Dealing with the Guilt of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Time to leave?

GUILT—What a powerful weapon when used against a victim of spouse abuse or domestic violence. It can be wielded in so many different directions.

The victim must deal with the guilt of breaking up a marriage or intimate relationship, quite possibly separating a family. Children will lose time with their father. Their lifestyle will most likely be changed in an instant. The days of eating out may have to come to a screeching halt, right along with designer clothes and cable television. Will these disruptions in life all be Mommy’s fault for leaving Dad? Mommy wonders if she will be blamed by the children for screwing up their lives. Mommy feels guilty. If Mommy was being verbally, emotionally or physically abused, did the children not witness or hear what was going on? Do you suppose just maybe that had some negative effects on their lives—effects far more reaching than losing out on that pair of Nikes or an X-Box game.

What if Dad has to be physically removed from the home? There’s the whole, “I can’t let my children see the police take their father out of their home,” guilt issue. If law enforcement must be called in, the likelihood of the children having observed physical violence is pretty high. God forbid, let’s hope and pray they were not physically abused or violated, but nonetheless, they have been victimized, as well. So, why the guilt of removing their abuser?

There is the issue of the guilt of failure. “I failed to keep my marriage together.” Well, my friend, don’t look now, but it takes two to make a relationship, and it takes two to end it. So, when one spouse abuses the other and the victim of abuse bravely chooses to remove him/herself from the relationship, you’ve both made choices and decisions. One chose to abuse the other. One chose to call an end to the abuse. What part of that is failure?

How often did I find myself dealing with the guilt of knowing that hatred was growing in my heart where love used to dwell? Not only had I come to a point of despising my spouse, I had also fallen into the dismal chasm of self-hatred. I wasn’t sure who I hated more—him or myself. I was a Christian. Christians are not supposed to hate, we’re supposed to love at all times. I was failing as a Christian, so the guilt was obviously immense.

Then comes the greatest of all sources of guilt—I broke my wedding vows. If I had a dollar bill for every time I heard, “God hates divorce,” and allowed that to cause me to stay in abuse, I’d be a wealthy woman blogging here today. Perhaps we should read the scripture in its entirety and true translation. The message is that a husband is not to treat his wife abusively, and God hates the divorce that results from that abuse. But, he also hates the abuse, and it is not to be excused.

More pastors are beginning to speak out on the matter that domestic violence is another manner of breaking the marriage covenant. I trust with all my heart that more and more houses of faith will begin reaching out to victims, giving them the support they desperately seek, in every form and fashion needed. Victims of abuse are looking for a safe place where they can find spiritual support and to simply be loved. They are also pursuing emotional and, yes, even at times, financial support.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am. It is the Church’s responsibility to meet these needs far more than it is the government’s duty. The reality of life is that religious facilities usually do not have experience with the study and practice of domestic violence intervention or advocacy training. I look forward to the day we see houses of worship seeking education and knowledge on how to minister support to all kinds of victims of domestic or sexual violence, without allowing a stigma to be attached to the ones they are helping. Rather, and hopefully, they will pursue paths to bring healing to victims, empowering them to become survivors, and then overcomers of abuse. There is a great likelihood this may require a collaborative work with faith-based and/or secular organizations, such as Family Justice Alliance or NCADV, that have developed successful programs serving these very purposes.

I believe a day will come when houses of faith will offer solace and comfort to all victims, both inside and outside their walls, providing them the love and respect, but especially the support our Creator designed from the beginning.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am…

Carolyn is an advocate for sexual/domestic violence and assault awareness, also focusing on child sexual abuse. She is a Life Direction & Empowerment Coach, working with victims and survivors of molestation, sexual assault, domestic violence or spousal abuse, and bringing training to organizations seeking to help victims. Listen to Carolyn’s interview with Cynthia Brennen, on “Help, Hope & Healing.” Visit her Everyday Health blog, Emotional Wellbeing, or her website at orangeblossomwishes.com.

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