Tag Archives: recovery from abuse

Polio

Tank respirator (“iron lung”) in use at Union Hospital, Terre Haute, IN 1953-1973, Author Daderot (PD)

Polio has been known since antiquity [1].  Before vaccines for the virus were discovered, polio was a scourge [2].

Fortunate patients experienced only minor symptoms.  Others were paralyzed to varying degrees; left with deformed limbs, or permanently dependent on mechanical respirators (“iron lungs”) for their next breath.  A certain percentage died outright.

Up to 50% of those who survived polio succumbed to post-polio syndrome, as long as 35 years later.  The symptoms of post-polio syndrome include exhaustion, difficulties with memory and concentration, increasing muscle and joint pain, and depression.

Will Power and Moral Superiority

Recovery from polio is not reliant on will power or moral superiority.  Neither is recovery from abuse.  We must not, therefore, grade ourselves on the extent to which we can be said to have recovered.

Vulnerability

Like polio, abuse can leave us vulnerable in certain areas.  This is not the same as being weak.  To be weak suggests that, with a little work, we might be stronger.  It implies a certain lack of character on our part.  That is not the case with abuse.

Effort and Determination

Yes, we can, with effort and determination, overcome some of the physical, mental, and emotional scars stemming from abuse.  But there is no arithmetic relationship between effort and outcome.  A teaspoon of sweat will not guarantee us a corresponding amount of improvement.  Nor, for that matter, will a gallon.

That is not to say the effort is useless.  Whether we succeed in overcoming the scars of our abuse or not, the mere effort develops qualities in us we could not have anticipated.  Qualities like courage, patience, and humility.  Like fortitude. Continue reading

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Faking Normal

A plank in the 2012 platform of the Republican Party called for illegal immigrants to leave the United States of their own accord. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate that year, took quite a bit of flack for supporting the approach (grandly titled “self-deportation”) [1].

But this is not really a post about illegal immigrants.

What abuse victims have in common with illegal immigrants is that we both self-monitor. We are, in other words, inclined to observe ourselves closely in the effort to project an acceptable image, an appearance of “normalcy” and control, whatever the turmoil within.

“Travel Caution,” Author Jasonctillman (CC BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

By itself, self-monitoring is not a bad trait. Even people who have never been abused worry, from time to time, whether their feelings and responses are normal. We are taught from childhood to play nicely with others, and not run with scissors. Those unwilling to adjust their behavior to society’s norms are likely to be aggressive and uncompromising.

For abuse victims, however, self-monitoring involves more. For us, it provides camouflage, and is the tool which allows us to fake normal.

Self-monitoring is a natural response on the part of victims long berated for their thoughts and actions, for their very existence. Victims cling to it, rather than trusting themselves to behave in an appropriate manner. That is understandable. Like illegal immigrants, we would prefer to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, ongoing assessment of our own performance distances us from the present moment, depriving us of real enjoyment and the zest of living. Every thought, every word, every action must be guarded, as we continuously analyze and re-analyze ourselves in the attempt to “fit in”.

While constant self-monitoring deprives us of spontaneity, it does facilitate acceptance by others, at least on a superficial level. Self-scrutiny to such an extreme can, however, become an obsession. We may inadvertently craft a new form of bondage for ourselves, censoring every breath [2]. Continue reading

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Surrender

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2: 20).

Recovery from abuse involves more than just flight from an abusive childhood or a past abusive relationship. It involves defining our own space, and rejecting further abusive behavior, whenever and wherever we may encounter such behavior.

In light of this, it is hardly surprising that the Christian concept of “surrender” should have ominous overtones for victims. They have had enough of surrender, enough of a power differential which invariably favored their abusers.

Spiritual Surrender

Spiritual surrender to Christ (also, known as dying to Him) is illustrated by foregoing the natural inclination toward revenge and instead “turning the other cheek” (Matt. 5: 39), behavior for which genuine Christians are known [1].

By Their Fruits

But surrender to Christ does not imply submission to petty tyrants and counterfeit saviors. Nor does surrender to Christ imply complicity in evil. Victims should be justly wary of those seeking to confuse the two. In the search for love and support, many have fallen prey to false messiahs and destructive cults (including cults misappropriating the label “Christian”).

The Bible tells us, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7: 16). This is a useful test both for identifying cults and abusive individuals. Regardless of the label or language used as camouflage, actions will give away a group or individual’s real intentions.

True Value

To reach the point Christians call surrender to Christ abuse victims must first rediscover their true value. Christ affirms that value, revealing how precious they, in fact, are to Him. Only having confronted that amazing reality are victims ready to lay their natural selves down at Christ’s feet.

“The Christian life is a life in which an indwelling Christ casts out, and therefore quickens, self. We gain ourselves when we lose ourselves. His abiding in us does not destroy but heightens our individuality.”

– “MacLaran’s Expositions of Holy Scripture, From Centre to Circumference, Galatians 2: 20” http://biblehub.com/commentaries/maclaren/galatians/2.htm


[1] Note that revenge and self-defense are distinct from one another. Scripture permits Christians to defend themselves and their children. Criminal prosecution, society’s response to the wrong, is yet a third alternative.

With thanks to Susanne Schuberth

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Necessary Anger

Abuse creates a deep wound, leaving behind many emotional, psychological, and spiritual scars. Our experience of reality is altered, our view of the world skewed.

Above all, abuse teaches victims that they are worthless.

Anger

Anger is a step in the process of recovery from abuse, in much the same way that anger is a step in the process of grieving. As victims, we mourn what we have lost – what has been stolen from us. The time, the innocence, the confidence.

Initially, victims may have difficulty “finding” their anger about this loss. They will frequently rationalize the actions of their abusers – minimizing the harm done, and blaming themselves for events (though without cause).

The rationalization is simply how victims cope with damage so profound they can hardly describe it, and emotions that threaten to be titanic.

When Christians characterize victims’ anger as unacceptable, they imply – intentionally or not – that victims are unacceptable to God. Instead of freeing victims from abuse, this affected piety on the part of Christians reinforces victims’ sense of worthlessness.  It pushes victims away from God, depriving them of His consolation.

Depression

In response, some victims will swallow their anger…just as they did in the abusive setting.  However, abuse impacts us at a fundamental level.  Denying our true feelings about it can produce numbness. When anger is denied, all our emotions become muted.

This is not a satisfying way to live. Worse, it puts us at great risk of depression which is often described as anger turned inward.

Detour to Christ

God understands victims’ anger.  In fact, He shares it.

But rage can, also, consume us. If we nurse our very legitimate grievances long enough, bitterness will eat away at our lives like battery acid. Christ offers us a better alternative.

Anger is, in effect, a necessary detour abuse victims take to Christ.

Forgiveness

And anger is a condition precedent to forgiveness, something many Christians fail to understand.

This is not to suggest that victims must endure Christ’s anger before they can be forgiven. Rather, victims must experience and release their own anger before they can freely choose whether or not to forgive their abusers, and move on with their lives.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth” (Ps. 37: 8-9).

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Hope

When a grievous situation persists beyond all capacity to endure it, victims of abuse can reach a point of hopelessness.

Those who have never been abused may wonder how that is even possible. Human beings were created with hope engineered into their genes. Each breath we take is a hopeful act. Each morning brings a new dawn.

But if each night brings with it the same terrors – groping hands, broken dishes and broken bones – we may abandon hope. Either that or decide hope is a sham – a delusion by evolution to induce our continued existence in the face of intolerable conditions, or the cruel hoax of an uncaring God who has long since abandoned us.

You can tell when a woman has given up hope. Violence will do that. Poverty will do it. You can see the light go out of a child’s eyes. Neglect will do that. Cruelty will do it, especially cruelty by those “nearest and dearest”.

Once hope is gone, it can be extremely difficult to restore. We dare not trust in the possibility that life may get better. We have been too often disappointed, too often disillusioned.

Counterfeit Christianity

Two brothers in upstate New York, Christopher and Lucas Leonard, ages 17 and 19, were this week beaten so severely by their parents and the members of a so called “Christian” sect that the elder died of internal injuries [1]. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged with first degree manslaughter in the death of their son.

Most people will find this degree of cruelty and violence hard to grasp. It was certainly not, in any sense, Christian. Victims should not be misled by counterfeit religions labeling themselves “Christian”, but misrepresenting the brand.

Real Hope

Christianity does bear on the issue of hope. Continue reading

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Kidnapped by Boko Haram

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.”

– “Meditation XVII” by John Donne (1624)

WARNING: Graphic Images

The extremist group Boko Haram has since 2009 led a brutal insurgency in Nigeria with the twin goals of imposing Sharia law and establishing an Islamic regime. Boko Haram is known to utilize child soldiers; engage in the forced conversion, castration, and beheading of non-Muslim men and boys, as well as the kidnap, rape, and forced marriage of women and girls.

Mary Patrick was one of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 [1]. The horrors she faced during four months of captivity included cannibalism, the murder of her older sister, and repeated rape by as many as five men at a time.

Given a Muslim name and forced to recite verses from the Quran, over and over, Mary began to lose her identity. Thankfully, she managed to escape before it was too late.

Why the World Matters

Why should this matter to American women? Why should it matter to abuse victims, in particular?

Many abuse victims are likewise brutalized. This tends to focus our attention inward, on short-term survival. But there is a great deal of pain in the world…not ours alone. The girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are just one example.

Abuse victims understand pain. That others, too, have suffered should not demoralize us. Rather, it should motivate us to reach out to one another.

Isolated by abuse though we have been, we are part of the world. We have a responsibility toward the world. And the exercise of that responsibility may actually prove healing to us.

Connection

During the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague or “Black Death” as it was known killed an estimated 75-200 million men, women, and children.

The dead grew so numerous that mass graves had to be dug. Venice and other cities banned the ringing of church bells during funeral processions. The sound was thought to discourage the living.

During one outbreak, the poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote that no man is an island. We are all connected. That is how Christians see things or should. We are connected to one another – whether abuse victims, plague victims, or the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Leaving the Past Behind

No one can blame victims for seeking to forget their experience of abuse. We long to blot abuse off the face of the earth, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, much as we may desire to leave the past behind, we are often bombarded with unwelcome reminders of it [2]. The ongoing barrage of triggers can feel like defeat; the flashbacks, like daily fresh wounds in a war that has gone on for years [3]. We simply cannot move beyond the pain.

While recovery is not a matter of will power, confronting our demons may help us cut them down to size [4]. And using our experience to benefit others can give meaning to our suffering.

Outward toward the World

If we can manage to direct our attention outward toward the world, we may find that what we have suffered has actually increased our empathy for the suffering of others. Their suffering is personal for us, not merely political.

In turn, they may have lessons they can share with us.

Amazingly, Mary Patrick says that her captivity strengthened her faith. “Before, I didn’t go to church, I didn’t read [the] Bible, I didn’t pray. But now I go to church everyday…I am thankful for my life.”

[1] See, Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, “Trained to Kill – Learning to Forgive”, August 2015.

[2] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frequently accompanied by intense flashes of memory. These flashbacks are triggered by sounds, smells, people, places, thoughts, and feelings which call to mind the traumatic event. Flashbacks can cause physical and emotional reactions, including a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, and profuse sweating.

[3] Coping strategies for dealing with triggers include deep breathing, mindfulness/grounding techniques, exercise, relaxation and self-care, writing, art, music, and prayer. The support of friends and loved ones can be extremely valuable.

[4] Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Collection, “Prolonged Exposure vs. Supportive Counseling for Sexual Abuse-Related PTSD in Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Edna Foa PhD, Carmen McLean PhD, Sandra Capaldi PsyD, et al, 12/25/13, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/collection.aspx?categoryid=5862.

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Stars

Night sky with stars and tree, author Michael J. Bennett (BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Since time immemorial lovers have gazed up at the night sky. But the stars were not created for lovers alone. Many have sought consolation from their distant beauty.

What is it about the stars that speaks to us? Their perfection takes our breath away. They remind us how small we are, and fill us with a childlike wonder.

The stars have inspired scientists and poets — some to explore the universe, others to uncover the secret workings of the heart. In every culture, the stars have given rise to myths and legends. And the stars have obliged, displaying our heroes on a grand canvas. Some even believe their fates governed by the stars.

Diamonds left scattered as casually as pebbles on a dark beach, the stars whisper that the world might not be as flawed and cruel as it seems to abuse victims. They dare us to dream of a better future, of a life without pain.

Outer and inner space:  God knows them both. In Him there is hope and healing…no matter how broken we may be.

Above all, that is the promise the stars hold out to us.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name” (Ps. 147: 3-4).

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Healing from Abuse

Child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect – is likely to have permanent consequences. The wounds of abuse are grievous, inflicted when we are most vulnerable.

The extent to which we heal varies from one victim to the next, as does the rate at which healing takes place. This makes perfect sense. Victims are violated at various ages, for varying lengths of time, in countless evil ways. They have unique internal resources, and varying degrees of external support (sometimes none).

All these are factors in recovery. We must not, therefore, gauge our progress by that of others.

The “Inner Child”

Experts often refer to the wounded “inner child”. This is not to suggest that victims develop multiple personalities, though some may. It is an abbreviated means of saying we remain sensitive to issues relating to abuse, and – at an emotional level, at least – retain a strong recollection of the trauma inflicted on us.

Misplaced “Coping” Strategies

Unable to defend themselves against abuse, some children adopt desperate strategies in the effort to cope with it. These childhood strategies may continue into adulthood, becoming a hindrance where they once served a legitimate purpose.

Dissociation is one such strategy. The child, in effect, imagines himself or herself elsewhere while the abuse is taking place. This is the “out of body” experience. Dissociation may later be triggered by events which recall (or mimic) the abuse. Though meant to be protective in nature, dissociation can produce serious gaps in a victim’s memory. Continue reading

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Surviving the Fire

Read the blogs of those concerned for child abuse victims. Somewhere along the line, you will find mention of what the abuse damaged or destroyed outright.

Our innocence. Our childhood. Our peace of mind. Our self-confidence. Our self-esteem. Our ability to trust. Our capacity to select loving partners, and sustain healthy relationships. Our faith. Our voice.

And from far too many, the abuse took their lives.

For many of us, what the abuse left behind was isolation, grief, anxiety, depression, rage, and a permanent sense of violation.

Unfortunately, that we will never be the women (or men) we might have been is not helpful information. We are the women we are…marked by these scars.

In some sense, the scars are our badges – if not of honor exactly, then certainly not of shame. We were the ones sinned against, not the ones sinning, no matter how we were made to feel about the torture inflicted upon us.

As with the veteran who has lost a limb to war or the woman who has lost a breast to cancer, this is simply our reality now. Continue reading

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View from the Crater

Beneath the foliage of the Yucatan peninsula and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico lies an ancient impact crater. Scientists believe this is the site where a meteor the size of Mt. Everest struck the earth, resulting in extinction of the dinosaurs.  Sixty-five million years later, geologic evidence for that impact is still present.

It is not uncommon for abuse victims to view abuse as the central event in their lives, and to define themselves with reference to it.  As with the Chicxulub crater, evidence of the abuse is still present years later.  Forever after, that destructive event (or series of events) will be the dividing line in victims’ lives: pre-abuse and post-abuse, the difference between innocence and innocence lost.

All too many women and children will die, as a result of abuse – some at the hands of a loved one, some by their own hand, years after the abuse has technically “ended”. Those who survive the trauma are likely to suffer from permanent physical and psychological symptoms, impacting all aspects of their lives.

There is nothing positive to be said about abuse.  Because of its very magnitude, however, survivors may find that abuse serves as a kind of standard against which other events can be measured.  What are office politics, by comparison? What are parking tickets, canceled flights, lost luggage, even stolen vehicles (so long as they do not generate more abuse)?

In a sense, we can draw strength from our bitter experience.  The abuse provides a unique perspective which puts many lesser things in their place. We have lived through a meteor strike.  What are mere storms to us?

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