….Continued from Part 1…
There is no formula to healing for sex abuse survivors, but there are certain things, in no particular order, that bring deep healing. The following are some of those steps far from exhausting the list.
What is not acknowledged, cannot be healed. It can be suppressed. It can be buried. It can be downplayed and ignored. But it cannot be healed. And it will surface, one way or another.
Many female victims talk about misplaced rage and anger. Others talk about being shut down and feeling nothing at all. Yet others talk about resenting their husband’s touch, or feeling disdain for all males – if abused by males — including their own sons, husband and other male friends. Others talk about a constant desire for male attention that is not theirs to have. (Referring to married women struggling with the need to seek the attention of other men; often the husbands of close friends). Many talk about obsession with body image. And sometimes the fear that they will do to children what was doen to them. Those are some of the ways buried abuse resurfaces in females.
My experience with male victims is more limited, but I have seen a few patterns. Among them are men shutting down after being sexually abused. Disdain for sexual intimacy with spouse, if the abuser was female, and disgusted by female anatomy. Desire for sex with other males, if the abuser was male…. or deep disdain for their own sexuality, because their own anatomy is like the weapon used against them. Escaping life through addictions, whether porn, alcohol, drugs… or work. Fear they too will molest someone one day.
Many of the patterns that are there in lives of victims who are in denial, are also there in those who acknowledge the abuse. The difference is that what is acknowledged can be worked through and healed. Once healed, there is a whole new level of peace, and when those same struggles come up, there are strategies for handling them in a healthy way. In contrast, what is buried will continue to negatively impact the individual and those around, with no hope of healing or change.
Acknowledgement alone is not enough. While it is the first step, therefore a critical one, to stay there with no further hard work does not offer hope. It opens the door to finding hope, but it only admits darkness exists, and darkness can never produce light.
UNRAVELING THE LIES & REPLACING THEM WITH TRUTH
I’ve heard it said that the only real power Satan has is ‘the lie’. I’ve pondered often on this, and am more and more inclined to believe it. In every circumstance of my life, spiritually, it has not been the circumstance that caused the deepest mind and soul struggle; it has been the lies. But there is a practical this-world-reality of humanity and the physical mind and body that must be considered or we will destroy victims’ faith yet further.
We must separate the traumatic aftermath of violence, assault and terrifying experience from how we deal with those lies. That human element of struggle – ie; flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety – are not based on lies. They are reality. (Often unacknowledged and/or unresolved reality, but reality nonetheless). Many people in ministry demonize these human responses to terror, and that, in itself, is spiritual abuse. It imposes on the victim the sense of being in the devil’s grip when in fact they are responding as the human brain and body are wired to respond. God created our minds and body to live in a Garden without pain, suffering or sorrow. This thing we were hurled into, we are not designed for.
With gentle healing, these things generally resolve themselves. No hypnotherapy. No manipulation. No casting out demons. Just patiently living the love of Jesus in their world. I make this claim based on my work with survivors these past 9+ years. This is not scientific research, or any other research, for that matter. There have been two exceptions with victims I worked with, who did not find deep and ongoing relief from the triggers, nightmares and flashbacks just from having someone listen, care and speak life. And most of the rest did not take years to get there. On average, I worked with clients for 3 to 6 months, after which most were equipped to handle the aftermath both spiritually and practically.
Having clarified that, I will address the lies. In every traumatic event, there is a lie…. or many. And there is usually truth entangled with it. For example, when a person is raped several things happen. Their safety is taken in an instant. But not safety only in the broad sense. It is their very body, which they must take everywhere they go, making the victims feel helpless.
Already there is a lie, and there is truth.The truth is, they were indeed robbed of safety. No one can argue that. Rape is not safe. The body is attacked physically, spiritually and psychologically. There is nothing safe about it. The person might carry aids or some other STD. Not safe at all. It could, in fact, cost the victims health or life. We must acknowledge that truth with the victims. Downplaying these harsh realities or minimizing them escalates trauma. A simple, “I am so sorry” is all it takes to acknowledge the suffering.
The lie is “I am helpless”. While safety has been robbed, the individual is not helpless. We feel helpless, and once upon a time I thought I was. (Imagine that!) It felt so real that I genuinely believed I as destined to a life of emptiness, worthlessness and that I had no purpose. I cried out to God in that place over and over, “Please don’t let what I went through be in vain. I can live with it if it has purpose. But I can’t live with it if that’s all there is.” I would tell Him I’m willing to go where He sends me, and do what He tells me. The only thing I couldn’t accept is purposeless suffering.
Little did I know then that God would answer that cry be asking me to do what goes against everything in my desire to be loved and it accepted by people. Had I known the cost then, I’d have been too afraid to pray half the things I prayed. I’m thankful I had no idea.
Another lie is, “this is all you are worth.” I’ve only encountered a few victims who did not struggle with this lie. Rape and other sexual assault communicate to the victim that they are not worthy of love; they are only worthy of being used and assaulted. They take on themselves the identify of the vile abuse – not even that of the abuser, usually – and live out of that. The truth is the offender chose you because of his/her own wickedness and depravity, not because there is anything wrong with you. It has nothing to do with your worth, and everything to do with their opportunistic depraved selves. You are beautiful, precious, beloved… made in the image of God. You are worthy. You have so much more to give. You are valued and cherished by God, and deserve that same gift from your fellow humans.
Sometimes offenders focus on making the victim’s body respond to his/her assaults. The power to force the victim’s body to respond via orgasm and stimulation is its own thrill. This leaves victims tormented on so many levels! Unlike rape at gunpoint, the victim is terrorized by his/her own response rather than a gun. There is guilt and shame. If I truly hated it, why did my body like it? If I didn’t want it, why did I orgasm? There is betrayal. It is as if the victim’s body has conspired against the victim to partner with the offender in the attack. If safety is robbed in every sexual assault, there is no case where such safety is more stolen than when the victim’s body takes the side of the offender. The truth is the offender weaponized sexuality. Your body responded precisely as it was designed to respond to sexual touch, and the offender took advantage of that. It is not your fault. God created you to be loved intimately by your marriage partner, in safety. The offender stole that from you, and violated you.
The list of lies goes on, and on, and on. While I stopped taking clients in 2016, and no longer do 1:1 sessions while studying — and don’t know if I will ever again — when I did, looking at the lies was a key part of the healing process. I asked clients to write out what they believe about themselves, about others, and about God. Having done so, we picked out the lies, unraveled them, and replaced them with truth.
It wasn’t a formula. And it can’t be made into one. It is about listening at a gut/heart level, listening to the victim’s needs, and speaking truth into the lies. It is about showing victims how to do that in the day-to-day, and finding a new and healing mantra to replace the lies that attack our soul and being. Every victim’s story is unique. So walking in with some agenda or preconceived notion of what it will look like – or should look like – is arrogant, at best. Abusive, at worst.
Every victim needs someone to listen without judgement…
Continued… (PART 3)
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2019
ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR
Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters
JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here
NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect
November 2, 2019: THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.
If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.