Childhood Sexual Abuse: Were Does the Healing Begin?

It is shocking how many victims of childhood sexual abuse are out there.  The estimate is now one of every four girls, one of every six boys.  It’s hard for me to get my head around that. The statistics in the poster above are 13 years out-of-date, but still horrifying.

Someone recently asked me if there is more sexual abuse than there used to be, or if we’re just talking about it more these days.  I really don’t know for sure, but my guess is that we’re just hearing about it more.  The heart of mankind has not changed through the centuries.  The first thing that was touched by sin was human sexuality.  Adam and Eve immediately became uncomfortable with one another because they were naked. Sin brought shame to sexuality, and Satan has used it ever since to destroy what God created and what He loves.  Nothing new under the sun.

Another recent question was, “So how do you treat a victim of childhood sexual abuse?”  The answer to that depends on a lot of things.

If the person who comes for help, or is brought by a concerned parent, is still a child, I refer him to someone who has expertise working with children.  Play therapy is often very helpful.  I don’t work with kids under 15.  It takes more patience than I have at this stage of my life.  My heart hurts for these kids, but I am not a good fit for them.

Typically, the survivors of childhood abuse are in their 30’s or 40’s, and sometimes older, before they finally seek help.  For years, they’ve tried to “just get past it.”  They’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, addictions, self-harm, promiscuity, difficult and often abusive relationships/marriages, and have no pleasure at all in sexuality.  When they are desperate for some kind of normalcy in their lives, they finally seek counseling.

Again typically, when they come to me they don’t mention that they were abused as children. They tell me about their depression, their erratic, difficult relationships, their self-hatred.  I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to (usually) a woman tell me  her sad story without saying a word about what’s at the core of the problem.  Finally, I’ll say something like this:

“Mary, I’ve heard you describe all that you’ve gone through, and you’ve had a rough time. I’m sorry you waited so long to seek help.  What I’m wondering, as I listen to you, is what you haven’t told me.  I believe you have suffered some kind of trauma, some kind of abuse that has left you wounded.  You are believing a lot of things that aren’t true about yourself, and probably about God.  Do you want to tell me about that?  I’d encourage you to tell me, because I can’t really help you with the other problems if we aren’t going to talk about the central problem.”

One client vehemently denied having experienced anything traumatic, claiming she had no idea what was behind her depression.  I finally asked her bluntly, “Was it your father who sexually abused you?”  She fell apart, sobbing, curled up in a ball and shaking uncontrollably.  It just about killed her to have to acknowledge that the “daddy” she loved had hurt her so badly.

The healing started, for her, when she finally admitted the crime that had been perpetrated against her by the man who was supposed to protect her from harm.

Next week, I’m hoping to offer you a resource list–books, websites–that are helpful.  Also, I’ll share the treatment that I use the most often, and with the most success, in treating all sorts of trauma.

Right now, I just need to step away from this topic.

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