“Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” by Guercino (c.1621) at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Accession No. DPG282) (PD)
Many abuse victims are tormented by perfectionism. This is the unrelenting pursuit of perfection. Perfection and perfectionism are not, however, the same. One is, in fact, antagonistic to the other.
Perfection as a Standard
Perfection has special significance for abuse victims. As children, abuse victims come under constant and unjustified criticism. Harsh criticism may be accompanied by still harsher punishments, penalties far beyond anything a loving parent or guardian might administer for a childish infraction.
With time, victims conclude that perfection alone would satisfy their tormentors. We strive to achieve that. In reality, no amount of effort could attain the impossibly high standards set for victims. But the effort is ingrained in us, as is the self-criticism. So perfectionism begins.
The Need for Approval
As adults, abuse victims are frequently motivated by a need for approval. We become “people pleasers”, conditioned “to feel bad about [our]selves and to please, appease, accommodate others” [1A]. Studies show that perfectionists of this type may “exhibit…‘a strong sense of duty, which masks underlying feelings of personal inadequacy’ ” [1B].
Dirt and Cleanliness
Sexual abuse can add another layer of torment. Child victims may be too young to understand what exactly is being done to them, other than that it is a painful violation. The violation is commonly, however, associated with cleanliness issues. This is especially true when children are accused of being “filthy sluts”, “dirty whores”, and the like.
Having been made to feel “dirty”, children may rub dirt onto their skin and clothing. They may soil themselves, even if long since potty-trained. In the alternative, they may wash unceasingly; may bathe and change clothes several times a day.
As adults, the victims of sexual abuse are likely to have difficulties with sex. They may view sex as threatening and disgusting; themselves as soiled by it. Some can feel nothing sexually. Others treat sex as a commodity. Far too many throw themselves into frenzied sexual activity, in a desperate search for the love of which they were deprived.
Most abuse victims do not grow up to become prostitutes. A great number of prostitutes (male and female) were, however, abused as children
Washed in the Blood
Verses can be found throughout the Bible which refer to cleansing . These are not concerned with soap and water, but with sin and repentance. They convey something of the power of God to forgive whatever wrongs we may have done, and “cleanse” or rid us of the evil done to us.
The Bible’s cleansing verses are not meant to suggest that abuse victims are somehow filthy or defiled. The child victims of abuse – even sexual abuse – have NOT sinned, sexually or otherwise. And God, above all others, understands the extent to which their adult actions may have been impacted by the sins inflicted on them as children. Continue reading