What is abuse?
Have you given this question much thought? I hadn’t, I really hadn’t, until about a year and a half ago. Obviously we all have some concept of what “abuse” is, and we probably separate it into different categories: “Sexual abuse,” “physical abuse,” and maybe “mental/emotional abuse.”
Great. So you have some categories. Maybe you could write a definition. But would you know it when you saw it?
I don’t know about you. I don’t have a good answer for that. I think that I would be more likely to recognize abuse than I was a couple of years ago. I think I have a better idea of how abusers and manipulators behave than I used to. I’ve met a few and read about more. Still, there’s room to learn more.
Here’s a hypothetical for you: What would you do if a friend’s daughter came to you and told you her parents were abusing her? How would you respond?
Would you be inclined to take it more seriously if it was one form of abuse than another?
I’m going to assume that many would take very seriously accusations of sexual and physical abuse (although that is by no means a given; you can find many stories of pastors and Christian friends ignoring kids’ complaints of these kinds of abuse, too). But what if the complaint was harder to evaluate?
How would you respond if she said her parents’ abuse was mainly in the form of emotional abuse? Maybe her parents frequently yell at her and berate her and use guilt and manipulation tactics to control her. Would you think that was serious?
Maybe, but maybe not. It seems that a common response is to tell girls* to suck it up. Some sympathy might be forthcoming, but it’s quite possible that the friend or authority figure being appealed to would encourage the girl to simply look on this as her cross to bear.
Of course, there is some legitimacy to this. We can’t all run away from difficult family situations. Everyone has to put up with some unpleasantness at home. There will be sin in every family. We’re all human.
But not every family situation is alike. There is a difference between a loving family environment with some strife and a family environment characterized by strife and misery.
It is possible for someone to live in fear, to feel trapped and alone, without being physically harmed. This being the case, thoughtful Christians have a duty to educate themselves on this kind of abuse and learn how to respond with wisdom and love when someone is in need of help. I’m not entirely sure what all this may entail, but I intend to figure it out. What about you?
*I say girls, because in the uber-conservative circles I run in girls tend to stay at home longer and to be much more controlled and restricted by their parents; this is not to deny that boys might not find themselves in a similar situation.