Category Archives: Religion

Grenade – The Impact of Incest

WWII grenade, Author J-L Dubois (PD)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

A romantic dream unfolds lazily.  A man and woman who are obviously attracted to one another banter playfully.  The scene shifts and they kiss passionately. 

Then a grenade goes off.  The man’s image is replaced with that of the woman’s father.  He states blandly that she initiated their sexual encounter, that the fault for the incest is hers. 

Though she knows the accusation is false, though the incest was years in the past, though she was a child at the time, though there was never any “romance” involved, the horror is overwhelming.  It continues even after the woman awakes.

Incest is rarely discussed in polite company, and then in hushed terms.  The damage it inflicts is like that of a grenade going off.  Hopes are shattered.  Lives are destroyed.  And the grenade never stops inflicting damage, leaving lifelong scars.

The metaphor may sound extreme.  Tragically, it is not.

The victims of incest experience enormous guilt and shame.  But the fault is NEVER theirs. Continue reading

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Beautiful in His Sight

“Figure of Christ” by Heinrich Hofmann (1884), Source https://i.pinimg.com/originals (PD-Art, PD-old)

Abuse frequently destroys the faith of victims, undermining our capacity to trust.  While we may reject God or despise Him, He loves and values us.  It can be difficult for us to reconcile God’s love with our experience.  But that love is real.

Let me try and explain what I mean.

Self-Worth and the Cross

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16).

As abuse victims, we were taught at an early age that we were worthless.  Our needs were insignificant.  Our feelings did not matter.  Our bodies were not our own.

These were the inferences we drew from our experience with those who rightly should have loved and cared for us.  God, however, sees things differently.  To Him, we are of infinite value.  He proved it by giving His Son, Jesus Christ over to a death on the cross for our sakes.

Our value is not governed by a predator’s opinion of us.  It was established for all time at the cross.  No one need add to it.  No one can detract from it.

God’s Unconditional Love

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies” (Ps. 36: 5).

God’s love for abuse victims is limitless and unconditional.  The concept of unconditional love may be foreign to us.  We were taught that love was unreliable.  It had to be earned, over and over again.  Most of us paid a high price for a counterfeit version of love.

Sin and Our Relationship to God

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8: 1-2).

God’s love is not withdrawn when we make mistakes or fall short.  We grieve His heart at such times, but He does not turn away from or reject us.  We are His beloved children.  Even when our relationship with Him is rocky, He continues to love us immeasurably. Continue reading

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Gomer – A Study in Self-Sabotage

“Head of a Woman with Her Hair Loose” by Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Author Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

The biblical prophet Hosea lived during a dark period in Israel’s history, around the 8th Century BC.  Though prosperous, the Northern Kingdom had turned away from the one true God, instead worshipping idols.

Against this backdrop, God’s puzzling direction to Hosea was that he should marry a prostitute:

Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1: 2).

Hosea’s troubled relationship with his wife, Gomer, becomes a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel [1].

Gomer bears Hosea three children, whose names are symbolic of the spiritual deterioration of Israel [2].  But Gomer is repeatedly unfaithful.  Hosea even questions the paternity of the younger children.

Despite that, Hosea is commanded by God to love Gomer (Hosea 3: 1).  God warns Israel of terrible chastisement to come for its sin [3].  Hosea is not though described as punishing Gomer.  Rather, he ransoms her out of slavery.

We can infer that Hosea provides Gomer food and clothing, and treats her tenderly.  Ultimately, Hosea forgives Gomer’s infidelity as God forgives Israel’s.

Motivation

Since Gomer does not speak, we are left to wonder about her motivation.  Here she is, rescued from a life of degradation.  Yet she does not – or cannot – remain faithful.  Did she feel ignored by Hosea?  Did she long for male attention and admiration?  For the excitement of the streets (or the sensuality of pagan worship)?

Self-Sabotage

Why can what we know is wrong sometimes feel so “right”?  For abuse victims, self-sabotage may be part of the answer.

Self-sabotage is the expression of low self-esteem.  Any behavior which undermines our success can fall into this category.  Examples include binge drinking, engaging in unprotected sex, and selecting an alcoholic life partner.  The behavior may be conscious or unconscious.

“Typically, one’s pattern of self-sabotage is closely related to one’s personal issues and family history.   Survivors who grew up in addictive families may self-sabotage by driving while drunk… Survivors from violent families may…[be] beaten or injured.   Survivors from wealthy families often find themselves losing money, getting swindled or making bad investments.  Studies have shown that survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to be assaulted as adults [4].”

This is not to suggest that abuse victims are responsible for the abuse inflicted on them.  Nor is it meant to imply that victims want to be re-victimized. Continue reading

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Shrapnel – Trauma Beliefs

Shrapnel fragments visible on x-ray, Author Hellerhoff (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING: Graphic Images

The sharp, jagged, metal fragments from an exploding bomb, grenade, or landmine are known as shrapnel.

Shrapnel wounds require special care.  Initially, these are open puncture wounds, with impaled objects so hot that medical personnel are strictly advised to leave them in place. Pressure on shrapnel wounds must be avoided, as this will only cause more damage to surrounding tissues and organs.

After it cools, some shrapnel can be removed surgically [1].  Often, however, surgery would do more harm than good.  There may be hundreds or thousands of small objects.

Over the years, fragments left behind can migrate within the body, making them still harder to find and access.  It is not unusual for shrapnel to remain imbedded for decades [2].

Trauma Beliefs

The same is true for trauma beliefs. When children undergo trauma, they experience strong emotions.  Like scorching metal fragments, these searing emotions highlight the traumatic event.

But children, also, draw conclusions from trauma.  This is their attempt to make sense of the world.  Unfortunately, the conclusions children draw may not be accurate [3].

Since the traumatic event is not fully understood, the child cannot fully process it. Instead, the emotions and faulty conclusions surrounding the trauma remain sharp, jagged, and are re-experienced, again and again.

This happens even after conscious memory of the event has faded.  Like shrapnel, trauma beliefs  remain in the body, and continue to do harm.

False Core Beliefs

Having been abandoned as children, we may fear that others will leave us as adults. Having been abused as children, we may believe ourselves unworthy of love as adults. These core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us may never be vocalized, never questioned.  But they are deeply held.

Trauma beliefs “feel” accurate not because they are, but because we have held them for so long [4].  They “feel” protective, but are actually self-sabotaging [5]. Continue reading

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Foster Care – A Failed System

Changes in Congregate Care in 8 States (9/30/04-9/30/13), Author US Govt. Accountability Office (GAO), Source https://www.gao.gov, (PD as work product of federal govt.)

Reporting by the Washington Post confirms what the public has long known.  Our foster care system is failing, nationwide.

One major flaw involves the use of detention centers and similar facilities to house children who have committed no infraction whatsoever [1A].

Warehousing

“…in an era when a surging number of biological parents are falling into the grips of drug addiction, and child welfare systems are struggling with a shortage of foster parents…case workers and courts have been funneling children into crowded emergency shelters, hotels, out-of-state institutions and youth prisons — cold, isolating and often dangerous facilities not built to house innocent children for years [1B].”

Both literally and figuratively, children taken into foster care for their own protection are instead being warehoused with rapists and murderers.  Some are forced to sleep on cement floors with harsh fluorescent lights on during lockdowns.

Scope of the Failure

Because foster care is decentralized, accurate figures are difficult to come by.

As of 2013, approximately 56,000 of the 400,000 children in foster care across the country (14% of the foster care population) were living in what is known as “congregate” care – group homes, detention centers, residential drug treatment facilities, and the like [2].  In West Virginia, fully 71% of 6800 foster children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been relegated to such institutions [1C].

The Opioid Crisis is greatly increasing those numbers. Continue reading

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Becoming Ourselves

It has been said that we become more ourselves, as we grow older.  Superficial beauty fades, and a softer (or, in some cases, starker) beauty takes its place.  This incorporates our scars, evidence of the life we have lived, with and without our consent.

We long, in youth, to be part of a larger whole – the beloved or a noble cause, perhaps.  The paths we take determine greatly – and depend greatly on – whether or not that happens.

The heart calls us to venues and ventures we would never have thought ourselves capable of pursuing, let alone achieving.  Sometimes though it seems we are being led.  Not by our desires alone, but by some external force.

“…[H]e made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in His quiver” (Isa. 49: 2).

Most of us must deal with tragedy, along the way.  Some lives are cut short by it.  Grief and loss can arise from many causes in this imperfect world:  abuse, racism, poverty, and violence, to name a few.

We are shaped by these experiences, and can be broken by them.  Chances are, we will be forced to make difficult choices.  Almost everyone is.

For a tree branch to be made into an arrow, it must be stripped of leaves (John 15: 2); fired, so as to become pliable (Isa. 48: 10, Rom. 5: 3 and 8: 28, James 1: 2-4, 1 Pet. 1: 6-7); straightened (Eph. 2: 21 and 4: 15-16, Heb. 10: 24-25); sanded (Heb. 12: 7-11); and oiled (Ps. 104: 15, Gal. 5: 22-23, Eph. 5: 18) [1].

Ultimately, the arrow finds its target.  So, too, will our lives, in God’s hands, find their intended target…even if that target is not what we originally supposed.

We can rely on that.

[1]   All credit for this information about arrow construction, and the biblical citations associated with it goes to Fountaingate Christian Foundation. See, ChurchLink, Bible Study Warehouse, Series:  The Call – Lesson 7,  “Preparation for Ministry”,  http://www.churchlink.com.au/churchlink/bible_studies/call/call7.html. Copyright © 1981, 1996 Paul Bunty and David Collins. All rights reserved.

Originally posted 7/10/16

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Vincent

“Self-Portrait” by Vincent van Gogh (1889), National Gallery of Art (Accession No. 1998.74.5), Source https://artsandculture.google.com (PD-Art, PD-old)

The artist Vincent van Gogh led a tragic life.  His art – now lauded – was ahead of its time, and unappreciated by the public.  Tormented by loneliness, Vincent longed desperately for love and friendship, but had difficulty with both.

However, Vincent and his brother, Theo, were extremely close.  Amsterdam’s van Gogh Museum is holding an exhibition in which contemporary artists and writers have responded to the hundreds of letters Vincent wrote Theo.  In these letters, Vincent movingly described his hopes and fears.  See, https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/01/van-gogh-purpose-letter/  and  https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/05/07/vincent-van-gogh-art-love-letters/ .

Below is an excerpt from the letter novelist, Nicole Krauss crafted [1].  I believe abuse victims may find it helpful.

“Dear Vincent,

You write about fear:  Fear of the blank canvas, but also, on a larger scale, of the ‘infinitely meaningless, discouraging blank side’ that life itself always turns toward us…

Repeating Old Patterns

It’s a strange thing about the human mind that, despite its capacity and its abundant freedom, its default is to function in a repeating pattern.  It watches…the days and seasons, the cycle of life and death all going around in an endless loop, and unconsciously…echoes these cycles.  Its thoughts go in loops, repeating patterns established so long ago we often can’t remember their origin, or why they ever made sense to us.  And even when these loops fail over and over again to bring us to a desirable place, even while they entrap us… [we] still find it nearly impossible to resist them.  We call these patterns of thought our ‘nature’ and resign ourselves to being governed by them as if they are the result of a force outside of us…

Breaking with the Past

And yet it is unquestionably within our power to break the loop…by choosing to think — and to see, and act — in a different way.  It may require enormous effort and focus.  And yet for the most part it isn’t laziness that stops us from breaking these loops, it’s fear…

Fear

And so before we can arrive at the act of breaking, we first have to confront our fear.  The fear that the blank canvas and the blank side of life reflects back to us, which is so paralyzing, as you put it, and seems to tell us that ‘we can’t do anything.’  It’s an abstract fear, though it finds a way to take on endless shapes.  Today it may be the fear of failure, but tomorrow it will be the fear of what others will think of us, and at a different time it will be fear of discovering that the worst things we suspect about ourselves are true… Continue reading

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Vigilance, Part 4 – Sexual Abuse

National Institutes of Health Sex Abuse Disorders Graph
(PD as work product of federal govt.)

These days, children can become victims of sexual exploitation in a variety of ways.  If the sexual predator is a parent, the incest is likely to be a closely held secret.  Whoever the predator, sexual abuse has long-term, devastating consequences.

The warning signs of sexual abuse include the following [1]:

  • A young child who suddenly has difficulty sitting or walking, suggesting injury to the genital area.
  • A child who suddenly refuses to change for gym or take part in other physical activities at school.
  • A child whose hygiene changes suddenly, since children who have been sexually abused may feel “dirty” and stop bathing (or become obsessed with cleanliness, and wash constantly).
  • A child who demonstrates unusual knowledge of sex or sexualized behavior.
  • A child who becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, especially under the age of fourteen.
  • A child who says s/he has been sexually abused by a parent or caregiver.

We assume that the predator parent or caregiver (uncle, boyfriend, etc.) is likely to be secretive and isolated.  This is not always, however, the case.

The sexual predator may be unusually “protective” of the abused child, often sharply restricting a child’s contact with other children – particularly those of the opposite sex.

Guardians

We are the only guardians children have against the darkness of this world.  It is vital that we remain vigilant on their behalf.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5: 8).

[1]  Prevent Child Abuse America, “Recognizing Child Abuse:  What Parents Should Know”,   https://preventchildabuse.org/resource/recognizing-child-abuse-what-parents-should-know/.

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Hospital of Horrors

Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Author Roman Boed of Netherlands, Source Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

Most of us view hospitals as places of hope and healing.  According to a federal lawsuit filed last week, Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital does not fit that bill [1A].

Damning Investigations

Investigations by both the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica confirm that children confined to Aurora were subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse there [1B].

Willful Ignorance

Child welfare officials at the Illinois Dept. of Children and Family Services (DCFS) allegedly ignored the issues at Aurora due to a shortage of other psychiatric facilities willing to accept DCFS referrals.

Despite an increased number of complaints to the state’s child abuse hotline regarding Aurora, DCFS did not stop referring patients to that hospital until pressure was applied by watchdog groups and state legislators.

For those reasons, DCFS is, also, named in the suit.

Continue reading

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Full and Satisfying

Nativity scene at St. Viktor Church, Dulmen, Germany, Author/Source Dietmar Rabich (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

Can the victims of abuse ever lead full and satisfying lives?  That depends, to a large extent, on how we define “full and satisfying”.

There is no question that abuse can kill.  Those of us who survive may be left with lifelong physical and emotional scars.  Abuse can leave victims struggling with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  Abuse can turn sex into a weapon, in the desperate search for love.  Abuse can lead to self-medication, with drugs or alcohol.

But that is not the whole story.  Not by a long shot.

“…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself.  He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning described his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp.  He concluded that human beings strive for purpose, and that – whatever our circumstances – we have the ability to give life meaning through love, work, and suffering.

At first glance, that may not make sense.  Oh, most of us would agree that life can be given meaning by romantic love, perhaps brotherly love.  After some thought, we might be persuaded that life can be given meaning by work – even tedious or menial work, if done to support the ones we love.

Yet suffering? Not such a stretch as it might seem.  We recognize the concept of sacrifice in a noble cause (love of God, love of country, etc.), and sacrifice for the sake of a beloved.  Mothers who have lost a child will understand that their grief is, in part, a testament to that child.

How does this relate to abuse victims?  Well, we have certainly suffered.  That our suffering was not to any purpose makes it all the more cruel.  We were innocent victims.  Blameless.

And that is the place to start… Continue reading

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