When a perpetrator uses tenderness and care as part of the dynamic with his or her victim, the victim loses the ability to separate delight and beauty from harm and evil. Dan Allender Healing The Wounded Heart
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my first meeting with our former pastor was how kind he was. He looked at our family with such great concern in his eyes. We mattered to him.
After we visited the church a couple of times and spoke with him briefly at the door, thanking him for his sermon, he called me during the middle of the day to ask if he could come by for a visit. It seemed those days I was always in a state of stress. When he called he was so kind that I even shared with him about a situation that was hurting our family. I told him we could really use some advice. Again, he communicated such kindness and compassion towards me. I thought we’d hit the jackpot in finding the right church.
As I reflect back on that time I recognize how desperate I was. I didn’t know this pastor at all, yet I was trusting him with part of my heart in our very first conversation. I was so completely vulnerable to be taken advantage of, yet was totally unaware of it. The fact this pastor called me at a time of the day when my husband was not home now causes suspicion to arise in me. Why didn’t he call my husband first? Maybe it was totally innocent, or maybe it was intentional. Looking back on it, I lean towards the later, because after being involved with my former pastor in the years following, I saw how intentional he was about all of his choices. I was blinded to my own vulnerability, but I am certain that he was not.
Evil is so insidious in its ability to mask it’s intent with goodness and kindness. I believe this is why Scripture calls us to be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. I’m learning the importance of sharing honestly, even vulnerably with others and allowing their kindness to minister to my hurting soul, yet I am not so quick to give any portion of my heart away until I learn over time to see if the other person is trustworthy. If the person is someone I can trust as a friend to share my heart with, time will tell. I’m very thankful, as I’ve mentioned before, to have one close friend since I moved in the past year. She has shown me great kindness from the beginning. She listens to me and I listen to her. We have shared one another’s burdens and maintained a healthy balance of give and take. Safe People by Cloud and Townsend has been a very helpful resource to me.
But I wasn’t aware of what this book taught before I gave my heart away. I only knew I needed relief and this pastor poured cold water into my thirsty soul and kept me coming back for more.
Arousal comes through each stage of abuse. The first stage is the abuser’s grooming through reading the needs and unique character of the victim. The grooming stage offers what has often been missed by one’s primary attachment figures. It is a heartbreaking reversal. The abuser offers what is lacking in the relationship with one’s caregivers to gain access to the heart. Dan Allender
Evil knew exactly what my heart needed and moved our former pastor to offer it in abundance. My husband and I are both adult victims of childhood abuse. We were not aware of the pain we were in when we sought council from this pastor. Looking back on that time, I recognize that we both needed professional help. We were unable to meet one another’s needs, we didn’t even know what we ourselves needed. We attempted to be there for one another, but there was so much confusion from all we’d been through we didn’t know how. But evil knew exactly what would bring temporary relief to us. He lowered the fishing line with its delicious bait down to our hungry souls. Once we took it and the hook sunk in, evil began to wrap it tightly around our hearts sucking every bit of life and hope out of us. First the former pastor sympathized, then he told me how special I was. Before I was even aware of what was going on the hook was in. I was the sunshine of his life. I met needs for him he’d never had met before. He would protect me like the precious treasure I was to him. Then ever so subtly he could make me happier than my husband ever could. And there it was…what was lacking in my life that I wasn’t even aware of…a strong man who’d meet my needs, protect me and make me happy. Everything I’d needed in a father, longed for in my husband, but hadn’t been able to receive, because my husband hadn’t had a father who was able to teach him.
And my husband was just as much a victim of evil’s insidious plan. The former pastor told him how special he was and how he was the son of his heart, taking him fishing and hunting, and doing all the things with him he’d yearned for his father to do when he was growing up. He was crushed when he learned this pastor had been betraying him with me. Words cannot express the great pain we have both been through. But my husband didn’t have the bond that I did with our abuser. He recognized something wasn’t right, but he didn’t know what. The pastor tried to get him to share his struggles with him more, but he wouldn’t. It angered the pastor that he wouldn’t talk. He’d tell me my husband was stubborn. I look back on it now and wonder how in the world I didn’t know better, and I realize I was in too deep.
The abuser’s grooming increases the victim’s brain’s production of oxytocin (our bonding biochemical), and as primary and secondary sexual parts are touched the body secretes dopamine and opioids. As the body is physically aroused, the victim feels relationally entangled with the abuser while also experiencing fear, shame, and confusion. The mind simply doesn’t know how to make sense of this contradictory and trauma-infused madness. Dan Allender
And I stayed so entangled in the abusive relationship with the former pastor for almost ten years. But thank God He cut away the cords that were sucking the life out of us and set us free. We’ve got a long way to go in healing, but slowly we are getting there.