As we mature into adulthood, we gain not only physical and emotional strength, but power over our lives. This opens up new opportunities, and options never available to us before.
Distinguishing between the feeling of vulnerability and actual vulnerability becomes crucial.
“…Do I need to better protect myself from a danger in the environment? Or do I need to muster the courage to face something that isn’t going to kill me and that can help me grow stronger and more confident? Often we can conflate the two…Once we determine what our vulnerable feelings are about, we can thus make a decision to protect ourselves from real danger, or face an opportunity for personal growth by facing real feelings, emotions and needs…”
In an effort to protect ourselves, we may be tempted to erect emotional barriers, barricades against further abuse. This is only natural. To the extent that we re-establish safe boundaries, it is all to the good.
But we must remember that barricades can become traps for those inside. Inadvertently, we may cut ourselves off from the opportunities now accessible to us, and the very relationships which might help us to heal. Continue reading →
Enchanted Rose from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (Disney Wiki/Creative Commons), courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine
In the Disney version of the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast”, an enchanted rose is shielded against the elements by a glass dome. Though sheltered and hidden away, the rose remains fragile and continues to lose its petals. In so doing, it presents a perfect picture of vulnerability.
The victims of child abuse are all too familiar with vulnerability. We were preyed upon at our most vulnerable – at a time when we should have been protected and nurtured.
It is only reasonable that we retain a sense of fragility, along with the recollection of our very real abuse. This is an echo of the intense fear we experienced as children.
Feeling Vulnerable v. Being Vulnerable
But there is a difference between feeling vulnerable, and being vulnerable. To save our own lives, we must learn to distinguish between the two.
“…I might feel vulnerable whilst speaking of things I have kept hidden for a long time, whilst there is no actual threat to my existence. By revealing myself I reveal truths that I may not yet have fully accepted in myself. I may in fact be safe, but the experience of exposure feels like I am in danger….
By contrast, I might actually be vulnerable standing out on the ledge of a forty-storey building, where the merest breeze might shift my balance sufficiently to result in a terrifying death a few seconds later.”
In Southeast Asia, wild elephants are trained to be docile while young.
When an immature elephant is first captured, it is securely tied or chained in place, so that its will may be broken. Unable to escape and denied food or water, the little elephant is repeatedly beaten while the trainer speaks in a calm voice to acclimate the elephant to commands. Afraid, in pain, hungry, and thirsty the young elephant is finally forced to submit.
Adult elephants would be strong enough to break free, but continue to believe in the power of the chainsto hold them.
Could there be a more clear picture of child abuse? We were repeatedly assaulted, at our most vulnerable. It is no wonder the scars linger.
Now adults, we, too, have the power to break free from our chains. The very knowledge is exhilarating.
But the extent to which release from our scars is possible will vary from one individual to the next. For most, this will be a process. Setbacks should be expected.
There is no standard for suffering. Each victim is unique. Release from our scars is not a test of our worth, a calibrated measure of our recovery, or a competition with other victims.
Continued bondage is not another reason to berate ourselves. Some scars may be intractable. But there is reason to hope.
“Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12: 7).
Anxiety is one of the many scars typical of childhood sexual abuse. It is the feeble attempt to control our circumstances by worrying about them. Many things in this world, however, are beyond our control. This is not a sign of weakness on our part, even if we experience it that way.
Boundary issues (the diminished ability to protect ourselves, as a result of abuse) are another typical scar. Recurrent unwelcome incursions can feel like defeats to us, “proof” that abuse victims are defective on an ongoing basis. But that is not the reality either.
Anxiety and boundary issues – like other long-term abuse scars – are evidence that the abuse actually did occur; that it was no mere figment of a disturbed imagination, but rather a profoundly harmful violation and a continuing threat to the victim, in the same way that landmines remain a threat long after the conflict has resolved.
This is what Jesus had to say about anxiety, vulnerability, and the cares of this world:
“ ‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…’ ” (Matt. 6: 25-29).
The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or a substitute for psychiatric treatment or psychotherapy. The victims of child abuse are encouraged to seek advice and support from duly licensed professionals.