“Anger will hold you prisoner; forgiveness will set you free.”
I don't talk. I don't trust anybody. No one dare suspect.
Guilt. Shame. Confusion. Betrayal. Helplessness. Worthlessness. Frustration. Fear. Anger. These are the emotions hiding within me.
Dare I feel? The pain is too intense. Perhaps if I bury these horrible feelings, they will go away. I remain frozen, numb, unfeeling, unmoved. I cannot relive the cruel past. I dare not anticipate the future. I am locked into this present agony, the same harsh reality day after day. Is there no place to run, to hide, to escape my life? I cry into my pillow every night, but no one hears. No one cares.
I am the abused one. My loss is great. My grief runs deep.
Portrait of the Abuse Victim
Abuse represents something being taken away either physically, emotionally, or mentally resulting in a loss of safety, security, stability, control, and personal identity.
The abuse victim suffers isolation. He hesitates to tell anyone about the abuse for fear he will get into trouble. If the perpetrator is a family member or "friend", the victim may try to protect him. He may also try to protect other family members if the abuser has threatened to harm them if he tells.
Sexual abuse is especially damaging to a young child who is forced into the adult world before it is time. The child suffers a loss of innocence. While there is an increasing amount of male abuse, the majority of abuse victims are female. The abuse distorts her view of adults as trusting caregivers. If the abuser is her father, she is often confused about the role she plays within the family. In the morning, she is daddy's little girl and at night, his sex partner. She loves her dad and wants desperately to believe that he is good, all the while believing that she is terribly bad and did something to warrant the abuse. Her lost childhood impacts her deeply for it is a time when her view of the world and adults is being formed. She is vulnerable emotionally as well as physically. "Daddy is bigger than I am and supposed to be smarter." The abuse causes a black cloud to hover over her life on into adulthood. She learns not to trust anyone. She struggles to control everybody and every aspect of her life to somehow regain the control she lost as a youth.
Portrait of the Perpetrator
Most perpetrators are male and in more cases than not, someone the victim knows. Often the offender abuses in the same way he was abused as a child, and as a result, he too is filled with shame, hopelessness, and despair. He doesn't know how to relieve his emotional pain, so he repeats what he knows and has experienced. For example, a child who grows up receiving blood-producing beatings for no legitimate reason believes that the abuse is normal until he interacts with others outside his family and discovers that not everyone has had the same experience.
Seeking acceptance, power, and control, the abuser unleashes his unprincipled behavior on the most vulnerable, usually a child or female of any age. Many times, he feels a child will accept him more readily than an adult will. Because he has been the recipient of abusive behavior himself, his buried anger brews into hatred which is then acted out on those physically closest to him. This only leads to further guilt.
Lies the Victim Believe and the Truth She Needs to Embrace
I deserved the abuse.
The truth is, the sole responsibility lies with the offender. He is accountable for his own actions. Because she is created in the image of God, the abuse victim is a highly valued person and precious in the sight of her Maker (Psalm 139), and so is the offender.
I did something to cause the abuse.
Often a girl will feel that she brought on the abuse because she exuded sex appeal or some other behavior warranting abuse. Often, her belief system is influenced by what the perpetrator has told her. For example, a father sexually abusing his daughter may tell her he is teaching her how to relate to men. The truth is, the victim did not bring on the abuse. Although high testosterone levels may trigger sexual abuse, most often the abuse is a ploy for power and control. Again, the responsibility is solely in the hands of the perpetrator.
I am bad.
Feelings of shame run so deep that they distort the victim's belief system about who she really is. In the case of sexual abuse, the victim may feel she is dirty or warped for feeling pleasure during sexual abuse. The truth is, the body is programmed to respond to certain stimuli. False guilt may cause her to blame herself for what the perpetrator did. She did not ask for the abuse nor did she initiate it. The abuser did.
I can never be free.
Satan delights to hold the abuse victim in the grip of false guilt, anger, anxiety, bitterness, rejection, and unforgiveness. The truth is, God wants to release the chains of bondage and set the victim free! That is the very reason He sent His only begotten Son into the world to suffer at the hands of His abusers on the cross. He shed His own precious blood in order to secure our forgiveness for all time and eternity. Jesus bore our griefs on the cross and He carried our sorrows. He endured the agony for our well-being (Isaiah 53:4-6). We simply come to Him and lay our garbage at the foot of His cross and He takes care of the rest, as we build an altar out of our pain (Romans 12:1-2).
When we receive His free gift of forgiveness, we are delivered from the past. We can apply godly statements to our lives in the form of biblical self-talk. Search the Scriptures. The book of Ephesians is a wonderful place to begin uncovering the treasure of who you are in Christ. Our book, Marriage with an Attitude, contains a comprehensive listing of biblical "I am" statements with Scripture references. Below are a few.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14).
I am loved and valued by God (Jer. 31:3).
I am completely forgiven by God and totally accepted by Him (Eph. 1:7).
I am a brand new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
I am set free (John 8:31-32).
Seeing Abuse as God Sees It
When an abused person finally reaches the place where she can expose her buried feelings, she may express anger toward God. She may wonder, If God is so big and so great and in control of everything, why didn't He stop my abuse?
The truth is God did not cause the abuse. The perpetrator did. Through an act of His divine love, God created each one of us with a free will. We each have the God-given ability to choose Him and His goodness or to choose evil and the resulting behavior. This biblical principle takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve made the choice to eat the forbidden fruit, incurring judgment on mankind. God doesn't keep evil from happening any more than He forces righteousness to happen.
God does, however, take the awful effects of abuse and turn them around for good to those who offer the twisted mess to Him. This is beautifully illustrated in Genesis 50:20 where Joseph responds to his jealous and abusive brothers after selling him into Egypt. He not only became a slave in a foreign land, but he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct, and unjustly thrown into prison. Joseph may have wondered, Where is God in all of this?
Joseph's response to his brothers is simply: "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). Acts 7:9 says that "God was with Joseph." God had delivered him out of prison and elevated him to a high position in the Egyptian government, using his skills to save the people from a devastating famine. Ultimately, he saved his own family--the very brothers who had abused him--from the same dreadful famine.
The most important step Joseph took in dealing with his abuse was to offer forgiveness to his brothers. He was only able to do this because he recognized God's hand in the whole situation. His brothers were astounded! They thought for sure he would retaliate and use the power of his position to imprison them or kill them. But not so. Joseph had received comfort from God and was able to extend that same comfort to his brothers. As Loren Fischer once said: "The difference between holding on to a hurt or releasing it with forgiveness-- is like the difference between laying your head down at night on a pillow filled with thorns or a pillow filled with rose petals."
Help, Where Do I Turn?
You are ready to admit the truth about your abuse. Now you need help. Perhaps you need to literally get out of the situation you are in and seek a safe refuge. Check the phone book or call information for the nearest abuse hotline or shelter. Call 911 if in immediate danger. Talk to a counselor about your abuse and related feelings. It will take time to establish trust, but by all means, keep talking. Vent your feelings verbally and in writing. Work with the authorities to prosecute the offender. This may be extremely difficult and painful for you, but a necessary step to guard against further hurt to other innocent victims.
(Excerpt taken from When Mourning Comes, Living Through Loss by Chuck and Eileen Rife (c) 2002. Available new or used in paperback).