Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
In the support groups for those coming out of high control religions, some are there seeking comfort and others are in place to share the comfort they’ve already received. When you’ve come fresh from the battle with wounds needing immediate attention, it’s a comfort just to be understood and accepted among those who’ve suffered a similar affliction. We have all been victims in one form or another in this life and can swap stories of pain, but if we’ve crossed over into victory, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to participate in someone else’s healing.
If you are more victim than victor at this time, remember, it may take time to pass through the fires that refine you to be a healer. Rest in the comfort God is providing. And for those who have ministered a long time in the healing role God has granted you, I pray you find moments of rest and that you receive the support YOU NEED too.
Healing often comes in stages and can take many forms before it’s realized.
I grew up in a household witnessing the extremes of full blown manic episodes and dark, depressive death threats. It made me feel helpless. In fact, it had a lot to do with my attraction to joining a rigid, legalistic high control group with clear cut boundaries and a promise of paradise where no one is sick. But I just ended up meeting more sick people there because mental illness is a reality regardless of what religion you belong to. And I must admit, I’ve always had a hard time accepting that reality because I’ve got a set of rose colored glasses that trick me into thinking that given enough love, people can change. But that’s not always true. To quote from the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, we must learn to accept the things we can not change. I had to accept that more therapy, more prayer, more Bible verses, more medication, or more “putting up with in love” can not always change a fractured brain. It is what it is. So while it’s important to protect the rights of those with a mental illness, it’s equally important to support their friends, family members, and co-workers in accepting their right to set boundaries. We all have the right to protect ourselves from more hurt. Those who suffer from mental illness need support, but so do those who’ve been patient with them. What about those who’ve prayed through it and kept their hurt to themselves? When you’ve silently received the verbal out lashes of a family member with a mental illness or your plans were inconvenienced by yet another missed appointment from a friend with social anxiety, who supports you when the last straw breaks? If hurt people hurt people, then why is it not acceptable for the healthy person to say they’ve been hurt?
Living with a family member with mental illness, I learned to walk on eggshells and not give voice to my own hurt. I was told, “it’s just the disease talking” when their words were inflicted on me. So I became a very tolerant person, always forgiving the abuser because after all, “hurt people, hurt people.” But whether you forgive someone because of their disease, drug addiction, or cult mindset, it still leaves a mark on you. Recognizing that “it’s not their fault” due to a diagnosis or addiction does not negate their role as your abuser if you have been hurt by them. There’s a careful line we have to draw in not letting an abuser come any closer to hurt us, and yet forgive them for whatever has caused them to be that way… be it post traumatic stress, an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or even a mental illness.
One of the resources that helped me understand the victim and victor inside me was “Hidden Victims Hidden Healers: An Eight-Stage Healing Process For Families And Friends Of The Mentally Ill” by Julie Tallard Johnson. It is a comforting read exploring how siblings are affected in homes where a parent’s time, resources and attention have to be given to a special needs child. As a result, the siblings become hidden victims. The good news is, they often grow in patience and compassion toward others and become loyal friends and counselors to those in need. I’ve noticed this pattern in support groups where former Jehovah’s Witnesses discover within themselves the ability to counsel and comfort others from the hurt AND THE COMFORT they have experienced. This is a victorious healing gift. God takes our hurt and uses it for healing others.
Keep yourself in God’s love,