You may find the next pairing for your toolkit contradictory:
FEAR & FAITH
Yes, I’m tying the two together, and I consider both to be valuable tools for healing. All my life, I’ve been told that you either have faith or fear because they can’t reside side by side. I’ve also had quoted that faith replaces fear or fear replaces faith. I really resent being set up to fail.
I know, I know, so explain the scripture in I John 4:18 that says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
It doesn’t say there is no fear. It says there is no fear in love. Love. God is Love, and there is no fear in God, and only God is perfect.
We are not perfect, so we will know fear. To me, it’s what you do with the fear that makes the difference. Does the fear rule you? Or do you allow God to use the fear in you to change you? Do you allow God to show you where you need to change, the new path you need to explore, to better serve God’s purpose? I find that scary, in my own life. But I exercise my faith, and move forward anyway, regardless of the fear that is also present in my heart.
The fear within an abuse victim is created by a single incident. Then it grows with each of the wide-ranging variety of incidents that follow, intensifying as time goes on. A single event includes a variety of aspects. Over a long period of time, the fear becomes intertwined with everything in the abuse victim’s life.
If you aren’t sure if what happened was abuse, do your homework and find out. I don’t consider spanking abusive, but it can become abusive. I don’t consider yelling abusive, but it can become abusive. I don’t even consider inspiring fear abusive, thinking in terms of frightening your two-year-old when you find them playing on the stove where they cleverly climbed and turned on the burners, for example. However, inspiring fear can become abusive. If you aren’t sure, find out.
I lived with fear each and every day, every moment of my life. Being told that my fear meant I had no faith only made it worse. It was also confusing because I felt like I was trying to be faith filled.
Granted, fear challenges faith, but I wonder how else faith grows if it isn’t challenged? How do we grow if we aren’t challenged? As for all the landmines created by the abusers, fortunately, I’m learning that it doesn’t take as long to disarm those landmines, as it took to arm them.
FYI: Landmines are those memories waiting to pop up and explode when “triggered” or set off or dragged up from the depths of one’s memory by almost anything: a scent, a picture, a word or phrase, a song, or anything that reminds you of something unpleasant and causes an adverse reaction. For example, the smell of oatmeal makes me want to throw up and brings back very vividly the memory of being forced to eat it. The smell triggers the memory of the anger and hurt and betrayal, and I frequently become snappish as a result of that landmine being set off.
Another important word to learn is chainbreaker, a person who is born into an abusive home and refuses to pass the abuse along. Abuse is usually the result of a long line or chain of abusers. The person who chooses to not continue that chain but to break it is a chainbreaker. (I read this term in an article on abuse, decades ago.)
For me, the fear is never actually gone. It’s almost like white noise. Always there, but not necessarily interfering with my life, at least, not any more. In every endeavor, I would come to realize that there are other things that are more important than the fear.
Every abuser I’ve known has used fear as a central key to maintaining their power. Fear of losing their love. Fear of being punished. Fear of being abandoned. Fear of making it worse. Fear of what they will do or say. Fear that they will kill you.
I have always hated the quote: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unless, of course, you’re the victim of abuse and know that there’s a lot to fear when you’re left home alone with an abuser, or your abuser is angry, or you wet the bed again, or you were too loud, or you didn’t mind read correctly, and a thousand other possibilities.
For me, the fear inspired by abuse lost a lot of power when I realized that it is only a means to an end. It’s a mind game. There was no lock to break, only a flimsy leash. Did I stop being afraid? Absolutely not. The habit was ingrained deep, but I had decided to make a different choice than the one offered by my abusers.
One incident in particular illustrated many of the events with which I dealt. One of my abusers liked to pinch my bottom. It hurt physically, and I found it humiliating. I was in my forties before I decided to put a stop to it. I had already tried ignoring it, asking nicely, threatening, screaming, and crying, again and again. I truly tried, in every possible way I could think of, to convince this person to stop hurting me. I even tried hitting my abuser, who promptly hit me back and told me they could play that game, too, and they would win. And I knew they would.
The message that came through, loud and clear, was that I was to put up and shut up. I was not allowed to protect myself, in any way, shape, or form. In fact, I was required to allow my abuser to do whatever they wanted to me, without complaint.
I was changing, and the status quo I’d grown up with was no longer acceptable. I was finally learning that I had a right and a responsibility to create healthy boundaries. Since everything else I had tried failed, I stopped talking to this abuser. I stayed away from this abuser. For many years, I refused to be in the same room with this abuser. I have relaxed a little bit. I will be in the same room, but I do not let down my guard.
I’ve endured the silent treatment, and survived. Sadly, I even found myself hopeful for it’s return each time the “treatment” ended. In truth, I’d never wanted to mete out the same punishment, but I could discern no other option. My abuser’s expectations were harmful.
I know that many of my family members and acquaintances see me as unforgiving and unreasonable, but neither have any of them been willing to intercede on my behalf. They’ve been content to allow the abuse to continue indefinitely. This is not healthy.
My fear of my abuser is not unfounded, nor it is unhealthy. So how does faith work into all this? I am gradually realizing that I did not misplace my faith in God to protect me. However, I had allowed my fear of doing the wrong thing, of hurting others, of retaliation, to keep me in a place of doing nothing.
My faith in my ability to protect myself is growing. God has been teaching me, but I didn’t recognize it because protecting myself was such a foreign concept. I am finally open to the possibility of a different solutions, even the unexpected solutions to my problems.
It took years for me to accept that fear could also be a God-given gift that needs to be cultivated and encouraged. If it weren’t good, then why would we teach children “stranger danger?” It is unequivocally agreed that children need to have a healthy sense of fear in order to recognize danger. We also teach them to be afraid of hot stoves, matches, crossing the street, jumping from high places, and a myriad of other situations that could be dangerous to their health. This is not a bad thing.
This begs the question: Why are children then punished for being afraid? Where is the sense in that? I found myself wondering if God punished us for being afraid, or does He use fear to help us, even protect us?
How many times has God protected me because my fear kicked in and pushed me out of a dangerous situation? Have you ever been approaching an intersection and had a sudden kick to stop? And then you watched a car blow through a red light that would have creamed you if you’d been there? Or you felt afraid in a parking garage or lot? Or there’s that fear that something isn’t right at home, so you go home and find you’re needed? Or something in that last project wasn’t quite right, so you double-check it and find what could have been a costly error?
How many abusive relationships did I avoid because fear nudged me when I met certain people? I know of one with certainty. I was in my thirties, attending church with a friend. A man with whom she was acquainted sat with her. We were never introduced, by my choice. I didn’t know why: I only knew I was afraid of him and avoided him. A year passed, and he had moved on. My friend brought him up in a conversation, and I remembered only that I couldn’t bring myself to be around him. She informed me that my fine-tuned warning system (fear skill) knew this man was a predator. She hadn’t been afraid because she knew about him, and she had created her own defenses. My God-given fear protected me without any concrete knowledge at all.
I have always been far more trusting of my fear than I was of my faith. I think I still am, but the balance between the two is evening out a bit. I have learned that, sooner or later, one must take a leap of faith. It is a leap we each must take alone, trusting that God will catch us.
So what’s the linchpin — fear’s deciding factor between help and hindrance?
Faith overcomes the fear that would hold you back and strengthens the fear that protects you.
Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Without fear, there is no need for courage.
Faith moves mountains.
What are you going to move, today?
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy