Dedicated abusers can be really good at turning up the heat. One part of the cycle of abuse, in fact, is to apply more and more pressure until their victim does something apparently worthy of complaint.
For example, they might just “press your buttons”, again and again. If they have discovered your vulnerabilities, that will guide them, like a heat-seeker. They will use name calling, anger, unfair criticism, or whatever else is most likely to provoke a response from you. They might load you up with more and more tasks until it is impossible for you to manage them all. Once you fall short, they can convincingly complain about whatever it is they told you to do. Or, whatever it was they now say you should have done even though they didn’t tell you about it.
The trick is: a committed abuser will not actually want you to cope with it all. They want an opportunity to attack you. Remaining error free only aggravates them, and they will be likely to make up an excuse to attack you if you don’t provide them with one.
Abusers’ expectations are not fair. They are not intended to be fair. It’s a game.
God is the opposite. Psalm 131 paints it well:
My heart is not proud, Yahweh,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Israel, put your hope in Yahweh
both now and forevermore. 1
This is a person who is safe. So safe that you can completely drop your guard, and rest. For those who live with hypervigilance, the idea of sitting and breathing for a bit might be far removed from your experience of life.
There is permission here to take deep breaths.
However. There are some practical realities. Real life to deal with. This is where we desperately need decent humans to share the load, and part of our calling as humans is to stand with each other.
A victim of abuse might have a job to hold down, bills to pay, home to manage, and people to care for. Dealing with the impact of abuse can be like having a chronic illness, even for those who don’t have post-traumatic stress or some other horrible thing to deal with. For victims: it is entirely possible that people will underestimate the extra loads you are now carrying, and have unrealistic expectations of how quickly you will “bounce back”.
God sees you. I need to state again that does not absolve decent, trustworthy humans from providing support, and one guide as to who the good ones are is seeing how they respond.
These things are not always obvious to us when we are in the thick of them, and certainly not when we are evaluating others. (Why is this person late? Why have they not returned my call?) But two people with the same set of responsibilities are not carrying the same load if one is also dealing with the impact of abuse. It is different. If trauma is part of your life, you get points for degree of difficulty. Sadly, others may not always realise.
It takes empathy, and mercy, to see what another person is carrying. It takes grace to act, to help fill the gaps.
For those who are battling with a heavy load: I sincerely hope you have people around you who get it. Who see what you are dealing with, and who stand with you. That’s not always the case. Abusers, commonly, deliberately isolate their victims. Then, having a lot to deal with means less time and energy to invest in friendships. Trauma can add to that by inducing social anxiety.
I pray. I really do. Often with quite some vigour. But while we each have our own emotional and spiritual journeys the life of a victim of abuse can be deeply complex. Finding the space to experience the kind of settled moments Psalm 131 talks about? That might be an impossible bar due to the sheer volume of responsibilities that fill each day, let alone the internal traumas to navigate. The value of true friends in that? Who are humble? Respectful? Willing? Priceless.
Abusers’ expectations are not fair. They are not intended to be fair. It’s a game. Click To Tweet