Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 2, Dysfunctional Family Part 2

In this lesson we will study more characteristics of a dysfunctional family. As you better understand your family, you will better understand yourself and your reactions.

3. A dysfunctional family has either repressed emotions, explosive emotions, or both.

A healthy family both permits and models how to express emotions. Children learn how to identify and deal with their feelings. In a dysfunctional family certain or all emotions are forbidden. Many families transmit messages that say, "Don't express your feelings. Don't cry. Don't get upset. Don't get angry. Don't betray the family. Don't ever tell outsiders about the family secrets." These messages, as well as ones more directly stated toward you, affect your recovery. You may have been told that you are a failure, or shamed by any number of derogatory statements - all of these are characteristic of a family based in shame. You will be invited to focus on the issue of shame in detail in a later chapter. For the moment, however, evaluate how you learned to feel shame about your feelings and responses in your family.

As a child, did you learn any of these beliefs? Write which ones apply to your family... Good children honor their parents. My parents had their faults, but they loved me. If I say or think bad things about my family, I will betray them. If I say or think bad things about my family, will feel ashamed.

The first two beliefs are positive and healthy. The last two are sick rules that serve tomaintain the secrecy in a dysfunctional family system.

Describe how these beliefs affect your life and your recovery.

Survivors of sexual abuse are sometimes unable to express the feelings necessary for recovery because they learned in their family of origin that feelings were not acceptable. This is especially true if the feelings are negative and if the feelings concern a family member.

Each family member sends us messages about ourselves. The person who sexually abuses says, "You're worthless. You are no good and you are guilty." Sometimes parents send the same message, not by sexual abuse but by their words and attitudes. Maybe a sister told you that you were stupid. Possibly you had a grandfather who said you were special - a badly needed positive reinforcement. You can evaluate the messages that each person who supported and each person who abused gave you. Then you can make wise, godly and informed choices. You can choose to reject false messages!

How do you feel when you talk about the abuse? Scared, disloyal, relief, shame, guilt, other??

How have you responded to or compensated for the way your family expressed feelings?

Bill was taught that good children honor their parents. He did not understand that one way to honor a relationship is to make it real by being honest when situations are painful and difficult. As a result, he was afraid to talk about his abuse. Negative thoughts were bad things in his family so he felt guilty and shame-filled for having normal thoughts and emotions.

As you think about that, how would you like to respond now?

As you process this lesson, continue to pray for yourself and the others who are going through this study with us.

"You will forget the shame of your youth."
- Isaiah 54:4

Monday, March 23, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 1, The Dysfunctional Family Part 1

In all the groups I've led and every woman I've counseled, I have found that every family plays a huge role in one's recovery from sexual abuse. Even if you would not classify your family as "dysfunctional", please do not discount this lesson... Please read it carefully and ask God to clearly show you how your family has impacted your recovery in the past, how they are impacting you today and any changes you may need to make going forward. If you are a family member, please read this with a prayerful spirit, asking the Lord to reveal to you any missteps you've made, to give you the courage and humility to seek forgiveness from the survivor in your life (if necessary), and to show you the next right steps in order for you to lovingly offer support and encouragement as they continue their journey towards recovery. It can be very difficult for a survivor to talk to their family members about how they feel about them, so it is my hope and prayer that this lesson will help family members to understand what is running through the mind and heart of the survivor in their life.


Family issues have a tremendous affect on recovery from sexual abuse. In some families, parents or family members may be abusers, while others parents or family members are unaware that the abuse has occurred. In other families the abuse may occur outside the boundaries of the family system. The family may or may not know about the abuse, or may not realize that something has happened to the victim. Whatever your case, with God's help you can understand the role you family played in your sexual abuse and the role they can play in your recovery.

If the father abused an incest victim, the victim must also deal with anger toward the mother. A child molested by an uncle may feel unprotected by both parents. A victim of rape may feel she cannot disclose that fact to her family if the family is emotionally shut down and incapable of giving support. In families where the child is abused by a babysitter, the child, as we would expect, has been told to obey the sitter. Often this victim has a great deal of anger toward both parents; the child believes the parents must know what is happening and therefore they must approve of it.

Many reasons contribute to a family's inability to cope with sexual abuse. No families are perfect and most families lack the tools necessary to weather the storm that sexual abuse creates. How well they survivor the trauma will depend on how well the family has learned ways of functioning as a family. In recent years, counselors have identified the common characteristics of a dysfunctional family. A knowledge of these characteristics helps us to understand sexual abuse and to recover from it.

Dysfunctional family: A family in which some behavior such as alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, an absent father or mother, excessive anger, or verbal or physical abuse interferes with the ability of the family to do its job effectively.

In most families where sexual abuse occurs, the family clearly is dysfunctional. But this does not mean that all dysfunctional families are sexually abusive. The term dysfunctional is used to express the inability of family members to meet the God-given needs for nurture. These families are unable to communicate their feelings, both positive and negative, in a consistent and caring way. They are unable to respond to the needs of each family member.

Think about your family. In your journal, list all the primary members of the family. What does each individual represent to you? For example, who in your family represents comfort, expectations, abuse, peace, rescuing, neglect, betrayal, etc.? After writing what each individual represents to you, write down your feelings toward each person.

Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family:
  1. Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family's time, attention, and energy so that members learn to be overly-responsible toward needy people and irresponsible about themselves.
  2. A dysfunctional family promotes denial and secrecy.
  3. A dysfunctional family has either repressed emotions, explosive emotions or both.
  4. A dysfunctional family does not teach effective living skills to the children. Children do not learn to touch, feel or trust. They learn to expect rigidity and emotional or physical abandonment.
  5. A dysfunctional family squeezes the members into rigid, inappropriate roles.

As you think about these characteristics, we will begin discussing each one individually. You are encouraged to think about how each one relates to you and your sexual abuse experience.

1. Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family's time, attention and energy.

An emotionally needy family member may be one who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, or one who demonstrates other obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The energy and attention of the family is directed toward caring for the emotional needs of this family member. As a result, all of the family members become emotionally needy.

Families with addictive family members have an increased potential for sexual abuse. In a family where the focal person is an alcoholic, the unspoken rule in the family may be "Make Dad happy, then maybe he won't get drunk." In a family where there is a rage-aholic, the rule may be "Whatever you do, don't make Mom mad." In a dysfunctional family the family members operate according to these spoken and unspoken rules and not according to personal need.

Can you identify a member of your family who was emotionally needy? What affect did living in the family with this person have on you?

Did a relationship exist between this family member and the way your family dealt with the abuse? If so, describe that relationship.

2. A dysfunctional family promotes denial and secrecy

Gretchen describes many bizarre incidents of abuse by her babysitter. Sometimes she had to watch the sitter and her boyfriend have sex. Sometimes the babysitter would fondle Gretchen or would stick straws, pencils and other objects into her vagina or anus. She would tell Gretchen that she was bad and that she was ugly. Gretchen tried many times to tell her mom and dad about the abuse, but they were so busy with their own problems that they didn't seem to care or even pay attention to her. They scolded her for making a fuss about nothing.

Finally, Gretchen screamed and yelled the whole gruesome story. Both parents were shocked. They couldn't believe it. Gretchen had been very irritable, but they never dreamed what was happening while they were gone.

Although Gretchen's parents were supportive of her in general, the abuse had come at a very troubled time for the family. Once aware, however, the parents brought Gretchen to counseling and participated in family counseling as well as individual counseling. In counseling, Gretchen expressed her appropriate anger toward her parents. The parents accepted the responsibility for their seeming lack of interest, selection of the babysitter, and failure to recognize Gretchen's attempts to communicate.

Conflict is a normal part of healthy family living. Healthy families expect problems and have healthy ways of coping with them. Family members talk about issues even though someone may feel embarrassed or hurt. Family members take responsibility for their own behavior. Problems can be discussed and solutions found. In a dysfunctional family the "don't talk" rule keeps the victim of sexual abuse bound in silence, even if the crime is committed by a complete stranger.

Write in your journal about how you family solved problems when you were a child.

Families solve problems in many ways. Healthy families recognize that they have choices. If one method doesn't work, they try another. Unhealthy families often use the same dysfunctional methods over and over. Maybe your family refused to recognize problems. Often the rule is "don't rock the boat." Other dysfunctional families overreact to things so strongly that everyone is afraid to mention a problem or issue.

What effect has you family's method of responding to problems had on your abuse recovery?

Some dysfunctional families look perfectly normal on the surface. The father and mother do most of the things that parents should do. They keep and orderly house, a nice yard, food on the table and clothes in the closets. However, the family may still be dysfunctional because the parents are not emotionally present for their children.

Consider the example of Beatrice, a volunteer for a local rape crisis center. She became a victim herself. She was raped at knife point. The rape occurred one morning when Beatrice, after having breakfast with friends, returned to her apartment. Hearing a knock on her door, she peeked out and saw a man she knew, although not very well. She asked what he wanted. "I need to talk to someone," he said. One rule most crisis center teach is never to open the door under such circumstances. Unfortunately, Beatrice did open the door and was raped. Then she decided she didn't want to press charges.

When asked why she, of all people, didn't press charges, she replied that her parents told her it was her fault for opening the door and if she were to follow through on the charges, it would be an embarrassment for the family. She said it was just like when she tried to tell them about her grandfather. Her body was covered with bruises from the beating he gave her. All her parents could say was, "He didn't mean what he did," and, "What did you do to cause it?"

More of Cindy's story

Cindy shares that even when she was a very young child, she felt she could tell absolutely no one what was happening to her.

"Everyone around me seemed to have so many problems that I knew it would be useless to tell. Besides, I loved my perpetrator. When he would come home from work, I would run out to meet him. Caught in this impossible situation, I chose to keep the abuse to myself and hide from others. I never played with children in the neighborhood. To stay away from everyone seemed the safest choice. Trying to figure out if the people around me were "good" kept me too confused.

"I also remember always feeling sad, dirty, and completely alone. People frightened me. Once I lived in a place where th emothers in the neighborhood tried to be friendly and talk to me. I would run from them, wondering, "What do the want from me?" One in particular would leave me cookies, showing me from a distance that they were at her door, then going back inside her house. When I was sure she wasn't coming back outside, I would run as fast as I could to get them. I was so afraid and anxious, it seemed like miles down her walkway."

A dysfunctional family keeps the secret of sexual abuse. Other family members may or may not actually know about the abuse but everyone is aware that something is wrong. The family members work together to keep secret the fact that something is wrong, especially from non-family members. Those who are allowed access to the home are screened carefully. The family acts as though all is well and the visitor only sees the performance.

Was your family open to the outside world? Were you free to talk about your family to others?

How does this characteristic relate to your sexual abuse experience?

Many survivors keep their abuse a secret to protect the family from having to deal with the fact that the abuse is occurring. Sometimes they keep the secret because the victim fears that someone will get hurt physically or emotionally or that the family will not survive. The victim will endure the pain of the abuse rather than risk losing the family.

How and what did you do to protect the family?

The focal passage for this unit is from Isaiah 54:4, "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth."

As I close for today, I want to encourage you to cling to that scripture. What has happened to you is not your fault. You are not to blame. You did nothing to be ashamed of. You are not a disgrace. God is ready, willing and able to rescue you from this mess. Allow Him to do just that.

I am praying for you constantly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


As I was surfing around the Women of Faith website today, I stumbled across a letter someone had written about the conference they'd recently attended. Here's part of her letter: "Marilyn Meberg gave a wonderful talk that gave me chills. She talked about abandonment and that we were created to be connected. There is a disconnect when one is abandoned; a feeling of shame - “Wasn’t I good enough, why did ___ leave me?” She noted that those who have been severely abandoned, especially in childhood, have a need to control others. And an intense need to never talk about that which they are most ashamed of - that something must be wrong with them to cause the other person to abandon them, they must not be worth keeping. The strange thing is, it is only through recognizing those hidden hurts and working through the hurts that one can heal. A couple good verses that pertain to the subject were: Isaiah 41:9 and John 1:12-13."

"I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you." Isaiah 41:9

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12-13

As I read this, I thought of you and your recovery journey. I hope and pray everyday that you are encouraged to continue seeking Him and the wholeness that only He can provide.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 5, Help from Psalm 23

Another Hebrew word for restore is found in Psalm 23. This is perhaps the most familiar passage in all of Scripture to Christians and non-Christians alike. The Hebrew word for restore in verse three is used in a verb form that means "to cause someone or something to return and to restore someone or something to a former condition." This Scripture can be a powerful part of your restoration. God desires to cause you to return and to restore to you those things that sexual abuse has taken away.

Psalm 23

"1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, a]">[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

As you think about this scripture, take time to journal about how the Shepherd has ministered to you.

God does restore the soul, mind, feelings and emotions. Often survivors can't relate to God, and especially God the Father, during the early part of their recovery. Psalm 23 can help you to start a new relationship with God. The Shepherd will restore your heart, mind, and soul in spite of the scars that remain. Under Christ's lordship, even the scars can help you to become more compassionate, understanding, and resilient from having successfully survived such abuse.

Take a break right now and pray. Talk to God about how you feel about Him as Father. Share your feelings with Him about Psalm 23 - even if those feelings do not seem acceptable. Ask Him to lead you to restoration and healing.

More about restoration

The Hebrew word for restore found in Joel 2:25 means literally, "to make whole." God promised He would make the people in Joel's day whole after a devastating loss. He is still in the restoring business today. He can restore to you those things that betrayal has taken away. God will restore the time you have lost by making the time you have now more meaningful. Most survivors have had part or all of their childhood stolen. Often when victims survey the past, they cannot see anything that is good.

No human could give back what was taken from you. Only God can do that. If every person who abused you came and asked you for forgiveness, none could give you back the loss that you have experienced. You may feel better, but only God can give a life with meaning and purpose. He can make a beautiful mosaic of the broken pieces of your life.

In the book of Job, Job suffered devastating losses. He lost his wealth, his health, and he suffered the deaths of his children. At the end of the story, God restored Job. Job received far more than he possessed in the beginning. He regained his health, greater weather than before, he even had more children. But Job did not gain his dead children. Satan had caused their deaths, and they were not restored to Job - at least not then.

God can restore you in the same way that He restored Job. You can feel clean again. The love and grace of God can cleanse and replace the feelings of shame and filthiness, and the stain of abuse. Allow God to touch those areas where you need restoration. Life will not return to exactly the way things were before the abuse, but God can give you a life with meaning and purpose. You may even come to the place that you see that God has given you more than the abuse took away.

Does understanding God's process for restoration bring hope into your life? Take some time to journal about that.

I have written several different blog entries about the way God continues to heal and restore my life. Twenty-two years into recovery and I continue to be overwhelmed by his awesome power and concern for me! The authors of our workbook could not be more right when they say that the abusers can apologize and seek our forgiveness, but they cannot restore what they stole from us. Only God can do that. I was quite content to merely have a good amount of peace and happiness in my life, but apparently God was not satisfied with stopping there. He continues to surprise me by healing even the tiniest broken pieces of my life. Nothing gets by God and I'm thoroughly convinced that He will never stop his mighty work of healing me. It is overwhelming and totally humbling... Why does He care so much about every little detail? I believe the answer is because He loves his children.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 4, From Death to Life

Survivors of sexual abuse suffer a mental and emotional death as a result of the abuse. God created you to live in a wholeness of body and soul. Sexual abuse severely damages that ability. Your first need is to have your mind and emotions restored to life and health.

Now that you have started your restoration from sexual abuse, you can understand the biblical pattern of restoration. One of the Hebrew words for restoration means "to live" or to "be restored to life". Restoration from the abuse means to live, perhaps for the first time in your life!

In 2 Kings chapter 4, a Shunamite woman befriended the prophet Elisha, and she and her husband built a room for the prophet of God in their home. Elisha, wanting to do something to thank the woman, prayed that she would conceive a son. The Shunamite woman gave birth to a son the following year. Later in chapter 4, the son (a grown man) died, but God restored him to life. This story vividly demonstrates the principle of restoration. God gives life and even when circumstances cause death, God can restore life. Only God can do this!

God will restore

Sexual abuse causes its own kind of death. Your next step is to begin to risk and to believe that God will restore the life that has been stolen from you. The Shunamite woman appeared again in 2 Kings chapter 8... She had lost all her land holdings due to a famine. She appealed to the king, who had just learned from Elisha's servant that this is the woman whose son had been restored to life. The king then appointed an officer whom he commanded, "Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now" (2 Kings 8:6).

Through the king, God restored what the Shunamite woman had lost. Our caring God is in the restoration business! As you continue to pray, learn, and grow, God can restore you to a life of meaning, purpose and joy. Begin your appeal to the King, Jesus Christ, and allow Him to restore your life.

In your journal, list your dreams and desires that have died because of sexual abuse.

You might have written something along the lines of, "a sense of innocence, the ability to trust again, spontaneity"...

When I did this exercise a year ago, I wrote: "To have a close-knit family. For my kids to have loving relatives. To be able to trust family." As I think about those answers today, I realize that those are actually things I have to contribute to in order to realize them. My "close-knit family/loving relatives" consist of my in-laws (which I chose when I chose my husband) and our friends... And "to be able to trust family" goes back to my choices again -- have I chosen trustworthy people? In order to have these things restored to me, I had to make wise choices and I had to be willing to take a risk on them. I have done both of these things -- and I am overwhelmed by the way these dreams and desires have come true.

One thing that I did not write down as a lost dream or desire a year ago, but today recognize as one is.... I always wanted to be "acceptable" and "well-liked". I certainly wasn't around my house, so I assumed that I wasn't anywhere else either. In the last several months, God has really shown me that that is not true at all! As I have shared before, I have been reconnected with long-lost friends from my childhood and teen years... The memories they are sharing with me are completely repairing the image I have of myself from those days. I am still amazed at how this is even possible - but God is using these old friends to show me that I was never unacceptable or outcast by them.

Do you think the Shunamite woman ever asked "Why me?" or, "If only things could have been different"? Describe any thoughts like these that you may have had, including the circumstances when they occurred.

Your responses may indicate that you are beginning to let yourself feel some grief and loss about the consequences of the abuse. That is good recovery work! Keep it up.

In your journal write your feelings about the losses you have suffered due to sexual abuse.

Isaiah 42:16, "I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

God can be trusted, my friends. I continue to pray for you daily.