Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unit 1 Lesson 4 - Help in the Storm Part 1

I hope I don't get sued for plagiarism, but there is just so much reading in unit 1. I promise that there are more reflective questions and layers to peel back in the units to come.

Now for lesson 4...

The purpose of this unit is to not only help you, the survivor, but also to help your support people be as effective as possible. By the time many survivors have reached maturity, they have been re-victimized many times. And, sadly, many of us have abused others - at least by being overly angry. Accordingly, the most precious gift this study can give is to impart truth to all readers - truth that would produce life for everyone.

What not to say

The list below contains "the don'ts." The statements in this list are all words that family, close friends, or well-meaning Christians might say to a sexual abuse survivor. These words and phrases are not helpful. Sometimes people make these statements because they have absolutely no understanding of sexual abuse issues. Other times the speaker may be mentally exhausted with the survivor or the recovery process. Still other people simply may not wish to deal with this difficult situation.

The Don'ts
Don't say to a survivor -
  • "Why are you making such a big deal of this? You were very young at the time it happened."
  • "What did you do to make this happen?"
  • "Why didn't you stop it?"
  • "You're the problem. You're just using this as an excuse to get your way."
  • "You mean you didn't tell anybody when it happened? So why tell now?"
  • "Why can't you just forget it?"
  • "You should just forgive and forget. God won't be there for you unless you forgive."
  • "I don't believe you were ever abused."
  • "What is past is past. Let's just not bring it up again."
  • "Just pray about it. God will take care of it."
  • "Why can't you just hurry up and get over this?"
  • "I'm so sick of hearing about your needs. What about my needs?"
  • "You are just feeling sorry for yourself."
  • "Can't you just let it go? Nothing is happening to you now."
  • "It is a sin to think about this. God says to focus on what is good."
  • "The Bible says to forget the past and to press on to the future."
In the list above, make note of the statements that others have said to you when you have revealed your abuse to them. Write the feelings you experienced when this happened.

For me - the most frequent statement was that I needed to just get over it. The abusers were my parents. So many times people would say something like, "They made mistakes, but they are still your parents and deserve a relationship with you. No matter how they treat you or how it makes you feel, you should suck it up and spend time with them. It breaks their hearts that you won't." During my first pregnancy, I had a big baby shower hosted by a couple of friends. One other friend in attendance said, "Your mom may not love you, but this is a baby! Surly she loves this baby enough to be here. You should have invited your mom." Needless to say, I was in shock when my friend said that. Statements like these leave me feeling abandoned and betrayed by the family member or friend who has said it. I definitely feel like they are on my abuser's side and have turned their back on me - the innocent.

In addition to these frequent remarks above, there was one other statement that was very difficult for me to overcome. Not necessarily because I believed what this man said, but because I trusted him... In a counseling session with my mom, my sister and me, our church pastor told my mother that it was a sin for her to divorce my abuser, no matter what I said he'd done. He said that my mother should run (not walk) back into his arms and remarry him immediately. Marriage was forever, and my abuser and I just needed to resolve whatever issues we had. If only it were that easy... I'd admired this man since I was a little girl and looked to him for spiritual guidance. In my heart I believed he was wrong, but I was crushed that he would turn his back on me and recommend that I be returned to a home where my abuser was allowed to do whatever he wanted to me. All in the name of sacred marriage. What about those sacred and innocent children?

While we cannot fully understand or control others' reactions, we can learn more effective and appropriate ways to respond to their statements. Read the above "don't" statements again and select the two that trouble you the most. Now, write an appropriate response to those two statements.

For me - an appropriate reponse to, "Can't you just move on?" would be, "I cannot forget the past, but God is teaching me a lot and helping me to put it to rest as I learn from it. A reconciliation may or may not be possible, but I know that God has brought me to a place where bitterness, anger and rage are no longer controlling how I feel about them."

As for that pastor, I believe that the truth is this - "God designed marriage to be sacred and forever, but when a parent violates a child the way my step-father violated me, a mother has to take the steps necessary to protect her children. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus says, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' Jesus was talking to PARENTS and DISCIPLES. Do you think that molesting your children does not hinder them from coming to Jesus?"

Whatever the reason people have for making these "don't" statements, we must recognize the statements for what they are: statements that bring darkness - a kind of death - to you and to other survivors. In time, you will be ready to leave the past, but premature advice to forgive and forget can be very destructive. All too often people make these statements when they first learn about the abuse or during the difficult days of the healing process.

Most people do not understand that they are hurting you with their "helpful" advice and comments. They think they are helping. The scars of sexual abuse are deep and emotionally painful. Others cannot know you hurt unless you tell them. Choose your support people carefully and be honest with them. Continue to think about your list of supportive people and be ready to name them as we wrap up lesson 5 tomorrow.

I'm glad you're here and look forward to sharing more as we journey this together. Praying for you.


Anonymous said...

I don't usually post anonymously, but I am afraid that you will think I am horrible and heartless for saying this. My husband was sexually abused. I would say for the most part I have been understanding as one can be. But I have also had MY issues too. I would not disagree with most of the "bad things to say" that you listed above. Except for one: and that is the one about "what about my needs". I often got the idea, maybe not from my husband, but from stuff I read for spouses, that nothing that had happened to me could be as bad as what happened to him, so I just needed to "get over it" on MY end. I most definitely got the idea from a lot of things that my needs mattered not at all and his took center stage because after all, he was the one who had been molested. Needless to say, this did NOT contribute to working stuff out really well. It has taken me YEARS to feel that my issues were really legitimate and the irony is that a lot of the invalidation was coming from people who were very intent on having their own issues (ie: sexual abuse issues) validated.

Leigh Hall said...

Thank you for posting. I do not think that you are heartless or horrible. I think that what you are saying is very legitimate and happens very often. There are different phases of the storm of sexual abuse. They look different for everyone, and everyone experiences each phase for a different length of time. This post was addressing the early phases of recovery, when one is intentionally seeking a support person to help get them through recovery. This is a person who has a personal relationship with the survivor and is healthy enough themselves (and in their relationship with the survivor) to provide objectivity, encouragement and safety during the process. I have known of several situations where a spouse (or another well-intentioned family member) was not the ideal support person during the early stages of recovery, as their relationship had been so damaged by unresolved issues (on both sides). Anytime a person is consumed by their own problems, their ability to be a good friend is limited... This goes for marriages too. If your husband has been consumed by his own problems, it stands to reason that he has been neglecting yours.

At this time, perhaps the best way that you can honor and support your husband is through prayer. There are books for spouses of survivors as well. I have not had a chance to read one, but that is on my to-do list. I believe one is actually called, "But What About Me?"

When I made my first call to our church counseling office, the counselor said that they would probably want to counsel with my husband as well --- knowing all too well that sexual abuse is the family's problem and not just the survivor's. Individual counseling for you and for your husband may be very helpful. And marriage counseling together would also likely be a blessing. I personally think it is smart to make every effort to solidify our marriages, no matter what it takes. Many churches will provide biblical counseling free of charge.

I am so sorry that you have found sexual abuse survivors to be so invalidating to you. That was not fair to you. I'm grappling for the right words here, as my heart goes out to those survivors who have such difficulty with relationships, but my heart also goes out to you (the one who has been mistreated by survivors). Speaking from my own personal experience, I'm grieved pretty frequently when I think of all the people I've hurt because of my own woundedness and just not knowing how to deal with what had happened to me. But I had to get through some of my own heartache before I could see how I'd hurt others. I am making the efforts now to reconcile relationships that I hurt in the past, but that is not possible for all situations.

I will be praying specifically for you and your husband. I destroyed my first marriage because I did not know how to deal with my childhood sexual abuse. My second marriage has been tremendously successful.... in large part because of my husband's support, patience and understanding. That is not to say that he allows me to mistreat him and be selfish 24/7. Recovery was a process and took a lot of our time in the beginning, but today our marriage is balanced and mutually supportive. (It's like treating an illness... When one is going through cancer treatments, it is time consuming and difficult for everyone. But, when the cancer is in remission, the efforts are primarily in follow-up visits and preventative care -- no longer so difficult or time consuming.)

If you would like to talk further, feel free to post here again or email me privately. On your husband's behalf, I want to thank you for your care. Even if you are hurt and upset with him, you are reading this blog... You clearly have compassion and concern.

Many blessings to you,

Liz said...

thank you for replying. actually, we have come a LONG way. I was thinking back more to years past when I would be given articles to read by counselors and such and I don't think I was imagining it that even trained therapists acted as if there was NOTHING that could be as horrible as sexual abuse
. At times I almost wished that I HAD had that or overt addiction/abuse in my background because then people would take me seriously. What I DID have was a case of psychiatric malpractice, an emotionally abusive/manipulative mother, peer problems/peer abuse and the death of my father. And a family of people who appeared to be psychologically unable to just be upfront and honest, at least as far as I was concerned.
Next to the drama of my husbands stuff, even people who should have known better acted as if he was the injured party and I should just suck it up.
Your words were very healing to me. Thank you.