Verbal abuse can be devastating to the person on the receiving end. Words have power to give life by encouraging us and pointing out the wonderful ways that our Creator made us. Words also have the power to crush our very spirit by causing wounds that can last a lifetime.
Nearly everyone has experienced a verbal barb at some point in our lives. It stings for a while, but we move on. But what about those who have lived with verbal and emotional abuse on a regular basis from a spouse, a partner, or even a parent? How do we heal from years, or even decades, of abuse?
Healing from abuse is a multi-step process. It takes intentionality and hard work, but the end result—emotional health and wholeness—is worth the effort. Those who don’t take the time to heal continue to have gaping emotional wounds that hinder them, their relationships with others, and their relationship with God.
Those who have healed from abuse will never be the same as they were before the abuse. But because they have chosen to be healthy, they are a source of wisdom and peace—a calming balm for others. They have moved from victim to victorious.
Below are some important steps in the healing process.
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No Contact with the Abuser and His Supporters
The first step in healing is to have no contact with the abuser and the minions who continue the abuse. It is nearly impossible to heal when living in abuse. The Bible tells us to run from evil.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul describes a person who chooses to abuse others and warns, “Have nothing to do with them.”
Paul gives the same advice regarding people who choose to continue in unrepentant, serious sin (1 Corinthians 5) and regarding people who are divisive (Titus 3:10). Any contact with an abusive person will lead to more abuse. But studies show that even removing oneself from an abusive person and being around emotionally healthy individuals leads to significant healing.
If someone shares children with an abuser, no contact may be difficult. In that case, contact should be limited to court-supervised emails that only discuss the bare necessities of co-parenting such as scheduling child drop-offs and pick-ups. Verbal rants contained in an abuser’s emails must be ignored and only child-related matters should be addressed.
Communication should follow the BIFF model: be brief, informative, firm, and friendly.
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Surround Yourself with Good People who See the Good in You
Healing requires surrounding yourself with emotionally healthy people who are for you, affirm you, and see the good in you because they have the Holy Spirit in themselves. Sometimes, this requires you to “cull the herd” of toxic or otherwise unhealthy friends and acquaintances. Sometimes this means developing a whole new network of God’s people.
Proverbs teaches us to choose our friends carefully (Prov.12:26; Prov. 13:20, Prov. 18:24, Prov. 27:17). We are hard-wired to be in community, but we must ensure our community is a healthy one so that we can be healthy too.
Reject the Lies and Replace Them with God’s Truth
The majority of healing takes place by identifying the lies that we have been told by our abuser, rejecting them, and replacing them with the Truth of God.
Healing from abuse is a spiritual battle. Satan’s mission statement is clear: he has come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). His tactics are deception, division, distraction, and dehumanization—the 4 Ds.
Because he is the Father of Lies, opponents on the Enemy team use lies to destroy those on God’s team. However, God equips us with His armor to defeat our opponents (Ephesians 6:10-20). The first weapon is the Belt of Truth. A person who has lived with verbal and emotional abuse has likely been told—and believed—hundreds of lies. One by one, these must be rejected and replaced with Truth.
For example, a person who has lived in verbal and emotional abuse has likely been told the lies that she is unlovable, unworthy, unable, too sensitive, too fat, or too skinny, ugly, stupid, not good enough, and that no one else would love her. But God’s Truth tells her she is:
- a beloved child of God (1 John 3:1),
- strong and capable of doing all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13),
- wonderfully and wondrously made in God’s image with her own unique gifts, skills, and talents (Psalm 139:13-14), and
- cherished by the family of God (1 John 4:7).
Good people who have the Holy Spirit in them will affirm this in her.
She may also have been told the lies that she is a bad wife, mother, daughter, housekeeper, worker, or Christian. But God’s Truth tells her that He delights in her and sings songs over her (Zephaniah 3:17). It is likely that everyone else in her network affirms her too—everyone except her abuser.
She may have entered into an abusive relationship because she believed the lies that she was not worthy of someone who treated her well, she needed to settle for anyone who paid her attention so she wouldn’t be alone, it wasn’t important to marry someone who truly loved the Lord, or that everyone sins and she would be a hypocrite for expecting better behavior.
But God’s Truth teaches us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), to choose healthy relationships (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 22:24-25), and that God wants us to choose as a marriage partner someone who loves us like Christ loves us (Ephesians 5:25-33).
She may have stayed in an abusive relationship because she believed the lies that she deserved it, that her abuser would change, that if she kept praying God would “zap” her abuser into being good, or that God would be mad at her if she left or divorced.
But God’s Truth tells us to not be friends with people who choose to be hot-headed and abusive (Proverbs 22:24-25; Psalm 26:4-5). We should not even eat with them (2 Timothy 3; 1 Corinthians 5). His Word also tells us that God allows people to reject Him and follow their own destructive path—and we should do the same (Romans 1). In fact, God ordered over 100 Israelites to separate from their pagan spouses who rejected Him (Ezra 9 and Ezra 10), and God Himself stated that he divorced Israel when Israel completely rejected him (Jeremiah 3:6-8; Isaiah 50:1).
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Write Down and Say Aloud What Is True
Of course, identifying lies and replacing them with Truth requires that we know God’s Word. Diving deep into the Bible is essential for healing.
I recommend starting with a piece of paper and drawing a line down the middle. On the left side, write down all the lies that have been told. On the right side next to each lie, write down God’s Truth.
Next, verbally and out loud reject each lie, one by one, and accept God’s perspective.
For example, “I reject the lie that I am unlovable. That is a lie from Satan. In the name of Jesus and by his authority, I break agreement with the lie and I rebuke Satan and all his lies. I am a beloved child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Cross out the lies on the paper so that only the Truth remains.
We need God’s perspective to be healthy and whole. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) because in our thoughts is where healing takes place. Once we come to the point where our perspective is God’s perspective and the only opinion that matters is God’s opinion, we are in a place of healing.
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Other Practical Steps Toward Healing
We can take a number of other practical steps that assist in healing.
Individual prayer, time in Scripture, and journaling are important ways to hear God’s voice and to share our heart with God. Participating in a Spirit-filled Bible study helps us heal in community. Educating ourselves about verbal abuse reminds us that we were never the problem (as the abuser would have us believe).
Volunteering, exercise, a healthy diet, spending time in nature, adopting a pet, getting enough sleep, listening and singing to good music, creativity, reading uplifting books, creating a home with soothing surroundings, and leading a gentle lifestyle are all good paths to heal our bodies, our frayed nerves, and our souls.
Importantly, cultivating thankfulness and being grateful for all the good gifts in our lives are key ingredients to living a life filled with joy. Modern-day research has confirmed the words of Paul to the church at Philippi—when we have an attitude of gratitude, it dispels anxiety and allows peace and joy to reign in our hearts and minds.
Healing from verbal abuse takes intentionality and time. When God is involved in the healing process, He will restore us to a place that is better than before. Restoration is His nature—it’s what He does. Let God lead you to a life of healing, hope, and wholeness. And go from victim to victorious.
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