I recently stumbled upon an (allegedly) old song of Alicia Keys’ called ‘Brand New Me’. For about 2 weeks straight this was my daily anthem! This song speaks so truly to a journey that I believe many women walk. One that I am starting to see more and more black African women (bAw) begin to explore. A journey that I personally have walked for a considerable chunk of my young life. What am I talking about? I’m talking about breaking through abusive/hurtful behaviour enforced upon you usually by someone close to you who is meant to love you.
Abuse is very real in the African community. I’ve been studying towards a Diploma in Counselling and Communication, and in one of my modules I had to do research on abuse in South Africa. It is so sad to learn that many women and children in the black African community are abused either physically, emotionally, mentally, financially or in all these ways. And what breaks my heart even more is how these women expect and actually desire that ill-treatment. It is an apparent sign in some of their cultures that a man is a man if he hits his partner/wife and children. What a twisted way of thinking we’ve developed!
As you listen to the words in ‘Brand New Me’, you see a woman who has started to walk taller. She has woken up to the realization that something has to change. She understands that she is precious and is beginning to find out who she really is. She acknowledges that she has been oppressed for too long now and is choosing to be brave enough to stand up for herself. This was a difficult, excruciating but liberating journey that I had to take myself. In my late teens and early twenties I had gladly allowed myself to be a doormat. From the emotional abuse and cheating I endured from my very first boyfriend and random guys who played me, to hanging around people who called themselves my friends but laughed at and ridiculed me, I was allowing myself to be put down. I had no clue whatsoever about my value in Christ. In fact, I did not believe that God could love me and that reflected itself in how I allowed others to mistreat me.
In a society that is highly patriarchal, it is easy for the bAw to misunderstand her value and how she should be treated. They say that no-one forces things to happen to us, but we allow others to treat us a certain way. And for too long I believe that bAw have allowed themselves to be used and abused. I see it in how a young bAw will stay with a cheating boyfriend. Or how she will accept a wrongful accusation towards her. Another woman will hold on to a man that beats her up every night because “at least she got a man” and at least he boosts her popularity levels. Then there is the woman who will continue to hang around a group of “friends” that keep her down just so that she can fit in. The types of abusive situations are plentiful and the reasons for staying even more colourful but one needs to push past these.
These were the truths I had to internalize that encouraged me to shun abuse in my own life:
- It is not your fault that you are being abused. I would have to say that what made me eventually stand up and recognize that I had to walk away from abuse was the fact that it was not my fault that I was being subjected to it. This I believe tends to be the most difficult lesson for the recipient of abuse to grasp – especially women. It is NOT your fault that he decided to cheat. It is NOT your fault that she continually berates you in front of others. Yes we can rub others the wrong way, but we ultimately do not control other people’s behaviour. They choose how to treat you regardless of what you do to them. So never forget – the abuse you are receiving is not your fault and you have every right to walk away from it.
- You are so very precious and worthy of only the best treatment. Did you know that God moulded you with His very own Hands and that He DIED for you? That makes you extremely valuable. In fact, it makes you priceless! Would you mishandle a precious stone such as a ruby or a diamond? Would you just kick it around or toss it into the trash? No! You would care for that stone like your life depended on it. You would polish it daily; set aside a special place for it to sit where everyone would admire it; you would talk about it with such awe; and constantly admire it and be proud of it. Well guess what – you’re even more precious than these said precious stones (Matthew 10:31)! You deserve to be admired and spoken of with great respect and wonder! You deserve to be handled delicately and with great care. God certainly treats you with gentleness and complete caution, and so no-one else should treat you otherwise.
- You are equipped to overcome and walk away from abuse. One of my favourite verses in the Bible has to be 2 Timothy 1:7 which reminds us that we have been given a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, and not a spirit of fear. One of the greatest weapons of the devil and of abusers is fear. They know that if they keep you isolated and afraid, they can control you. Fear was a master controller in my life and was one of the reasons I remained in less than desirable situations – for example, I stayed with my manipulative boyfriend for 3 years because I was afraid that no other guy could love me or want to be with me. I thank my Saviour though for leading me to this and other scriptures that reiterated the fact that I have the spirit of power to stand up against bad treatment in my life. He has armed me with the wisdom, courage and LOVE to walk away from a situation that does not serve me well. He has given this to you too – just ask Him to show you and activate it in you.
- The shame and guilt WILL go away if you tell someone. As I mentioned above, abusers want to keep you isolated so that you do not tell anyone else about what you’re going through. They make sure you feel stupid, dirty and full of shame. I remember keeping things to myself because I could imagine how people would look at me and judge me for being stupid enough to let someone else degrade and ill-treat me like that. But I reached a point where God led me to the right people to share my experiences and that was one of the most freeing acts for me. Granted my guilt and shame did not immediately disappear, but the weight of my burdens lessened and with each day I grew stronger and learnt how to better love and appreciate myself. Once you speak out, the devil has no hold over you with whatever bad situation you find yourself in. Just ask God to lead you to the right person/people who will lovingly pray, talk and walk you through your broken circumstances. Hard as it may be to believe, EVERYONE has or is going through something disgraceful and less than desirable. You’re not the only one so speak to someone about it. James 5:16 encourages us to do this.
Abuse is very real and alive in our society, and it is something that needs to be addressed especially amongst Christians. This is my feeble attempt at doing just that. Maybe you have had your own experiences with it. Maybe you know someone who has. Maybe you’ve just read about it. The point is, we need to share and learn with and from one another and we need to speak up about it so that we can conquer it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Share with us below or feel free to email me (details in the Contact section) regarding your own journey with abuse, or if you are currently facing an abusive situation and need help. You don’t need to stay there any longer.