The Staying Power of Emotional Abuse
“At least he didn’t take your virginity,” the leader of my Bible study group murmurs sympathetically, handing me a tissue to wipe away the tears brought on by my choked confession of a previous abusive relationship. I tense, mutter “that’s true,” and escape the conversation feeling just as broken and empty as before I worked up the courage to talk to her.
I have this conversation with three separate spiritual leaders at my Christian college, a roommate, and several close friends, and when they hear my ex-boyfriend never abused me sexually, their well-meaning first response always falls along similar lines: “It could have been worse—he could have raped you.” “At least he never laid a hand on you.”
I leave each conversation with none of the relief I expected, and each time, I spend a restless night staring at the walls of my dorm, wondering, Is my depression wrong because I was never sexually abused? and the more destructive, Maybe if he had taken my virginity, someone would listen to me.
“It could have been worse,” is never the right response to someone who has experienced abuse. Emotional abuse can lead to very long-term psychological damage, and we of the church should be providing a shelter for healing. Sometimes the most understanding thing to say is nothing at all. Just listen.