“Help with my anger at being sexually abused as a child”

Dear John,

It’s amazing to me how rapidly a day can take a turn for the worse. As I was walking across campus today, I noticed a blood drive bus parked in the main quad. I decided to donate. Like any good blood-donor, I filled out the required forms honestly—even the question “As a man, have you ever had any sexual contact with another male?” I would be lying if I said I didn’t momentarily wrestle with simply marking “no,” but having come to terms with the fact that I was sexually abused when I was ten years old, I did the right thing and selected “yes.”

Long story short, I was denied. That didn’t come as a total surprise. What did were the emotions that arose afterward, all of the emotions that I was convinced I had found peace with: the shame of being a victim of sexual abuse, the humiliation of feeling emasculated, and, most surprisingly, the anger toward the man who had robbed me of countless things, the least of which was the simple right to donate blood.

I’ll condense my series of questions to this: How can you be convinced you’ve truly forgiven someone? I’m not looking to release my anger entirely (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel entitled to it; the key, as I feel I have successfully mastered, is not letting it dominate my life). But I’m looking to find some sort of evidence to convince me that I have truly and honestly forgiven the man who so abruptly disrupted my life. I thought I had done so. I said all of the right words and meant them in my heart of hearts. But have I really truly released this?

If you could shed some light on this for me, it would be greatly appreciated. What, if anything, do you believe God has to say regarding the authenticity of forgiveness? And how can we know if it is authentic or not?

I think the key to finding the answer you’re after lies in your statement that you feel justified in your anger—that, as you put it, you’re not looking to entirely release your anger. That thin space between “I’ve forgiven” and “I’m still angry” is the one your experience at the blood drive pushed you through.

“I forgive you” cannot exist in the same place as “I hate you, you life-destroying sack of vomit.” You can feel one of those things; you can feel the other. But you can’t feel them both at once.

Your problem is that you feel—or at least felt—the latter, which you take as an indication that you have failed at the former—which by extension would mean that you have failed as a Christian. “If I’d really forgiven—if [as you put it] my forgiveness is authentic—then how can I be so unexpectedly ambushed by the very anger that I thought my forgiveness had eradicated?” That’s what you’re asking.

Which is to say that what you’re asking is Why am I so bloody human?

It’s true that Jesus said we should forgive those who transgress against us. Jesus was huge on turning the other cheek, forgiving others as God forgives us, forgiving not just seven but seventy-seven times. Jesus was so into forgiveness that in order to prove that he had come specifically to forgive all people all their sins he had himself mercilessly slaughtered and nailed to a cross.

Boy. Talk about making a point.

And make that point he did. And as proof we have you, two thousand years later, concerned that you haven’t learned it deeply enough.

Listen: You have. You’ve forgiven enough. You’ve forgiven all that anyone could. Your forgiveness is one hundred percent, thoroughly authentic. It’s not like you have a relationship with the man who hurt you. The kind of forgiveness that actually does result in the complete dissipation of anger can only happen within the context of an ongoing, real-time relationship. If a friend hurts me I can bring to him my complaint; he can explain himself; we can talk it out; if he’s wrong he can offer me a sincere and pointed apology, after which I will forgive him because he is my friend. And not only will my anger with him be genuinely gone, our relationship will be stronger because of that shared experience.

Well, that’s hardly the kind of relationship you’re dealing with, is it? The guy who hurt you is now to you just a phantom. He’s not in your life. In that sense he doesn’t even exist. You can’t talk to him. You can’t scream at him. You can’t make sure he fathoms the depth of his transgression against you. You can’t do any of that.

You’re simply left, by yourself, to process all the wrong that he did to you.

And look how well you’ve done that. It’s clear what a sensitive, intelligent, and loving person you’ve become.

Yes, you will at times feel outrage at what was done to you. And when that fury hits you, you know what you can do with it? You can use it for its actual power. You can turn something that is truly awful into something that is not just good, but the finest thing in existence.

The next time you feel the unleashed power of the injustice of what was done to you, do not shun it. Do not reject it. Do not deny it.

Claim it. Claim all of it. Hold it. Focus on it. Get alone with it. Allow it to unfold into all the darkness that it is.

And then, with your eyes closed—with all that outrageous, undeserved agony tearing you up inside—hold your arms out wide. Stand in the position of Jesus Christ on the cross.

And there you will be.

And there He will be, sharing with you the very essence of his consciousness.

And at that moment you will know your suffering as a blessing.

 

See also As a Christian, must she forgive the brother who raped her? and “Where was God when my nine-year-old son was drugged and raped?”

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Elizabeth

    Very moving. Not to diminish the pain and outrage of the man who wrote, but this advice should be applied to forgiveness in all relationships. Thanks, John.

  • Tim

    Letter Writer,

    John is exactly right here. The man who abused me and my siblings is actually long dead. The point I guess I would add is that it wouldn’t even be worth trying to form that relationship if that was the standard you wanted to reach. What answer/apology could he possibly give you?

    Now, blood drives are out of the question for me as a gay man here anyway, but let me make two further suggestions. The first is more or less public policy–we need to start a movement here like the one in many other developed countries to remove the “ever did the gay sex thing” from the list of blood-donation impediments. Gay men are at greater risk, but questions about risky sexual behavior or even a cooling off period are more logical and sound. The more letters the Red Cross and like groups get, the more likely this is to come to pass.

    Second is about your use of the term “emasculated”. I think you meant it along the lines of “powerless” and as such it would be a valuable, reasonable feeling. If you meant it more literally (like he removed your masculinity) then that poses a whole host of possible problems of formulation or emotion that you might want to chat with someone about.

    Otherwise, one day at a time. I will never forget what happened, neither will you, but you are on the right track, have done all you can do. The rest is up to Jesus. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Jill H

    Everything that John said. Absolutely beautiful.

    If knowing you are in good company with your question, in your struggle, supports you, please know you are not alone.

  • NR

    As a gay man, I am extremely outraged that I am not able to donate blood. If a person is HIV negative, why would they not be allowed to donate. I’m surprised that this relic of 80s HIV hysteria is still allowed in this day and age. Why is there no more anger about this? Why would I not be allowed to donate blood to my partner if he had to go into hospital? Even if we had equal marriage rights, I would still not be able to give him my blood? That is just CRAZY!!!!! Am I missing something?

    • Elizabeth

      You’re not crazy or missing anything. Let’s remember, though, the paranoia about blood-transmitted diseases isn’t just HIV. I can’t donate blood because I lived in England for more than six months during the peak of mad cow disease. The CDC promised to change the rule. To my knowledge, it hasn’t, or the change hasn’t filtered down to my local blood drive. I could lie on the form. I don’t. The stigma with HIV/AIDS and its association with gay men won’t go away any faster.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

        I donated blood just about a month ago. The rules haven’t changed about who one has had sex with, or if one has visited Europe. There is healthy paronioa when it comes to the blood supply, and to a point it is understandable. Is it over the top in regards to allowing potential donors? Yes, because they test the heck out of blood now already.

        Let’s hope rules change. There’s almost always a shortage, opening the door to more potential donors is actually a sound idea.

      • http://www.unnameablecuriosity.blogspot.com Christine

        Paridoxically, in the U.K., one is prohibited from donating blood if they’ve been to North America, and for the exact same reason.

    • http://www.unnameablecuriosity.blogspot.com Christine

      They already ask whether you’ve ever had sex with anyone whose sexual history you do not know (if your rules are like ours – and they sound similar). That should cover it for anyone. There’s nothing (or at least exceptionally little) inherent about gender that has to do with disease transmission. The idea that two men who have only ever been with each other and therefore (barring something intravenous) could not have possibly contracted HIV would be barred from donating simply because they are both men is, in a word, ridiculous. It is assuming that gay men are inherent more promiscuous, or more likely to cheat on a partner and keep it a secret, and also that gay men are someone more likely to lie on the form about sadi promiscuity, but not somehow about being gay. It’s insulting. I think your outrage is entire justified.

  • Lymis

    “But I’m looking to find some sort of evidence to convince me that I have truly and honestly forgiven the man who so abruptly disrupted my life. I thought I had done so. I said all of the right words and meant them in my heart of hearts. But have I really truly released this?”

    I’ve come to realize that a lot of people think of forgiveness as some sense of feeling that nothing bad actually happened. That forgiveness looks like “That’s okay, it was no big deal.”

    I’ve come to see forgiveness as the state where we don’t let past harms continue to hurt us today. If you were stewing on it, if you were using it as the foundation of your identity, if you were fantasizing harm, if you were actively keeping the hurt going, then no, you haven’t forgiven.

    But realizing that your past was real, and honoring the consequences it has today, is not the same as holding on to it. I don’t see that having intense feelings that something hurtful that was done to you has a negative consequence in your life today, and allowing yourself to feel that pain about your current lost opportunity is the same as continuing to allow your feelings about your abuser to control your life.

    It sounds like you were hurt by your inability to give blood, and reminded of the fact of your abuse, rather than dwelling on the fact of your abuse and your feelings for your abuser.

    But even then, we aren’t as responsible for our feelings as we are for the choices we make about what to do with them. If a painful reminder of something awful that was done to you brings up rage or hurt, or fear, or sadness, then that’s what it does. If you then use that rage to lash out at others, stalk your abuser, kick puppies, or cheat at Monopoly, then it’s a bad thing. If you use those feelings to reinforce your own compassion, to be open to others’ pain, to look inside yourself to review the quality of your own character, and to reinforce your own commitment to making the world in your immediate vicinity a bit better for someone, then that choice is a good one.

    The evidence that you have forgiven is when a painful reminder that is thrown in your face is about what you are feeling today and the simple reality of what was done to you rather than a knee-jerk wish that the bastard who did it to you suffers for it. You’ve forgiven when your pain is about you, and not about him. You don’t have to wait until you are never reminded that you were hurt. If that ever happens, that will be wonderful and a true sign of grace in your life, but it isn’t a measure of your own moral character.

    • Inwoodista

      True. And well said.

    • David S

      Lymis,

      I really like these thoughts. I have not experienced this kind of abuse so I can only imagine the emotions that flow from it. I wonder – where does a thirst for justice (not revenge) fit into this conversation? Is that different than harboring anger? Or are they two sides of the same coin, both keeping us from the fullness of our present life?

      • David S

        Sorry, too quick on the trigger, I didn’t finish that thought.

        Or can a thirst for justice be another God-given emotion that we can channel in productive ways?

        • Jill H

          Since anger is a feeling, which is neither good nor bad, it (as any feeling) can be used as a catalyst. As a means for action.

          Harboring anger would be sitting on it, allowing it to build inside you like a pressure cooker. Not good.

          But so too, an obsessed and dogged search for ever-elusive justice for the victim can become, as you say, a barrier for living life. Also not good.

          I will not receive justice on this side of the dividing line because I was too young for clear evidence and no corroboration. I am most certainly not alone in this particular injustice, nor am I willing to sideline my life because of it. Abusers have themselves to live with each and every God forsaken day of their miserable lives. I forgive in the sense that what was done doesn’t derail me, doesn’t define me, doesn’t diminish me. I let the Grand Forgiveness take place between the Higher Power and the person’s soul.

          There is a powerful sense of justice in that for me. A true injustice would be for victims to live as miserably and disconnectedly as the predators. I refused long ago to give it all away.

          • David S.

            I like this a lot, Jill. It’s really helpful to me in exploring the intersection of our faith and our humanity. And your strength is inspiring. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          • Jill H

            Thank you, David S. It really means a lot to hear that.

      • Lymis

        To grossly oversimplify, and to risk minimizing or invalidating the pain anyone has gone through, I think you have to look at what is motivating the desire for justice, because, in our society, we really are trained to think as justice as primarily being about revenge.

        Is the thirst for justice about compassion or about revenge? Is the focus on preventing this from happening to someone else, and bringing closure and possibly reparations to the victim, or is the focus on punishing the perpetrator?

        To decide whether two things are two sides of the same coin, you have to decide what that coin is. And our preoccupation with that metaphor often glosses over the fact that the two different sides of a coin are often vastly different from each other, even if they are aspects of something you can group together. Going east and going wests are “two sides” of longitude, but you’ll get to very different places depending on what you choose.

        As far as fitting into this conversation, if the question is whether forgiveness is at odds with justice, no, not at all. But as you point out, forgiveness may well be at odds with revenge.

        If you have a thorn stuck in your foot, the pain is due to a current, ongoing injury. You have to stop the injury before healing can really begin. Justice is about removing the thorn, and possibly, disinfecting the wound, and may well involve clearing the garden path of thorny branches or removing the thorn bush.

        Forgiveness is about healing the wound once the cause of the injury has been stopped. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there wasn’t a hurt, and it doesn’t mean there can’t be a scar. It doesn’t mean you aren’t more careful of thornbushes in the future, or that you won’t wear shoes in the rose garden.

        In a lot of ways, compassion is what we give the other person. Justice is what we give the world. Forgiveness of someone else is what we give ourselves.

        • David S

          Lymis-

          “In a lot of ways, compassion is what we give the other person. Justice is what we give the world. Forgiveness of someone else is what we give ourselves.”

          Beautifully said. I think there is a lot of truth in that thought.

          I think justice is sometimes difficult or impossible to achieve. When we obsess over something that is unattainable, it may keep us from living a full life in the here and now. It also may separate us to some degree from God. Like so many of God’s gifts, I think a thirst for justice might potentially be both life-affirmingly constructive and obsessively destructive. Our faith has something to do with our position on that continuum (although I’m not entirely certain how other than using the concept of “surrender”).

          This is complex stuff with a lot of meat on the bone. Thanks as always for your terrific insights and your clarity.

        • Inwoodista

          Very eloquent, Lymis.

    • sasha dence

      Yes, well said. Thank you.

  • Allie

    Heck, I’ve never been sexually molested at all, and I’m FURIOUS at what happened to you. I think you’re just a wee bit entitled to your anger.

    Re: being gay and blood. Without criticizing you at all, because no one can make moral decisions for any other person, I don’t feel it would be wrong to mark “No” on the form. What they are really asking is, “Given that the current administration are assholes who won’t interact with facts at all, do you feel you’re more likely to have HIV than the average donor?” And you can honestly answer no to that question. As can the majority of gay men. Seriously, and pardon my French, but fuck ‘em. There’s no such thing as a right answer in the face of a wrong question.

    • Elizabeth

      I’d lie on a form in a millisecond to save a loved one. I hope NR would, too. I’d pretend to be lesbian, straight, married, virginal, pink with purple polka dots. I’d lie during a true catastrophe, too. No one was more ready to give blood than me on September 11. There was no need. There were no survivors.

      The letter writer and I are infinitesimal drops in ye olde blood bucket. The fear of a population self-diagnosing its risk–saying fuck everyone else, it’s my right to give blood–is why the CDC moves so slowly. If you really want to change the rules on gay blood donations, start here: http://www.contactingthecongress.org. Nothing beats an old-fashioned letter or email from a constituent.

      • Hannah Grace

        They test your blood for AIDS. You can get AIDS from straight sex too, but straight people are not banned. It’s just a homophobic throwback to the 80s.

        • Diana A.

          Yup. This exactly.

        • Allie

          Yep. The largest demographic of new HIV positives is black women. It’s the newly positive people who are the real threat to the blood supply. Yet black women are not banned from donating blood. Gay men are. The problem is that the rules are not based on reality.

          • Allie

            Incidentally Congress has little to nothing to do with the operations of the CDC. There’s no law saying gay people can’t donate; it’s a policy, and no one voted on it.

          • Lymis

            I agree. My husband and I get tested regularly and routinely, and actively work to prevent infection. We know we’re HIV negative, but we can’t donate. The vast majority of the people who do donate have never been tested and see no reason to be tested, yet many of them engage in activities that have the possibility of contracting the disease.

        • Elizabeth

          Completely homophobic. Once again, you only *can’t* donate blood if you choose to be truthful when asked. It’s a lesser of two evils question. Pressure the CDC to change the rules or break them. Or, you know, comment and do nothing. Because I know y’all are going to your local blood drive this week.

  • Inwoodista

    I was sexually abused as a child and it distorted and damaged my life. I am very blessed in many ways and grateful for my life and my blessings now, but because of the evil done to me as a child, I became sexually promiscuous, used illegal drugs, and abused alcohol. As as result of that (and my deep mistrust of adults) my intellectual gifts weren’t challenged or developed.

    As happens with many survivors of child sexual abuse, I was later raped by “a friend” when I was a sophmore in college. It took me many years to learn to develop appropriate boundaries and to learn how to develop adult judgement and how to discern how much to trust people, step by step.

    As a survivor, through my process of recovery and healing, I have gone through many periods of deep pain, righteous rage, anger and mourning. The man who abused me as child was dead when I began to do recovery work.

    I know the power of forgiveness and I have done forgiveness exercises, forgiving the man who sexually abused me and the man who raped me. Forgiveness liberates me, frees me from being tied to what they once did to me.

    But I am human, and I sometimes experience feelings of rage towards these men.

    And then I forgive them again.

    Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we must forgive 70 x 7 times.

  • http://icarusalways.blogspot.com/ daemon

    A resource for guys who have been sexually abused: http://www.malesurvivor.org/

    daemon

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.pyles.12 Randy Pyles via Facebook

    70×7…one of the most powerful quotes ever.

  • Matt

    Dear letter writer,

    As a survivor of child sexual abuse myself (though I was female at the time, not male–long story), I have learned that for something that wounds this deeply, with consequences so profound, that forgiveness never happens one time. It has to be dynamic, and happen over and over.

    When you’re irritated at them, when you feel the thousands of tiny impacts on your life, you forgive small. When you’re up all night with nightmares or flashbacks paralyze you at work, you forgive big. When you feel self-loathing or paradoxically grateful or unspeakably angry, you may wonder why you have to forgive them at all. This is all okay.

    I can second what John said about forgiveness being so much easier if you know the person. I still have a relationship with my first abuser, because he’s a member of my family. We have not lived together since I was in high school, and we rarely see each other now, but I still have gotten the chance to see him grow up, mature, and be someone I can genuinely have a relationship with. I don’t agree that people don’t change; it’s rare, but it happens. I can never forget, my brain will not let me, but full forgiveness is possible.

    You’ve never gotten a chance to see this person again. All you have is the terrifying figure in your memories. And as John says, it’s impossible to completely forgive a monster who hurts you over and over in your nightmares. I can never completely forgiven others who came along after my family member, who I never saw again. They are trapped in my mind in the state I saw them, predatory, wounding, or utterly indifferent to my suffering. Heck, one of them is a grown man now, but I still see him as 14 years old, and always will. I just remember that I’m not still 12, and 14, and 16 years old. I’m grown up now, I have power and responsibility.

    I’ll just say what has been said to me by those who care: You are not crazy, you did not cause it, and you can’t cure it.

    I pray you continue to gently put what happened back in the past, where it belongs. You deserve it :).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Beautiful responses here, you guys. Thank you so much.

  • Dave Bowling

    Nothing like a letter from the Letter Writer to bring back old, long forgotten, and normally put-away thoughts of what happened many, many years ago in my own life.

    Forgiveness is a difficult path that John’s comments as well as those of others not only assist to bring understanding, but also make us ponder on what the word and the action mean.

    I forgave my own abuser many years ago and normally put that away in my own private storage area. However, every now and then something or someone will spark those feelings once again. They are not bad feelings, just remorse that it happened and that then makes me angry that I experienced such a thing at a young age.

    Justified? You bet! Bad? No way – for that is an integral part of who I am and why (as I know understand) I have compassion for others. It made me a better person – if that makes sense. Maybe not the preferred method for reaching that perspective, but that was the result and I have moved on with that understanding.

    Wishing you peace, dear Letter Writer.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wonderful to hear from you, Dave. We miss you!

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    I learned that forgiveness is rarely an instantaneous task. It takes time, it takes determination on the part of the forgiver, and it is often not all that easy. Giving ourselves permission to take as long as it takes is not a bad thing at all. It is in the process that is important,

    • Jill H

      Yes! And oh what we learn within the context of this process…

  • http://stitchinguptheseams.wordpress.com/ Stitch

    I think there are aspects of forgiveness that I don’t understand. I think that perhaps I was taught that it is something that it isn’t. But I have a really hard time with the concept of forgiving abusers – I’m not talking about one-off times where a temper has been lost and something has been said that shouldn’t have been. I’m talking about things that took a great deal of premeditation, like rape or sexual assault or kidnapping or any number of deliberate “I am choosing to usurp your power over your body for my pleasure and for your pain” events. The concept of forgiveness as I understand it? Well…I am still angry at the man who assaulted me. And another man who spent two years in a position of authority over me grooming me (though I somehow managed to escape with no physical or sexual harm…only emotional trauma). And a man who claims to be a friend but consistently acts on his desires knowing that they produce fear and trigger PTSD. I have a very difficult time with the concept of forgiving these men.

  • Don Rappe

    I’m prone to hold a grudge over personal affronts. Some of the good advise in this string makes me think.

  • Anonymous

    I was sexual abused for years because of the church. I did not tell anyone because I was taught that pray to Jesus and he will fix it, but this made it worse because I felt like a bad child, because my prayers was answered with “No”. This happened from my own brother for years, I was 11.

    I am now an atheist – however –

    Christian’s: Please pray with your children and to pay attention to them, if they do not want to pray aloud, what are they hiding?

    1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted, I’m not sure of the stats for men, I would imagine it would be similar. 40% of these are when the victim and perpetrator are both under 18.

    Sexual assault is preventable, but because of the shame and secrecy of the church on Sex, Children need to be taught in a frank and open discussion about what is and is not appropriate in regards to Sex.

    Christian parents are scared of talking about sex, encase it encourages sex. Not talking about is worse as this makes children figure it out on there own and sets them up to be too innocent and naive and to be taken advantage of.

    • Jill

      There are never quite the right words, or the right amount of words to validate you and what you’ve endured, especially from a complete stranger online. But I understand, and I emphathize with your pain. I feel it when I read your succinct and wise words.

      I’m glad you are here with us, and I hope that, in this space and in your life, you have found some peace, some confidence, some hope to refresh you along your journey, in whatever ways speak most to you.

  • Nicole

    Thank you for this post and for tackling the tough issue of childhood sexual abuse. I was sexually abused by a family member since I was a small child. When I left home at nineteen I began receiving counseling and have continued on and off for many years including reading books on my own. When I became a massage therapist ten years ago I specialized my work with women and children and created a healthy touch program for kids. I’ve been a Christian for fourteen years and am almost finished a coming of age memoir where I describe the catastrophic problems childhood sexual abuse can inflict upon adolescence. …

    I say all of this only to finally say- after all these years and all the hurdles I’ve overcome through the grace of God- I am looking – staring really- at a failed marriage, another stint of being a single Mom (I had a daughter when I was younger and unmarried) and I even have a child on the way…but am in a marriage where I have tried everything I know to fix/heal/help etc. Nothing works. It’s more abuse. More mental torture. So many aspects are the same as when I was a child. No, my husband does not sexually abuse me or physically batter me, but the verbal abuse, rejection, neglect, control, etc are all just as demeaning, just as heartbreaking.

    I have read and prayed all the scriptures about Jesus’ healing us, about being a new creature in Christ, about being over-comers and conquerors. And yet, for me, the abuse still seems to have power over me and my life. My heart breaks for the lives of my beautiful children. I want so much for my daughter to see a happy and whole marriage, to see Christ reflected in a man and even though I talk with her about how this is not God’s plan for marriage I hold so many fears in my heart that she will end up like me- abused, broken, disregarded. I just don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know where to go for healing, or to learn how to make better choices in relationships. My whole life- which has held many many God-given blessings, has also been a container for abuse since my earliest memories. I cannot live like this anymore. Where do I go from here?

    • Matt

      Hi Nicole,

      First of all, I saw your comment a little while ago, but I wanted to come back when I had more mental energy. Hope you’re still sticking around!

      It’s not immediately obvious from my name, but I was born female and raised as a girl, so I’ll speak from that perspective. I was an also an abused kid. It feels endless, doesn’t it? One abuse leaves you reeling and wide open for another. You’re blamed on all sides for your failure to do better despite the obstacles in your way. All those secrets dragging you down with their combined weight.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think the abuse has as much power over your life as you think. My own mother, while a good woman in many ways, has let it rule her life and it has ultimately made her into not a great mother. She spends her life pretending to the world that everything is perfect when it’s not, even making herself sick and sacrificing my physical safety in the process. That’s not the sense I’m getting from you at all. I wish I could convey to you how much you’re doing right. If you ever wonder, yes, your daughter is blessed to have you. You can’t make decisions for her or protect her from everyone who may want to hurt her (much as you might want to, mama bear!), but you can model for her how to stand up for herself, how to take care of herself, and share your hard-earned wisdom.

      To me, you sound tired. That’s perfectly understandable, and it’s okay to be exhausted. It’s okay not to know where you’re going from here. We’re certainly overcomers, but we also get worn down. It’s okay to be grieving and not be at your strongest. You have time, and maybe now that your marriage is ending, you’ll have some space to breathe and rest and make plans you couldn’t make while he was weighing you down. Isn’t it crazy how life just goes on, even when you feel like you can’t go on with it? Maybe just let life’s momentum carry you for a while. See what opens up.

      Lots of luck to you and your family.

      • mae

        Thank you so much for sharing this Matt.

        I worry so much about my daughter, and I read a lot of what childhood sexual abuse survivors write to try to understand more. I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, and I don’t know how to be the “best mom” I can be for her. I appreciate so much that you’ve shared a portion of your story here.

        • Matt

          You’re very welcome, mae. I don’t think you have much to fear either. You’ve given your daughter an enormous gift–she will not have to choose between her family and her physical/mental health, as I did. Your and Nicole’s worry for your children is extremely touching and encouraging for me, who learned to stop depending on my mother a long time ago.

      • Elizabeth

        And Matt rocks, but we all know that. *thumbs up*

      • Nicole

        Matt,

        Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share your kind words. I am sorry some of the validation you have offered me has had to come on the back of your own pain, of what you have not received. But, wow, God has given you the gift of comforting others. I pray that comfort returns to you many times over.

        You are very right in that I am tired- just plain, ol’ simple bone-weary tired. I’v been trying so hard for so long and I think I just need to “stop it!” lol It is time to ride on that momentum and see where life takes me a bit. Not the undertow of life, but the good stuff.

        I do feel more hopeful. And I do feel some of the burden in my heart for my daughter has lifted. It’s a process, I know, and from the other posts I’ve read it seems like a longer process than I would have hoped, but seems the only way through. No shortcuts.

        • sasha dence

          Hi Nicole (and Matt),

          Want to thank you for opening this discussion and for sharing. One of the things I wish so much, so much, is that abuse or to use an older term, ill treatment, suffered in childhood — takes many forms. Sexual cruelty is so clearly damaging — but I want to add that other forms of ill treatment leave lasting issues as well. I had a mother and father who repeatedly abandoned my sister and I. I won’t go into it all — but the terror and self-loathing when we became adults was still there, even though, technically, we were not children anymore. I say the word ‘technically’ because I believe that child is still there. Yeah, I know — the term is ‘inner child’ but maybe a better way to put it and a way that our culture is really resistant to believing but that I have found very helpful — is that the damage is permanent. Say a man cut off your leg when you were a child Nicole — you’d still be dealing with that now. Right? When you’re very small, neural pathways are forming, the brains is becoming — and what it imprints then doesn’t go away. Yeah we can compensate etc. but it is still there. I am almost certain that my MS is a result of the first 19 years of my life and my sisters multiple and lasting mental and physical issues are also a result of her early experiences. They weren’t specifically sexual and there were only a few actual bruises that were visible, but the harm done was permanent. Now if it is recognised as permanent, two things. One you stop blaming yourself for having only one leg!! You can’t just ‘grow’ another. The brain is as much a physical organ as any other organ in the body — it is matter and it physically changes every time it is traumatised when forming. We call those early years ‘formative’ for a reason. Secondly, if it is recognised as permanent, you can take steps to deal with it. I know it was so helpful for me to just treat my childhood like a disability (partly because, as I said, it literally became a physical disability for me) and then by understanding it and treating it you can anticipate the problems you’ll have. One is relationships. Because you were treated so badly you came, as all children do, to believe you deserved the treatment. Kids need to believe their parents are good — or the people that supposedly care about them. That’s a biological fact too. So with that belief in place, I know I attracted men who would confirm it. I know now, looking back that I was not ‘attracted’ or did not find, men who would treat me well. I think we really do perpetrate the conditions and issues of our childhood. Childhood last all our lives because it is the period of time when our unconscious is being educated, if you like. It is also called the repetition compulsion — which is again, biological. Our culture does not value childhood whatever it says. It values autonomous adults — it violently hates dependancy and as children are dependant, it really– quite secretly — hates them. It wants you to put your childhood ‘behind you’ definitively. Well that would be great, but it would be like pretending you have two legs when you have one and a half. and that is also when you not only have a negative self view but you have that reinforced by a culture that says you were supposed to get over what happened quickly and easily — with a few SSRIs or a bit of therapy, for example. Not that those things can’t help — but you can’t treat a missing leg with asprin. You need daily, sometimes hourly, recognition that part of you can trip you up if it isn’t recognised and dealt with — and dealt with every day. For me, I had to force myself to see the self perpetuating nature of my own — largely unconscious — self loathing. I must have been so bad for them to keep leaving right? So I would find men who left. On and on — like a broken record. You are right, I think, to understand that your husband’s emotional abuse is just as bad as the contempt you were treated with as a child. Physical abuse only really damages us because of that contempt, right? If you hurt yourself that badly physically in some way be accident, if would likely not have left the huge emotional scars it did. It was the fact that you could be considered by someone as worthless when you were so young and were internalising almost every message you received. So you have to patiently, slowly, carefully, re-educate yourself. You have to see yourself as like your daughter — worthy. If you’re like me, it won’t happen quickly or permanently . It is so slow and so repetitive. I find myself so impatient with myself that I can’t ‘feel’ worthy because I know intellectually, as a child of God, etc. that I must be. It took a long time of repetitve abuse to convince yourself as child that you were worthless, so it isn’t going to be a fast process to reverse that ‘training’. and it was — training that is — you were trained to see yourself as deserving of contempt. But I found when I started doubting that belief — started questioning it – started trying to believe something else — and it is work — really hard work and I’m not there yet — I attracted a different kind of man. I also had to learn to care about someone who cared about me. Again, it was training myself. It wasn’t overnight by any means. But I’ve now been married to a man for 23 years and can finally say I accept how good he is to me. I still – as in daily — struggle with issuses of very low self-esteem and I catch myself daily also in behaviours that sabotage my own best interest. It is so hard to reverse those first formative decades.

          The next question then is, why does God not just wave his wand and make me better without all this effort? If he could heal the lame and blind, why not me? Well, obviously I can’t answer that — but I know, for example, some alcoholics get instantly better when ‘accepting Christ’ and some have to do the long trek back the hard way through AA and meetings and practising the steps, even though they are sincere Christians. Some people don’t get instantly healed. Some people have to do the therapy — and therapy almost always sucks — but I now trust there is a good reason for this. For example, had I got instantly healed I would have little to offer you. I’d just babble some drivel about how you haven’t REALLY got Jesus if you aren’t well the instant you ‘get’ him. That would be so helpful wouldn’t it? Further, I now think God wanted me to understand the nature of this harm — the power of it — the reality of how we, as a society, do not, whatever we profess, put children first. I think that is one of the fundamental facts God wanted me to get. Why? I don’t know but can speculate. One thing I do know, that if we truly put children first, put their emotional as well as their physical (and educational) welfare first, the world would change. We’d start to begin to bring in the kingdom, the rule of love here, as Love rules in heaven. I think the emotional abuse of children is like our rape of the environment, a very basic attack on Life Itself. Without children or nature we have no future and thus, no hope. Hell is defined as the place where there is no hope, so… So much I wouldn’t get or understand or have developed without my childhood, so one of the other things I’ve gained from this disability (and again, i consciously think of the damage that childhood did, as a disability) is also the source of kinds of opportunity simply not available had childhood been emotionally healthy, or more healthy than it was, because as I’m sure you know, no one has a completely healthy childhood. So now I’m actually learning to be grateful that I have had those experiences, that I have this ongoing therapy to try and correct damage done when I was too young to understand what was happening to me. But again, I must stress, it is ongoing. In my experience, a damaged childhood does not go away. We slowly, slowly get better, but it is two steps forward, one step back, for me anyway, all the time.

          I hope this has been helpful. Disregard it, of course, if it hasn’t! With you as you share this arduous but rewarding process. There will be ‘beauty for these ashes’ and God will indeed, ‘restore the years that the locust has eaten’. It is a slow miracle instead of a fast one, but it is miraculous and magical nonetheless.

          • Nicole

            Dear Sasha,

            Your words helped more than you will know. Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of that and to share your story. I wholeheartedly believe what you said, especially about how we do not value children. It broke my heart to read it so blatantly but it is true. I went through the process to be a foster parent many years ago and couldn’t get over how none of my friends would even consider it. Good Christian families. I was so disillusioned.

            As for me, one of the things God has been whispering into my heart lately is to keep searching the scriptures for how much He loves me, how He wants to do good for me, and how my pain is not what He wants for me. God will not use it for punishment, but for purpose.

            I also realized as I was reading your post, how it is the devil who wants us to learn contempt for ourselves. My husband was abused in many ways as a children and has terrible wounds. He has self-contempt and passes that contempt to me. I also see though now that part of his treatment towards me is a deep trigger to get me to treat him with contempt. The enemy uses my retaliation to prove to my husband that he is worthy of contempt, will always be the target of contempt, etc. This, of course, is not true. God loves my husband the same as He loves me.

            I won’t be a doormat, but I will continue to pray for him and hope one day he sees how much he is loved and receives some measure of healing from his past.

            Thank you and I’ll be praying for you and the MS. It makes perfect sense as related to the nervous system. Don’t drink Diet Coke. That makes it worse.

            God bless!

    • mae

      Nicole,

      I left my abusive husband almost two years ago when I found out he started to sexually abuse my daughter (who was not yet four years old at the time).

      I’m a single mother, with three children (ages 7 and under).

      What I’ve learned is that I don’t care if my kids EVER see a “happy whole marriage” anymore. What I care about is that they learn to become “happy whole people”. Because happy whole people, who find other happy whole people, can create “happy whole marriages”.

      I’m still working on becoming a happy whole person. It takes a lot of time, a lot of work, and it’s been a painful journey. But I’m in a hundred times better place right now, as a single mother with three kids, than I was when I was living with an abusive man.

      You’re perspective might feel really bleak now, and as Matt said, exhausted feeling. (when you live on eggshells or just in a stressful home day after day after day, it’s very very exhausting. Somedays I didn’t remember what I was doing, I lived in the “FOG” and my head felt cloudy and dense every day. It took all my energy just to focus on the task at hand, especially while pregnant as you stated you are).

      But don’t lose hope of the future. I was going to give up all my dreams and just focus on my kids after I left my husband. But then someone told me that to be the best mom I can be, I should pursue my dreams and live the life I want my kids to live by EXAMPLE. So here I am, at a very good law school, working on my second year! A single mother with three kids! Pursuing my dreams.

      You still have dreams, and you still have to be a mom! Work on those dreams, focus on your own needs, think about taking care of yourself in some small way every day. And remember what a good mom you’re being by taking care of yourself. you can start the journey to “Healthy” and “Whole” all by yourself. God didn’t create you to live a half life, but a whole life. And he would want you to take care of yourself.

      Lots of love, and I come from a great support group (called Our Place Forum) for abusive marriages where one of the members first started to post John Shore’s blog. His material has helped keep me afloat for a few years now :)

      • Elizabeth

        Hi mae. I remember you. Thank you.

      • Nicole

        Thank you so much, Mae, for sharing your story and your encouragement! I got goosebumps when you said you were in your second year of law school. I am so happy for you!

        I, too, am looking at schools to finish my writing degree. I also just applied for a grant yesterday for writers who are also parents. Keeping my fingers crossed. But regardless of the outcome, I just feel great staying on course with my life, my dreams, in the midst of all of this. It gives me such hope.

        I really do believe God works everything out for good. In the meantime, I will keep praying for my husband and for his healing. Pain, family legacy, abuse, runs in cycles. I am praying to break generational curses and as you said- help my kids be happy, whole people.

        God bless you and your family :)

  • Nicole

    I did want to share one encouraging insight on forgiveness. I was watching Life Today and a Dr. Jeffress was on the show and they were discussing a chapter in his book about forgiveness. He said “Forgiveness is being willing to give up our right to revenge, while still maintaining our desire for justice.”

    That statement helped me a lot. The church is very poor at seeking justice. But we are called to “love justice, mercy and walk humbly with God.” I believe the church needs more dialogue on what justice really is instead of just telling people to forgive, turn the other cheek, etc. While these are powerful scriptural points they were never meant to be an easy way out for predators/trespassers where FAR TOO OFTEN the victims are left on their own to deal with the consequences of the sin perpetrated against them.

  • http://www.daisyrainmartin.com Daisy Rain Martin

    To the amazing guy who wrote this letter,

    You have encapsulated the angst that so many Christians feel who have been the victims of such atrocity. It seems so unjust that we should wrestle with such emotional turmoil. I, too, have grappled with this very issue and have been able to lay these burdens down. It seems this post was written a while ago, but I’m hoping by now you’ve been able to find peace.

    To the amazing guy who wrote this letter and all the other beautiful souls who have been through this hell,

    If you are so inclined, please go to my website (www.daisyrainmartin.com) and click on, “If It’s Happened to You”. It’s a free book that will take all of about twenty minutes to read in its entirety. Pass it along to anyone you might know who could be helped by it. I wish you all freedom and health and wholeness every single day for the rest of your lives.

    To John,

    Thank you for being a soft place to land for the MANY people out there who are “living lives of quiet desperation” because of this horror. When I speak to churches about child sexual abuse, not only do I speak to those who have been through it, but to those who haven’t, I ask them to please, please, PLEASE be someone who will listen and have compassion for those who need it. We need to throw back the rug that this issue has been swept under and start talking about this. That’s really what has to happen. Thank you for starting this conversation.

    Love to all,

    Daisy Rain

  • Jill

    I’m over here today, reviewing the abuse posts that have helped me when I first read them. It’s just one of those days when pain you hoped was resolved never really ends. I’m reeling a bit from the powerlessness of overcoming my own cynicism.

    My inner monologue of late goes something like: if only (any random person) knew how far I’ve come and where I came from, (that random person) would understand why I’m guarded and mistrusting and prepare myself for the worst and am pretty much angry all the time.

    I’m not even emotionally reacting about the abuses themselves, I’m reacting to the non-reaction and non-support of the oblivious world I lived in back then. These days it’s called people are just too busy and too taxed with their own challenges, which of course is no small thing. But it’s the apathy I can’t look at without rage.
    Lives are changed in moments of kindness, and when a person has trouble stringing kindnesses together, it hardens hearts and alters a person’s capacity to believe in anybody or anything.

    Maybe this is simply a challenging aspect of my personality I will always bump up against and unavoidable, I just know I don’t want to be this jaded and cynical anymore, but I don’t know how to change it. Advice from this kind community is very welcome.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      A bouquet of likes heading your way.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X