“For many, the pain of our past creeps into our daily lives. Pain not adequately dealt with or worked through warps our ability to live in the freedom God has for us in Christ.” Door of Hope, Jan Frank
“When painful memories have not been faced, healed and integrated into life, they often break through defenses and interfere with normal living.” Healing of Memories, David Seamands
“I have never worked with an abused man or woman who did not hate or mistrust the hunger for intimacy.” Wounded Heart, Dan Allender
We are not the only counselors on the planet that believe those who have been abused experience difficulty with intimacy. That abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual. Through the experience of being abused, we learn that being close is not safe. We learn that loving someone is not safe. We learn that having another love us is not safe. Out of that inability to feel safe, abuse can cause a variety of relational dysfunctions, a few of which I will highlight.
Lack of Trust: Those whom we are supposed to trust, who are supposed to care for us, who have authority over us, who are supposed to love us the most, are more often than we like to admit the ones who abuse. Fathers, Stepfathers, Mothers, Stepmothers, Coaches, even Pastors. Verbal and emotional abuse is commonly perpetrated by a spouse who is supposed to love us as Christ loves the church. This breach of trust leads to an inability to trust most anyone. If those who are supposed to love me are the same ones that hurt me and cause so much pain to my heart and soul, why would I ever trust another with either my heart or my soul. We not only lose our ability to trust others, we also lose our ability to trust ourselves which leads to an inability to trust our emotions.
Inability to Feel: Since we can’t trust our feelings anyway, we shut off our emotions so as not to feel the pain of the abuse. This only works for so long. Then along comes someone that we want to be intimate with and we realize we don’t know how. We have no clue how to truly experience the whole spectrum of emotion because we have limited our range of emotion in order to protect ourselves. Don’t be surprised if we answer ‘I don’t know’ if you ask us what we’re feeling because many times this is an honest answer. As part of this package of denying that we have emotions, we don’t know how to love. Oh, some of us can put on a pretty good show. We can love you from the surface of who we are. But we can’t love you with our whole being. Emotionally or physically. The shutdown is rarely strictly emotional. Many of us also shut down our physical feelings. We say, “My body betrayed me when I was abused, it responded, and I won’t allow it to betray me again.”
The Ugliness of Shame: We hide our true selves out of the shame of what has happened to us. We feel the abuse was our fault. We feel that if anyone knows the truth of who we are and the ugliness of our story that they will reject us, proving that we are unworthy of the love we crave deep down inside. Shame keeps us bound in the secrecy and isolation of the abuse. It keeps us from having hope that life will be any different. It keeps us from ever knowing Love in its purest form.
There is hope. Truly there is. You are not stuck in the nightmare of Distrust and Fear.
Healing is possible, but it is a most certainly a Process. Healing doesn’t happen overnight for an abuse survivor. Regardless of the type of abuse. ANY abuse gets in the way of intimacy, not just sexual abuse. Much individual work is necessary for the abuse survivor which can take place in the form of individual counseling, group and a variety of individual processes. Individual counseling is beneficial because it keeps us in the process. We don’t typically want to go through the pain of remembering, but knowing that we have someone – a caring counselor – who is for us and who is with us, helps us stay in the process. We highly recommend group work due to the fact that one of the key components of abuse is the tendency for the abuser to isolate the abused so that they feel they are the only one…let me assure you, you are NOT alone. Healing in a group setting highlights this truth spectacularly when you hear the stories of others and see and hear similarities with your own story in this safe environment. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard women say, “I thought I was the only one that happened to….” When this connection with another human being begins to happen, we begin to feel, really feel. We then gain the courage to deal with the shame and belief that the abuse was our fault.
Truth is a key. Knowing the truth of your story is a powerful antidote to the shame. The abuse is not your fault, was not your fault. You have been broken, but you can also be redeemed and restored. Experiencing healing through counseling and some intense personal work is amazing. You were created to love and be loved. That process may have been short circuited, but the longing is still there. Healing can bring the freedom to fulfill that longing.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
Very little of this process is easy, but I can assure you it is totally worth it. It is worth being able to know you are cherished by your husband just because you’re you. It is worth being able to sorrow with a friend over her impending divorce and all the realities that come with that. It is worth being able to experience the incredible joy that bringing new life into this world in the form of a beautiful baby girl brings. It is worth being able to Love and Be Loved. It is worth being able to feel Free.