<<mistreatment, cruelty>>

Abuse is the misuse of something or someone. It is over-riding the choice of another. This unloving, ruthless treatment is often directed at innocent people or those disadvantaged because of age, gender, nationality, social ranking or mental capacity who are unable to stand up against the attack. Unmet expectation, frustrations, anger and evil desires are outwardly expressed, by those lacking self-control. Because the perpetrator’s expectations are not being met or their attitudes or lifestyle does not line up with Godly principles they devalue the worth of other people. Although this violation or abuse – where the victim is neglected, manipulated or insulted in some way – starts in one area, it can spread to affect the whole person causing deep wounds. Those victimised by the inappropriate control or domination of another are unable to give or receive proper love, fear intimacy, are suspicious of other’s intentions and live far below their potential with stress and fear. Although those receiving abuse feel powerless to resist or alter the situation they are not – the power of choice is still theirs. If you are being abused, (or see others being unduly taken advantage of) seek help. You owe it to yourself, stand up for your rights – don’t be a door mat! Unhealthy relationships become toxic. Refuse to surrender to what is not right. Do not give others unlawful power over your life, either mentally or physically. Paul’s body may have been bound in chains yet his spirit was free in Christ (Eph 6:20; Phil 1:14).

Any abuse is power out of control; it is misplaced authority resulting in an overstepping of the mark because a bully is insecure in themselves. It is a hurt person hurting another. Such actions create fear, self-condemnation and deep emotional scars. Do not allow yourself to continually think about the hurtful words or events. You do not have to be a prisoner. People subjected to and traumatised in this

Do I abuse my rights or the rights of others? 

way need prayer for the healing of their sub-conscious memories as they continually extend forgiveness to those who acted in this unloving way towards them. God’s people are to protect the weak and vulnerable, not exploit them (Prov 22:22, 31:8,9). 

Emotions, desires and frustrations need to be controlled, not rashly vented or gratified. Learn to handle them correctly. What causes me to get ‘steamed up’? How am I going to get control of this emotion before it gets a greater control of me – “It desires to have you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:7). “Do unto others as you would they do to you”, remembering that you must give an account to God of your actions (Lk 6:31; Rom 14:12; Heb 4:13). As abuse stems from selfishness focus on meeting your responsibilities, rather than ensuring your rights are met. It is taking advantage of others (Ex 22:22). Abuse can affect people at all stages of life – from the abortion of a foetus before birth, during childhood (including bullying at school), in marriages, in employment, and in later life where it is termed elder abuse. This is when aging parents are deserted and not visited by their adult children or are ‘advised’ to remain in their own home instead of going into a nursing home so their inheritance is not whittled away on care. Later still euthanasia can snuff out the earthly existence of those deemed unnecessary. Doing either good or evil to others is in effect doing this to Jesus (Mt 25:35-45).

Any form of abuse produces scars in the spirit, soul and often the body too, as trust is violated and suffering occurs. Sometimes those subject to abuse are naïve, very compliant, and too trusting – believing everyone has good intentions. This makes them vulnerable to be taken advantage of, becoming ensnared in an ongoing cycle that is difficult to break. Children have no responsibility for the

Satan uses any means to hold people in bondage

abuse suffered in their childhood yet often carry the effects into adult life and repeat the pattern. Abuse is contrary to what is godly as it disregards the wishes and wellbeing of others while breaking the command to love one another, by just focusing on selfish desires. Unfortunately, victims often feel guilty and accept the blame and treatment as justified, but when the legitimate boundaries of personal rights are ignored and violated this is an incorrect assessment.

Various forms of abuse may be identified

Verbal abuse may be less definable than sexual and physical yet it is no less destructive. It can stunt children’s development and destroy adult relationships as the abuser attempts to dominate and belittle, both activities prohibited in scripture. Although it may not appear to be severe or dramatic, its effects can be. “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov 12:18, 18:21). While not all wounds are visible, bullying and verbal abuse can quickly escalate into physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is defined as any non-consenting sexual act or behaviour between people regardless of their gender. Molestation and rape are abhorrent to God and particularly devastating to the victim whose personal boundaries of innocence and decency are ignored.  If occurring during childhood this abuse shapes the way a child views the world from then on, affecting their self-esteem and future relationships. Women should be aware of the possible scenarios and not put themselves in situations where they can be taken advantage of and their morals compromised. Men should also safeguard against situations where their behaviour can be adversely questioned.

Physical abuse is intentional body contact causing injury and trauma to the victim. Violence is often fuelled by alcohol. Such ill-treatment is often preceded with psychological threats of physical harm, throwing and smashing things, and punching walls. Persecution levelled at Christians for their faith has often resulted in martyrdom – the death of their earthly body. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you…because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Mt 5:11,12). Even persecution and martyrdom can’t separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35). Note though, that physical abuse is not to be confused with the loving physical parental discipline encouraged in the Bible as a means of training when children have misbehaved (Prov 23:13,14). Today, however, this form of correction is unlawful in many countries.

Emotional abuse ranges from angrily inflicted verbal abuse attacking self-esteem through to criticism, threats, negative statements, ridiculing whatever efforts a person makes, and withholding expressions of love. Other forms are the intentional embarrassing of victims in public, yelling at them, or threatening suicide to make them feel guilty so the abuser can enforce their way. To deal with this declare ‘I am loved by God. He values me so much Jesus died in my place…’ and other positive truths.  Don’t reinforce incorrect and harmful statements people make about you. When unfounded negative words are spoken to you, rather than retaliating (which will create a conflict) just state, ‘I don’t accept that’.

Self-abuse ranges from to taking drugs and substances detrimental to the body including smoking and intoxicating liquor. It also includes not caring for the physical body which is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit when a person becomes a believer (1 Cor 6:19,20). Eating unhealthily and overeating besides not having adequate exercise also means the body is not functioning as designed and leads to various ailments. Neglecting our bodies (or those in our care) of some legitimate or necessary requirement is also abuse, as is excessive exercise or work. We are to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us (Eph 5:28,29). Christians should live balanced lives except in their devotion to the Lord.

Another form of self-harm or self-injury is cutting, the deliberate self-injury of one's body with the resulting physical pain bringing a temporary release from emotional pain, anger, or frustration. This unhealthy coping mechanism provides a distraction from life's circumstances and can be a means of self-punishment, it can also give a feeling of control over their body or emotions. Such actions will not resolve the underlying issue. Those engaging in this behaviour (which is a symptom of not being able to cope adequately with emotional trauma or past abuse in some form) should seek help from a wise mature source such as a Christian counsellor. They can help identify the source, so its destructive negative power can be broken, and better coping methods established. While Christians are not exempt from this behaviour their attention should be turned to having hope in Jesus and a healthy perspective, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18).                       

Spiritual abuse can also occur. It often begins when vulnerable people ‘hang on’ every word that someone who has charisma speaks, and fail to check out with Scripture if what they say is Biblical (Act 17:11). Such self-appointed guides regularly use the words, “God told me…’ to give special revelation to members, requiring blind, unquestioning obedience in areas that they have no Biblical mandate to enforce. Believing they alone can rightly interpret God’s Word, arrogance and deception creeps in and these leaders often control the affairs and finances of members who are shamed when they step out of line or don’t contribute financially to the level expected. Cults and exclusive groups often result from such activity as they isolate themselves from mainstream society to conceal the abuse. Such manipulation is not God’s way for promoting spiritual growth. In contrast, with a healthy God-honouring group there will be voluntarily honest, open accountability with humility, grace and truth, and a networking with other groups of believers, and adherence to the solid
teaching of Scripture.

The Bible instructs church leaders not to be domineering over those in their care but rather be examples of godliness (1 Pet 5:1-3). Cults often hold a tight servitude control over their members, requiring unquestioning allegiance and dependency to the leaders, and so forgoing any choice or freewill.

Though it may be difficult, we should have an attitude of forgiveness to those who, in some measures have overstepped their rights and abused us. Holding bitterness in our hearts makes us bitter and blights our whole personality. Don’t continually think about and rehearse the pain of the past. Endeavour to remember the good and forget the bad.

Am I guilty of abusing in some way those in my care?

Although we can't erase the memories we can render them powerless as we focus on our identity in Christ and the wholeness we can receive from Him (2 Cor 5:21). Regardless of whatever wrong was done to us, it pales into insignificance compared to what our sin cost Jesus Christ. Forgiving doesn’t mean you must keep taking the abuse or stay in an abusive situation. It may require a confrontation but if they don’t change it’s no fault on your part. Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted – those wounded by other hurting humans and the events of this sin-sick world. Anyone who has been abused (or inflicted abuse when accompanied with genuine repentance) can find hope, healing and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. We need to give Him the broken pieces – He is in the mending business.

The Bible instructs us to show love to others as appropriate (Mk 12:31; Jn 13:34). Our words should be encouraging, gracious and uplifting, focusing on their good actions, believing and speaking out the best about them, while if correction is warranted this is to be done in love with restoration being the goal  (Eph 4:15,16,29; 1 Thes 5:11). Our worth is not based on what others have done to us, rather on God’s estimation and high value.

While we are not to meddle in the affairs of others, if we suspect someone (especially a child) is being abused in some way we should report it to the appropriate authorities. This includes the mistreatment of animals too. Abuse should not be covered up, rather exposed and dealt with as appropriate, with both the perpetrator and victim receiving the help they desperately need to live constructive lives. 

In spite of the lies of Satan to the contrary, abuse does not define the victims worth or future. If given permission God can take the trauma of past abuse and transform it into an integral part of future ministry, for the promise is God works in (or uses) all things for the good of them who love Him (Rom 8:28).

See also: anger, attitude, boundaries, broken/brokenness, bullying, confront, control, cover-up, discipline, forgiveness, frustration, hope, hurts, inner healing, pain, past, perspective, position in Christ, rape, response, responsible/responsibility, rights, self-esteem, self-harm, victim, victim mentality, vulnerable, wholeness, wounded.