While thinking about some absolutely horrible events which have happened in my life… without going in too much detail… I have come to a realization. Psychological abuse is abuse. Psychological abuse needs to be treated with the same level of care as physical abuse. Human brains are malleable and with enough time and the right psychological tools, it is very possible to psychologically damage someone gradually in a way so they do not fully understand what is happening. With enough trauma and a large collection of bad events in a short amount of time, it is absolutely possible to take someone who is absolutely mentally healthy and make it difficult for them to make healthy choices in their life.
This is no different from taking a totally able bodied person and shoving them down a cliff, forcing them into a wheelchair and long sessions of physical therapy.
Just as how someone who is shoved off a cliff and survives will need physical therapy, people who are shoved off of a proverbial cliff of emotional damage will absolutely need to have the same level of therapy, but based on helping them reach a higher level of mental and emotional stability. There is no difference.
When someone is put under severe emotional distress for a long enough period of time, it can make it hard for them to make wise decisions. On the outside they might appear to be perfectly healthy, having a stable job, having friends, and appear healthy in other ways, but when you get to know the person at a deeper level you will realize that they are metaphorically bleeding. It can take time to fully realize what is happening and that they might not be capable of realizing themselves what has happened to them, even if the people they are closest to can see it.
This emotional distress can be from a death in their family or any range of distressing events which can harm an individual. What types of events will trigger each person to a point of being unable to make the best choices will be different from person to person. It is incredibly complicated and has to do with that person’s experience in the past and what will drive someone emotionally to the point where they are unable to function at the level they did in the past.
When someone has a traumatic event which distorts their perspective, they can respond in a wide variety of ways. They might push away family, they might start abusing drugs, or a wide range of behaviors which differs from person to person. Sometimes people will make healthy decisions, such as lean into their family and seek human connections, which is obviously the right decision, but sometimes people will make unhealthy decisions which involved disconnection.
In my life, and my personal experience and observations of those people who I love most, I have found that when someone has an emotionally distressing time, it is important for their family to be their for them and with them. The type of support that individual might need to get back to a point of mental, emotional, and spiritual health (all of which are just as important as physical health) will differ person to person depending on the situation, but I have seen in my life that the biggest strength is when people have a strong community which can help that person rebuild their path of spiritual fulfillment, and I have learned in my life that strong communities which support their members who have harm are the strongest and most resilient communities I have ever had.
Part of being a victim of an abusive relationship (relationship could be any connection between any two or more people) is that that person might not realize that what they are in is abusive while they are in it. If they did, they usually would leave. While I do believe that people do need to be the person to ultimately leave abusive situations, that person’s family has an important role to play in helping that person see who truly loves them and help them move towards self-actualization.
I am being deliberately vague about abuse for a reason. Abuse can come in many different forms. It can be denying that person the tools they need for growth. It can be planting ideas in their head which lead them to make bad decisions. It could be hazing, it could be driving family members apart when they have done nothing to harm each other. All of this in my experience qualifies as abuse, and in my life, I have found the most successful times this has happened has not been where someone would walk in randomly on a happy friendship and say “so and so is a terrible human” but is more successful when the person plants ideas into that person’s mind which slowly erode their self-confidence, perception of their self-worth, and ability to keep a clear perspective of what is happening in their life. This is the most seditious and evil form of abuse of them all because it takes time to realize what is really happening, and it tears families apart. The abuse is most successful when that individual is already under significant stress from some other factor in their life, and it can become really difficult to articulate what is really going on. But when someone reports that someone is being abused, they need to be supported and not have their love ignored. The family of the abused needs to ensure that the situation is thoroughly investigated and that if the family member is correct that abuse is happening, they need to respond to the situation to end the abuse.
Part of what makes many forms of abuse so difficult to unravel is that the people who undergo such abuse often do not fully realize what has happened to them either. This is well documented in the literature. Abused people will often become frazzled, and this makes it hard for them to accurately report about what is truly happening.
When someone is undergoing such abuse, the first time someone rings the alarm that something evil is afoot, the easier it is to replenish the situation. When someone rings the bell and it is ignored, the abuse is enabled. The enabling of abuse will make it increase in severity and frequency until the person who is being abused feels isolated and alone.
This is why I believe that communities should strive towards a policy of we support victims. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything someone says is accepted without question. While it is obviously important to listen to every word, the more severe the abuse, the more likely it is that the abuser will not remember the events accurately when first being recounted, and they probably have not put all the pieces together yet on what is really going on. That is part of the healing process. One method which works is to just engage in dialogue with that person, have them spell out what happens, and if they say something which doesn’t sound right, and is fairly obviously contrary to what is really going on, the person who is clearly being abused deserves to be brought into a situation as quickly as possible which allows them to fully analyze their own situation. People in abusive situations can sometimes suffer memory problems as well, such as misattribution, suggestability, and bias. When those three memory problems occur, it can get very complicated to deal with such situations, and if memory problems are present, the loving act is not necessarily to believe every word at its face value but to listen to every word and build a clear picture of what is happening, not just from the words they are saying but through observation of what is happening in their life. One should start of course with an assumption that what they are saying is true of course, to do otherwise is a form of abuse itself, but when dealing with multi-factored long term abusive situations, things can get very complicated very quickly, and when the person’s recollection and what was observed do not match, it becomes difficult to fully analyze. It becomes even more difficult to understand what you are dealing with when the abuse was in a private space.
The complicated nature of such interactions is why I believe the best way to respond is very simple actually, and this is to offer support. Support can come in a wide variety of ways, going out to dinner, board game nights, dance parties, appointments with trained religious figures or psychologists, and long deep conversations. After someone has been in an abusive situation, the most important thing is to provide them a safe space as soon as possible. Safety obviously includes physical safety, but it also includes emotional, spiritual, and mental safety. A safe space is one where abuse is not tolerated, where people are able to have deep conversations which widen their mind and help with their path to self-actualization, and provides a base of comfort and support which acts as a foundation to their lives. A safe space does not mean one will never be challenged, in fact it generally means quite the option, because the safest spaces I have experience is where growth is fostered. The only way to grow sometimes is to be in a position where you have to think about how your position in the world interacts with others. It’s hard to describe fully, its something that is experienced. It is a place of real love. There is incredible power in being an emotionally healthy environment, which includes the obvious being kind and tolerant to each other, but also having a very clear no tolerance policy towards any form of hate. Such spaces can be hard to find, and hard to maintain over the long term, but when they are found they provide a bastion of growth which allows people to finally reach a state of mental clarity and peace. This is support.
I believe that We Support Victims is a statement which is hard to distort, clear in its meaning, and automatically includes people of all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and every other aspect of their lives. It is an active verb, which is not passive in any way, shape, or form. It is a promise that when someone enters our sacred space and they are damaged, we will provide support for them so that they will be able to grow in all ways. We will help them reach a state of mental clarity so they can process the abuse they have undergone. As their mental health improves it will definitely feel to them to go up and down over time, but those points where they feel like their mental health is declining will generally be because they finally realized another layer of abuse which they had not been able to fully penetrate before. Just as one cannot learn calculus without understanding algebra, understanding complex emotional situations will require an individual to often get through several layers of emotional distress before they might come to a layer which is very raw. At this point, individuals can appear volatile in their processing, but this is a good thing because it is an absolutely vital step in fully understanding what we have undergone. When you find someone who has gone through a layer of abuse and they realize an aspect of their life is harmed, it is natural and good to become angry. A truly supportive network will provide that person a safe space to vent, rage, and yell (assuming they are not hurting anything or anyone) and be there to listen and talk through the trauma. This is true friendship. This is what I have in my two primary communities and it is the most beautiful thing in my life. The community will be there to welcome that person back and give them a space to process and have good healthy experiences which will allow them to heal. As that person feels better about themselves and have more direction in their life, they will uncover more layers until they finally come to terms with what actually happened, and they will finally be able to make amends where needed and they will heal significantly faster than they would have if they had been forced to go through the motions of emotion they will inevitably undergo by themselves.
This is what supporting victims is like. It is a long term process of connection which involves many hours of bonding and love. When it is done the bonds between the people in the community are strengthened, people are healthier at the end of the day, and they are truly happier than they were before. This allows more spiritual growth, and is what people truly crave. It is the path to self-actualization. the path to self-actualization is not easy, and it can take many turns on the way, but when it is complete there is a deep understanding between those individuals that they will be loved, they will be able to grow, and that the community they have built together will survive the future. It will invite love and repel abuse. It will develop a core community of individuals who believe strongly in their central tenants, whatever those may be, and those individuals will become a rock on which the community is founded. They will draw the circle wide, and more people will come in. As love radiates outward and everyone becomes a better person, the community will thrive and grow. They will continuously improve over time, and be a nexus of love and compassion in their wider area which translates into social justice in the public sphere.
The only way I know to build this is through support, and why I strive to Support Victims.
When I use the word family I am not only talking about those people who are related to blood. I am also referring to an individuals support network of their closest friends, faith communities, or other communities which provide emotional health.