If you have wondered like I have how you will ever heal from the painful trauma of abuse, let me reassure you now that by reading this blog or any other book or story that brings you relief, you have started in the right place. Taking care of yourself is absolutely crucial for your healing, and finding any source of encouragement that you can will help you to begin to do this.
I listened to a podcast on Steve Brown Etc. yesterday from Dr. Dan Allender who was talking about his new book Healing the Wounded Heart, which by the way is incredibly helpful and full of hope, and I highly recommend it. In this discussion, he talks about how one of the main barriers of healing from abuse is a community that does not acknowledge abuse. When I heard these words, it struck a major chord. I recognized immediately why we could not stay in our former church. Our church community did not acknowledge the abuse our family had suffered, and staying in that environment would have only prolonged our pain.
Dr. Allender says that the only way to heal from the painful trauma of abuse is to tell our stories in an environment that shows kindness; a place where our voice is heard, our pain is acknowledged, and compassion is shown. But I have discovered that sometimes finding that place is a huge challenge. Thus the reason I have relied heavily on counseling and on the Internet and digital media for whatever encouragement I can find.
However, recently I have had the opportunity to become a part of a group therapy ministry led by a professional counselor. In this group, we are learning how to really listen to one another’s story and show compassion to one another. I continue to be blown away by how absolutely encouraged I walk away from this group feeling. But the problem is after this two hours is over, I have to leave the safety of this room and enter the world again where others often misunderstand. How to avoid being retraumatized has become a challenging task for both my husband and myself.
Every counselor our family has seen has encouraged us to avoid bringing further harm to ourselves. This is difficult when we recognize the need to make changes in our lives that others may be affected by and do not understand. For example, my mom recently fell and broke her shoulder and hip. She lives several hours away in the town where the abuse occurred. She has not been able to understand why I haven’t been there to see her more. She’s even laid guilt trips on me. I have not told her about the any of the abuse. In our relationship, I have usually been the one who felt responsible for her happiness. It hasn’t been healthy at all, however she doesn’t recognize that there is a problem. Lately, as I have tried to heal I have not called her as much, because every conversation is a reminder of what it felt like to be an abused little girl responsible to keep everyone happy. Now she and my brother are guilting me about this. I shared this dilemma in group therapy last night, and was encouraged to stay on the track of keeping healthy boundaries in an effort to protect myself from further harm. The counselor also encouraged me to regularly pray for God to direct me when to call my mom, rather than my guilty conscience.
Another difficult situation my husband has been placed in is keeping boundaries with his family. They do not realize that their tendency to retell family stories without any negative details is disregarding the great loss of his own identity as a little boy who was too afraid to be himself for fear of being abused again. They, unlike my own mother, are well aware of the abuse that my husband and his family suffered, but they’ve chosen to talk about the past like the abuse didn’t even happen. Though my husband recognizes his family means no intentional harm only bringing out the good, he cannot avoid the pain that denial of the abuse causes. It is too much of a reminder of all the years he was trapped in an abusive home and his mother covered up her bruises with make up and they were forced to go to school and church like it wasn’t even happening. Denial of the abuse he suffered kept him trapped for most of his life, not only as a child, but also as an adult who suffered with depression and anxiety as a result of his own passivity and denial. He recognizes the truth of all that now and is grieving that loss, as well as the recent loss of his mom. When he tried to explain this to his family they told him he had demonic strongholds and needed to pray a prayer of deliverance. Once again he was traumatized in the name of the lord.
Much damage is done when we attempt to fix one another’s pain without grieving over the fact that it is there.
Healing from the pain of abuse is not an easy journey. For the first time in our lives we are having to learn to speak up for ourselves. We are having to wake up from the dream that we would one day have a home with parents who would love and accept us to the painful reality that it never came true. We are now the parents with the home and the kids who need for us to love and accept them, and they need for us to be present in the here and now and not in the past. We are having to make the difficult choices to protect ourselves from further trauma from the family that raised us so that there will be energy to take care of our own family. And these are very difficult choices.
The reality is there will always be others in our lives who will not acknowledge the terrible things that happened to us, and that is why it is so crucial that we acknowledge our own pain and receive care for it from those who do understand, whether it be from friends, a counselor, a support group, a healthy church, or even friends on a blog.
It is also crucial that we safeguard ourselves as much as we can from further trauma. That means continuing to be kind to ourselves and limiting our exposure to others who do not understand, at least until we have had time to heal. Though it might not feel like it now, studies reveal that the brain has plasticity and can improve from the damage of abuse, so don’t give up hope. You are not alone.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord , that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Isaiah 61:1-4 ESV