Abuse is a word that should not be taken lightly. As Oprah Winfrey wrapped up her last television broadcast, ever, I was amazed to reflect on the incredible way in which she brought to light such unmentionable issues as sexual abuse into the public consciousness. The gift of open communication and a journey toward recovery is one that cannot be measured. As so many have pointed out, Winfrey has taken many taboo topics, including sexual abuse, out of the closet and has made them safe to think and talk about. For more on the incredible Winfrey and her fascinating career and last show, follow this link:
In thinking about Winfrey and the issues of bringing to light that which had been in the darkness, I also ponder the meaning of the word "abuse." Sexual abuse is hardly the only type of abuse in the world, as all of us know either from our encounters first hand or from simply being intelligent, aware human beings.
But what are the boundaries and how can we tell if we are indeed facing an "abusive" situation or if we are simply uncomfortable? Are we in a loveless, abusive relationship that we should hurriedly flee as soon as resources allow, or is it just a stressful period and we need counseling for awhile? Is our family situation abusive, or just difficult at times? Is our work environment abusive or are we just exhausted and dealing with the stressors of a fast paced, high pressure work environment?
These questions, it seems to me, are crucial. The reason it's important to know whether you're in an abusive situation or not is that abuse has the capacity to eat away at your very spirit, while difficulties can have the opposite affect, increasing your strength as you overcome challenges, increasing your awareness and compassion as you overcome obstacles.
So let's take a look at the very definition of abuse:
1. to use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.
2. to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.