Abuse is a horrible situation. The very word abuse may trigger shudders in you. Yet it is often a subtle situation as well. It’s not all hiding bruises or screaming matches. Many people experience emotional abuse, rather than physical abuse. Learning how to recognize the signs of abuse is important.
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
If you can recognize toxic behaviors and abusive tendencies, you will be better able to help comfort those who are healing from abuse. You will also be able to recognize when that is happening in your own life. Living in denial about the subtle signs of abuse is common. You may choose to ignore red flags because you fear what will happen in the future. Ignoring abuse allows it to become worse.
Some common but hidden abuse that can happen in homes:
These abuses can come from parents or spouses, or in rarer cases, from adult children to their senior parents.
Signs of financial abuse
Dishonesty about finances is a big sign of financial abuse. In marriages, one person may hold all the metaphorical purse strings. You may see some people cut off credit cards, tell you what you can and cannot buy, and there are generally unhealthy spending habits. If you are unable to have healthy finance conversations it could be signs of greater relationship problems.
When there is lying about purchases, hiding debt, taking away wallets, credit cards, etc. these are signs of financial abuse. If someone becomes defensive or angry when discussing finances, that could be a sign of abuse. An abusive parent may not teach financial responsibility to a young adult. An abusive spouse may be hiding or preventing you from financial control. Finances are important to stable relationships.
How to address the abuse
- Plan regular budget conversations.
- Use a budgeting app.
- Find people who can hold you accountable for your goals.
- Seek financial counseling and a better understanding of finances. Signs of
Signs of emotional abuse
Depression can be the result of many situations, including emotional abuse. If you cannot go to your spouse or parents for emotional support that is a red flag. When the abuser is constantly asking for another chance, and apologizing for their failures. If you feel the need to overcompensate by talking about how great things are, you should evaluate why. When the image of a relationship does not match how you feel about things.
Emotional abuse can look like your emotions being belittled or dismissed. When you find you are unable to relax around your spouse or parents it can be a subtle sign that they are in some way abusing you. You may be rationalizing their behavior, explaining it away. If you feel that you can never meet expectations because they are unclear, impossible, or the goal is constantly moving.
You may feel that you don’t have a way to express your feelings in a way that will be heard. Having a safe place to feel sad, angry, or happy is necessary for healthy relationships.
How to address the abuse
- Find people you can trust, people who will listen to you without expectations or judgment.
- Pay attention to your feelings around people and situations.
- Set boundaries with people who expect you to live up to their expectations.
- Remember that you are not responsible for maintaining someone else’s reputation
- Connect with a counselor to process all your emotions and learn how to handle them healthily.
Signs of mental abuse
When you feel overwhelmed or constantly out of control this could be a sign that you are being manipulated and abused. If you would rather be anywhere but home, and when you are home you feel that you are on the defensive there could be some controlling abuse happening. Perhaps your parent or spouse must always have the last word. You could be in a gaslighting situation when someone is telling you things are one way when you can see that they are not.
If you are not allowed to have any input on decisions, large or small, then you could be in an abusive situation. When you feel that you need to keep secrets or hide aspects of yourself, there could be mental abuse happening. Constantly trying to please or seek approval, and never feeling that you are pleasing your spouse or parents is a sign of a mentally abusive relationship.
How to address the abuse
- Remember that you are beloved by God, and you do not have to earn his favor.
- Find a counselor who can help you work through reasonable expectations from a spouse or parents.
- Learn what you can control and don’t try to meet impossible standards.
Recovering from abuse
When you find yourself working through an abusive relationship, know that it will be a rocky road. Learning how to set and stick to boundaries is challenging. But God has promised to bring comfort to those who seek it.
At that time young women will dance and be glad. Young men and old men will rejoice. I will turn their grief into gladness. I will give them comfort and joy in place of their sorrow. – Jeremiah 31:13
I have seen their behavior, but I will heal them. I will lead them, and I will provide comfort to them and those who mourn with them. – Isaiah 57:18
Some relationships characterized by emotional abuse can reach a point of forgiveness and healing between parties. The abuser may be able to see the ways they have failed and do their work to grow and heal. Whether they do or not, it will be helpful for you to practice being forgiving. You can forgive and still set boundaries. But holding onto grudges and hurts will make it harder for you to heal.
This punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, so now instead you should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. – 2 Corinthians 2:6-8
Helping others recover from emotional abuse.
So I again considered all the oppression that continually occurs on earth. This is what I saw: The oppressed were in tears, but no one was comforting them; no one delivers them from the power of their oppressors. – Ecclesiastes 4:1
Sadly, there will always be people who abuse others. Whether it is bullies on a playground, parents in a home, spouses with control issues, or dictators in the world. As a Christian who knows how to recognize abuse, you should seek to bring comfort and help to what situations you can. Abuse happens in the church as well as outside of it.
When you start to hear about concerns from people in the church take those concerns seriously. Learn what is available in your community for practical assistance. Be patient with the process of mending difficult relationships. Be willing to help establish boundaries when necessary.
God has called you to love your neighbors and you can do so by not allowing abusive people to hurt others.
“Sad”, Courtesy of _Mxsh_, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Computer Work”, Courtesy of charlesdeluvio, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wooden Figures”, Courtesy of Charl Folscher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Grief”, Courtesy of Matheus Farias, Unsplash.com, CC0 License