss. 7-8). I want to focus on the sin of others as David presents it and the affects on him as God’s child.
David was a man of war. He had many enemies.
But, he wrote that it wasn’t just enemies who lived across geographical boundaries that sought to kill him. There were those who sought his destruction through emotional violence (their words) as noted in Psalm 55.
His speech was smooth as butter,Psalm 55:21 (ESV)
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.
These were enemies who he considered at one time to be his friends. And their abusive words deeply wounded David.
The Affects of Abuse
Those who seek to downplay the affects of emotional or spiritual abuse as opposed to those of physical abuse fail to understand the full witness of Scripture. They minimize what the Bible does not minimize. It is evident in Scripture that the wounds caused by all types of abuse are injurious to the person spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Those who have been emotionally abused can almost always point to physical affects in their lives. It is customary to discover physical ailments in those who have been psychologically abused by bosses at work and husbands or wives in the home. It is the norm, not the exception.
In fact, David makes it clear that the wounds of emotional and spiritual abuse deeply impact the physical well-being of man and so are physically ruinous. It is our failed Western thinking, not the Bible, that has created a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical. This dichotomy has made for war between the Bible and psychology (and neurological sciences) in many cases.
“Bullying [abuse] has shown effects on the victims’ mental and physical health, resulting in concentration problem, headache, sleep disturbance, and altered eating habits and timings.”Mariam Ciby and R.P. Raya, “Exploring Victims’ Experiences of Workplace Bullying: A Grounded Theory Approach,” Vikalpa: The Journal of Decision Makers 39, no. 2 (June 2014): 75.
Interesting, it seems like I read that in the Psalms (Ps. 102).
I interviewed a young woman several years ago who suffered under a toxic pastor/boss. She worked in the women’s ministry for the church for several years. She described her experience this way:
“I was under so much stress that I was having migraines every two out of three days and throwing up in the middle of staff meetings. I developed an autoimmune condition and insomnia. I ended up in counseling for depression. Now that I am in my new position, I find it very hard to connect emotionally with anyone at church. My new boss is a good, godly man, but because of my last experience, I am still walking on eggshells. I am afraid to make a decision about almost anything, personal or professional. I still struggle with depression and insomnia and I have nightmares about my old boss several times a month.”Jackie
There was no physical abuse involved in Jackie’s experience. But she was beat up by a toxic leader and suffered physical ailments from his emotional abuse.
Making Much of Emotional Abuse
I often hear individuals, either in person or on blogs, complain about making much of emotional abuse. Generally these folks either lack empathy or are suspicious of empathy as some kind of soft-headedness that is inappropriate for Christians.
But “love your neighbor as yourself” means ethically that you seek to treat others as you wish to be treated. Turning this around, you have a feeling of what others must feel and do not want it for yourself.
“According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word empathy was first employed in 1922, when a need arose to translate a German word in the field of aesthetics (einfurlang, ‘to feel in’). The original intent of the word empathy was to convey how projecting oneself into a work of art (painting, sculpture, theater) would enable a viewer to appreciate better the creation being observed…Empathy, ‘to feel in,’ therefore, was intended to be an advance over old-fashioned concepts such as sympathy or compassion, which mean only ‘to feel or to suffer with.’”Friedman, Edwin H. (2007-02-01). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Kindle Locations 2501-2503). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Friedman was not particularly fond of being empathetic. He encouraged a certain stand-offishness to those who suffered so that you might remain rational and unaffected, making decisions devoid of emotions. [see Self-Differentiation: Standing with Wisdom]
However, the Word does not give us that pass.
What do David’s words mean – his “body” and “soul” “waste away?” It is important for us as Christians to understand the effects of abuse psychologically because the study involved in this discipline has helped us understand these words. It is the study of the brain (that is relatively new) that has brought it to light. If we have empathy we can grapple with the suffering that abuse of all types causes its victims and respond effectively.
Victims are impacted in every part of their person by all forms of abuse. Emotional, spiritual, physical – all types of abuse traumatize the whole person. Emotional and spiritual abuse change the brain’s functioning. And it is not supposed to be that way. It is contrary to how we were made (Gen. 1 and 2).
If you have been part of the team “Minimizer,” please reconsider your playbook. Consider how you want to be treated, and work for the protection of those who are being treated that way.