Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 3, The Trouble with Denial

I've mentioned before that it took me a long time to realize the effects that sexual abuse has had on my life. I went to see counselors into my early 20's, but I insisted that the issue I was in for that day was just an issue, not an effect of something from the past. "He hit me because he's a jerk. But I keep coming back to the relationship because he is nicer to me than my parents are." It did not occur to me that I kept coming back to the relationship because the abuse I'd suffered as a child had left me with absolutely no self-worth. When my ex-husband and I started seeing a marriage counselor, I did not agree that my responses to my ex-husband had anything at all to do with what my parents had done to me. I merely had a problem with my ex-husband. "I am fine!" was what I said... and what I believed.

The problem is --- my relationship problems in my teens, early 20's and my first marriage had everything to do with how I'd responded to and coped with my childhood abuse. Without addressing those issues, I could not fix the mistakes I was making that brought on many doomed relationships and ruined others that actually had promise.

The Hebrew word used most often in the Bible for deny means, in its strictest sense, "to lie". If we apply that meaning, when victims deny the effects that sexual abuse has had on their life, they are LYING to themselves. Many sexual abuse victims will say they don't want to dig up the past... Or they might even quote Paul's statement from Philippians 3:13, "But for one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead..." This is a great verse, but it does not mean that we should deny our problems. In fact, Paul spoke more about his past than any other person in the Bible. In the earlier part of this same chapter of Philippians, Paul draws an effective comparison between his past and what he later gained as a true servant of God.

In an individual counseling session, a woman shared about the difficulties she was having in her sexual relationship with her husband. "It can't be my sexual abuse. Before we married, I loved having sex. We had it all the time. It's that I don't love him anymore. I really hate sex. In fact, that's how I know I don't love him anymore. No, I haven't thought about the sexual abuse. It doesn't affect me now. I got over that a long time ago."

Have you ever said anything like that, "It doesn't bother me anymore. I got over that a long time ago."?

In your journal, describe several ways that you have protected yourself through the use of denial.

The truth is, we cannot put ourselves, God or anyone else in a box and close the lid. It is possible that some people exist who have experienced very little problems after having been sexually abused, but those people are likely few and far between.

There is one primary reason for denial - most victims detach themselves from their feelings. Victims of violent rape and incest tend to shut off their emotions to survive the trauma. This is comparable to people who have suffered the shock of physical trauma but report that they didn't feel any pain. The body and mind have protective overload devices to be used in crisis. They are, however, intended for temporary use only. The longer they remain in place, the more damage they do.

Here is a poem that an incest survivor wrote about denial. As you read, make note of the denial she shows. How does her denial compare to yours?

I know I one was young, but I don't remember much
About my childhood times with toys, and dolls and such.

I remember Dad was angry, Mom was nervous and low keyed -
OUR family was quite healthy... that is, all of them, but me.

I got a lot of whippings, but they weren't all that bad.
I'm sure that I deserved them when I made my parents mad.

When mom was really tired, I would babysit -
I didn't mind at all - it was my job to help her out a bit.

I remember how she loved to go to bed and read -
And Dad would keep me up, in case there's something he would need.

Their patience would wear thin 'cause they had so much to do.
So I tried to keep things easy.... that was my job, I knew.

I remember when my Dad found his way into my bed -
I didn't like what happened.... but I couldn't tell, he said.

Confused, hurt and scared. I must have made him mad -
The whippings kept on coming... but... I guess they weren't that bad.

I don't remember much throughout my childhood years -
So often when I try... my eyes well up with tears.

I wish that I'd been better, when I was a little child...
Then instead of anger, my parents could have smiled.

The memories that I have seem to make me sad -
But... I was just a child... and I guess they're not that bad.

Throughout the entire poem the girl/woman was taking responsibility for her parents' behaviors. Then she denies her own pain in the refrain, "and I guess they're not that bad." How do you compare?

Dissociation is different than denial

A more complicated form of not remembering comes from dissociation. Victims sometimes store fragments in bits and pieces in order to protect themselves from the overwhelming experience produced by the compete recall of shattering events. A significant aspect of healing is to recall gradually the fragments and make appropriate connections. It is like putting a puzzle together. If this is your experience you can be free from the domination of unwanted feelings and behaviors caused by dissociated memories. You cannot simply decide to remember, because the process is mostly unconscious. However, in a safe environment, such as a support group or with a counselor, and with the direction of God, you can gradually put together the fragmented memories of reality. Once you know where the feelings and behaviors come from, you can work through the traumatic memories and deal directly with the hurt, anger, grief, helplessness and any other emotions.

It's time to heal

For most survivors it is impossible to just get over the effects of sexual abuse. Everything doesn't just go away because the abuse happened a long time ago. Your tendency to deny the effects of the abuse in your life affects not only you but also your spouse, children, friends, etc.

A favorite scripture of mine is John 10:10. "The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life and have it to the full." A very effective way of killing an destroying an individual is through sexual abuse. If you take the responsibility that belongs to the person who committed the abuse, you will be consumed with shame, anger, and destruction that are not yours to suffer. If you believe God has betrayed you, you will not seek Him. If you stay in denial, the enemy will have stolen the deepest peace and blessings that God has for you. They enemy will have stolen self-love and self-respect. Don't let that happen.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, the time has come for you to give responsibility to the perpetrator, accept your betrayal, come out of denial, and begin the process of dealing with very painful memories. The process of healing has many ups and downs, and proceeds at varying rates. If you were to remember all past events at once, then you might be overwhelmed, but to begin is important. If memories and feelings become too hurtful or tend to promote destructive behavior, seek professional help.

A final caution

Be careful not to use denial as a way to avoid the truth. Yes, Christians are supposed to forgive our enemies. Yes, God intends for us to be victorious. But forgiveness and victory do not arrive instantly. Wounds must be treated and they take time to heal. Healing from the effects of sexual abuse does not occur until the survivor begins to face the truth. Please do not deny the facts any longer or hide in false responsibility. Allow God to take you beyond betrayal to hope, peace and healing.

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