Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 4, Believing the Truth

As you recover you may be surprised to find that some family members may also pursue recovery from their former behavior patterns. If this happens, you may for the first time be able to establish functional and loving relationships with them.

Even so, you need to allow God to become your closest family. You don't have to give up your biological family, but you need to place God at the center of your life. He is the one who will never let you down or abuse you. You an allow God to replace your feelings of unworthiness with His truth about your worthiness. Your hopelessness can be replaced with hope in Christ and your profound feelings of inadequacy with the adequacy found in Him.

Search for Significance explains four common false beliefs created and maintained in part by dysfunctional families. The victim of sexual abuse is almost certain to hold as truths these false beliefs. These false beliefs will create guilt, a false sense of responsibility, low self-worth, and a host of other issues for the victim.

One of these beliefs is: I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself. Whatever standards you have set are in part based on the messages you heard as you were growing up. The false belief blocks you from realizing that you already are fully pleasing to God. No matter how intense, perfect or successful you become, meeting falsely motivated standards will not bring you the peace you desire. The fact that you were sexually abused does not have to keep you from feeling good about yourself.

In your journal, describe at least one standard you have held that may be blocking your journey to recovery. As yourself, "What do I think I must do to be a good person?"

Jacque thought that she could never let anyone know she felt inadequate or afraid. Regardless of her accomplishments she never felt adequate because something always remained that she didn't know or understand. Her ability to admit she needed help blocked her recovery.

I must have others' approval is another of the false messages families transmit. This belief will lead you to become consumed with pleasing others at any cost. As a result, the fear of rejection or disapproval can overwhelm you. Even if others disapprove because you have chosen to talk about the abuse, you can feel good about yourself. You do not have to have their approval.

Have you ever experienced or feared the disapproval of friends or family members becuase of how you are choosing to recover?

If so, how are you reacting to them? Do you need to let go of the need to have their approval? What is their approval costing you?

Your recovery may require that you suffer the disapproval of some significant others. Some people will not understnad that you need to tell your secret so that you can heal.

The third negative message is: Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished. If someone else doesn't punish us, we will punish ourselves. This sense of unworthiness must be recognized for what it is - false shame and guilt.

Do you continue to hold to any feeling that you are unworthy, or deserve to be punished because of your abuse? If so, describe your feelings.

You may already have overcome this roadblock to recofvery. Romans 8:1-2 speaks powerfully to those of us who struggle with the feeling that we are unworthy and deserve to be punished.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2

As you read this scripture, journal the prhrases that you nee dot believe and accept about yourself.

Take a few minutes to pray; asking God to help you let go of the feeling of unworthiness. Write your prayer in your journal. Ask Him to help you believe that you will be free of this feeling of condemnation.

The last of the four false beliefs is: I am what I am; I cannot change; I am hopeless. The family in darkness places the victim in an environment that teaches helplessness.

Every survivor at times feels hopeless. How did you learn hopelessness from your family?

What gives you hope now?

Hope comes from many places. A support group, family and friends, a counselor - all of these can provide the hope that you need. Re-read what you have written in your journal so far... What have you learned and where have you grown? The greatest source of hope is God who sacrificed Himself for you and promised that he would never leave you.

To recap, the four false messages are:

1. I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.
2. I must have others' approval to feel good about myself.
3. Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished.
4. I am what I am; I cannot change; I am hopeless.

Describe in your jounal all the ways that these false messages have blocked your recovery in the past.

Recovery on your own:

Sometimes we must realize that our families will not join us in the recovery process. We may have to recover on our won with the help of a support system that we create.

Jean is the oldest of six children, very anxious, and an alcoholic. Her father started sexually abusing her when she was very young. By the time she was 10, they were having intercourse. She consistently made protests to her mother, bu ther mother only replied, "What can I do?" Jean's mother was jealous of her daughter and her husband. As Jean began to recognize her mother's jealously, she used it against both parents. By age 16, she couldn't stand the situation any longer, ran away, and never returned.

Jean's mother still resents her. She really doesn't try to have a relationship with Jean's father, with Jean, or with Jean's daughter. Jean's father, on the other hand, wants everything to be okay. He wants Jean to forget the past. Jean is working through recovery. Although it would be extremely helpful if her family would also enter recovery, Jean is beginning to realize that her dysfunctional mother and father are unwilling to do the same. She is accepting the fact that she must continue in recovery on her own. She can no longer look to them to change so that she will feel better.

If your family chooses not to pursue recovery from dysfunctional behavior, how does that affect your recovery?

If you family chooses not to pursue recovery - and many make that choice - you will need to find ways to seek support and strength from significant other people. You may need to establish emotional, psychological, and maybe even physical boundaries to protect yourself if your family is abusive.


I have found that dealing with family matters is generally pretty complicated. Our love for them, and desire to be loved by them, is natural. That is how God designed us. In my own life, I occasionally struggle with sadness and grief over the lost familial relationships. I also second guess myself sometimes; thinking, "Have I just not been merciful enough? Do I need to try one more time to establish a relationship?"

This lesson speaks into my life a great deal. I do not need their approval. I do not need their permission to talk about the abuse and to heal from it. It would be ideal if the entire family would seek recovery, but it is not required in order for ME to seek recovery.

My seeking recovery and advocating for victims of abuse, has come at a high price. Because of my decision to no longer live in fear, pain and isolation, I am estranged from pretty much my entire family. I have no paternal side, so the decision to risk losing my maternal side as well was a very difficult one. If I could have healthy relationships with them, I'd take them in a heart beat! But, as long as what is being offered is unhealthy and unsafe, I choose to keep my distance and break this cycle of dysfunction for myself, my husband and our children. This was not God's design at all - for families to be broken - but God's design cannot be lived out in situations of gross darkness. I would rather live in His righteousness and peace. After all, God truly is my Father; the family from which I will never be separated.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:13

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land."
Psalm 68:5-6

Monday, April 20, 2009

Long time no talk...

I only have a few minutes before rushing off to the next activity, but I wanted to let you know that I think of you, this blog and this much needed ministry several times everyday. I wish that things were not so hectic and unpredictable for my family (rendering me unavailable to write as often as I'd like), but that is the season we are in right now. My husband is working more hours than we have ever worked before and I have picked up the responsibilities around the home and with the kids. We are very busy with sports, school, church, etc... We are so very grateful for God's provision in terms of my husband's job. At a time when many people are losing their jobs, my husband is staying very busy and getting paid for every minute of it. But we miss "normal" life and look forward to being able to get back to a slower pace, more time together and more time to serve the ministry that we love.

I continue to pray for you. As you wait (patiently, I hope) for the next blog entry, I encourage you to re-read some of the older lessons and allow God to continue growing you in those areas. I will write as often as possible. I so look forward to picking up where we left off!

Many blessings to you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 3, Dysfunctional Family Part 3

In this lesson you will examine more characteristics of a dysfunctional family. The purpose is not to assign blame or even to determine if your family was dysfunctional. The purpose is to understand how your past affects your recovery.

4. A dysfunctional family does not teach effective living skills to the children.

A healthy family provides an environment that allows children to grow according to their own developmental needs. Children then learn to love themselves and others and to trust that the world can be a friendly place. A child needs a fairly consistent and stable environment.

An example of the dysfunctional family is one that never stays the same. Some victims of sexual abuse report living in more than one family, perhaps first with mother and father and next with grandmother and grandfather. Cindy shares that in her childhood she attended 19 different schools, including five during her high school years.

"I lived with my mother, my grandmother, my mother and stepfathers, my sister's father, and with several other family systems. Each on presented different issues that I had to work through as a part of my recovery. I had to deal with emotional abuse, chaos, and the aftermath of my sexual abuse, all of which made me think that I was profoundly inadequate as a person, since I was unable to alter or control what was happening. The lesson I learned from all of this was that I could do nothing about my life. No matter what I tried to change, it didn't work. No matter what I did to bring order, chaos always resulted. I could not make sense out of chaos.

I carried the outside shame of moving so many times an the inside shame of sexual abuse. When I left for school in the morning, I didn't know if things would be the same when I got home. I trusted no one because if outsiders knew my story, my pain would be worse. I not only acted toward others as if I didn't care, I began to shut down so I wouldn't care. I would say to myself, "Only breathing matters, and I am breathing." But, of course, breathing is not all there is to living. Also, several of the people in my care were alcoholics, which added to my confusion and lowered my self-worth."

Each family system teaches us something very deep about ourselves, and that message is not always positive. The sexual abuse and the chaos in Cindy's family taught her that she was profoundly inadequate. But she also experienced positive learning. Her mother said again and again, "Don't do as I have done, I've done it all wrong. You can do it better."

Cindy says, "She taught me that I was smart, that I could do it. She taught me that a better way existed. She didn't know that better way, but she taught me that if I searched diligently enough, I could find that better way of living. She was right. I found it with God."

Appropriate touch: a living skill

Building a healthy self-image in a recovering sexual abuse victim requires daily reinforcement in terms that demonstrate that person's value. We all need positive statements and healthy physical contact. God created us to give and receive healthy physical love, such as hugging, holding hands, and kissing. Unfortunately sometimes in a dysfunctional family the only touches we may have experienced were bad touches. The result is extremely confusing.

If you wanted to be held but the only time you received physical attention was during abuse, you may have felt guilty. This is a double tragedy. However, you can begin to understand that you were not wrong for having basic human needs. God intended for you to have these needs met in a healthy manner.

In your journal, answer these questions...

What role did touch play in your family of origin?

Describe how you react when you are touched by someone now?

Touch has to do with personal power and control. If you were touched when you didn't want to be and not touched when you did, you may have a difficult time accepting touch. You may not even know what is appropriate or inappropriate touch. Survivors are often re-victimized because they are not aware that they can say no to touch.

5. A dysfunctional family squeezes the members into rigid, inappropriate roles.

Children in dysfunctional families develop survival roles. These role are either assigned by the family or unconsciously chosen by the child.

Some examples of survival roles include:

  • Scapegoat - usually blamed for the family problems
  • Hero - works hard to bring respect to the family name
  • Surrogate spouse - often takes the place of the emotionally absent spouse and becomes the child counselor for a troubled adult parent
  • Lost child - never gets in the way or causes trouble because this family already has enough problems
  • Surrogate parent - takes over responsibility of parenting tasks
  • Clown - avoids the pain by being the center of attention
In the list above, note any of the roles that would describe your behavior in your family. Your role may have changed over the years as the family changed.

What effect did your role(s) in the family have upon how you coped with sexual abuse?

Can you identify roles that other played? What was the effect of their role on your feelings and behavior?

How do you feel after identifying your family role/roles? (Sad, lonely, ashamed, angry, afraid, guilty, other?)

M.J. describes how her sister was assigned the role of surrogate mother. "All my life I would remember how my sister and I were best friends, how she was always there for me. I would remember how she cooked for me. She dressed me in the mornings for school. She loved me." M.J.'s sister was in the role of parental child.

Sometimes in situations like M.J.'s, the child develops a fantasy bond with the sibling that is the surrogate parent. "I couldn't understand why, now that we are adults, my sister has never come to see me. I was always the one who went to her house. I always called her on the phone.

It took me a long time, but I finally realized that it was all make-believe. This 'bonding' was a way I had learned to cope in my loneliness as a child. My mother had made my sister take care of me. I realize now that she didn't even want to. As my sister and I sat on the porch holding hands, I would fantasize that she loved me. This love, this relationship, was only in my mind; it never really existed. The reason she never called now was because she didn't want to. She never came to my house because she didn't want to."

You may need to seek God's wisdom to become aware of fantasy bonding. We urge you to do so, for this knowledge can set you on the path to have real relationships with these relatives. Even if they are not what you thought or even what you wanted, they will be authentic relationships that you can understand and predict. Your efforts may even lead to loving and intimate relationships, if your relatives are willing to consider honestly all the factors affecting your former situation.

Describe in detail any fantasy bonding you may have with family members.

Sometimes survivors of sexual abuse have difficulty letting go of the feeling of responsibility for the abuse. They cling to a fantasy bond to the abuser or another family member who could have protected them.

Have you continued to accept responsibility rather than face the truth that your bond to one or more family member is a fantasy? Describe your experience.

As you process what you have just read, continue to keep in mind what is written in Isaiah 54:4 "You will forget the shame of your youth." Recovery is hard work, but I promise you that replacing the shame is exactly what God can and will do in your life.

As you grieve the fractured relationships in your life, know that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18. That is such a life-giving verse for me.

I continue to pray for each of you daily.