It is a crisp and beautiful day here in Pennsylvania. I’ve enjoyed the past few days, away from work and ministry commitments, to connect with friends. I’ve relaxed and chatted, enjoyed a somewhat restricted amount of coffee (because too much raises the blood pressure), and had many good conversations.
I even spent one afternoon baking and cooking meals for my friends’ freezer, because she is recovering from surgery, and there are things he would rather do than cook. And I quite enjoyed it too.
Yesterday I even took a break from blogging, mostly because it was my birthday, and the day was too full to fit it in. So work and ministry were especially far from my mind. I’ve thought of my clients, of course, but mostly that ‘world’ is 645 miles away.
Taking a rest or a break, they say, is as good as a change. And I certainly believe that to be true. But even when I am at home and in the thick of it, I set aside times that I am available for clients, and times that are reserved for family and other commitments. This is to avoid burnout, and then end up being unavailable for months, or maybe even years, or the rest of my life. I do it for my family, and for my clients, and most certainly for my own well-being.
It is no different for victims of sexual abuse; sometimes you need a break. The heaviness of dealing with what once was is very draining, and sometimes it can feel like there’s just too much. When I work with clients whose circumstances and stories are exceptionally extreme and require extended support, there comes a time when I recommend a break.
Victims reading this are probably asking, how in the world does an abuse victim take a break? The reality is we cannot get away from our story; it is what it is, it is a past event that cannot be changed.
When I encourage clients to take a break, I outline a few suggestions to help clear the mind of abuse-related information, at least for a short time. Many victims want to understand what was done to them, and the psychological consequences. The pursuit of knowledge related to sexual abuse and its outcome is not uncommon. Reading blog, after blog, after blog… or researching books, and papers, or more blogs about how abuse might have impacted their world, even scientifically… Trying to understand anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress syndrome and various other outcomes including sexual dysfunction. The desire to know these things is not bad, nor is it difficult for me to understand why victims want to know; we often don’t understand ourselves and the symptoms we carry. But obsessively and constantly reading material related to sexual abuse, while we are in the throes of trying to work through it, keeps our minds constantly in that space and has potential to do more harm than good.
Sometimes I will suggest taking a break from reading anything related to sexual abuse for a month, and rather filling the mind with other things. Even social media, in general, offers post after post after post about sexual abuse, and violence. And the truth is, speaking out is long overdue! But the other truth is that when we as victims spend obsessive amounts of time reading about it, while working through our own pain, our minds simply do not get the break they need from the trauma. During this ‘break’ we continue to meet, in most cases – – unless the client wants a complete break – – and simply focus on affirming truth, so the power of the lies is broken.
My encouragement is to focus on the healing process during that time, rather than trying to understand all of the outcomes, consequences, and psychological conditions we acquired through trauma. Healing seldom comes through that knowledge, especially in extreme cases, and with the risk of exacerbating the problem, it’s just not worth it.
There comes a time and a place, after we are healed, when that information no longer has the same negative impact. And at that time, our minds are much stronger, and the information can actually be helpful, not only for ourselves, but in helping others as well.
Stories of overcoming can be very encouraging when read at the right time, but in our week times they can add trauma. And unfortunately often news reports, and even some blog posts, are current events for which there is no imminent solution or good outcome. Therefore the offer no positive input into a traumatized mind and are best avoided for a time.
If you are an abuse victim, and find yourself constantly absorbing information that keeps your mind focusing on your pain and story in a negative and hopeless way, I would recommend considering a break. Read other encouraging things, and continue to meet with your counselor, mentor, or other support person and fill your mind with uplifting things.
While I don’t have a long list of stories as proof that it works, I do have several, and feel quite confident in encouraging such a thing.
God bless you all today, and my prayer is for ongoing healing for every victim and for this tragic crime to stop. My prayer is also that the church would rise up, and offer the healing touch of Jesus, rather then the condemning curse of silence and denial. There is a healthy way…
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger