Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Unit 7 Lesson 1, Healthy Expressions of Anger

I botched up my last post a little...  I had our next unit wrong.  Between blogging lessons here and beginning a brand new support group here in town, I opened up to the wrong place the other day.  We have just finished the guilt & shame unit and are now moving onto feeling the anger and hurt.  So, my last post was more of a wrap-up of the lesson as opposed to a kick-off!  Sorry for any confusion.

Now for the correct lesson!

Focal passage and memory verse for Unit 7:  "Be angry and yet do not sin."  Ephesians 4:26

A young woman who had been a child victim of sexual abuse described how rejected and humiliated she felt as a young girl when the police came to her house.  She said, "I had been walking home from school when a man approached who said he would give me candy.  I never got candy, even though I went to the woods with him.  He raped me.  I was so sore, and blood was all over me.  He tore my dress.  A woman had seen me go with him, bu tit was over so quickly.  My mother got real mad at me and kept saying, "How could you be so stupid as to go anywhere with a stranger?"  With that statement, my mother gave me a good weapon to punish myself.  I was so confused.  I didn't think anything could feel worse than what he did to me, but this was worse.  I thought, "She's right, my mom's right.  Why did I go into the woods?  I was stupid.  I hate myself."

In this unit you will examine anger and hurt in the light of survivors...

Sara, a 25 yaer old woman, was expressing her feelings in a sexual abuse group.  "I am angry at my brothers!  I am angry at anyone who looks like my brothers!  I am just angry!"  For eight years Sara had been tormented by her brothers.  She had been held down, tied up, and forced to imitate pornographic material.  She described many humiliating and vicious acts perpetrated against her.  Sara had begged her parents for help, but they ignored her pleas.  She is very angry about what happened to her as a child.

Almost everyone would acknowledge the right of the victim to be angry about being abused.  Yet many people feel uncomfortable allowing survivors the right to express their anger.  All victims have anger and need to learn to express it appropriately - whether or not the person who committed the abuse, those who enabled the abuse, the church, or the world might be offended by the victim's anger.

As a general rule, expressing anger appropriately does not mean blowing up or throwing things.  It never involves using any form of violence.  In fact, these methods do not work and can become addictive behaviors leading to more emotional pain.

Most of the time expressing your anger appropriately means acknowledging, accepting, and expressing your anger in a mature and controlled manner.  Sometimes recovery from abuse requires more intense expressions of anger and rage than would, in most situations, seem appropriate.  You will learn some ways of channeling these intense feelings through this study.  You can also ask your therapist to help you express and release these intense feelings.

In your journals, write words or phrases that describe how you typically express your anger.  

Throw things.  Yell.  Stuff it inside.  Write.  Talk it out.  Slam doors.  Run.  Curse.  Control people.  Control circumstances.  Be a perfectionist.  Be nice.  Other??

Some of the responses above are more helpful than others.  Writing and talking out anger will help you to clarify your feelings.  Sometimes yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors does release some built-up tension.  However, others may be in your path so be careful to determine whether your anger is being destructive to yourself or to others.  You may not even realize when you are using behaviors such as controlling and perfectionism.

A Preliminary Word of Caution

Before you proceed with the main focus of this unit, consider this caution:  If you cannot use restraint in expressing your anger and you may harm others or yourself, immediately seek the help of a professional.  A qualified Christian counselor can help you to explore the factors that make it difficult for you to deal with anger constructively.  Lack of proper rest, physical problems, improper diet, depression, or being overwhelmed by memories of abuse can all impair your ability to cope with anger.

If you are prone to outbursts, you may find it helpful to meditate on Galatians 5 and the Book of Proverbs.  Try to recognize any behavior patterns in yourself that you learned from being around angry people.  For example, if you had an explosive parent, you may be imitating his or her uncontrollable temper.  If you get "too angry", you can delay your response to the source of your anger and remove yourself from the circumstances until you have received professional counseling.

In your journal, write a description of your behavior the last time you were very angry.

Be honest with yourself about your anger.  If you need to seek help to control your anger, find a counselor or support group in your area.

Do you need professional help to deal with your anger?  Why or why not?

Jane realized that she was taking her anger out on her husband and her children.  She felt sad as she realized that she was building a wall between herself and her family.  She determined to focus her hanger where it belonged.  She began a feelings journal and started talking about her anger with her support group.  (You are welcome to share your feelings in the comments on this blog, on the Facebook Fan Page or even in a private email to me, if you'd like.)

Give Yourself Permission to be Angry

Anger always will be expressed in some way.  Either you express it appropriately or it seeps out in ways that damage you and others.  Let's look at the need to give yourself permission to be angry.  Some of you may laugh at this idea because you consider yourself and angry person, or others consider you to be angry.  You may say, "I don't have any trouble being angry."  The challenge lies in allowing yourself to give appropriate outward expression to the inner anger you feel toward those who abused you and those who made it possible for them to abuse you.  Taking out your anger on yourself or on others who are not involved is not appropriate.  Some of you shut down your anger a long time ago, and you wonder what it's like to feel angry.

At the end of this section you have the chance to make a list of everyone with whom you are angry.  This list should include everyone from the actual people who abused you to all the people who allowed the abuse.  People who enabled the abuse - some call co-perpetrators - include everyone who, by what the did or what they didn't do, allowed the abuse to happen or to continue.  Those who enable abuse can include parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, and protective services...  You may also need to consider your anger toward the legal system and even toward God.

The role of the legal system is particularly important if you were molested as a child.  For example, many states require children as young as five years old to testify in front of their abusers.  Victims who have experienced these types of circumstances have a great deal of anger about the way the legal system re-victimized them.

A 36 year old woman described the experience of reporting her second rape by the same man.  She had not reported the first assault because she thought it would be better if no one knew, including her husband and family.  But when she was raped a second time, she chose to tell her family and the police.  Instead of help, however, she incurred accusations from them and eventually was encouraged by them to drop the charges.

Because of the deep hurt and anger involved, do not leave out any person, system or organization when you make your list of abusers and enablers.  Don't be afraid to include God on your list.  Virtually every victim feels great anger toward God.  Later in this unit you will explore the issue of anger toward God.  Cindy was so angry with God that she left he church for a few years and made a decision to be an atheist.  Last, but certainly not least, make sure to include yourself.  You probably have been beating yourself over the head for years anyway, so put yourself on the list.  Take plenty of time and allow God to reveal everyone toward whom you feel anger.  Don't misdirect that anger towards those not involved or toward yourself alone.

Make a list of every person who abused you, every person who enabled the abuse, and every organization or system that you feel has hurt you, let you down, or toward which you feel anger. 

Make another list of people toward whom you feel angry because they didn't understand your pain or support you when they learned about the abuse.

Your list needs to include your abuser or abusers and others who enable the abuse.  You may have also included friends, relatives, adn others who knew you at the time of the abuse.  Most people also experience anger at God.  Review your lists and add any people or organizations necessary.

Pray for yourself and other members of this online group.

Remember that ...

You can accept God's love and kindness.
The truth will set you free!
You are worthy and have God to lead you and comfort you.
You are clean.
You are wonderfully made.
You have permission to feel your anger and hurt. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Got guilt?

I've talked with several girlfriends lately who are struggling with guilt...  Mommy guilt.  Survivor's guilt.  All sorts of guilt.  I've written this post in my head a couple of times, but didn't know for sure if I'd actually publish it until I cracked open my Shelter book a few minutes ago.  I was prepared to get started on Unit 6, but when I saw the title I felt like perhaps I'm meant to prime your hearts a little first....

The title is "Letting Go of Shame and Guilt."

That said...  I'm going to kick the unit off with this blog post about my girlfriends' struggles with guilt. It is often easier to see wrong-thinking in others - you know, that whole objectivity thing...

My precious friend has cancer.  At diagnosis, she had it in four different spots in her abdomen and chest.  She has cancer, no question.  She's been going through chemo treatments for a few months now.  She was told to expect a great deal of nausea, complete hair loss right away, and dramatic weight loss.  She has undergone a few surgeries, had a port placed inside her chest, has received a few blood transfusions, is receiving daily shots in her stomach to prevent blood clots, and has at least one medical appointment every single week.  She has not experienced terrible nausea; however, she is certainly not feeling completely well.  She is not completely bald, but she has lost more than half of her hair.  And, rather than lose weight, she has gained it!  Her doctor has suggested she limit her diet even more than it's already been limited (due to bacterial concerns, there are certain fruits and veggies that were stricken from her diet months ago).  My friend is suffering...  She is self-conscious about her hair loss.  She is tired and doesn't feel well.  She nervously awaits test results like every other cancer patient.  She has scars and bruising and an device implanted into her chest.  She is self-conscious about her weight gain.  She has an emotional need to talk to other cancer survivors, but she feels "guilty" because she hasn't suffered the darkest extremes of the typical side effects.  She keeps saying, "It could be so much worse.  I really shouldn't be complaining."  She is minimizing what she is going through, merely because "it could be worse".  Out of guilt, she is not allowing herself to reach out to other cancer survivors for support.

I have another dear friend who is a working mom.  Like every other good mother, she readily sacrifices at every turn to meet the needs of her children.  She prepares well-balanced meals, does homework with them, plays with them, knows all of their friends and their friends' families.  She never misses an appointment or activity.  She nourishes them in every way.  Her kids love her and she loves them.  The kids know they are well-loved, but their mother beats herself up because she has to work.  It crushes me every time she says, "Stay-at-home-moms are the best!  Such good moms.  I'm just not as good a mom because I work!"  She is totally blaming herself and finding herself guilty of failure merely because she has to work.  She should ask her kids - they will tell her the truth.

And one last friend who's been on my mind is the mother of a child born with a medical condition.  While pregnant she took her vitamins, ate well, got some exercise...  Did everything that an expectant mother can do to ensure the health and wellness of her baby.  When her daughter was diagnosed with her condition, the mother's first words were, "What did I do wrong?"  And even as my friend explained her daughters condition to me (years after diagnosis), the mother still used the words "....it's just something I passed on.  Something I must have or carry or did."  Let me tell you - this mother did NOTHING wrong.  Frankly, if we believe the words of our Heavenly Father, we are assured that this precious little girl's creation was His doing.  "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb."  Psalm 139:13.  And while we may not know or understand exactly what His plan is, we are assured that he has a plan and that it is perfect.  "For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11  My dear friend did nothing to cause her daughter to be born with this condition, but she blames herself.

As we get ready to start this unit on letting go of shame and guilt, I want to encourage you to pray through your own thoughts and beliefs.  Listen closely to the words that you say.  Hold them up to the light of God's truth.  How do your beliefs about yourself measure up?  Where do you see wrong-thinking?  Do you need to let go of shame and guilt?

Friday, February 19, 2010

We can be victorious!

Kelly's Korner is doing a blog carnival today called Show Us Your Ministry.  I am so happy to be a part of this, and I warmly welcome Kelly's readers to Victory Over Sexual Abuse.

You are either a survivor of sexual abuse or you know someone who is.  It's true - 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday.  Most suffer in silence.

The entire purpose for this blog - the mission for the Victory Over Sexual Abuse ministry - is to provide hope and encouragement to survivors of sexual abuse and the people who care about them.

The recovery process is long and difficult.  But, more than that, it is life-giving.  Changing.  Healing.  Empowering.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  John 10:10

On my journey, I have traveled from a life of painful, shameful isolation and brokenness, to a place of joy, peace, love and acceptance.  I have found purpose and wholeness.  I have been renewed.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

At Victory Over Sexual Abuse, you will find the lessons from the workbook that we use in our local support groups, as well as pieces of my personal recovery journey.  It is my heart's desire to share this with survivors and support people alike.  The work of recovery can only be done by the survivor, but support people are a critical component in healing.  Never underestimate the power of a support person's availability, affirmation, prayer and encouragement.

I welcome you, the survivor, and the survivor's friend!  Read on...  Take in the tools for the survivor, the tips for the support person, and the child abuse prevention and response information for everyone.

Bookmark this blog, become a follower or become a fan on Facebook.  Let's have discussions in the comments!  And, please, tell your friends -- since most survivors suffer in silence, you truly do not know who among you might need this.

To Kelly, all of my amazingly supportive friends, my husband and kids, and every other support person out there -- from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Your acceptance, care and concern are such an encouragement.  As I have walked this amazing journey in ministry with other survivors, we have often been carried by your prayers and kind words.  You are such a blessing.

And Jesus said "...Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me."  Matthew 25:40

To the survivor, I pray that you will find this to be a safe place of hope and encouragement.  I pray that you will shed the lies and discover the truth.  You are loved.  You are special.  You are worthy.  A crime was committed against you.  You are not guilty.  It was not your fault.  It did happen.  You can tell the truth.  There is hope.  You can heal.  You are not alone.  The list goes on...

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Matthew 25:40

As I think about each of you visiting right now, I am reminded that God uses all things for His glory and that only He can bring such beauty from ashes.  I am deeply grateful for his loving provision and healing hand.  I sit in awe of my Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The pain is the same

I often hear things along these lines...  "My childhood abuse was so horrendous, no one can relate to me" or "I was only abused a couple of times - nothing like his/her lifetime of abuse - I feel ashamed for making my abuse such a big deal.  I don't have the right to be in the same group with him/her!"

In both cases, we are isolating and even shaming ourselves.

Don't be fooled, friends.  That is not God talking!  He does not operate through guilt, shame or isolation.

The pain of sexual abuse is the same and we are all equally deserving of recovery!  No two people will share the exact same story or experiences, but the wounds are the same.  The girl who was raped repeatedly by her father shares the exact same violation to her heart as the boy who was fondled by a neighbor.

Some of us have more areas of violation than others.  It is undoubtedly an added tragedy when abuse happens at the hands of a family member, or when people turn a blind eye to abuse and allow it to happen.  It is crushing when responsible adults choose to silence a victim, rather than advocate for justice and support their healing journey.  And certainly grave circumstances like abductions or ritual abuse is unthinkable.  There are countless acts that compound the pain of sexual abuse; and these violations absolutely add another layer of wounding.  But hear me on this - it does not diminish what anyone else has been through, nor does it separate us one from the other.  We are all survivors of sexual abuse and that pain is the same. 

Satan works through shame and guilt.  He will tell you that you are undeserving of counseling / a support group / even your pain because "It could have been so much worse... Compared to someone else, you really didn't suffer all that much... You have so much to be grateful for, why are you focused on something that happened 30 years ago?"  Satan wants you to be stuck, alone, feeling miserable.

Don't guilt, shame or isolate yourself any longer.  The details of abuse are not the issue - the state of your heart is.  Embrace that truth and take the bold step of walking into recovery.  You deserve it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unit 6 Lesson 5, The Potter's Hand

The book of Jeremiah records an important story that applies to sexual abuse.  God sent Jeremiah to observe a potter at work.  The potter was making a pot, but he discovered a flaw.  Possibly the potter allowed his hand to slip, knocking the pot off center on the wheel.  At any rate, the pot was damaged.  So the potter remade the pot into another vessel.

"But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."  Jeremiah 18:4

Just as a pot can be damaged by the action of the potter, sexual abuse victims have been marred by the actions of abusers.  Teh abuser shapes a vessel that is full of shame, guilt, fear and despair.

Then God spoke to Jeremiah and gave the second half of the picture.  He said, "'Oh house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?' declares the Lord. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.'"  Jeremiah 18:6

When a pot has been damaged, the potter does not throw away the clay.  The potter reuses and reshapes the clay into a new vessel.  God said that just as the potter can use the damaged clay, He can make something beautiful from the ruins of our lives.  Contrast Jeremiah 18:4 and a passage that you have read previously....  Psalm 139:14 states, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

In your journal, write two lists.  Compare what you feel about yourself, or what you felt about yourself before beginning recovery, with Psalm 139:114.  Do you feel that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" or do you feel that you are "damaged goods"?

Fill in the blanks:

1.  What I have felt about myself:
2.  What the Scripture says about me:

People injure us when the abuse us, but God is the true Potter who takes the damaged clay and makes it into a beautiful vase.  Let God make you aware that you were created to be a vase full of life, full of value, full of worth.  You can recover as you allow God to remake you according to His plan.

Leave You Burden with the Perpetrator

Shame and guilt are both tremendously destructive.  To restore your life, you may need to forgive yourself for your own sinful choices.  Please do it.  Be cautious, however, to leave the shame and responsibility of sexual abuse with the person who abused you.  Most of us felt the need to seek God's forgiveness for our abuse as well as from choices that we had made based o our faulty thinking.  For us to ask for and accept God's forgiveness for our wrong choices is appropriate.  For us to see forgiveness for what others have done to us is fruitless.  You need not seek forgiveness for someone else's actions.

In the paragraph above you read about two kinds of forgiveness most of us feel the need to seek.  From your life experience, name at least one example of each.

1.  An example of my abuse (for which I do not need to be forgiven) is:
2. An example of a bad choice I made based on my wrong thinking is:

Many of us are accomplished self-guilt artists.  For the first response you may have listed any of the actions of your abuser or of those people who aggravated the abuse by their actions or their inaction.  For the second response, many of us have made wrong choices in dating or other relationships.  We sometimes have been vindictive, or critical, or defensive.  We need forgiveness for our choices.

"For you, Oh Lord, are good and ready to forgive [our trespasses - sending them away, letting them go completely and forever] and you are abundant in mercy and lovely riches to all those who call upon you." Psalm 86:5

In your journal, as an act of faith, please write:  "I thank you, Lord Jesus for your willingness to forgive my sins by sending them away, letting them go completely and forever."  Feel free to journal in detail the sins He has forgiven.

You are the victim of another person's sin.  If you had been shot by a bank robber and you had been paralyzed for life, you would be a victim of the person's crime and sin.  there would be no reason for shame or guilt on your part.

Many times we feel false guilt because we think our actions caused the abuse.  Sometimes the fact that we have made bad choices adds to the problem.  In the case of the bank robbery, suppose you had slipped away from the office during working hours, against company policy, to cash a check.  You would be guilty of violating company rules, bu tnot of wanting to be shot!

If some negligence of action on your part contributed to your sexual abuse, describe that negligence or action in your journal.

Did you, by that action or inaction, desire to be sexually abused?

Did you commit the crime by sexually abusing yourself or did someone else commit the abuse?  (Yes, the question seems ridiculous.)....  What is your answer?  I did it - OR - The perpetrator did it.

If you committed some indiscretion - whether great or small in your eyes - confess that action or negligence.  God forgives lavishly and freely.  But just as in the example of the person who was shot during the bank robbery, leave the perpetrator's guilt with the perpetrator, and leave any guilt that belongs to the enablers or co-perpetrators with them.

Exercises for forgiveness

Because we so frequently carry a load of guilt, some of it appropriate but most of it false, we usually need to work through our guilt issues.  The following exercises will help you to sort out the appropriate and the inappropriate guilt surrounding your abuse.

In your journal, describe anything surrounding your abuse about which you need to be forgiven.

Carolyn was only five years old when her parents left her alone and told her not to leave the house.  She was afraid, so she walked down the street to her uncle's home.  Her uncle sexually abused Carolyn.  For the next 40 years Carolyn blamed herself for the abuse.  She believe that, because she disobeyed her parents, she was to blame for the aubse.

Perhaps you have been carrying a weight of guilt and anger toward yourself for being drunk, disobeying your parents, or just using poor judgment about where to be.  None of these mean you were responsible for the abuse.  However, you may need to ask God to forgive you and you may need to forgive yourself for your poor judgment before you continue to recover.

In your journal, describe any choices that you may have made based on faulty thinking as a result of the abuse.

You may have described your difficulty relating to authority figures because of an abusive parent, or the consequences in your life caused by maintaining the secret.  You may have made poor choices as a result of poor boundaries.  Many survivors become sexually promiscuous as a result of the abuse.  One woman in recovery reported that she just recently had her first date ever that did not end in bed.  She said she simply did not know she had the right to say no to sexual advances.  Blaming ourselves for our poor choices will not help, but we do need to ask and accept forgiveness so we can move forward with our lives.

In the Old Testament we find that people suffered the consequences of the sins of others as we do today.  God, however, responds with a plan to redeem the victim of abuse.   

"They sinned against Me: I will change their glory into shame." Hosea 4:7

Hosea 4:7 is about the priests who were abusing their office and the people.  They were haughty and proud, but God promised to place the shame where it belonged - with the abuser rather than the victims.  The sexual abuser sins not only against the victim, but also against God.  The shame belongs to the person who committed the abuse.

In Isaiah 54:4, God speaks to His people using the imagery of a barren woman.  What He says speaks to the victim of sexual abuse as well.  Write down any word or phrase that gives you hope.

"Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
"For your husband is your Maker,

Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth. 
"For the LORD has called you..."
Isaiah 54:4-6

Give yourself and God the time to complete the good work He has started in you.  This is a very difficult and painful part of your recovery.  It may take a long time.  But please try to remember that even in the valley, God is with you.  He will redeem the time.  You can draw strength from God's promises in Isaiah 54:4, "fear not for you will not be put to shame ... humiliated ... [or] disgraced ... you will forget the shame of your youth."

In your journal, complete the following sentences, keeping in mind that God sees you from a different perspective than you see yourself right now.  Let God redefine how you see yourself.  If necessary, review this unit and your work thus far in Shelter.

For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...
For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...
For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...

We pray that you were able to include words like beautifully and wonderfully made, His daughter/son, clean, worthy of love, to be healed, to be free from shame and guilt.

Many prayers for your continued recovery!  I am so proud of you.