Do not rejoice against me, O my enemy, for though I fall, I will rise again! When I sit in darkness, the Lord himself will be my Light. Micah 6:8
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20
For me, empowerment looks like refusing to let injustice define me or have the final word in my story. While of course there’s no way to look upon abuse and call it good, I’ve found that unexpected blessings can come from suffering. I both affirm that the abuse I suffered was cruel, grievous, and evil, and honor the ways I chose to thrive and grow, much like a stubborn flower pushing up through concrete. When I say these are gifts my abuser gave me, I mean that these are the ways I chose to overcome despite adversity.
Mental Strength: Besides cultivating an intentionally intimidating physical presence, my abuser lashed out in unexpected and terrifying ways. Although I refused to cower under attack, my mind swam with panic and fear and I often felt powerless. On top of that, he projected his shame onto me, acting disgusted and angry that I was afraid of him. It was during one such instance that I said, “Don’t dump water on my head and punish me for being wet!” This was a turning point for me; I had responded to his gaslighting with clarity instead of confusion. The inner confidence and mental stability I fought for over the years has stayed with me to this day.
Empathy: Deep grief and suffering become more bearable when someone is able to be in it with you. Because I endured profound distress, I can look into the eyes of someone who’s suffering and say, “Me, too. I get it.” Every time I offer comfort to someone who is hurting, I find redemption and meaning for the agony I endured. Empathy is a costly and precious gift, one I now have in abundance.
Situational & Relational Awareness: The emotional climate of our home depended on me being able to perceive my assailant’s mood and possible outcomes of that mood, just by glancing his way. Because he was unpredictable, I became hyper-aware and adept at reading people. I now understand people on a deeper level than before, and can respond to them appropriately, which leads to more authentic engagement and connections. It’s also kind of fun to look at someone and have a good idea of what they’re thinking.
Differentiation: Early in our relationship, I idolized my abuser. I saw only what I wanted to see in him, and I wanted him to be my everything. Yet I was drinking from a poisonous well, and my soul became sick as he withheld affection to maintain a sense of power over me. His coldness and contempt were deeply painful to live with, and I responded by finding ways to give myself the love and validation I needed, knowing that it wouldn’t come from him. I cultivated authentic friendships and sought out support from safe people, which brought me great healing.
A Stellar Education: I am curious and inquisitive by nature, so I read and learned everything abuse-related that I could find in an effort to understand my situation better. As I armed myself with truth, I was able to stand against the lies being hurled at me. Now, I help arm other victims. This knowledge has proven to be powerful, and I’m glad I had a reason to seek it out.
Loyal Friends: If you’re looking to clear a room, start talking about your family’s struggle with domestic violence and watch everyone back away slowly. Because of his choice to be abusive, I have several awkward, uncomfortable, and downright terrifying chapters in my life’s story. On top of that, my abuser’s intimidating and off-putting presence created an invisible barrier between us and others that, once they sensed it, few people dared to cross. I still grieve the loss of many relationships that withered or never had a chance to take root over the years. Oh, but the precious few that did–it’s as if my whole life I’ve been panning for gold. I’ve had many relationships slip through my fingers, but I am rich because of the priceless gems in my life today.
Self-Care: My abuser often accused me of being demanding, selfish, and impossible to please. I reacted by working very hard to not be any of these things; becoming easy-going and invisible. I ignored my own needs, to the point of forgetting that I even had needs. I began to wilt. When I became aware of what was happening, I began to understand that I must meet my own needs first, so that I could my family’s needs. I accepted my limitations and began to pursue health and wholeness without guilt or shame.
Intimate Faith: The beauty and power of God’s love is never more evident to me than in the most desperate of times. Some truths are difficult to put into words, but this I know: He is faithful. Growing up, I always believed that God was good and that He loved me, but these nice ideas became a reality when I looked up through my tears and saw Jesus standing in the fire next to me. As I poured out my misery to God and cried out for help, I came to know the fellowship of a suffering Savior. In the times when I felt I could trust no one, I knew I could trust God, for when I hit rock bottom, the Rock of Ages was steadfast. My greatest comfort was knowing that no matter how powerful or intimidating my abuser seemed, God was my greatest advocate and protector. Knowing this gave me the courage to step into my God-given power and take action to protect myself and my children.