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Healing for Sex Abuse
Many years ago I worked on a crisis hotline
and talked with many women who had this experience. I will relate some
thoughts hopefully it will be helpful or encouraging for others.
One call I had started as a routine description of difficulty in a relationship. After about five minutes I asked if the caller had been sexually abused as a child. There was a long silence and then a tentative question, “How could you tell”. I can understand how the caller would be shocked to think that what she considered her shameful past was so easily discovered.
It was my suggestion that she consider that the experiences she had as a child hurt her in two ways. First she had the negative experience of the abuse. Secondly, she was lacking in the positive developmental steps that would have helped her to have a foundation from which to build healthy relationships.
There are chiefly two bad ways to deal with such an experience. The first is to pretend it never happened. The second is to constantly revisit it. It can be helpful to consider the damage caused to a person similar to the physical damage that can occur in a car accident. Injuries may heal more or less completely. The negligence or malice of the perpetrator can lead to bitter recriminations. If the person who took the car out was a teen that was not supposed to, they may also feel shame or responsibility.
With any trauma, it is important to work at as much recovery as possible. However, there may be a limit as to how much function can be re-acquired. A car accident victim may face permanent limits of mobility. An abuse victim may face similar limits of trust. The advantage for the abuse victim is that, with the help of God, significant healing can be achieved.
One aspect of healing is forgiveness. This is often misunderstood and attempted unilaterally. Forgiveness is about relationship and is not possible without the responsible person being repentant and asking forgiveness. We can see this with our relationship with God.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9
Here the word “confess” is homologos (to say the same words). The idea is that if we can say the same words about our sins that God would, we bring ourselves into alignment with truth and can receive God’s forgiveness.
In the mind of a child, a perpetrator can loom large indeed. As the years pass and understanding grows, the perpetrator begins to take on more accurate proportions. Those who exploit the weak and vulnerable are usually cowardly, sad, debased creatures seeking out a victim they can use to support a fantasy of affection they are not able to obtain otherwise. Some healing can be obtained as a victim comes to see less of the “power” of the perpetrator and more of the true nature.
One hindrance to healing is the limitation to being able to share the event with others. People who have had traumatic experiences often find others are upset and avoid mentioning it. Combat veterans, ex-cons, even cops can find that their experiences can be unsettling to those who have not had similar experiences. Working on a crisis hotline gave me an appreciation for the perspective held by cops and emergency room nurses resulting from their un-hindered view of humanity. Most of us live lives distant from the ravages of much of the more brutal sin in the world. If we live in an artifical bubble, life can be more comfortable, but more distant from truth.
For the Christian, surviving trauma can make us useful in ministering to others.
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. - 2 Corinthians 1:4-5
If we consider examples of gross injustice such as Saul seeking to kill David or Joseph sold by his brothers into slavery (talk about family rejection) then sent to prison, we can see that throughout all manner of human sin, God still works out his will.
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. - Genesis 50:20
While use can be made of scars obtained from the evil of others, it can still seem as if we have been abandoned. However, we need not only to recognize that God has not abandoned us, but that we need to be seeking him so that his work in us can continue.
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. - Psalm 27:10
He restoreth my soul:.- Psalm 23:3a
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. - Luke 11:10
There are a few concerns that make sexual abuse of girls more difficult to recover from than physical trauma.
1. The sexual component. When herpes was first becoming observed in the general population, a gal asked me if she should ask her boyfriend if he had it. She said she felt uncomfortable bringing the subject up. I asked her why she was contemplating the greatest act of intimacy with someone she felt so uncomfortable with as to be inhibited from asking a question.
Today most people engage in casual fornication with almost recreational ease and subsequent loss of intimacy. Seldom considered is that when two people marry who are inexperienced, they spend much of their first year in mutual discovery and with humor and sensitivity build a special intimacy that makes a strong marriage that can last a lifetime. This opportunity is lost when disregarded. A child cannot understand that they are just being used to facilitate the fantasy of someone else. They can come tho think that their actions reflect something defective about them.
An adult rape victim may be able to see their experience as more a violent assault feeding the need for the perpetrator to feel power with sex only being the means to accomplish the fantasy. A child seduced or manipulated will have greater difficulty making a distinction.
2. Female vulnerability. In an age of ascendant feminism, it can seem heretical to suggest that men and women are different. However, if woman was created to be a helper for man it would seem that she would have an extra ability to trust, depend on, and focus on the immediate. This constitution would create a vulnerability to exploitation that was intended to be protected.
3. The trust of children. People have been exploiting the vulnerable since the early days of Genesis. The problem with exploiting children is that the damage it causes can run so deep as to cripple someone the rest of their life. A person swindled out of his life savings might recover sufficiently to work and earn the money to rebuild his savings. A child swindled out of normal development may crippled in such a way that it is difficult to recover.
4. The guilt of enjoyment. Sometimes an exploited child derives pleasure from the exploitation. Either in terms of sensation or from the influence such as position can provide. As an adult, a person can come to feel shame for their participation. They may even come to feel responsible, particularly if they were told that they caused the encounters.
There are particular challenges in recovery from sexual abuse. These can be more readily overcome for the Christian .
1. Truth, the ultimate remedy. One of the advantages of the past is that it is not now. Being able to break from the past allows a person to be able to see the past with the clarity of truth. Perpetrators and crimes take a more accurate shape and become more sad and less menacing with the distant perspective of time. An adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse can gain a more healthy perspective if they can use truth to disconnect themselves from the oppressive burden of past people and events.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. - John 8:31-32
2. Love. Today the idea of love has become just the opposite of how the bible uses the word. Today the self-stimulating sensations of lust, desire, pleasure, and expectation have come to replace the biblical idea of self-denial and seeking the good of others.
Love is long-suffering, it is kind, love doth not envy, love doth not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, doth not act unseemly, doth not seek its own things, is not provoked, doth not impute evil, rejoiceth not over the unrighteousness, and rejoiceth with the truth; all things it beareth, all it believeth, all it hopeth, all it endureth. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
If one considers almost every popular song from the 1950s through the 1960s was about teen “love”, one might see the hand of Satan (who sets the course of this world (Eph 2:2)) attempting to divert an entire generation to substitute selfish indulgence for actual love. The Christian who comes to understand real self-sacrificial love through the example of Jesus has an advantage to see that what they were subjected to had little to do with “love”.
3. Wisdom. Wisdom comes from God and is available to all who would ask. Wisdom works in conjunction with truth. For example, truth tells us that the abuse of a child is not the fault of the child. Wisdom tells us that it is foolish and ultimately harmful to ignore truth and cling to a sensation of blame, fault, and shame.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. - James 1:5-6
4. Faith. The English word “believe” is often used as a substitute for faith. However, this can be confusing.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. - James 2:19
It can be more helpful to consider the word “trust” as a substitute. The example is often given of a man setting up to cross Niagara Falls with a wheelbarrow on a tightrope (a frequent stunt in the early part of the twentieth century). The man asked a bystander if he thought he could accomplish the feat, the bystander said that he believed he could. The bystander was then asked if he wanted to ride in the wheelbarrow. This sort of expands the differentiation between belief and trust.
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. - 2 Timothy 1:12
Experiencing childhood abuse can cripple ones ability to trust. However, as one’s faith (trust) in God grows, one is better able to risk opening the heart to others.
An additional problem is for people who are already in a relationship revealing they had an abuse in the past. Frequently men react with anger and seek to punish or bring to justice those responsible. This causes problems because the woman generally wants affection, affirmation, and to know that she is accepted regardless of the circumstances of the past. In this situation a Christian man can benefit from someone helping him to understand what his wife needs from him and that his first priority should be to comfort, assure, and create a zone of acceptance for his wife.
The Christian wife who has a Christian husband who can help her get past the damage done years ago has a gift from God. The Christian woman who remains single or does not have someone who can shield her can take solace that God is her shield and that a healing heart can be used to bring a depth of sensitivity in ministry to others.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14
True recovery lies in being able to disconnect from the past like losing an old scab. It is possible to avoid the root of bitterness that can poison a life (Heb 12:15). We come to be grateful for the love of Christ without which we would be alone and without hope in the world (Eph 2:12). Past pain can give us greater sensitivity, humility, and gratitude for the love of God that rescues us.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17
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