Monday, September 19, 2011

Voice, Relationship, and Power

Last post, I mentioned the need to redefine what sexual abuse is and how we should view it's effects.  Most of my examples focused around childhood sexual abuse and incest, but sexual abuse also covers rape, whether by a stranger, a date, or a husband.  Sexual abuse is very different for everyone and there are many various degrees of hurt that are inflicted upon individuals.  Many factors come into play that make abuse worse - do you know the offender, are they a close friend or family member, are they in a position of power, were they supposed to be caring for you and protecting you instead of abusing, how far physically did the abuse go, how long did it last, how many times, where at, how did other family members or authorities react, what propaganda was given, were you punished for refusing, were you powerless to stop it, were there injuries, was there sexual stimulation or pleasure, all of these questions and more determine severity.

Today what I will focus on is speaking to the predictable ways in which sexual abuse damages people for years and years afterwards, especially if it was childhood incest or molestation.  My goal with my blog is never to give trite truisms, to never replace the value of one on one counseling, and to not lump large groups of people into one category and label them.  That's why I make a much better counselor than a preacher, I prefer speaking to specifics.  But in the same way that all auto accidents are different but have similar injuries, so all sexual abuse is different but has similar injuries.  Whether the abuse stunted growth in these three areas from the point of injury or whether it shattered them inside a person, or stolen from them altogether, most everyone who has experienced sexual abuse deals with three main deficits that need addressed and healed - Their Voice, their Relationships, and their Power.

Sexual abuse damages a persons view of their own voice, their right to speak up for themselves in the face of mistreatment, the ability to call attention to wrong and for it to be dealt with.  As a child you were given the clear indication either by your abuser, enabling family members, or just your own deduction that speaking up and saying the truth is a really bad idea.  This carries over into adult life by allowing people to hurt you, take advantage of you, and abuse you without feeling like you have a right to speak up.  Maybe if you told on your uncle for abusing you it would destroy the family, maybe if anyone knew what your dad did you would be sent to one of those homes you saw on the news.  Maybe if you told your boyfriend to stop pressuring you for sex he would leave and no one would ever find you good enough to be with.  So now you feel like your voice is unimportant, to be ignored, and that your protests as well as you are really unimportant.  Maybe your abuser even used shame to convince you this was something you were a part of, that you were enjoying it, and that it was "our little secret" that couldn't get out or you would be in trouble too.  So then you get treated poorly as an adult and come to believe you must somehow be at fault because when bad stuff happens to you then you are partially responsible at least.  Whatever it looks like it is a loss of belief in your own ability to stand up and proclaim truth, to call evil out for what it is, and let the world see it for what it is so that it can be made better.

The second wound comes in how you view relationships - who and what are you, what do others exist for, and what is your role supposed to be in relationships.  You are given tons of data to suggest that you are beneath other people, an object to be used and discarded when the other person in the relationship is through with you.  You are an obstinate little girl who deserves what is coming your way because you have been bad, or if you don't do this then your abuser will be cranky and hurt someone else, or you are just a walking vagina with no other worth, value, or purpose.  The basic message sent over and over is that you exist solely for the pleasure of those around you, you are responsible for their happiness and if you fail in that purpose you aren't good for much else and so lose what little value you had.  Relationships become seen as transactional, and you never want to have to owe somebody or feel behind in the transactions.  If you only exist to pleasure someone else then it is important for them to convince you not to look for anything in return.  This creates this weird paradigm where you are supposed to make everyone else happy, even at your own expense, because everyone in the world deserves to be taken care of and treated well, everyone except you, you're different.  Realizing you are a real person with the same rights as everyone else who deserves equality in relationships and can even have people take care of you is part of the healing process.

The third major injury most people who have been sexually abused suffer is a damaging blow to their sense of their own power.  You were put in a position either once or repetitively where bad stuff was happening that your mind may not have even been able to adequately process but you were powerless to do anything to stop it.  You couldn't prevent it no matter how diligent you may be, you couldn't stop it because of the size or power differential, and no matter how much you wished or prayed for it to stop it never did and so you were powerless and God probably was too.  Either he was powerless or just deemed you as deserving it, but either way it skews how you view God - especially when it is your earthly father doing the abusing.  So most people who were abused go one of two routes in response to this powerlessness, you either become a helpless victim or a merciless control freak.  Maybe you accept your powerlessness and decide you are just weak and ineffective, so even if you wanted to go back to school you can't, even if you wanted to lose weight you can't, even if you wanted to get out of that bad relationship you can't, you don't have any power.  Maybe you go the other route and decide no one will ever take advantage of you again, because you will be hyper-vigilant and totally in control of everything, because being out of control was just too painful for you.  You'll mockingly talk of your abuse as if it were petty and if anyone else shows weakness or powerlessness around you it will provoke an irrational anger at them for for not rising above it the way you have.  Problem is that either way the abuse has come to define you and when you don't allow anyone close to you because you can't trust them you can pat yourself on the back for being strong and in control or just see that your abuser has once again robbed you of something life-giving and you let them.  Either way you go power becomes something different than it is to others, either an elusive thing you wish you were worthy of having or the most valuable commodity on the planet that must be acquired and maintained at all costs.

So whether you want to think of yourself as the survivor of sexual abuse or not, if your injuries look like the above three it doesn't really matter, just get the help you need to become all of who God created you to be initially before the sins of others changed the arc of your life.  I've walked with men and women through the process of redefining themselves through God's eyes, healing from past injuries, and counseling has helped them bloom into far more than they ever thought possible, and it can be the same for you.  The common excuses of it is too expensive, or I don't have the time for it, or shouldn't I just suck it up and get over it don't apply here.  You wouldn't give those excuses if you had a physical injury, no one has time to get their broken leg reset but you make time for it.  I see it like a total knee replacement, you could go the rest of your life limping and unable to do all that is within your potential or you can take the time and money required to have the surgery, with all the pain and all the months of rehab, but in the end you can run and jump and get up and down stairs like you've never remembered.

My Amazon widget appears to be malfunctioning but here is my book suggestion on this topic -

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