How to Heal
Heal Sex Abuse
Unless survivors courageously face their past and seek healing, it is usual to still be suffering the effects of “minor” sexual abuse decades after it happened. This is not because of weakness, it is normal, so please don’t beat yourself up over still feeling devastated or let others ignorantly belittle you for not yet being “over it”.|
It might be labeled an official medical examination, or two children playing innocently, or a mother helping her baby avoid circumcision by stretching his foreskin, or a date who was a little rough, or some other act wrongly thought to be too minor to inwardly scar a person, and yet the scar can last a lifetime if the trauma it caused is not sufficiently acknowledged and resolved.
“I want to know if some of this is normal,” a woman told me. (She approves of me sharing this and I have fully concealed her identity.) “I was abused by a child who was about six months younger than me. He was bigger than me and I was scared of him. I felt dirty and ashamed of what he did to me. I want to know if this is abuse. Most people never took me seriously when I finally told them. They dismissed it as child’s play or childhood curiosity. Is it okay to hurt and feel pain about these memories? Is it okay to think what was done was wrong? Few books ever talk about a child being abused by another child and if it does, usually the child is older than the victim. I feel a lot of guilt over thinking that this was abuse and that it was wrong.”
If someone plunged a knife into your eye you would end up wounded regardless of whether it were done accidentally or with criminal intent. It would make no difference to your eye if it were done by your sister or mother or by a serial killer. Neither would it matter if it were done by someone older or younger than you.
So it is with sexual abuse. It is just as wounding irrespective of the age, gender or motives of the person who violated you, and yet observers can wrongly suppose that such factors make a difference. If the offence were committed by an evil-looking stranger, most parents would be horrified and want their child to receive all the help and comfort that counseling can offer, but if done by a young brother or sister, they might ignorantly dismiss it as harmless child’s play and imagine the hurt will be forgotten in a few days. This grave mistake can have tragic implications. It will not only mean that the abused child misses out on needed counseling at the time, it is quite likely that he or she will accept the false assessment as true and so, even far into adulthood, keep refusing to acknowledge the extent of the wounding and thus remain as unhealed as if one refused to acknowledge a cancer in one’s body as something needing treatment.
Yes, offenders can have different motives and varying degrees of accountability. Criminal law rightly acknowledges this, but that makes no difference to the damage done to the victim.
A doctor wanted to examine a little girl’s private parts. She had already been sexually abused by another man and she was so terrified by the thought of a doctor examining her, and he was so determined to do it anyhow, that he had her forcibly held down despite her screams and protests. With the medical staff ignorantly presuming that young children feel no shame, this was done with the door wide open so that her humiliation was seen by people in the waiting room. The psychological damage inflicted by that event lasted for decades and would have remained with her for life had she not eventually found healing by inviting Jesus to revisit that traumatic memory with her. The horror would have been no greater if the doctor had been a convicted pedophile. The doctor’s motives and whether a court of law would regard his actions were totally irrelevant to the degree of her trauma.
Another common but serious misconception is that it cannot be abuse if part of the experience felt pleasurable. As it is normal to flinch when touched by a red-hot iron, so it is normal to feel pleasure when touched sexually (unless it is done roughly or in a way to instill terror). Just as it is an equally serious offence to poison a child regardless of whether the poison is placed in brussel sprouts or in chocolate, so the degree of pleasure has no bearing on the gravity of a sexual offense. Consider how normal it is to laugh uncontrollably when tickled, even though one might detest the experience and never want a repeat. Even if someone’s life depended on it, many of us could not stop laughing and squirming when tickled. Anyone’s uncontrollable reaction has nothing to do with morality or approval.
Many men have bared their hearts with me, revealing how as boys they were sexually abused by their mothers. I have no figures, but my guess is that on average such men take longer to heal than most girls abused by their fathers, simply because offenses involving girls and fathers are more widely acknowledged by the general community as something that happens. The general silence about certain forms of sexual abuse can have a devastating effect on victims and strongly tempt them to bury their pain, telling themselves, “It was nothing,” rather than seek the healing they deserve.
It is amazingly common for abuse survivors to feel disgusted with themselves for still being in pain so long after the original event. They imagine they should be “over it by now” because “others have suffered more than me.” Where is the logic in that? If someone hacked your hand off, the fact that someone else had his whole arm cut off would not lessen your own pain. You will recover when your inner wound heals, not when others get more hurt. Moreover, if you ignore a minor wound, allowing it to get infected, you will end up in more pain than someone with a deeper wound who gave it the attention it deserved earlier than you did.
How this Gels with Forgiving Others
Forgiving others is not the cure-all that some people ignorantly suppose it to be. Nevertheless, most of us realize that forgiving those who have wronged us is a critical step on one’s healing journey. A common mistake, however, is supposing that making light of an offense against us means we are gracious and forgiving. The truth is very different. No one can forgive an innocent person. To forgive anyone, an offense has to be committed. This means that for complete forgiveness, the gravity of the offense must be acknowledged. Yes, admitting to ourselves the full extent of the offense makes it harder for us to forgive, but it makes forgiveness genuine and, by doing so, brings deeper healing.
Why is Even “Minor” Sex Abuse So Damaging?
We all know that marriage affects people profoundly. In marriage, two people become one, and anything going even slightly wrong within that relationship is deeply wounding. No matter how short the marriage, it affects a person for life. Imagine the consequences, however, if it were sex, not a marriage certificate, that makes two people one. What if even the most superficial sexual encounter bonds two people like nothing else can and affects people on a deeper level than any other thing? The greatest of all sex experts – the very Creator of sex – shocks us to the core by revealing that this is exactly what sex does, no matter how fleeting or superficial it is. Even looking at a person the wrong way impacts the offender as deeply as adultery, taught Jesus (Matthew 5:28). The Creator of sex reveals in the Bible that even sex with a prostitute – no commitment, just a one-off financial transaction – makes two people one, and the Scripture goes on to declare that sexual sin devastates a person in a deeper way than any other sin.
1 Corinthians 6:16-18 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” . . . Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
Imagine a force so powerful that it fuses two people into one! How could anything associated with this astounding force not affect people profoundly? It’s smarter for two people to massage each other with superglue and not expect any complications than thinking there can be such a thing as “casual” sex.
Like a teen trying to tell herself that it was just the briefest of sexual encounters and that she is “only a little bit” pregnant, trying to convince ourselves that a “slightly sexual event” was only minor, will not change the reality that any sexual experience can have major, long-term ramifications that go way beyond pregnancy, to the deepest part of our being. No matter what tricks our mind plays, the unavoidable consequences of any sexual interference must be faced and dealt with as a much as a pregnant teen has to deal with the consequences, even if she does not even remember the sex.
But Shouldn’t Christians Confess Only the Positive?
Whether it be worn car brakes, termites gnawing at ceiling beams, someone siphoning off your bank account, or past sex abuse, problems never magically disappear by pretending they no longer exist. The wisdom and healing value of acknowledging the extent of our inner wounds is so logical that it is hard to deny and yet we can feel surprisingly uncomfortable about doing the sensible thing.
For anyone with a mysterious lump, living in denial and refusing a medical examination is a tempting option but it is the coward’s way (even though it is actually far more dangerous than seeking help). There are two reasons, however, why we can feel pressured into the mistake of thinking that living in denial is the courageous, proper response.
First, people keep telling us not to live in the past, to “get over it,” and so on. There is a time when such advice is applicable but only after one is well on the way to full healing. For example, there is point in healing from a broken leg when one must discard crutches but to expect anyone to run on a broken leg too early in the healing process is both foolish and cruel. It will only worsen the injury. So it is with inner healing, but those who insist people should act as if they have never been wounded typically have the audacity to blame others when their foolish advice does not work.
Here’s the second reason why we often feel uneasy about facing the ghosts of the past and desperately hope that living in denial is an act of courage rather than weakness: we often hear from both Christian and secular sources that we should not confess negative things. Again, there is some truth in this but it is by no means the full truth. For instance, there is nothing more negative than sin, and yet the Bible insists that it is vital for our well being that we confess to ourselves and to God the extent of our sin.
Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
The importance of admitting the gravity of our sin is taught throughout the Bible. (See, for example, Luke 18:10-14)
In Revelation, we learn that the Laodiceans were in grave spiritual danger because they had fooled themselves into living in a fantasy world in which they told themselves they were fine, when they were not.
Revelation 3:17-19 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. . . . So be earnest, and repent.
Suffering sexual abuse is, of course, no sin, but there is a spiritual principle here, extending far beyond sin, that can help us heal.
In his earthly ministry, we seldom, perhaps never, see Jesus healing people without them first admitting their problem. It seems that as much as Jesus wanted to heal them, their healing hinged on them admitting that they were sick and needed healing. He even asked a blind man what he wanted, thus prompting him to “confess the negative” before healing him (Mark 10:51).
There is indeed a time to be positive, but God pronounces, “There is a time for everything . . .” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is, for instance, a time to rejoice but this passage, along with the rest of the Bible, goes on to state emphatically that there is also a time to weep (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The New Testament tells us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) and not only did Jesus cry, but Paul, who wrote so much about joy and rejoicing, spoke often of his own tears (Acts 20:19; 20:31; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18).
If we try to limit ourselves to a one dimensional life in which we allow only rejoicing and speaking positive things, we are straying from biblical revelation and missing life in all its richness.
Whether it be healing from sin or from other things, the first step in healing is acknowledging the reality of one’s need.
Wrap Up: toward a Cure
You can heal, but not by living in denial.
No matter how medically curable a particular cancer may be, if you treat it as a pimple, you cannot expect to heal. Similarly, if you treat your past abuse as minor, you cannot expect to recover.
On the other extreme, if you regard a cancer as incurable, or imagine the cure is almost as bad as the affliction, it will drain your motivation to seek treatment. This renders you unlikely to heal, not for any magical reason, but simply because you don’t seek treatment. Likewise, you can heal from sexual abuse, provided you don’t let anything stop you from seeking treatment. Never forget Jesus begging his hearers to keep on asking, seeking and knocking in order to receive.
My hope is that you now find yourself motivated to do whatever it takes to finally heal. So what’s the next step? I have prepared many webpages to help you on your healing journey. Please see Comfort, Understanding and Healing for Abuse Survivors: Help & Support for Both Genders.
© 2010, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.
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