When Abuse is More than Words

All my life I have dealt with the language of men that was designed to belittle, devalue, and intimidate me. Most of my life it worked and left me feeling vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Most of the time it also opened the door to actual sexual harassment or aggressive behavior. As a person who experienced sexual abuse at a young age, I was ill-equipped to understand the difference between acceptable behavior and unwanted attention. I was so overwhelmed by the behavior of others that I wasn’t capable of pushing back or reporting it. This was true until I came to terms with my own behavior and made a personal change in my response. 

So what did that negative behavior from others look like? There were teachers in school who openly held sexually charged discussions with impressionable teenage girls. There was my father who made comments about my size and used language that today we find deplorable. There was my brother who said I dressed like a whore. There was the friendly neighbor who took advantage of my vulnerability-grooming me with language and images. 

There was the workplace that thrived on adulterous relationships and encouraged young women to have affairs with managers to be part of the ‘in crowd.’ There were bosses who made snide comments about my age, my appeal, and my sexuality as a single person. There was the time I witnessed women who fell prey to the sexual abuse of their management, lose their positions. At one point I was warned that I could be reprimanded if I accepted their advances without reporting these predators. As if we were responsible for their action! Ultimately there was the man in a leadership position who drove me to a nervous breakdown and into retirement to escape his advances because of the earlier warning.

There were the women at a church who shunned me and uninvited me as a single woman who ‘might’ entice their husbands into affairs–with no evidence that I was interested in there spouses. I learned that single women were a threat to marriages and avoided conversations with men in my new church. And finally there was the man in my ministry field whose attention caused me to leave and avoid a ministry into which I felt called.

These examples don’t begin to describe what it was like growing up in an environment in which these things were not only viewed as acceptable, they were encouraged behaviors. One way or another, an attractive woman was seen as fair game. At one point I even dyed my hair because I was told no one would take me seriously as a blond! And then there are the eating disorders- anorexia or over eating- to make me more attractive or to protect myself.

I could not change the men in my world. I could discover more about myself and learn a new way to react to these advances. Thankfully I had a great recovery program at The Meadows and a wonderful healing minister that brought change in my life.

I have my struggles. I’m still afraid to lose the weight and become ‘attractive’ again because I worry that I will trigger old patterns. More healing to be done there. However, I no longer accept behavior from men that includes sexually innuendo, inappropriate body language, or intimidating tactics. I stand up for myself and have passed that on to my daughter. 

Change is hard. 

  • We begin with ourselves. We find an inner strength and the will to call out and push back when someone demeans us. 
  • We can see ourselves as the valuable women God created us to be. 
  • We can experience new life as persons of worth with the right to demand respect.
  • We can call out negative behavior for what it is, stand against it, and stop running.

I encourage those of you who see yourself in my story to reach out to someone and tell your story. Ask for help to recover from abusive behavior. Step into a new life! 

We don’t have to take the abhorrent behavior of others anymore. 

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. The Lord is my inheritance, therefore, I will hope in him. Lamentations 3: 22-23

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