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Beginning to Heal from Sexual Abuse

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By Karen Rabbitt, M.S.W.

When a parent or other authority figure exploits our childhood innocence for their own perverted pleasure, we grow up injured. Whether we realize it or not, we suffer from that childhood wound. Healing begins when we start seeing the wound clearly, recognize we’re not responsible, and find a compassionate listener.

Abuse is sin. It’s a sin when a parent treats us like an object rather than a person. When someone violates our personhood by using us for their own sexual gratification, that’s sin. We are gifts to our families and we deserved to be treated as such.

Don’t minimize the impact. The wound left in the wake of sin has consequences. We have trouble trusting, we startle easily, we struggle with self-worth. All those, and more, are a direct result of being mistreated. They’re not just “how we are” or our “personality.”

They are a result of our perpetrator’s sin. Someone violated our body/soul/spirit and took something they had no right to. They betrayed our trust and stole our innocence. We did not have the capacity to give permission.

And none of it was our fault. That’s the second piece. What happened. Was. Not. Our. Fault. No matter what the person who hurt us says, we did nothing to deserve sexual abuse. A small child, a young girl, an innocent little boy, does not have the capability to entice an adult.

The adult enticed himself, or herself. They acted out a scene they imagined in their own mind. They thought about what they did ahead of time. They created an opportunity to act. That is their responsibility. Not ours. The adult is always responsible.

Most of the time, though, they won’t take that responsibility, so we, their victims, have to give it to them. Not necessarily by talking to them and getting their “permission.” But by knowing, in our own minds, that we did nothing that deserved being victimized. We need to give responsibility where it belongs — with the one who hurt us. The perpetrator is always responsible.

And, thirdly, as you take the first steps toward healing, tell someone. Ask God to show you someone safe. Someone who will believe you. Someone who will tell you “It’s not your fault.” Someone who has suffered and has gained a measure of peace for themselves. Not necessarily the same suffering, but someone who understands pain. Who is kind and compassionate and will weep with you and encourage you in the Lord.

As you experience their reaction to your story, you will get a new perspective. You’ll experience their anger at what happened to you. You’ll recognize more fully the evil of the sin. You’ll feel their empathy as you look into their eyes.

Usually, growing up in an abusive household is growing up without empathy. Without someone who understands our feelings of sadness and anger. We grow up emotionally alone. We are meant to “weep with those who weep.” Jesus wants us to have a shoulder to cry on. Not that we’re meant to grieve our losses for the rest of our lives. But we must begin there.

In fact, Jesus, himself, is tearful with us. That’s the image that was most healing to me in my own recovery from sexual abuse — of Jesus weeping with me.

Copyright 2009 Karen Rabbitt

Read my story, which includes questions for personal reflection, in Trading Fathers: Forgiving Dad, Embracing God. Go to www.karenrabbitt.com

Bio:

Karen Rabbitt, M.S.W., a seasoned psychotherapist, has written for Marriage Partnership and Today’s Christian Woman, in addition to writing her own story, Trading Fathers: Forgiving Dad, Embracing God (WinePress, 2009). She speaks on emotionally healthy Christianity with a special emphasis on the forgiveness process. A grandmother, she has been married to Jerry since 1972, lives in Illinois, and attends a Vineyard church. www.karenrabbitt.com