Tag Archives: healing from abuse

Satan and Abuse Victims

Image of Satan by Gustave Doré, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1866), Source https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/milton/john/paradise/complete.html (PD)

“All hope abandon, ye who enter here”

-Motto over the Gates of Hell, from Dante’s Inferno

Abuse victims know Satan all too well.  We have met him in the form of pedophiles and panderers; parents and caregivers who did not know how to love; partners who used and discarded us like so many unwanted toys.

Truth and Lies

We have been tormented by Satan in every way possible – mentally, physically, emotionally, sexually, and religiously, to the point that some of us have come to view death as a relief.

That statement about death is, of course, one of Satan’s lies.  But we have been told so many lies, we no longer recognize the truth.

Trust and Control

Where there is a history of abuse, the desire for control can be heightened.  Having been grievously harmed, we are determined not to be harmed again.  Which means trust is an issue for us.

Our wounds are so deep that some of us have vowed never to trust again.  In the interest of safety, we have willingly traded freedom for isolation.  A high price to pay.

But isolation is no guarantee of peace or safety.  That is just another of Satan’s lies.

Cries for Help

Most of us have cried out to God in our anguish.  Many have concluded that He long ago rejected us or simply does not exist (more of Satan’s lies).  A few of us have come to believe Satan is the stronger (a lie he gladly endorses).

Faith and Fear

It takes enormous faith to let down our guard, lay our defenses at God’s feet, and allow Him sovereignty over our lives.  Victims’ reluctance is more a reflection of fear than stubbornness; more a measure of the sins to which we were subjected, than those we committed ourselves.

Legalism and Self-Esteem

Acutely aware of our defects – real and imagined – and often rejected before, abuse victims are intensely sensitive to rejection.  Fearful that God will reject us, if we do offer to submit to His will, victims are flooded by feelings of inadequacy.

We must reclaim our self-esteem before we can surrender freely to God.  Otherwise the concept of surrender is likely to feel too threatening to us.  We were forced to submit to the evil inflicted on us.  The thought of submitting again – even to a good and holy God – can be overwhelming.

In the aftermath of abuse, we hardly dare assert ourselves, as it is.

This is not to say that we must be “perfect” or even “good” before God will come into our lives.  That is yet another of Satan’s lies.  God meets us where we are.

A frantic effort to “please” Him by doing good works (or flagellate ourselves for every failure) is unnecessary.  It amounts, in fact, to legalism – adherence to the letter of the law, at the expense of the spirit.  God does not ask this of us.

Our value in God’s eyes is not something to be earned at all.  It stems from the family relationship we have with God.  We are His beloved children.

Recognition of that profound truth can go a long way toward healing the wounds left by abuse.

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40: 31 NIV).

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Rescuing Ourselves

“The Rescue” by John Everett Millais (1855), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (PD-Art l Old-100)

There was finally a point in my teens when I realized that I would never be rescued from sexual molestation [1].

The shock of that revelation was overwhelming…as if all my trauma had been condensed into a single instant.  It felt, at that moment, as if I had been struck in the chest by a sledge hammer.

Trauma Beliefs

Traumatic childhood events (especially those involving a parent) can give rise to false core beliefs [2].  Often, such trauma beliefs are not articulated.  They may never be identified and consciously brought to mind.

But trauma beliefs can be enormously destructive – not only damaging our self-image, but crippling us.

Here are a few versions of such beliefs:  I am stupid; I am ugly; I am unlovable; I do not deserve to be cared for; I must do everything perfectly, or I will be rejected; I should be punished; I will be abandoned by everyone I ever love.

Self-Hatred

Deep inside, I concluded that I was unworthy of rescue, because I would never be the woman my mother was.  I would never be as kind, gentle, or generous as she was.  Most especially, I would never be as vulnerable or petite.  This translated into self-hatred.

That I developed weight issues in high school seemed “proof” of my deficiency.  Clearly, I had an innate flaw that went through to the bone.  So it appeared to me.  I became a perfectionist to offset this.

Acting Out Trauma Beliefs

Weight problems can be a source of torment and discouragement, especially in our culture.

Those of us with problems involving our weight try diets, weight loss programs, and gyms.  We buy expensive exercise equipment, and gadgets guaranteed to change our dimensions.  Some of us even have surgery, and still the weight comes back.

Weight issues are the symptom, not the disease.  Weight issues are a constant source of shame which is why, with some part of ourselves, we cling to them.  They reinforce our trauma beliefs.  That these false core beliefs were laid down so early in our lives gives them added strength.

Perfectionism is likewise a harsh taskmaster.  Perfectionism (another way of acting out trauma beliefs) insures a sense of inadequacy which is the reason it is so tenacious.  The bar is constantly out of reach.

What these two have in common is that they preserve the feelings we had as children.  Those feelings have simply found a new focus. Continue reading

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Beautiful in His Sight

“Face of Christ” by Claude Mellan (1649), Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (PD)

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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Mustard Seed

Mustard seeds, Author Dsaikia2015 (CC BY-SA 4.0 International) 

Abuse is among the most depraved and destructive behaviors of which human beings are capable.

Less than Trash

We were taught as children that we were inferior, inadequate, lacking. Victims were cruelly used, abandoned, and discarded. Valued as less than trash.

Those lessons sank in deep. They continue to warp victims’ reality. Now, our inner life is marred by a pervasive sense of worthlessness. Depression is rooted in this. Groundless guilt and shame (rightly belonging to our abusers) are added to the mix.

Whatever we may accomplish in this life, in our darkest moments we see ourselves as devoid of good, and our lives as meaningless. It is not though true that the world would be better off without us.

An Act of Faith

Our supposed worthlessness is the cornerstone in a system of lies which allows us to see only our faults. That fact has enormous significance for abuse victims, for it implies we have a choice in how we see ourselves: either as worthless or as the infinitely precious children of God we really are.

Many of us lost our faith, as a result of abuse. After all, God did not rescue us. We find it incomprehensible that God might cherish us, let alone send His Son, Jesus Christ, to give His life for ours. Yet, astonishingly, that is the case.

So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you’ ” (Luke 17: 6).

The feeling of worthlessness is a link in the heavy chain of sin which binds us. That link was forged by our abuse. In its place, victims are offered freedom. We are invited to step out in faith by letting go of worthlessness.

To do that, we must trust God to be greater than our abusers. In point of fact, He is.

Trusting God can feel dangerous and foreign, at first. The journey of faith lasts a lifetime. But we only need a mustard seed to take the first step.

This post has been modified

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Shrapnel

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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Abuse Victims, God, and the Search for Love, Part 2

“From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band,
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.”

From a Distance, Bette Midler

Though human love may fail us, Divine love continues to offer us hope. We must, however, be wary not to see rejection where it does not exist. Abuse victims readily believe themselves unworthy of God’s love. And God’s love is unmerited. Yet He offers it anyway, which is why His love is so powerfully restorative.

The amazing thing is that God is not at a great distance from us. His outstretched hand is there for the taking. We need but turn to Him.

Kudos to Miss M from a longtime fan. May another generation discover her music.

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Abuse Victims, God, and the Search for Love, Part 1

PBS recently re-aired “Divine Madness”. The Divine Miss M, circa 1980: Bette Midler in her younger years. A blast straight from my past.

I am, of course, dating myself. Maybe the New Year’s celebrations have me in a nostalgic mood. But I look back over the decades with some wonder at how I survived…how any of us survived.

Bette Midler strikes a chord for me, both musically and metaphorically. That voice – muscular and poignant. That manner – brash and vulnerable.

The first time I heard “The Rose” over the radio I had to pull the car to the side of the road for the tears in my eyes. The same thing happened the first time I heard “From a Distance”. I couldn’t help myself.

There is a profound connection here. “The Rose” is about the search for love, when love seems unattainable. “From a Distance” is about the search for brotherhood, which always seems beyond our reach.

“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower and you its only seed.”

The Rose, Bette Midler

I think it’s fair to say that abuse victims are particularly desperate for love. We deserve but do not see ourselves as worthy of love. Having had so little of the real thing, we settle for poor imitations without even realizing our error. Continue reading

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Unbiblical, Part 6 – Forgiveness v. Victims’ Rights

“ ‘And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us’ ” (Luke 11: 4).

As I have said elsewhere on this website, forgiveness is a personal matter between abuse victims and their God. Urging forgiveness on victims prematurely ignores the gravity of their trauma, and the depravity of the sins committed against them.

This amounts to a further violation. Victims will necessarily feel that Christians are siding with the predator…even condoning the abuse. Shockingly, in some cases Christians have been guilty of this.

Witness the Catholic Church sex scandal. This was, at best, a product of poor judgment, and a distorted view of Scripture. At worst, it was a cold and calculated attempt to avoid corporate responsibility, while facilitating the most heinous of crimes.

Either way, church hierarchy applied precisely the same rationale to young abuse victims, as the high priest, Caiaphas, did to Christ:  “ ‘…[I]t is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish’ ” (John 11: 50).

To be clear, forgiveness is not a “warm and cozy” feeling, on the part of victims. It is a deliberate decision by victims to leave the harm inflicted on them behind, and instead move on with their lives. Continue reading

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Focus

Reports have been made of abuse by priests, abuse in residential boys’ schools, abuse in church-operated Magdalene laundries, abuse by pediatricians, abuse by police, abuse by politicians shielded by police, abuse by the committees formed to investigate abuse.  The list goes on and on.

Abuse is widespread, generational; the number of victims, staggering.

It is essential that light be shed on this perverted behavior.  It is not necessarily wise, however, that victims focus on the reports of abuse. The sheer numbers can be overwhelming.

We have enough reminders of our brush with evil. The scars of abuse may include perfectionism (and the reaction to it, workaholism), anxiety, depression, sexual difficulties, and weight issues. These pose challenges to many of us on a daily basis. Continue reading

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Hydra

Guilt — true guilt — is the emotional and spiritual weight we bear as a result of the sins or infractions we, ourselves, commit [1]. The false “guilt” which plagues abuse victims is a result of sins by another.

Though misplaced, such false guilt can be accompanied by deep feelings of self-condemnation. These are not relieved by a victim’s repentance – no matter how frequent or sincere – since we cannot atone for the sins inflicted upon us.

Our best recourse with false guilt is to lay our pain and self-condemnation at the feet of the Lord, and seek His healing. This may be a lifelong process. It has been for me.

Tragically, the violation to which victims were subjected is likely to have left behind as many deep-seated scars as the Hydra had heads. That mythical beast, you may remember, regrew two heads for every one severed.

Ultimately, the Hydra was defeated. Survivors may carry lifelong scars of the abuse they suffered. They need not, however, be defeated by those scars.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8: 1).


[1] This is not, in any way, to suggest that the victims of child abuse sinned by the abuse.

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