Having been granted permission by the local Independent, for whom I write a monthly column, I am now posting my columns here, on my blog, rather than having the editor upload them on their site and me directing readers there. It’s easier for everyone, all around. That said, the following is my July column, published Thursday, July 3, in the Elmira Independent.
There is no end to barriers for healing in victims of sexual abuse. The layers seem endless to someone caught in the apparent time warp of trauma and past pain. No amount of ‘appealing to logic’ and pulling victims back to the present makes that trauma disappear, or convinces him or her, that ‘that’s the past’. It is in peeling back layers, revealing truth, and correcting faulty belief systems that freedom is brought within grasp of these tormented souls.
To go through the many layers, and try to expound on each one, would produce somewhat of a text book of information that would take years to write and no one would read. So I will touch only on guilt and the need to protect people we love from truth.
A wise man—one considered to be a great prophet by some, a rebel by others, but better known to me as the Son of God—Jesus, once said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” We misquote it frequently as ‘set you free’, but He says, ‘make you free’. Inevitably we humans look for ways to be set free from burdens so that we can released from them and not face or carry them. But to ‘make free’, is a different thing entirely. Freedom becomes a thing that you ‘are’ in spite of burdens…
That in mind, I see many victims of abuse carrying the burden of protecting loved ones from the truth. The fear that ‘it’s all too much and they won’t be able to handle the knowing’ or ‘it would be devastating for my family’, is a powerful guilt these victims carry when they think about telling family—especially parents—of the crimes committed against them in childhood.
But all the while, as they struggle to protect their superiors, this dreadful role reversal—of a child protecting parents–creates a sense of distance and isolation, pushing the victim further into despair. At the time of the event, a child may have been a toddler, a teen, or somewhere in between. A time when parents protect their children from harm. Or try to. Yet, somehow these children, at that young age, find themselves carrying experiences they think their parents, or other trusted adults, cannot handle knowing.
This message is reinforced when victims of abuse are emotionally, spiritually or psychologically ‘punished’ for coming forward. The bullying that goes on, at times, when a victim speaks up, is shameful. It is tempting to encourage the silence out of a desire to protect victims from further abuse and victimization. But to remain trapped in one darkness to avoid another is merely empowering the darkness.
So when a victim asks me what he or she should do, I fall back on the words of that wise man, ‘The truth will make you free’. And the truth will make the people around you free too, if they will receive it. The rest will keep wrestling to prevent light from shining into the place of hidden things. They will wrestle against the truth for personal agenda, one place or another, whether a particular victim speaks up or not. The only thing that changes is that speaking up draws the wrestling into the light.
I warn that it could get messy. Really messy. And encourage using discretion and wisdom in the process, but I never encourage silence. It is only fair that they know the cost for one level of freedom could potentially cause as much fresh pain as the old pain they release. Still, the healing from the past is empowering and strengthening in the present, as victims find their voice and establish boundaries.
A victim of abuse, while exercising sensitivity in what is said, and how, should not carry the burden of protecting adults from trauma they’ve carried since childhood. That is simply not appropriate. Someone said recently that ‘these things are not appropriate to discuss and should not be talked about’…
My response to that dysfunctional belief is this: Are we actually willing to say that we, as adults, cannot bear the reality that our children, as young as two.. four… six-years-olds, carry through life? How is that?
If children must suffer the mental, psychological and spiritual consequences for these crimes, we adults better be willing to give them permission to talk, and someone be available to hear the gory details. To forbid it is the most selfish, abusive and irresponsible act, next to the original abuse.
In a nutshell, it’s time we adults grow up to the strength and resilience of toddlers, so that victims are not isolated, and forced to carry the horrific memories alone.
Truth makes people free. And truth protects the next generation.