This is a quick check-in to invite all the ladies in the Johannesburg area to join in on a conversation about abuse and where the church fits into all of that. You will get an opportunity to listen to messages of hope and to hear testimonies from survivors of abuse. Yours truly will also do a brief presentation on warning signs to look out for that indicate whether you’re in an abusive/unhealthy relationship.
Invite some sisters and join us at Sedaven School in Heidelberg on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Healing begins with us and with sharing our stories and struggles.
I have been wracking my brain on what to write – what else I could say that has not been already said about abuse. Many discussions have been had: we’ve been told the signs to watch out for (see the article from two weeks ago); and we’ve been told about the maladies in us that create the abuser and abused. What kept striking me is that most cases of abuse happen at the hands of those closest to us, at the hands of our families.
And for some reason, the close proximity of abusers somehow translates to paralysis of action: A wife suffers in silence for years in fear of her family falling apart. Her children see this, the toxicity seeps into their lives and twenty years down the line the same parents wonder why their children can’t seem to get their lives together. Or the wife reaches out to her family for help and she’s sent back with a harsh lesson that many women have been through the same, so she must suck it up and keep it moving.
A daughter or son is molested, they tell an adult in the family. Most of the time one of two scenarios takes place: The adult family member rubbishes the claim and vilifies the child, branding them a trouble-maker, or; the adult raises it in a family meeting, and the situation is quickly ‘dealt’ with – the perpetrator may get admonished and banished or the child is sent away for their ‘protection’. Case closed. No counselling, no acknowledgement of the pain and trauma and definitely no discussion about the work that needs to be done to ensure this never happens again.
The need to maintain peace has somehow taken precedence over the healing of the one who has been hurt. Many steps are taken to make sure the story doesn’t get out. Families are ravaged by this secret, split into camps and the abused are left to navigate the minefield of their lives with very little support.
You can see the common thread here right? The goal is to not shake the boat, even if the boat has a couple of holes in its sail; the sailors manning the boat are blind; can only row with one arm; and the captain is missing in action. The boat will eventually sink. How can it not? But that’s the irony – we fight tooth and nail to keep the boat afloat when it will sink anyway because it’s battered and bruised, rocked by storms. So why not let it sink and build a stronger one?
Let the ship sink. Let it fall apart so once its laid bare, it can be taken apart, the problem diagnosed, to help figure out how it was incorrectly built and begin the work of rebuilding a stronger boat that can weather any storm. Can we not try something new? Can we put those that have been hurt first? Put a hedge around them, love them, protect them and fight for them and their healing? What do we have to lose? We’ve tried the whole maintaining peace at all costs for generations, how has that worked for us?
Above all, if family is meant to be a reflection of God’s love, can one truly say our need to portray false perfection shows that? I leave this with you to ponder upon: 1 Corinthians 13: 7: “*[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
The gorgeous Miss Subira is an integral member of the bAw team. She is a passionate, smart, driven and opinionated young woman seeking to improve the lives of those who are unfairly oppressed. You can find some of her thoughts on FB, Twitter and Instagram.
Disclaimer: This article should not be substituted for psychological/medical advice. It is based on personal experiences and lessons garnered from my studies and personal reading plus the experiences of those around me.
The issue of violence and abuse in the South African community has garnered much attention in recent months, and rightfully so. More people than we realize are in abusive relationships. Abuse is such a personal and deeply painful experience that can be extremely detrimental to the life of the person who receives it. It can destroy families and generations – just look at Jacob’s family drama (Genesis 34) or David’s for that matter (2 Samuel chapters 10 – 15). It can even cost your salvation.
The sad reality is that more and more young people are entering romantic relationships at younger and younger ages, and without any counsel or guidance. This is mainly driven by the fact that we are an independent generation, and we “mind our own business”. We no longer value the community aspect of life that can act as a shield against harmful situations. Nevertheless, we are blessed with different platforms, including blog sites/online reading, that allow us to gain information that can help us in our situations.
As I have written before, I have witnessed abuse and I have endured emotional and verbal abuse myself. God’s love, compassion, patience, mercy and goodness has led me to receive (and to continue to receive) healing over this issue. There are signs that I have managed to pick up on from experience and research that indicate whether you are in an abusive/unhealthy relationship. I thought I would share these with you today:
You begin to hide your relationship. I remember my very first relationship. I never discussed it with my family and actually felt relief that they knew nothing about it. I didn’t necessarily acknowledge it then, but I was not sure about this guy and how we related. I knew that if my loved ones got to understand what was going on between us (constant fighting; cheating; being put down in front of others) they would be shocked and disappointed, and would ask me to let him go. If you find that you don’t want even those closest to you to know about your relationship, something may be wrong.
You constantly defend your partner to yourself and to others. This one has to be one of the most painful ones for me. Your partner may be extremely mean to you and to those around you yet you find yourself fighting to highlight his/her “goodness” at any chance. You convince yourself that he/she is not that bad but the problem is that it has become a daily exercise. Every person has their flaws and in a healthy relationship this is acknowledged and addressed with your partner. However, in an unhealthy/abusive situation, these flaws and bad traits are the norm in how you relate. If you’re having to regularly excuse your partner’s behaviour especially to yourself, it’s a red light.
Your partner wants to know your whereabouts 24/7. In the initial stages of a relationship a couple wants to spend as much time as possible together and send cute messages of “So, what you doin’?” or “Where are you? I wish I could be there” etc. There is nothing wrong with being interested in the activities of a partner, but it becomes concerning when a partner needs to know your exact moves all the time. Not only that – he/she needs to know who you will be with and for how long. This is especially disturbing if you are not even married to this person because it will be magnified in marriage. If you are not free with your time and in your relationship, you are not free in your life.
You begin to doubt your right to make choices. Following on from the above warning, another red flag in a relationship is when you can no longer make decisions without the input and direction of your partner. God created you in His image which means that He has blessed you with wisdom and with the authority to decide on things for your life (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22). He is Sovereign and Lord over all, yet He chooses to allow you the free will to decide what you want in your life including having Him as your Saviour. Therefore, there is no reason that another creature like you should determine your own free will and choices (this is outside of the argument of parents raising their children or spouses making joint decisions). If you find yourself unable to make your own decisions because of what a partner would say or what they tell you, something is not right.
You feel like you can’t trust anyone because they don’t get your relationship. I distinctly remember the time when my friends were trying to alert me to the fact that my boyfriend had been and was still cheating on me, and putting me down in public. My gut knew it was true so I confronted him about it. He manipulated me by reminding me that we are in this together and some people don’t want to see us together so we need to be careful of what others say. From that moment, I began to view friends through suspicious eyes because I felt that they were trying to cause a rift in our relationship. An abusive/unhealthy partner does not want you to interact with people who can help wake you up to the unhealthy situation you find yourself in, and they will isolate you from the counsel of loved ones. You will begin to believe that other people just don’t understand the relationship the way you two do and so you’ll deal with it (and all its unhealthiness) alone. If you find yourself unable to be honest with anyone else but your partner about your relationship, it’s a red flag.
You have extreme highs and lows in your relationship. All relationships go through great times and bad times. But a healthy relationship has a general balance, calmness and normalcy to it. I had past relationships where we were either so on top of the world and it felt like no-one else could ever make me that happy or I was extremely hurt, unhappy, sad and confused by that same individual. I did not have a general sense of well-being or security in our relationship and unless I felt those extreme emotions when I was with someone, I believed that the relationship was not a good one. I believed that a great relationship meant feeling either euphoric or highly melancholic – it was a literal drug. A healthy relationship should nurture your emotions rather than constantly drain them through either extremely good or extremely bad feelings.
This list is not exhaustive and there are countless articles online that deal with the realities of abusive relationships. I haven’t even touched on the physical and sexual aspect of abusive relationships and I am mostly speaking from a dating perspective because that is my experience. Nevertheless, warning signs of abuse are generally mostly emotional.
Sis, if you have identified with one or more of these warning signs, I plead with you to seek help for your situation. You don’t have to deal with this alone. Or if you know someone who seems to be in this kind of a relationship, please get advice on how to best help them. You can feel free to contact me or you can contact:
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.