Domestic Abuse & Purity Culture
Season 3: Episode 4
Warning: For adult audiences only. We advise listener and reader discretion.
Domestic Abuse and Purity Culture - EXPERT CONTRIBUTOR Beth Broom - Season 3: Episode 4
Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I'm the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God's redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.
Last time on the Safe to Hope podcast I spoke with Anna as she shared how her circumstances progressed, and how any hope for her marriage diminished as more abuse occurred and her husband showed no signs of repentance. Today, we will be hearing from our Expert Contributor Beth Broom. Welcome to the podcast, Beth.
Thank you so much, Anne Maree. I'm excited to be here.
I'm grateful that you could spend some time interacting with me on this story.
For those of you who don't know, you should, but Beth is a licensed professional counselor, supervisor and Certified Clinical trauma professional.
She has a private counseling practice and works primarily with married couples, vocational ministers and survivors of abuse. Beth is the Executive Director of Christian Trauma Healing Network, a nonprofit organization that offers resources training and collaboration to Christian mental health providers, as well as pastors, lay counselors and advocates. And you really do need to get to know Beth and her resources because they are rich.
But So for our purposes today, by way of reminder on the Safe to Hope podcast, the storyteller names have been changed in order to protect them and those associated with their stories. The HelpHer ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people helpers so integrity is one of our concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us. And again, before we begin, I'd like to share that with our audience that there might be some things that we discussed that can be triggering. So if you're a victim or survivor, we just want to let you know that our conversation about Anna's story might be hard to hear at times, so maybe find a trusted friend to sit with, or someone you could talk to in process after you've heard this podcast. And also some of what we talked about in Anna's story might be considered more appropriate for adult audiences. So we advise listener and reader discretion.
So Beth, I given your official introduction, but maybe tell us something about yourself that could help the audience get to know you, your journey, your counseling, anything you want to tell us?
Well, I'll keep it brief, because I want the focus to be on Anna’s story. But I will just say I grew up in a conservative Christian home, I became a believer at a young age, I was nine years old. And we were the family that was always in church.
But I also have a history of sexual and emotional abuse as a child and a teenager. And so the overlap of my Christianity and my trauma was a huge part of what led me to want to help others. As the Lord was helping me and coming alongside me in my struggles and my suffering and bringing healing to my life. I found such gratitude in that; such worship, and there became a deep desire to learn how to walk alongside others in a way that is full of compassion. And that's not shaming. And for my own heart, I wanted that I also have a deep desire that the church be a really safe place for survivors of trauma and abuse. And so it's been a mission for me for many, many years. And such a pleasure and a privilege to get to come alongside people, hear their stories and and share with them and I keep growing all along the way as you probably are, you know, you're the same. It's just we continue to grow as we learn from those that were ministering to you.
Grateful for how you have turned your situations around and comforted others in such a big way. So thanks for your care for people in the church.
So talking about our story today, we heard a lot of hard things from Anna, in the last episode, but she also really helpfully fleshed out some things we often just simply use words to convey maybe because we're used to the language you and I would just throw out words like shame. But Anna helped us understand that from a real person experiencing it. She quoted Kurt Thompson, and that shame tells us a story. And Anna was very ashamed, particularly about what was happening in her marriage. And in her marriage bed. I won't call that intimacy. But let me just play something for you right now. And let's listen to some of the things she said that shame was telling her and then I'll have a question for you.
So some of the things that shame told me about myself during this time was that I was untrustworthy, that I didn't have the wisdom and discernment to avoid abuse. Honestly, I still struggle with this one at times. I struggle not to blame myself as I missed red flags or saw them and still chose to stay or when I hear others ask how people can stay in abusive relationships. When I would have suicidal ideation, and my husband would share that out of context with ministry leaders, shame reinforced the feeling that my emotions were not to be trusted. Shame told me that I did not have dignity or honor or respect from my own body, or as a woman, worth something, and not a doormat. It told me that I was secondary to my husband, and then I was to defer to male opinions, and especially his. Shame told me that I didn't have a voice, to keep myself small meaning to be meek, which I know that this is something that is in Scripture, and that Jesus Himself called us to do but in my case, and I think for a lot of women in the church, meekness is a biblical truth that gets applied inappropriately. And shame told me that I was to compare myself to other women, especially women who were wives and mothers and be just like them. It told me that I was a failure and at fault if I couldn't have a marriage like what there's appeared to be.
So much that it taught, her shame taught her, but I want to ask you, Beth, where would you even start in directing someone like Anna, and the story of shame that we ran like a record on repeat in her head?
Whew, well, I want to give Anna a hug. If she, if she allows it. Ask permission, I want so much for her to recognize how normal this is. These are, these are normal things that survivors of abuse victims of abuse, experience and feel. My clients say such similar things to what she said. Many of my clients, if not most of my clients will say similar things about what the story that shame is telling them. Shame actually really loves to keep us from moving forward. So it'll tell us things to slow us down or even even stop our growth, I like to tell my clients that shame is the number one growth killer. Like it'll just sit you right down in the middle of your journey. That's what it wants. And so counselling is really a great place to start to get familiar with the voice of shame. And I try to provide hope in that way that okay, you're you're noticing that voice. Let's call it what it is. Let's name it for what it is, it's shame. And let's get familiar with that voice. Because then we can map out what it's saying and how it's influencing our behavior, our relationships, the way we see ourselves, the way we see the Lord. And we can get curious about what it's telling us knowing that it these these thoughts are coming from a legitimate place, not necessarily a truth place, right. Like this idea that you're not making enough or you're not submissive enough, that may not be coming from a place of truth, but it is coming from a place of legitimate feelings based on the circumstances that you're in. Right. Like if you have someone who's telling you these things, and they're forceful in their position of influence in your life, and you're, you're expected to believe them and respect their words, then, of course, those things will land on you in a pretty deep place. So we want to get familiar with the voice of shame. We want to be able to map out what it's telling us and how it's influencing us. And once we recognize the voice of shame, we can start to see it more clearly for what it is. This is not God's voice. This is not the way the Lord speaks to you as a loving father. These are not things that a loving Heavenly Father whose love is absolutely perfect and steadfast will speak to you. And it's not for our best some people think well, shame is, sort of keeping me on the right track, so to speak. It's helping me to make sure that I follow the rules or do what I'm supposed to do. But it actually is is not it's it's a it's a we'll talk more about this in a little bit, I think, I hope but it's meant to keep us slowed down to try to keep us safe, but ultimately, it's actually inhibiting our growth and our freedom. So I really want my clients to get suspicious at… curious first, but then suspicious about the voice of shame. I'm not really sure that voice is telling me the truth. I want to consider other options. I want to hear a voice of hope. I want to hear a voice of life. And I want to pay attention to those voices. So I'm really hoping my clients will see shame’s, voices something other than their own identity, they don't just swallow it and ingest it. They actually have questions for it. “Hmm. Wonder if that's actually telling me the truth”. And so that's work, good work that we do in counseling, and then I give them homework to do that, to keep doing that work to keep sort of investigating and paying attention to what that voice is saying, because we can't trust it. We can't just automatically ingest what it's saying.
Yeah, good point. Be curious and suspicious and back it up against truth. I also asked Anna, though, I wanted to know what that shame story told her about hope. I mean, that's what we're talking about on this podcast. That's where we where we try to get to, she said, it meant that this was all there was. This is as good as it gets. And this quote, unquote, being life with her abusive husband.
Judith Herman writes about prisoners, and how they learn to restrict and suppress those kinds of thoughts. They suppress hope, especially hope, or anything related to the future. It's just too unbearable, and the disappointment too intense. Scripture gives us a framework for what's happening here. Proverbs 13:12 says, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ So hopelessness as Anna described, in her marriage added to a desire for God to let her die. I mean, that's how far it went for her. And I know for many right.
Hopelessness impacts the body, the heart, the stomach, the mind. So what does whole person care look like for these totally hopeless people?
That's a big question. And I always like to say that we're talking in generalities here. This is why actual real people who are compassionate sitting in front of you is so important, because I can speak in generalities, but you are a unique person who has unique needs, right. So every person who's listening if you're a survivor victim, your needs are unique in some ways, and general in other ways, right. It's helpful to go okay, here's some general principles to think about. But then also, I want to actually sit in front of a real person and have conversation because and that's what I'm part of what I'm going to say about whole person care is having this idea of what does community look like? What does it look like for you to receive individualized care and help. But yeah, it's a big question. And Anna, Anna has, from what I can tell from her story, she has a somewhat of a sense of community, she does have some loving Christian friends, church that would potentially come alongside and support her, even though there are blips on that radar, obviously, hard things along the way. And being able to have that church family have a few trusted friends is so important, but it's really hard to get. And it's also hard to keep in the persevering road of what we're talking about, which is a long road, right. Like you may have faithful friends in one part of your journey, who struggled to persevere in that or who, you know, they eventually start to say things like, “Could you just forget and move on?” Or ”Could you just, you know, like, I wish you could just forgive and forget”, or whatever, you know, sometimes people say out of their own fatigue, in, you know, caring and coming alongside. And so victims of abuse, again, back to this voice of shame, will hear the voice, that voice shame voice telling them that they can't ask for help, they can't show weakness, they gotta keep pressing on. And one aspect of whole person care is just being able to seek out people who can come alongside, again, this is really hard to do, it's easier said than done. But if you don't have access to these kinds of people in your circle of influence, that's something to consider. Is there a support group that I could join? Or is there a ministry that cares for victims that I could join and begin to interact with other people who have tools and not just tools, but compassion, which is a quality, an inward character quality, right of I can come alongside and I want to do that. And I mean, the hardest time to find support is when you most need it, right? So that's a really difficult thing. And I just want to call that what it is that if you've been really isolated, which many, many victims of domestic violence have been very isolated from community, so then trying to get that after you've not had it, and you're in this state of great struggle and suffering, it's a really hard thing. It's a risky thing even to seek that out. And so I just want to validate that but I also want to say there are ministries that are designed for people who are in down in the middle of it, but they need support right away. So that might be a good option. And you know, I don't know Ann Maree if these are things that you share with with your podcast, listeners resources and things like that, because sometimes your immediate church family is not always the safest place to go unfortunately. Sometimes, you may try something thing and you're met with victim blaming or something like that, and that can really be devastating. So I think it's, it's good to have these other resources that are that are also a possibility. So whole person care means having support. You are never meant to walk the road by yourself. Nobody is, but especially not the root of suffering. And I even think about the proverb that says a brother is born for diversity, right? It's our adversity, not diversity, our brothers born for adversity. So this idea that true family is arm linking, we link together, when there's adversity, we come together, and we walk a hard road, and we weep with those who weep. And we bear one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. So this is super, super important. That's one thing. I also, when I work with clients, one of my favorite things to do is to really think creatively about how to let the light in. And that's a phrase that I will use, sometimes it's, there's so much darkness with abuse, right? It's so dark. So how do we let the light in what are the points of light, that bring beauty and bring joy into life, kind of like, plants need sunlight, right, we need beauty, we need joy. And it's really hard to find in seasons of this kind of suffering. So it's important that we look for that. And clients sometimes really need a lot of help with this, right? It's hard for them to imagine or think about joy and beauty, when there is so much darkness. And so we brainstorm together, we'll maybe make a list of activities, sensory feelings, things that cultivate beauty, and it's hard to do. So I usually start by giving some examples. And then maybe they can start to get creative about what would be on that list. And so examples might even be something simple and short, like going outside and standing in the grass. And taking a deep breath. Now I live in Texas and as we're recording this, it's summertime. And so I don't do that right now, I have to find an inside activity that cultivates beauty. But but but something like that, that's even small. Taking a deep breath, holding and drinking a hot cup of tea, and smelling it and thinking about how it feels on your tongue and going down your throat, listening to my favorite song going for a drive things that, that feel free and joyful. These are activities that develop the muscle of agency, the word agency means I am I am created in the image of God and I have dignity and worth and value and he's actually given me dominion. Because I'm a human person, I have dominion, I have dominion in my sphere. I can't control what happens outside my sphere, other people all that, but I have dominion over how I function in this world and the choices that I make. And so that's an important point that we spend a lot of time talking about. And you know, my clients think I'm crazy sometimes, because I will say, “What are your you know, what are your hobbies? What do you love?” And often they'll say, “I don't know, I don't, I can't, I haven't been able to think about that stuff for a really long time”. So we just get creative, and we come up with things, maybe what did you use to enjoy? Or like, what was something you liked as a kid? And I love that, because I've had clients who, who say things like I played guitar when I was a kid, but I haven't picked it up in 10 years. Well, you know, just maybe just get it out and look at it. Like, I don't know, just start somewhere where you're trying to think again about what it's like to be you in the best form of yourself. And so I think that's really, really important. As we think about whole person care,we need that element of beauty as we're doing hard work. And then connection with the Lord is the linchpin. If you think about the most important thing, it's the anchor point. So if you are a believer in Christ, you need to experience the love and compassion of Jesus on a regular basis; we need to be experiencing what it means to be a believer. And so how do we position ourselves in front of Him such that we are in a, we're in the place of receiving His love, His care, His comfort in the midst of our struggle? And again, my clients often don't really know, what does that look like? How do I do that? So we practice it together. I may read a short part of a Psalm that talks about, I love Psalm 121, He's your keeper. He's your shade at your right hand. And I'll just say, let's envision that being under a shade tree, and how that feels in the summer. And let's talk about it. What does that feel like? And do you know that that's your that's your heavenly Father? That's how he wants to protect and provide for you. And of course, there are many conversations we end up having about, well, what why does it not feel like that? Why does it feel like He's abandoned me, of course, those things come up. And we talk about those things as they happen. But just even the being able to consider the goodness of God, the love of the Father for us in the midst of our struggle is a huge important piece in terms of whole person care. And there's so many more things I could talk about, Ann Maree. So I know we could talk about this just by itself. So I'll stop there. I don't know if you have other thoughts, but those are kind of some main things that I really wanted to point out.
Yeah, and I've heard you talk about these before. So those are the things I wanted you to emphasize. But even as you're talking, and there's something I've been learning just very recently, that I'm so excited about is recalling to mind times when you experienced something, it could have been hard, or it could have been joyful, but you connected to it, both with your body in your body, you felt like maybe it was a jump in your heartbeat or your stomach, you know, was in your throat or something like that. But you also were able to connect that moment to God, like it was only something that God could have ordained happened. And when I sat down to think about what those things were I have pages of them, and I love to just sit and think about those, what I call God moments. So even if you like what you're saying, even if you can't think forward to what's joyful, what could be sensory, pleasing and helpful in this situation, you can recall, you can use memory, which is the most often repeated commandment in Scripture. Remember, remember, remember, anyway, I was thinking about that as you were talking, but also I'm learning it with this next question in a book that I'm going to bring up.
We have been talking now about the devastating impact of what Jim Wilder and author describes as toxic shame. That's what we've been talking about. And he brings that up in The Other Half of Church, the book, The Other Half of Church. And so we, as counselors and people helpers want to help victims and survivors experience the opposite of what they've experienced, right, for their healing process. So something I'm just recently learning as well is about how shame can be used for good, which was just shocking to me, and specifically, how that can happen in community. So I have two questions for you.
Can you help our audience understand the differences between good shame and toxic shame? And two, what is the importance of community for healthy shame?
Well, I want to start with, think about thinking about shame, as an experience, a moment that includes a feeling, okay, because what we have been talking about, so in Anna's story, when she says, “I believed these particular things”, that's a thing that happened. That's a process that shame takes us into that begins to dig into our identity. So I'll talk about that in just a second. But the the moment of shame and experience of shame, that includes a feeling that something is something is wrong, right. So let's just baseline the feeling of shame says something is wrong in me, something is not good, right. That feeling compels action. Most, I mean, our feelings do compel action. But shame is a very deeply compelling feeling. So let's think about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they experienced shame in the garden, it compelled them to do something two things actually, they hid and they sewed fig leaves together. They made decisions out of that experience of shame based on what they believe to be true. But what they believe to be true had just been shifted by the serpent, if you remember, he questioned the character of God. And that shifted their, what compelled the behavior that it was compelling them to do so. So maybe they they now believe what they didn't believe before? Are they they're wondering, or they're curious or suspicious? Is God going to hate us now? Is He going to punish us? Is He going to kick us out? Is He going to kill us? So now we have to hide, right. So that feeling of shame then compels an action based on what we believe, right. So their belief had shifted about the Lord, and even about themselves based on the serpent's temptation. And so I want to start with that baseline, then then what I want to say is, first of all, toxic shame is rampant. Toxic shame is is everywhere. I think I feel like I see it. When you start to see it, you can’t unsee it, right. It's just it's everywhere in our culture, it's in the church, it's in us. And I think it's because the devil knows how well it works. He knows it works well. So if you can give me a compelling reason to believe that God doesn't actually love me, or welcome me as His daughter, I will be much more prone to run away from Him than towards Him. When I sin or when I'm sinned against, right. If I've if I've got a compelling reason to think, oh, God's not for me, then of course, I would run away. Of course, I wouldn't run towards Him. Healthy shame, on the other hand, would happen if I feel ashamed, so the sense that something's deeply wrong, and then I make the choice, I'm compelled to go towards God, who can remind me of my true identity in Christ, who can lead me towards life who can comfort me in my affliction? Again, this is this is really hard to do, it's hard to run to the Lord, it's hard to run to hope, if we have false or negative beliefs about ourselves or about God or about people, and this is why it's good to work through these things. Because we want our feelings of shame to lead us to His throne room instead of away from Him into our, what I call our wilderness times or our wilderness is right, the wilderness of I'm unworthy, I'm unloved. Nobody cares, God could never forgive me, all of those things are my wilderness. Right? And I need to pay attention to when I'm tempted to wander into the wilderness instead of towards the Lord. So healthy shame would hopefully compel me towards towards God, towards community because I recognize that even in that sense of, “Ooh, something's wrong with me”, the answer is not to hide. The answer is to go to the Lord who is safe, go to people who have demonstrated that they are trustworthy, that we can actually open up to and share with and that actually, I don't know if you've experienced this listeners, but when I am willing to open up and share a little bit, the shame doesn't have power, any like that feeling doesn't have near as much power as I had before, right? Because I just revealed something that would have normally sent me into my wilderness; into hiding. And so I want to just say that just like somebody can become overwhelmed with anxiety or with depression, right, it's the feeling that then can lead to overwhelm or lead to something deeper, in the same way, we can be overwhelmed with shame. And then it can become like carrying around a heavy boulder. That's what I could hear in Anna's voice. This is like a heavy boulder that I'm carrying around with me everywhere I go, it becomes more than just how I feel in a moment, it becomes who I think I am as a person. Right? It becomes a part of me. And this is not how God designed us to live. I mean, Jesus said, “I came that you may have life and have it to the full. I came for freedom.” Christ has set us free, He wants freedom for us. So it's not His will for us to live within this identity of shame, which I think that if when we talk about toxic shame, that's what we're talking about where it becomes. It's the voice that we are hearing most loudly, the voice of shame. And it compels us to hide and to run away and to feel isolated and to feel unworthy. And again, I think a healthy community you asked the second question was how can community play a role? Healthy community can help us think about our shame. If I'm in a small group of people, and I'm able to say to them out loud, “Yeah, my shame voice was loud this week, when I such and such whenever this happened, I yelled at my kids”, for example. And immediately I heard the voice. “You're a terrible mom”. And I'm tempted to believe that I'm a terrible mom. And if I can say that to some, some people that are trustworthy, and they can respond with not just, “oh, yeah, I get it. I'm there too”. But more. “Thank you so much for sharing that. How can we pray for you? How can we lean in towards you?” Then suddenly, my shame is not as strong as it was before. Because I have people that are reminding me of who I am in the Lord and that I'm still loved. So in order to parse out whether shame is healthy or toxic, I think we need to be able to get curious about what's going on in our hearts and in our bodies and our minds. And curiosity is best cultivated in community, because we actually it's like, you remember in school projects where you had where you brainstorm together, and you come up with better ideas. If you're with other people cultivating curiosity and creativity is something that's best done in community and then you've got people with you who can support you as you're working through those those hard questions of who am I? Who is God? All of that.
Very good. Very helpful descriptions. The word condemnation kept coming to my mind it just condemn, condemn, condemn, right. Where you're saying, “No”, it can it can lead to life, it can lead you to turn and go toward the Lord. Thank you.
So what types of questions can someone ask the people in that trusted community that might help them discern if it is a community of people who will welcome brokenness and tough questions, even questions that might be tough concerning their relationship with God? Or just be patient with the messiness of life. What kind of questions would you think of?
Well, first, I want to say, isn't it… Isn't it kind of, it's just a little tear. It's terrible and sad, that we, as survivors, or those who are suffering, end up having to try to cultivate something that might not already be there or try to coach the people around us to know how to come alongside us in a way that's compassionate and caring. That's just hard. And it's sad. So I just want to call that what it is. But I think before even we ask the question about what kind of community are we looking for like the philosophy of the type of community that's helpful in seasons of difficulty, suffering, brokenness?
I want to just think about observation. So I want to be an observer. And I, I do this, even though I'm not actively in a season right now of suffering, but I remember being in a season of suffering and joining a new church, and I'm watching. I'm just paying attention to what's happening in the community. Are there people in positions of leadership and influence who are willing to talk about their own struggles and suffering? And to take their own shame, and bring it forward, even if it's just not in huge ways, obviously, if you're the preacher, you might not tell all in front of your congregation. But that that sign of, of the humbleness of, I'm still in process, and I still need Jesus, people in positions of influence and leadership, who are willing to do that, that is a community that I'm a little bit more compelled towards, right. They're not just slapping a Jesus fix it all label on it. I'm not, you know, I'm when I hear baptism, testimonies. I don't want to hear this happened to me, and then I met Jesus, and now everything's great. I don't feel great about those stories. I’m thinking like, “Are you a real person?” So I want to hear, “I'm still in process. I'm bringing, I'm actively being sanctified day by day, with fear and trembling, I'm working out my salvation”, right. And this is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. And then personally, I'm in a community, are people asking about each other's lives, like really wanting to know, I really want to know who you are really want to know what it's like to be you not just how are you doing on fine, everything's good? And are people asking what other people care about? Are they interested in things that are outside themselves? Right? And again, this is difficult. It's difficult to see on a Sunday morning, right? Because everybody's going to church, they're, they're leaving, they're going to brunch or whatever. And they may not have deep conversations. So sometimes you're not going to necessarily see these things on a Sunday morning in a church service. But if you're in a small group setting, or you're paying attention to conversations that are happening, and you're just you're just listening, I'm that's what I'm doing. I mean, I've been on staff at my church for 13 years, but I still watch for these things like is this happening because this is healthy. So if it's a church community, what kinds of things do they have in place for those who've experienced suffering. I remember I had a client who literally chose the church she was going to go to because she went on their website, she went on several websites, to look to see if they had programs for like recovery, or a list of professional counselors that they recommend or you know, things like that Bible studies that talk about suffering. And she chose a church that she looked on the website and said, “Yes, they have some programs”. Now, that can't be the only thing that makes you choose. But she chose that. And then she went and realized, “Oh, they've put their money where their mouth is.” They've got these things in place, that are there to try to help those who are suffering, but then I go there and I also sense that that's their culture. It's not just something they're doing, you know, out of what this is the popular thing for churches to do, or whatever. So I think that's important. I love when communities offer one on one prayer, and even the opportunity for anonymous prayer requests. You know, the idea of this is important. I want to go to the Lord with you. And so I just think these things are important. Do we lament in services? Do we talk about, do you hear people talking about the importance of abuse recovery, the importance of justice in the face of injustice? All these things. And so those are some things I think about in terms of a church community. And then when we think about smaller groups, whether that's a church group that's small, or, for example, if you're joining into a ministry that works with survivors of abuse or victims of abuse, this is risky, but when you enter into a smaller group setting, and then you notice how people answer questions about suffering, that can really be telling, right? Do people do they lean in and lament with each other? Or do they slap a label on it real quick? Or how quickly do they feel compelled to provide some sort of theological answer or like, let me give you a Scripture that answers your question about why God would let suffering happen, and then let's move on to the next question. Right? So we're looking for this idea of do we do what the Scriptures are we doing what the Scriptures tell us to do? Are we lamenting with one another? Are we bringing our complaint before the Lord together? But keep in mind, I just want to give this caveat. Many, many loving, wonderful people do not know how to do this. Maybe they haven't been trained to do this. Maybe their theological background is such that we've just learned that people who love and trust the Lord, don't struggle with these things. And so that's just kind of the the thing we're operating out of, that's the thing we understand. But the question is, do they want to learn are they open to change? Are they humble in, I don't understand this, I want to learn more I want to lean in, or is it this is just how we do things. And, you know, actually even one of my clients told me one time that she went to a small group, and she was wanting to share a little bit about some suffering she'd experienced. And someone actually said to her, “We don't do that here”. But she said, “Okay, bye”. You know, like, what am I going to do? This is my life right? Now, I need a space where I can talk about things that are hard. And so that's an important concept to think about. But I just want to also say it is risky. I mean, it's really risky to try to enter in and and be in wonder, “Am I accepted here? Am I going to be able to share without being accused of something or being told that my faith isn't strong enough, because I'm struggling so much things like that”, it's hard to find that and it's, you're in a risky time already. And then to enter into community and additional risk. So with my clients when we talk about these things, and I just try to go really slow. And be really patient that yeah, this is this is really hard, it takes a lot of energy. And you already have depleted energy because of what you're experiencing. So let's just talk about it. Do you? Do you think you have the energy to try to lean in towards community, whether it's your church or things like that?
Yeah, it is such a vulnerable place, and so difficult to enter into that, again, when you've been hurt in a vulnerable place. Yeah, yep. Yeah, I hear you recognizing that but as you've said, relationship is so key for the emotional and spiritual health healing. The author of Hebrews writes, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, encouraging one another. And all the more as you see the day drawing near”. That's Hebrews 10:24-25. And it's more than just saying, “Don't neglect meeting together”, it's a relationship. Yet, as I just said, Anna is one of those vulnerable people who had been so harmed in that most intimate relationship. So yes, we are recognizing it's difficult to reestablish something like that after abuse. I was reading on your blog, and you had one in July that you wrote called Growing Toward Relational Health. You said, quote, “Dysregulated emotions can lead to actions and create isolation from others”. And we talked, we talked about that a minute ago. But so we want to work toward regulation, okay, so what might you suggest for starting to regulate, and you can choose, whatever one of these you want to any of the big six emotions, sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust, or despair, anything you want to say there?
So yes, I would love to talk about just this idea of awareness. So regardless of what the emotion is, regulation of our emotional states, especially states of distress, begins with being able to gain awareness. So true awareness can't really happen if we're really quick to judge our emotions through a moral lens. So I spend a lot of time talking with my clients about this, especially those folks that grew up in church and man, they're pretty quick to slap a label on to their feelings. But let me give an example. So if I feel fear, and then I immediately judge that fear as a lack of trust in God, or as Oh, I'm such a control freak. Like if I do that really quickly, I'm stopping awareness in its tracks. I don't need awareness anymore, right? I've already decided that the reason that I'm afraid is because I don't trust God, or I'm a control freak, something's wrong with me. So there's, there's a linkage to something moral that's happening in my soul, but feelings are signals. They're just signals, and God gave us feelings on purpose. So we need to be able to do something with them beyond just quickly make something some something moral out of them so that we can hurry up and make those feelings stop. And, and that's really what we're trying to do right is to bring relief. And ultimately, relief doesn't happen when we slap a label on something and shove it down or push it to the side. We actually are just, you know, the idea of shoving something down is that eventually, if that's, you know, you shove down garbage long enough, it's going to overflow, eventually, it has to go somewhere. So emotions can ramp up our energy sometimes, and sometimes they can sap our energy to where we sort of feel numb or really low or exhausted. And so I want to think of it in those terms. So like emotions, like fear and anger tend to create this bodily distress. You can notice it in your body. You're breathing more quickly, your heart's racing, maybe you're sweating, your muscles get tense. These are these, this is a ramped up kind of emotion. Anger is and so is anxiety and fear. So I call this overstimulation and I try to give my clients if we're going to label something, let's label it in a non moral way, because this is literally just a signal. This is not control freak, I'm being a control freak. This is I'm overstimulated, okay, I my body is overstimulated, my mind and my emotions are, are ramping up. So what we need is to settle things down. And sometimes that means that we release this energy, we need it, we need to release it, it's sort of trapped inside of us, you can feel that, right. It's like electricity. When I'm when my adrenaline gets going, it's like I have electricity in my body that needs to get shot out somewhere. And so if you're feeling a lot of energy, you really need to do something that that releases that energy. And so I talk with clients about this, we I asked them about their experience of, for example, anger or anxiety. And I say, you're feeling all that energy trapped in your body, let's let's experiment with some ideas for how to release that energy in a way that's helpful, healthy, doesn't hurt anybody, right? Like, we're not going to punch a wall. Because you could you could injure yourself, you could also cause damage to your wall that costs money. So what can we do to release some of that energy. So we come up with ideas, my favorite, because you can do it while sitting in chair is to just squeeze your hands together as tight as you can, for like seven or eight seconds, and feel the muscle, even in your shoulders, your hands everywhere, and then let it go and take a deep breath, and feel the release of that energy. Push ups against a wall or even push up on the floor. Slow push ups that require a lot of physical energy can sometimes release energy from the body. And once you do an initial release of energy, then you begin to try to take deep breaths and settle your system down. So breathing can literally be like driving a car, if you push the accelerator. And what I mean is breathing faster and faster, that ramps your body up more. But if you pushing the brake is like taking a really deep breath and letting it out, it pushes the brake on your system and allows your system to calm. This is scientifically proven, we're not talking about something that we're just experimentally trying like they've done all these studies about how breathing actually slows down the emotions, but also the body to a state of calm. So it's really it's a, it's a helpful thing to do. If you feel this tension in your body, you need to release that tension and then try to calm the body. But other emotions like sadness, shame, despair, these often cause like a shutdown of our systems. So I've heard people describe it, like, “Oh, I feel just completely numb”. Or it's like, “I'm not even here anymore. It's like I'm floating outside my body, I'm not even present, I can't think about anything, I just am like a blank slate”. So these are all signs of kind of the way emotions sometimes can shut us down. And so we really need to wake back up if that's the case. And so if that happens, I think of things like great, maybe I need to do some physical activity, I needed to do like 20 seconds of physical exercise, run in place or something, you know, mountain climbers, something to get my body going, maybe I need to take some quick breaths, instead of slow breaths to push the accelerator right to get my body weight woke back up again. So these are just things that can happen. And again, this is why it's helpful to be able to meet with somebody because with my clients, there are some things that they try and they don't work well at all. And there's other things they try, oh, that's the thing that actually helps me wake my system backup. Great, then now you have a tool that you can use when you're out in the real world, and you experience distress. And so these are just, you know, common things that can be helpful. But regardless of the distressing emotion, it is coming from a legitimate place. So I want to just say that. Our emotions signal us for a reason. Even if there's not danger right in front of me if I feel danger, I have a reason that I feel danger. It's not just a misfire, that's random, right? It is there is an actual reason that I'm feeling that thing that I'm feeling so ignoring it or slapping a moral label on it, like, “Oh, I just don't trust God today”. That's not really helping us. It's just delaying. And it'll come back if we don't actually pay attention to it and process it. We need safe places to do that without judgment without sort of like the quick moral label that we throw in things so that we can actually understand that's coming from a real place and where is that place that it's coming from? It's telling me something important, and we need to pay attention to those things.
Yeah. And again, words that you've said before awareness that was so helpful and letting it direct us toward God. I think those, that is exactly my my thought. I don't know why we have emotions. They are meant to do something. Direct toward God would be a great thing. Anyway, so thinking about trust, again, or lack of trust and the feelings of betrayal, which Anna also talked about as being so prevalent in abusive relationships. I'm going to play. I'll just play another segment from my time speaking. And let let Anna, speak to this, and then I'll ask you a question.
But about five months into being separated from him, I discovered that he had been speaking to some of our mutual friends and all of his family and saying to them, that I was abusive towards him, and that I was such an angry person, that that made him feel forced to treat me the way that he did.
Just hearing that again, I remember when she told me it was so crazy, because I know she was talking about… he strangled her. What does a wife do that forces a man to just strangle a woman? Anyway. Again, reading on your blog in May, this this past May about reestablishing trust, you said, “It stands to reason that a person should be able to trust their partner with the most vulnerable, vulnerable parts of herself. Trauma survivors often struggle to trust other people, even when betrayal hasn't occurred, because their memories may tell them that trust is impossible”. That was really helpful thing to sit and meditate on. Anyway, as we hear in Anna's story, it wasn't just her husband who became unsafe to trust, because of his reframing of their story. Can you talk a little bit about what it takes for a victim to grow in trust again? And also at how we as counselors and church leaders, and people helpers can assist the survivor with that.
Trust is like a muscle. So if we think of trust, like a muscle, it's not automatically going to be strong, it's built over time. Right? So, and additionally, if that muscle has been damaged, in some kind of way it needs to heal before it can lift any kind of heavy weight again, an example that I give is when I when I messed up my knee, I mean, I'd been using my knee to run and extra play with my kids and jump on the trampoline and all these things. And it was it was bearing the weight of my body. Well, it couldn't do that after it had been injured, it needed to have a brace around it, and it needed physical therapy, and it needed time to heal. And then eventually, it could begin to bear weight again, and the same is true for trust. And I just, I think that's just so important because when we've been harmed, we tend to create this, this happens this is another thing I talk with my clients a lot about categories, rigid categories in our minds that we create for what is safe, and what is not safe. Why do we do that? Because our minds need to create order, they need to make sense of the world. And I don't have time or energy to think deeply about people, I need a quick answer to whether a person is safe or not safe, right. And I'm thinking in the aftermath of abuse, and you know, great betrayal and trust has been broken, I'm trying to create categories that make sense. So I'm trying to, I want to normalize that for our listeners, this is a normal thing that we do, we create categories. But our categories can be very, very rigid, because we're trying to stay safe, right? We don't want this horrible thing to happen again, or we don't want to repeat the awful things that have occurred. So it's really normal but what can happen is that we get this list of qualifications for what makes a person safe to trust, right, we have a list in our minds. And sometimes that list can get really long if we're honest, right? Like, it takes a lot for somebody to be in my safe category after I've been abused. And so this all makes sense. And I'll spend time with clients just giving them a lot of space to grieve that. To grieve the fact that now I have this long list of things that make someone safe, which means hardly anybody safe. Or maybe nobody's safe. Because of all the awful things that have happened. And before we even try to deal with that I just give space for let's call that what it is, let's lament that. That should never have happened. You should never have have had to create these strict categories. That's not God's design. And it shouldn't have happened. And so we spend some time doing that. And sometimes I spend hours, entire sessions, months of sessions maybe with clients just listening and validating the pain of betrayal. And I think that's a really important piece for for church leaders. We really want to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible, right and get in there and try relationships again. But think of the analogy of my knee if you're tempted it's like this knee needs a brace it needs to be immobilized, it needs some time, it needs some physical therapy before its weight bearing again. So I think that's really important. But as we grieve this loss of trust together, we can start to look at the categories themselves. How do we define relationships? What makes a relationship safe and unsafe? And then what I'll do with clients, and this is after I've built a lot of rapport, so I don't do this immediately, but I'll say, “Okay, I'm gonna, I would like to, with your permission, give you a different perspective on on this, I'd like to walk around the other side of this thing and talk to you about it from that angle”. Because what we want to do is question the rigidness of the category. Can we at all create doors and windows for this box that you have people in, right? Can you create some doors and windows or even just crack a tiny little window open? Like, what would that look like? So we start to talk about the rigidity of the categories, we start to brainstorm ways that we can start to give a little bit of flexibility, a little, a little opening of the window, or a peeking open of the door. And we start to do that. Now, let me let me say what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that we change our minds about boundaries we've created between ourselves and unsafe people. I'm not talking about that, if if there's a boundary that's been created between you and your abuser, that is not what we're talking about. I'm talking about people that are potentially in the safe category, right? That's what I'm talking about. So what I'm saying is, we can even do something small, like make a list, I do this with clients, let's, let's brainstorm two, or maybe three people in your life who've demonstrated kindness to you. Who've demonstrated perseverance and some understanding, maybe not a ton of it, but just a little bit, just enough where you say, I could hang out with him again, right? And then what we brainstorm we do is brainstorm ways that we can take steps towards being just a little bit more open with these people. Maybe something even a smallest sending a text to say, “Hey, I'm having a rough day, could you pray for me”. I found that my clients struggle even to do that. That's a hard thing to do. Right? Ask for help. Ask for prayer. Just mention your own name to someone or like, put it out there that here I am. And I want to be your friend. That's a hard thing to do. And so we start in those ways we start with maybe just reaching out. And maybe coffee is not… it's funny, I had one client that said, I wish people would stop saying, I should take my friends to coffee, because that's so intimidating a whole hour sitting with you. I don't know what we're going to talk about. I don't know how much to say, Great. What if you do a shared activity? You know, and one of the best things I have, I have this client who's so incredible. I've worked with her for three years, so incredible. And she has these moments of just hugely creative ideas. And she said, she came to me one day and she said, “Beth, I did something that I never thought I could do. And I loved it”. And I said, “What was it and she said, I joined a book club at the library”. And I said, “What? That's amazing what happened”. And she said, “nobody asked me about my trauma. Nobody asked me to share prayer requests. Nobody needed me to like expose, you know, my garbage to them. They just asked me what I thought about the book we read, it was awesome”. I said, “Oh, what a great first step” right? To just go try to be with people and take take a risk, but a healthy risk, not a risk that's like jumping off a cliff. So we start to have these ideas and think about ways to to get creative with community and with relationships. And all of this is wrapped up in the truth that we are hidden under the shadow of the Lord's wing that’s Psalm 36:7 He hides us in the shadow of His wing, He is our strength, He is our shield. And we just keep asking Him to show up. We just keep asking Him to give us wisdom and strength and courage, the amount of courage that I need to put one foot in front of the other today, would you give that to me, Lord, and remind me that you're with me? Because these are difficult things? These are really hard things to do. And, and we we should never as helpers, just think, well, “I can do that. Why can't you?” That's a that's a that's a self righteously judgmental thing to say, right? It's, well, no, you are where you are. And if you're if your knee is busted, you certainly can't go run a marathon. So we want to be really slow to do these things. But we want to do them in time and through patience.
I just love listening to you. And love, I love how you think I mean, the very creative and I know it was your client that thought of that. But what a great idea. There was no prayer requests, didn't have to talk about trauma, excellent idea. In such small incremental steps that can, they're doable, they're just doable. So I love how your brain works. I mentioned this, about this question that I'm going to say right now, but a little bit earlier when I was talking about remember being one of the most oft repeated directions in Scripture. 271 times actually. More than, ‘fear not’ more than, ‘do not be afraid’ or even, ‘be happy’.
And once again, we are helping and victims who are broken by memories of some of the worst kinds of fear making circumstances. Awful, awful, horrible things. And so, you and I know this, but we'll talk about it for the sake of our listeners when when they remember it. Like when and is even telling our story, they often re experience it, which is what we call triggers. So again, we want to help them remember and and thereby experience something other than those horrendous experiences. We don't, we can't erase what happened. We're not trying to erase their memories. We aren't trying to get them to forget. In this book, and I'm not I'm not sure how I think about this book yet. I just started it. But in The End of Memory author, Miroslav Volf writes, quote, “so from the start, the central question for me was not whether to remember. I most assuredly would remember and most incontestably should remember. Instead, the central question was how to remember rightly.” So triggers are actually evidence of how God created our bodies perfectly to adjust to our environment, again, like feelings, emotions, and then act accordingly. So we want to help the victim move forward toward healthy remembering. I know you encounter this often. So I'm asking, Anna talked about it being difficult to heal from those memories. Can you speak to us a little bit about that?
Here's how I explain it to clients. Traumatic memory gets stuck in the wrong place in our brains. It's it's, it doesn't get filed away the way the way most memory does, right, something happens to you, you file it, you can remember it, you can pull pull that memory as needed and refer to it, but it's filed away. That's not true for traumatic memory. Think of it almost like a car that gets stalled out on the highway, right. It's just sitting there and everybody's having to like maneuver around it or is running into it. At any given time it can get in the way of your functioning. And so it's gosh, that's so frustrating, right? Like, what is happening, traffic is all backed up, because this car is sitting stalled out on the highway, it's messing up everybody else's schedule. That's kind of how it feels. Super frustrating. But so putting in memory, putting memories in their proper place, sort of being able to file them away, so to speak, is a huge part of the work that I do as a counselor with my clients. And I want to say that, if we look in Scripture, we see David grieving the abuse that was committed against him. He's doing that in front of the Lord. He says things like, “I'm pouring out my complaint to you.” So he's being very honest, he's grieving. And he's lamenting before the Lord abuse committed against him. And we do that in our sessions. We spend time lamenting, we call things what they are, because that's what God does. He calls things what they are, He says the truth and we want to say the truth. So we speak the truth about what has happened. And not just what has happened, but also how it affected us how it's how it's compelled us in particular directions, how it's caused, I now I create these categories for what makes a person safe or unsafe, I need to grieve that. The things that I feel the things that I noticed in my body, the pain that it causes me, I need to say those things out loud. And as we do this work, we see the memories more clearly. I watch this happen over and over again, if you think about a traumatic memory, like you're looking at it through a tunnel. It's like tunnel vision. And I see what happened. And I made meaning of it when it happened. And since this has happened, I've made meaning of that. But it's not, and it may not even be the wrong meaning. It may not even be that I saw it wrongly, it just may be that I didn't see it completely. So as we grieve, we start to grow. I call it peripheral vision of the truth, right? We may or may have seen the truth before but now we see it more fully more clearly. In the same way that if you're a believer, when you first became a believer, you knew a little bit about the Lord, you had a little bit of your sanctification under your belt. And as you grew as a believer, you knew more you had more truth, you had more wisdom you grew and sanctification. The same is true of as we think about our memories, we're able to gain that peripheral vision of the truth, where before we may have only seen a fraction of it and this is this is long term healing work. This is not quick. I actually was just corresponding with somebody who wanted to be on my counselling waiting list and I told this person I don't have a way to know when I'll have an opening. And the reason is because trauma healing work is long work often clients will see me for two or three years and not because we're not making progress. And we're stuck. It's because we actually are making progress but it is that kind of progress. It's think of it like trying to walk through the mud rather than just walking on a on a flat road. It's slower. It's harder. It's messier. Right? So it's long term to healing work for sure. But in the short term, because we have to, we're doing that deep work. But we also have to think about how do you function today? Right with with triggers happening with memories coming forward and intruding on your on your day? What do I do, because I can't, I can't wait to do something with that I got to do something with it. So in the short term, we do talk about how and when triggers will show up. We work on stabilization in the moment of distress. So similar to what we talked about before, when you have these distressing emotions, what are you doing with those things? Let's brainstorm some ideas for how to calm that emotion that's really big and overstimulating, or how to wake up if you feel shut down. And we, we spend a lot of time trying to work through those things. And I, one of my goals is to help build confidence in my client, in the person that's sitting in front of me that she is not the sum of her feelings. The feelings that she has, even if they're huge, the distress that she experiences, the triggers that she has. This is not who she is at her core. These are things that are right in front of her face. And so they feel very big, and they are very big, but they don't make up the sum of who she is. And I spend time talking about that your circumstances, your feelings, your history, these things, don't compile who you are as a person. You are beautiful, you are worthy, you are a blood bought daughter of the King of kings, and you are meant to soar. You are meant for freedom. You're not. And we're not. We're not making a huge list of what it means to be fruitful or to be thriving, we actually just already, because we belong to the Lord, because He's given us His own name to put on ourselves, every single day, just by putting one foot in front of the other we are walking in the strength and the the fullness of who God is. It doesn't feel like it but it is what He's given us for today. I like that Moses, Moses says in Psalm 91, “established the work of our hands”. So the whatever's in front of me today, Lord, would You instead establish it, even if it's just I'm getting out of bed, I'm choosing to go to work, I'm choosing to engage with my kids, I'm trying to make decisions. All of these things include the fact that we belong to the Lord, it's, it is a part of who we are. So if you're, I just I feel like I just want to say this Ann Maree, if you're, if you're a victim, if you're a survivor, listening to this podcast, the Lord wants you to soar. He has every intention of bringing you to completion. He has every intention of of sustaining you and keeping you and bringing you out into a place where your your foot is firmly established on the rock and you're not moved. And no matter what you're doing in the day to day, this is who you are before the Lord, you're a daughter of the King, you're you are a victor, you are a conqueror. And this is because of who He is and how He has made you His own. It's not based on the little things you do every day. So that voice that tells you, “Oh, you're not actually because you didn't do everything you were supposed to do, or you didn't finish your list or you hurt you know, you yelled at your kid” or whatever it is, you know, no, I'm, I'm a daughter of the King. That is my true identity. That's the firm foundation that I am standing on. And praise God for His adoption of us as as His children, because he's given us a new name. He's given us a new identity. And what that means is that these, these other voices that tell us were something different than that, we can know for sure. That's not the Lord. That's not the voice of my master.
You know, I'm articulating the, the mission, I guess, if you will, of the podcast. Yes, you are. We are victors. And that's where we're headed. And now how do we live today in light of that? You know, awesome, amazing, significant truth, right? So, thanks for helping our audience understand our mission and goal here too. And honestly, I could sit and learn under your teaching, you're such an easy, it's so easy to learn from you, I should say. So I appreciate that you have given us your time. I know you're very busy. And now here you have a waiting list for counseling, which is also good to know. But thank you for every bit of information that you've provided our audience and myself with. You are yeah a counselor I look up to as far as all the contributors have just made me feel like I need more education. Anyway, thank you for being with us. And thanks for your willingness to help build expertise in our listeners for carrying well for victims and their and the survivors.
Well, thank you for having me and I'm so I just feel so honored. I'm a very visual person and I just imagined the faces of those who will listen and just want you to know that you are loved. The Lord loves you.
That's all we're going to discuss for today. Next time on the Safe to Hope podcast we are going to hear one last time from Anna and she will be summarizing some of the ways God met her in her circumstances. We look forward to sharing some of the beautiful ways Anna heard from Him in His Word and knew Him more dearly from the circumstances. Thank you, sweet friend.
If you want to know more about the dynamics of domestic abuse go to Called to Peace.org or, and or Darby Strickland's book Is It Abuse? is excellent for both victims and church leaders for identifying the patterns of abuse.
In addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson's book, When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders and make sure well first of all, follow Beth on everything on every platform she speaks on her website.
I will say I'm not great at social media, but Christian Trauma Healing Network is the organization that we lead and you can go to CTHN.org or find us on CTHN through Instagram and Facebook.
And lots of great free, even, resources. But bigger news, make sure to preorder or put on your wish list the book called Caring for Families Caught in Domestic Abuse: A Guide toward Protection, Refuge, and Hope
which is releasing September 14 of this year. And that's written edited by Chris Moles and written by Darby Strickland, Joy Forrest, Greg Wilson, Kirsten Christiansen and Beth Broom. So we'll be excited to see that resource come out.
Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.
Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you'd be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you'd like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That's help her resources.com
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