Photos used to come with negatives when I was a girl. These were reverse images on strips of plastic film, with light areas appearing dark, dark areas appearing light, and colors reversed.
We would sort through our photos for the best, then resubmit the corresponding negatives for processing, so that copies and enlargements could be made from them.
Instead of storing images as patterns of darkness and light, today’s digital cameras store images as long strings of numbers. Film isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary. But negatives have something to teach us.
Hard on Ourselves
As abuse victims, we find it easy to be hard on ourselves. It’s second nature to us – as if we were specially trained to see only the negative aspects of our lives. And, of course, we were.
We question our every action, criticize our every decision – past, present, and future:
- Why couldn’t we have avoided the situations in which abuse occurred or have prevented it outright? As if children had such options…or such power.
- Why did it take us so long to figure things out? As if abuse weren’t incomprehensible to children, and understanding proceeded according to a set timetable.
- Why do we keep making the same mistakes? As if abuse had not impacted us at a formative stage in our lives.
- How will we ever leave our abusers, support ourselves, succeed at work or school? As if we were “damaged goods” for having survived an unbearable ordeal.
This ongoing critique should not be confused with a genuine effort to improve our character or atone for some sin . It originated as an attack by our abusers on who we are, an attack on our very being.
Judgment has already been passed against us by our abusers. We are simply carrying out their sentence – lifelong punishment for the failure to meet insane expectations, for the unpardonable “sin” of intruding on their lives.
But judgment was passed without any real evidence.
We may have been told as children that our eye color or hair color or some other feature was ugly. We may have been told by a spouse that we were too thin or too fat, too short or too tall, too smart or too dumb. We may have been told we were unwanted, and would remain forever unloved.
That does not make it true. That does not make any of it true.
But abuse victims believe those lies. We accept them at face value, and incorporate them into the opinion we have of ourselves. Frequently, we conclude that we are defective or worthless. We live with that shadow hanging over us – a negative of the lives we were meant to live.
Truth and Beauty
” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty…’ ”
-John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
Just as photography requires exposure to light, so do our lives require exposure to the truth, if we are to live them to the fullest.
Film is still prized by fine art photographers. In the hands of a master like Ansel Adams, for instance, photographs of great beauty can be produced.
Our lives are in the hands of the Master of the Universe. Even now, even after all the harm done to us, He is capable of making something beautiful out of them.
“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61: 3).
 As abuse victims, we are not responsible for the sins committed against us by our abusers. Like all human beings, however, we can sin in other areas.
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