He sat across from her during art class, scorning, criticizing her. Yet, she sat silent and did not shed a tear. His words did not pierce her heart, seemingly unaffected as though she deserved this treatment; she welcomed this form of abuse as punishment. As I witnessed her endure this mental beating, I wondered why she did not defend herself. Did she believe she deserved this kind of treatment?
She did not turn away from him. Instead, she looked through him as he tore her down piece by piece, nor did she seem troubled as he continued stabbing her heart with the sword of his tongue. Instead, she sat there and took every hurtful word he spoke to into her soul, slowly dying inside. I felt every word as a whip tearing her skin off. A childhood memory triggered me, and I wanted to intervene on her behalf, but the Holy Spirit inside me said, “No, she has to do this. She has to find her courage, speak life into her.”
I accepted these kinds of beating as a form of punishment when I was a child, yet I didn’t know what I did to deserve this treatment. So I felt like I must have deserved this treatment as well. But then, I saw the face of an older woman who spoke this same kind of words to me and remembered how I took this kind of verbal beatings almost daily; no one stood up for me, and I never found my courage. No one told me it was not okay for anyone to treat me in this manner; I believed every word spoken into my being and accepted this as truth from her, the adults in my dysfunctional family, and lastly, the man I married.
I stood behind her, fearful she may have a mental breakdown and hurt someone because of her state. I gently whispered, “You do not have to take this kind of abuse from anyone; you do not deserve this kind of treatment. You matter. You have the power to walk away; you can move away from him.”
She responded, “I’m okay.”
I said, “This is not okay, you are better than this, you deserve better than this kind of treatment, you can choose to move away from him.”
It seemed as if she would never move, lost in space, disassociating herself from the situation, as I had done many times as a child to protect myself. However, she finally looked at me as though something had revived her heart. She smiled and said, “I will move!” Then, she boldly stood up and walked away. I was so proud of her ability to take a stance against such cruelty towards her personhood; she became my hero, and I am sure she will remember this day and how courageous she is.
She took a stand against this abusive treatment and courageously walked away. But unfortunately, I am talking about an eleven-year-old girl experiencing emotional abuse by a classmate.
Finding My Courage
The next day, as I sat next to my ex-husband at the car dealer’s, waiting for the new car I purchased as a graduation gift, he glared at me with hatred in his eyes and began spuing out hurtful words. Although this was not surprising, I experienced his control, jealousy, spiritual, and verbal abuse for many years because I felt like I deserved this kind of treatment because of my past mistakes. As a child, I learned how to suppress the pain, and his words confirmed my core beliefs. Like her, every hurtful word he spoke, I received as truth into the depths of my soul. I was slowly dying inside for thirty-nine years.
Finally, however, I remembered the day before and her act of bravery. In my mind, I saw her look at me with a smile as she boldly stood up. I heard her words in my soul, “I will move.” I also thought about the words I said to her, “you don’t deserve this kind of treatment.” It was as though I went back in time to my childhood and saw myself speaking to my younger child, who experienced the same abuse and bullying. No one ever stood up for me, nor did anyone speak kindly to me. I accepted their derogatory words as truth. Yet, I felt as though the love of God gave us both the strength and courage to take a stand and boldly walk away. That day, I took a stance against the abuse, and said to my heart, “Whatever the cost, I will move!” I genuinely believe she will grow and bloom to be the person God created because she stood up for herself.
As I reflected on her action, I saw my inner child freed from the prison of shame that kept her locked away from my co-dependent relationships. As a result, I am three hundred days free from my destructive marriage. I am now working on my co-dependency.
I also reflected on the day this occurred and thought about my daughter’s picture of me standing on top of Spook Mountain looking at the Superstition Mountain. I wonder, “what did she see when she shot this picture? Was it just a great image, or did she see her mother walking away from her lifelong loyalty to co-dependency? I remembered the rigorous climb, the words I spoke to myself to press on, and my granddaughter’s encouraging words as I struggled to reach the top. She supported my effort and did not make me feel unworthy of such a challenging experience because of my age. She did not try to rush me to the finish line. She knew I would get there at my own pace, and she lovingly kept in step with me.
I also thought about the Lord’s faithfulness towards me in my abusive marriage. I remembered thinking, “Why would a loving God allow such abuse?” I wanted Him to intervene and remove me from the situation. However, He tried, but my core beliefs were rooted so deep I couldn’t move; they kept me stuck. I had to find my courage.
Now I understand the poem inspired by the Holy Spirit, “Beautiful Prison.” (Delgado, R. Lisa; Day’s Journey, 2017). The invisible force that kept me stuck was my false beliefs about God, His Love, and the death of His Son for the world’s sins. He took the punishment we deserved.