The trauma of abuse, in any form, can be devastating for victims, both when it occurs and into the future due to the emotional scars that remain. However, there is hope in Christ for all people, including those who have suffered the trauma of abuse.
In this Digital Lab, Bethany Miller talks with Caryn Amandola, a pastor’s wife and intern counselor at Redeemer Counseling Services in New York City. She is also a leader of Mending the Soul, an organization providing biblically-rooted and psychologically-proven abuse curriculum. Caryn has trained others to lead Mending the Soul groups and works with her husband, John, to train churches in preventing abuse. The ultimate goal is the healing of abuse survivors.
How has this topic become part of your ministry?
Caryn became a believer in high school. When she was a senior, she decided she wanted to be in full-time ministry and disciple others. In college, she joined campus crusade (CRU) and eventually joined their staff. She also met her husband there and got married.
Caryn and her husband went into full-time ministry and added kids along the way. They always struggled with intimacy issues, but did their best. They had mentors, prayed, and worked out conflict.
They then began a church plant and in the process started doing marriage counseling for others as well. Many of the students Caryn had mentored in high school were getting married and it was natural for Caryn and John to do their marriage counseling. Through these experiences, they found that most women had experienced abuse and so had the men. Caryn was angered at the injustice and the ramifications of abuse and it began to affect her perception of men.
Caryn began feeling like men were jerks and started to become over-sensitive to that feeling, especially toward men in authority. It started to influence her marriage and interactions with John. While she knew God’s word and that her reactions were inappropriate for the situation, she didn’t know how to change. Caryn asked John for forgiveness. She felt stuck and isolated but didn’t have the words to express what she was feeling.
Caryn finally called a friend, who is the founder of Mending the Soul (mendingthesoul.org), who said she’d connect Caryn with a colleague–a counselor. Caryn began going to therapy even though it was taboo in her previous church culture. In the third session, some abuse from her past came to the surface, however before this point in time, Caryn didn’t realize it was abuse. Her counselor helped Caryn accurately identify the situation and work through it.
Counseling ultimately helped her to be honest with herself, with God, and with John. Caryn’s own journey led her to the ministry she has now. She is currently getting her masters in mental health counseling because helping people walk through life is something she’s passionate about from her own personal experience.
What is abuse?
The center of abuse is power and control. General categories for abuse are verbal and emotional abuse, physical abuse, violence, neglect, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and narcissistic families. Verbal and emotional abuse include threats and intimidation, name-calling, demeaning statements, public embarrassment, sexual innuendos, harassment, put downs, correction, and ignoring needs. There’s entitlement where the abuser puts themselves above the person being abused. Physical abuse is more obvious. There’s one-time physical threats that are used to control and intimidate a person as well as pinching, pulling hair, shoving, etc. The abuse could be less severe to severe. Sexual abuse could be exposure or touching. It doesn’t have to be intercourse.
There’s also spiritual abuse when someone uses spiritual authority and power to get their way or when there is an emphasis on obeying your spiritual leaders. Neglect is quieter abuse. While it could be failing to provide basic needs like food and shelter, not taking care of someone’s emotional needs can qualify as well.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism is that it’s “all about me” mindset. Everything circles back to that person. A narcissist is unable or unwilling to see something from another point of view. A narcissistic family tries to keep everything quiet which is a way of controlling to protect the image of the family. The opposite of abuse is equality. Are you equally respected and heard? This is also true for children. Children need to be respected and heard as well.
What effects do women of abuse or trauma feel years later?
Often, with abuse, children grow up trying to protect themselves from harm. As adults, continuing in those ways of protection can be harmful to ourselves and to our relationships. We find ways to meet our needs apart from Christ. We may recognize the behavior is wrong and are unsure how to break an ingrained pattern. For Caryn, her outward behavior was manifested in getting easily angered, but it was the underlying patterns of perfectionism and control that she needed help undoing. As humans, we often try to gain power and control over others’ behavior through our reactions, even becoming overly sexual or aggressive.
Other times, we mix it with our Christian understanding of what it means to love others. Trying to protect others can mean being too compliant.
Abuse can lead to a mindset of shame in thinking “I am no good. I am broken. I have no voice. Everyone else is more important than me.” The deadness we feel is not having the full range of emotion. Caryn says, “You’re not really excited, not grieving. Sometimes it’s denying how we really feel. As we connect and face the pain of our past, that person experiences healing and rediscovers the way God has wired them. That’s the hope that we bring. It’s not just managing external behaviors. Sometimes as believers we judge another person’s behavior. It might be wrong, but we don’t know their story. It’s important to not point fingers and hopefully that person gets connected to help beyond what they have now.”
What is the hope for moving past the place of being stuck?
Caryn says you have to face your pain, maybe sit in that uncomfortable place for a little while. Caryn has learned to face the pain by asking why she’s having the reaction.That helps her get to the root of the problem and connect with God about it.
We can begin by taking it to God and asking Him what those thoughts and feelings are. But we also need a safe community, small group, or a therapist to help–someone we can process with. Someone who isn’t going to just manage your behavior by asking you to memorize verses. It takes someone who has had experience helping others with abuse to hear your story and cry with you. The first part of healing is facing your pain. Giving the hurt or abuse a name is always helpful. It was hard for Caryn to identify her abuse because it came from people she loves. Some of it wasn’t intentional, they were just doing what they learned from someone else, but in God’s economy, that doesn’t make it ok.
1 John talks about shining in the light. The more we unpack our past and our stories, the more we find God will shed His light on it. We can begin to relearn what love and respect really look like.
What do you think we, as the church, can do to better address abuse?
A big part of Caryn’s job is educating church leaders in what constitutes abuse. Caryn says that churches have failed a huge population of people by ignoring abuse. We teach submission, but not what respect looks like. Many people have shared sexual abuse in the church and the church tried to deal with it within the church, without bringing in an outside party who is actually able to help. Often this happens in order to protect the church’s reputation without thought to what is best for the individual person. By inadvertently disbelieving the victim, we invalidate that person’s story and experience and protect the abuser.
An allegation of abuse has to be taken seriously. We should get the appropriate authorities involved, especially in child abuse, marital abuse and domestic violence. The church is supposed to support people, not determine who’s right.
(Women of Grace USA provides resources for trauma training. Watch facebook.com/womenofGraceUSA or wgusa.org for details.)
How can we prevent abuse from occurring?
Have a conversation. Abuse should be talked about from the pulpit on a fairly regular basis. There are a lot of other things that have to be talked about from the pulpit, but when it’s appropriate, talk about abuse too. When you talk about Jesus reaching out to the leper, talk about how the leper is marginalized and the love Jesus has for him. Stand up for things that are wrong. Train your children’s workers. The training protects your children, but also protects your adults. Educate yourself so you can be part of God’s redeeming Kingdom.
What would you say to someone experiencing abuse?
Call and get help. If it’s domestic violence, call the violence hotline. If a child is in your care that you think is being abused, call the National Child Abuse Hotline. Be concerned enough about someone else to help them get help and reach out yourself because there’s great hope for healing.
Resources Caryn recommends
Children’s Sexual Abuse Support
The Child help National Child Abuse Hotline
The Childhelp National Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the United States, its territories, and Canada, the Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.
Darkness to Light (D2L)
Darkness to Light works to end child sexual abuse through empowering adults to prevent it.
Domestic Abuse Support
National Domestic Violence Hotline | Get Help Today | 1-800 …thehotline.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims, survivors of domestic violence.
Abuse Education and Support
Mending the Soul mendingthesoul.org
MTS creates abuse and trauma curricula that transform lives and communities around the world, buy a book, join a group, change your life.
Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind.
The Wounded Heart By Dan Allendar