Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday intruder

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. An American holiday typically celebrated by gathering with one's extended family and feeling immensely thankful and joyful. At least that's what everyone says they are doing. And what I really wish I was doing...

The problem is that I get distracted by certain circumstances and allow them to suck part of the joy out of the gathering part of the day. The time when we're with extended family, but it's not mine.

It is very easy for me to prattle off an extensive list of all the things I'm thankful for. Truly, God has blessed me in ways I never imagined possible. Ways that I can scarcely put words to. He has given me new life here on earth, a husband and children, wonderful friends, a church family, financial stability, a fantastic community in which to live... and eternal life. I am deeply blessed and deeply grateful.

But the loneliness that comes with not being with my extended family on Thanksgiving is a heavy burden. It has lessened over the years, but the anguish rears it's ugly head at some point every year. It hit today.

I stumbled upon this a little while ago...

"Talk to God about whatever may be pressuring you and then commit the entire matter into His hands...Acquaint Him with it; yes, even burden Him with it, and you will have put the concerns and cares of the matter behind you. From that point forward, exercise quiet, sweet diligence in your work, recognizing your dependence on Him to carry the matter for you. Commit your cares and yourself with them, as one burden, to your God."
-Streams in the Desert

I am alone right now - for the first time since 5:55am. I am headed upstairs for some quiet time with my Heavenly Father. Let's see how I do at committing my cares and myself to Him this Thanksgiving. Sometimes I hand things over to Him and then take them back.

I am going to leave you with Psalm 37:5, but I encourage you to get out your Bible and meditate on all of Psalm 37. That's where I'm headed right now!

"Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him and He will help you."
Psalm 37:5

Good night, friends. And may you be blessed this Thanksgiving and always.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unit 6 Lesson 2, A Further Look at Shame

Webster's dictionary defines shame as "a painful emotion excited by a consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety; disgrace, dishonor." The Hebrew concept of disgrace includes the idea of being uncovered physically, particularly the genital area; it can also refer to having one's plans and expectations frustrated or disappointed. Both definitions apply to the effects of sexual abuse.

Any form of sexual molestation, rape or abuse transfers to the victim the disgrace of the abuser. Sexual abuse creates shame in the victim. Often when victims tell about their abuse, their listeners add to the feeling of shame because the listeners have distorted the ideas about abuse. They say things like: "Why didn't you do something?" "I knew someone had you before we got married!" "You coulda done something!" "It went on so long, you must have gotten something out of it." You need to protect yourself as much as possible from such responses. You may need to review Unit 1 which contains materials to help you educate listeners.

Shame is a natural response to feeling uncovered or exposed. During the abuse your body was probably uncovered, but there was also the uncovering of your mind. Your sense of innocence was destroyed and the trust was lost. Innocence and trust must be restored. Survivors of abuse are left with frustrated hopes and plans. Dreams for having a healthy relationship with a father, a mate, a mother, a brother, or a child have been demolished. The abuse leaves victims believing that they are insignificant, of no account, no good. As you become aware of and overcome shame messages, these messages will have less power over you.

In your journal, write the following statements three times.

I am significant.
I do count.
I am worthwhile.

This exercise may feel uncomfortable at first but eventually you will be able to feel significant, that you do count, and that you are worthwhile.

The Message of the Abuser

The deliverer of the first of these messages is the person who abused you who says, "What I want goes, and what is best for you is of no concern to me." These and all other messages that convey worthlessness are shame messages. You must begin the difficult work of identifying the shame messages from the persons who abused you and the person who aided them by ignoring or covering up their actions.

An adult female victim tells her story of abuse. "I was eight years old when the abuse stopped. I'm not sure when it started. It stopped because my mom and stepdad got a divorce. I never fought, I never did anything when he would hold me close to him. I never did anything when he touched me except freeze and hope it would be over soon. I just felt bad. From the way people looked at me, I was sure everyone knew, and it made me feel guilty and useless. It happened again later with my stepmother, when I was a teenager. She said she was putting medicine on me. I would look away, down at the floor, sighing in hopes that she would stop touching me.

"I didn't know how to stop it. I couldn't tell anyone about my stepmother; it was just too bad. I told a pastor about my stepdad. What a joke that pastor was. He said, "Don't you understand that your stepfather felt lonely and sad during the divorce and all he wanted was some affection?" Well, of course, I agreed. But after that, I felt even more shame than before. I never told anyone else, that is, until now. But I am 48 now, and there are a lot of wasted years. I wish I would have known to tell and to keep telling until I found someone who would listen and believe me."

The wisdom of God can remove the shame imposed by the abuse message. You can learn to speak God's Word about yourself, not the damaging words of the person who abused you.

Read what the apostle Paul wrote about God's message... "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." 1 Corinthians 2:6-7

What is the purpose God has intended for us according to this passage? God intends His secret wisdom -

To shame us
To makes us feel inadequate
For our good

Learn to believe and give thanks to God. He wants us to experience his goodness, not to expose our shame.

Psalm 139:14 says, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

How did the psalmist say you were made?

The psalmist says that you were fearfully and wonderfully made. Do not allow us or anyone else to tell you how you feel, but you can learn to challenge your own thinking and thus change your own feelings.

As your own decision to change your thoughts about yourself, write in your journal three times: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

God does not intend for you to feel ashamed!

In your journal, write any shame messages that the person or persons who abused you said to you.

For each shame message write a response that declares that these messages are not true!

Suzanne, a victim of date rape, was told by her date that he could tell by the way she was dressed that "she wanted it." He said, "You knew I thought that red dress was sexy." Suzanne had heard others say that he really like her red dress. She did want to look nice for their date, but she did not wear it to seduce him. Red went well with Suzanne's dark hair. When Allen turned down a dark side street, she told him she wanted to go home. She was in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and when he stopped, she was afraid to get out of the car and afraid to stay.

The Message from Your Own Body

A second area of shame has to do with feelings about your body or body parts. Many victims see themselves as fat and ugly. Some purposely get fat or take little care of themselves in order to ward off further abuse. Some focus on a particular body part that they hate. Some are consumed with self-hatred.

In your journal, describe your feelings about your body. Do you particularly feel repulsed by or ashamed of part(s) of your body?

Twelve-year-old Kimberly tells her mother that she hates her body, all except for her breasts. She likes starting to develop, but she feels bad about it for some reason. When Kimberly was raped, her breasts had not yet developed so her abuser did not touch that part of her. Because of this, Kimberly does not feel shame toward her breasts, but she still feels confused. In many victims, sexual abuse develops a self-hate toward their body parts. Some victims have to have certain or all parts of their bodies stimulated - even by their mates.

Verbal Message from Others

A third area of shame can occur even without physical sexual abuse having taken place. Children - and adults, too - can be shamed by statements like, "You can't do anything right," "You're stupid," or "You can't be my child." Being neglected also brings about shame. For example, if no one was ever home for you or cooked a meal for you, or acted as though they didn't want you around, you probably felt insignificant or worthless."

Jesus can transform this hate toward the body or toward the mind, as Pal points out in Romans 12:2.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [do not believe the message of shame, but rather God's wisdom]. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

This scripture helps us begin to understand that as Christ works healing, the abuse will no longer continue to haunt us.

Write a prayer, asking God to remove feelings of hatred toward your body and to replace them with realistic true feelings about yourself.

You might write something like: "Dear God, I am 40 pounds overweight. I accept that and know I need to change that. I will not feel shame about it anymore. I will stop putting myself down."

If the messages you are receiving produce shame and condemnation, it is a false message. God plans to restore you to the truth. Each memory, each thought, each negative message touched by God's restorative power overcomes the marring effects of sexual abuse. When you allow God to restore your soul from the effects of shame and guilt concerning your abuse, you can begin to embrace what God has already said: you are acceptable (Hebrews 10:14.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unit 6 Lesson 1, Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

It's been a while since I blogged a lesson. I have an hour or so before my son wakes up from his nap, so here goes...

Focal passage for this week: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

Memorize it, friends... You are not condemned or guilty. In Christ, there is freedom from the shame you carry! The shame and guilt that are not even yours in the first place!!

Every victim of sexual abuse needs to recover from the shame and the guilt that result from the experience. Shame is the feeling of humiliating disgrace of having been violated. Shame tells you that you are bad. Guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong. You may carry a false sense of guilt caused by the burden of knowing some great offense was committed and the belief that you must be responsible. In the process of recovery, victims must let go of the shame and recognize that both the responsibility and the guilt belong to the person who committed the offense.

Cathy described in a counseling session how ashamed she felt about her body. "It feels dirty. It is dirty! As soon as my Dad would get through with me, I would immediately take a shower, but I could still smell him, and I knew I had done something wrong. I felt bad. I felt guilty, as if someone were watching. I felt evil.

"Believe it or not, my pastor knew something wasn't right with me and my Dad. He turned us in. I mean, turned my Dad in. It stopped, but now it's ten years later and I still feel so much shame. I think I'll be okay and I'll get dressed up and ready to go out. Then suddenly a picture will flash in my mind of his sweaty body on top of mine, and I'll lose it. I'm totally devastated. I feel dirty and evil all over again. Sometimes I think that if I wouldn't have these flashbacks, I wouldn't feel so guilty. The truth is sometimes I feel ashamed for no reason. I feel guilty for just existing."

In your journal, describe the difference between guilt and shame.

Shame is about personhood. It is related to lie #2 in unit 3 - I must be a terrible person for him/her to do this to me! Guilt is about behavior. It is related to lie #1 in unit 3 - It is my fault! Remember John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." You are not a terrible person and the abuse was not your fault. THE ABUSE IS NOT A REFLECTION ON YOU. IT IS A REFLECTION ON THE ABUSER.

Shame invades both the mind and the body.

First let's look at shame as it appears in the lives of victims. This very painful emotion invades both the mind and body of the victim. It is planted in guilt, nourished by memories and watered by secrecy. "I know you tell me," Cathy continues, "that now that I no longer keep everything inside, I will get better. But it's been a secret for so long, I'm afraid to tell! Listen to me. (She was starting to whisper.) I'll try to tell you everything I can remember, I promise... but not today." Later Cathy does go on to tell her story, again and then again. First she discloses it in individual sessions and then in a sexual abuse support group. For Cathy, and for every victim of sexual abuse, telling the story is one of the most important and necessary events in achieving recovery.

Just like Cathy, you may begin to talk in a whisper as you speak about your experience of abuse. Choosing to tell someone about your abuse is perhaps the most difficult challenge of the entire recovery process. Many of you have been threatened emotionally and physically that you are never to tell a word about what has happened.

Many victims have been shamed into believing that if they tell, terrible things would happen to them or to someone close to them, perhaps their mother or sister. They had to hear such things as, "Everyone will know this is your fault," "Everyone will be mad at you," or "Mother will leave if she finds out." The threatening statements that some survivors have been led to believe go on and on.

Compare your feeling about talking about your abuse with Cathy's feeling. Complete the sentence: "When I talk about it, I..."

talk faster
hug a pillow
close my eyes
curl up in a ball

What were you told would happen if you shared your story? If you don't remember, describe how you feel about not remembering. What did you think would happen?

In my experience... My parents divorced 3 1/2 years after I told my mother of the abuse. She never believed me, but divorced my father because my "allegations" had destroyed the family. She took me to see a gynecologist when I was 11. The doctor confirmed a stretched hymen, but not a broken one (which would indicate intercourse, which had never happened). The doctor was unable to say for certain that I'd been sexually abused. Someone recommended counseling for me (I don't know who, but I was under the impression that it was court mandated). So I went for counseling at the county mental health office every week for the next year. After their divorce, my parents continued dating and my sister and I went to visit him often. I protested to my mother, but she insisted that I go on visits with him "to protect my sister". She still did not acknowledge that the abuse actually happened. She also told me that if I made any further "accusations" of abuse or told anyone about the unsupervised visits with my father, that the state would take me away and send me into foster care where I might be treated much worse. So, I went to counseling that year, and every year thereafter, and never once told of the ongoing abuse. I felt threatened into silence. Scared. Abandoned. Rejected. Helpless.

Back to the study guide... Talking about the abuse is difficult for all survivors. It may be more difficult for some than for others. Each survivor remembers as much as he or she needs to at each point along the recovery journey. Let God put each memory in its place and in its proper time. Remember to let yourself be "where you are". Seek to accept yourself as a person in process. You are growing and changing. Give yourself time. Comparing yourself in a negative way to others will hinder your recovery.

Assignment for the lesson:

Write your own paraphrase of Romans 8:1. What does this verse mean to you?