Life has a way of showing us things about ourselves.
As we plunge into the depths of hard times or tragedy or come face to face with adversity, we find out a lot about who we are. Our experiences help shape who we become. Every time we respond to our circumstances, we establish a pattern of behavior that will continue to mold us into the person we will be remembered as.
The quintessential illustration of the tea bag; pour hot water over it and whatever is inside will come out. While of course there is truth to this, for what is already inside is what seeps out, stressful situations do have a way of bringing out our worst. Our worst thoughts. Our worse words. Our worst actions. Emotions make us say things we don’t really mean (or irrationally, yet temporarily mean in our anger).
Not one of us has a chance to avoid these tea-bag-situations. Life is full of them. Since this is the case, some self-reflection may help us identify our individual propensity. When researching the topic, I found no shortage of self-reflection questions on the internet. While some of them can be helpful to start the process, I think possibly the best way to reflect is not to ask yourself questions as a part of some sort of “finding yourself” quiz, but to reflect back on your own actions and reactions.
Do you have identifiable patterns? Do you predictably respond the same way to certain triggers? Are you prone to assuming offense or extending grace? How has your pattern of responding changed over the years? Or has it?
We all fail. We fail repeatedly. In fact, this was something that I had to grapple with in my own marriage, especially when I was trying to figure out what to do near the end. I knew I was not perfect. Far from it. I had fought. I had said some awful things and responded very sinfully at times. I could hardly claim innocence where friction and fighting were concerned. So how could I, flawed human that I was, end my marriage on the position that I was being wronged when I myself could hardly be considered blameless?
Do any of you struggle with this? I have a feeling you may. I have a feeling you may have even been reminded of your sinful responses at some point or another. If you have been, it likely struck a chord with you. Maybe you are still “being reminded.”
I ordered two of Leslie Vernick’s books at the same time. I got one a week before the other. The first was “How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.” I read it and was dismayed. No, I felt demoralized. It was all the things that I was already trying to do.
When I mentioned to my counselor that I had read this book and found it depressing, she informed me that while this was a good book, it was not where I was. She said this was for the marriages with a normal level of conflict and where each spouse needed to learn a better and godlier way of interacting or responding. Just as marriage counseling doesn’t work, this was not a resource that accurately reflected my situation. ( https://songsfromthecage.com/2017/04/24/why-marriage-counseling-doesnt-work/ )
I bring this book up to say that while it was not the right book to help in this situation, it was still a good resource to reflect back to me my own shortcomings and failures in my marriage, but it was not a stopping point. I did mess up. I did sin. I do not think you should dismiss all of your own behavior because of your situation. You are after all, human. You are making and will continue to make mistakes. It is this humanity however that can trip you up. Guilt over your failures can be paralyzing, especially when used against you as is often the case.
You may even be guilty of things I have mentioned in my blog, like manipulation or attempts to control. In fact, Thomas Pryde, the author behind Psalm 82 Initiative, a Facebook page that also writes about abuse, said this to my friend once: It is common for a woman who comes from this situation to engage in manipulation because it is a survival mechanism that she has engaged in for a long time to try to make her situation more livable.
So what does this mean for your self-reflection and determining how to go forward? Remember how I referred to the book as not being a stopping point? Identify sinful patterns and behavior for what they are. Confess them. Rely on the Holy Spirit’s conviction to show them to you and God’s strength to help you change, but do not fall into the trap that just because you have sinned, you should allow abuse to continue to happen.
Once you have identified your failures and shortcomings, work on them, but don’t let them be used as a cage. Being a sinner does not mean you have to endure abuse or stay in an abusive situation. Do not let any person, including a spiritual leader, tell you otherwise. This is not what Jesus meant when he said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Making the decision to call out abuse or refusing to stay in an abusive situation does not require sinless perfection on your part. If that were the case, then no human could hold another accountable for their actions.
Guilt over your own behavior can keep you in a situation longer than you should stay or may cause you to put up with destructive behavior, thus allowing it to continue. You will sin, but your own sin does not relegate you to a life where you are not treated with value and dignity.
Abuse is a sin, but sin does not equal abuse.