Sidestep

I wrote this one way back in the beginning of my blogging adventure, in May of 2012. I didn’t know how to publicize it back then.  I was looking for it yesterday, and decided to repost it and publicize it today.  I am just as passionate about it now as I was five years ago.  Maybe more. 

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This is a rant.  I don’t care if anyone is offended by it.

I am SO offended by the pain, confusion, misery, and total dysfunction that results from children being exposed way too soon, way too graphically, to sexual behaviors.  I am offended that children who aren’t even in their teens think they have to decided whether they are straight, gay, or “bi.”  I am offended at the angst they suffer when they think they should already know about sex.  When they tell me their friend asked them to “just try it,” like you would try a new flavor of ice cream.

I am offended when these children dissolve into tears in my office because they are, after all, still children.  They have been taught everything they need to know about human sexuality except for the important things:  Love, respect, godliness, commitment, consequences. I am offended that they have been hurt by someone they should have been able to trust; most child sexual abuse is at the hands of a trusted family member or close friend of the family.  I am offended that these children are often told it must have been something they did to cause the abuse; I am offended that they are the ones who feel guilty, while the perpetrator just continues his behavior with not a twinge of conscience.  I am offended that a woman told me she was a promiscuous four-year-old.  Good grief.

I am offended by the man who told his wife that if he had known she’d been molested as a child, he wouldn’t have married her because she was impure.  Not the creep who molested her (her older brother, by the way); it wasn’t his fault; she must have been asking for it.

I am offended that these victims of sexual abuse suffer flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, addictions, promiscuity, and self-harm; and yet they are sometimes told by other believers that they just need to get over it and move on with their lives.

I am offended that we have forgotten that Jesus said that anyone who harms one of of these little ones would do better to tie a very large stone around his neck and jump into a deep river.

I tell these hurting people that it was not their fault.  I tell them that when someone touches you sexually, he is touching your soul.  It changes you.  It makes you have to deal with emotions and behaviors that no child is mature enough to understand. It causes terrible confusion and creates a huge sense of unworthiness in the heart of a victim. We process through what happened; we work together for healing and forgiveness.  It’s hard, painful work. No one should try it at home alone.

When the person begins to heal and to understand that God never stopped loving her, there is a change in demeanor. Sometimes they’ll even let me hug them when they leave.  Always, they cry.  A lot.

Until we stop sweeping this horror under the carpet and offer help and healing to the victims, it will continue to grow like the plague it is.  Parents, you cannot be too protective of your children.  Sometimes the perpetrators are the kids they sit next to in school.  Sometimes it’s the babysitter; the friendly old guy next door; an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Take off the blinders.  Talk with your children.  Know where they are and who they are with. You are their protectors.  Of course, often the parent is the perpetrator.  There are just no words.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14.

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: Summary

I started writing these Friday posts on CSA back on March 22.  This is the ninth post, and unless I get feedback or specific questions, it will be the last for now.  I’m glad to be finished. I’m also glad many of you encouraged me to do it.

There is hope; there is healing; there is joy in life. Most important, there is strength and joy in the Lord. No one should have to keep this horrible secret.  No one should feel guilty and ashamed because of what was done to her that she could not prevent.  Because we are more aware now than we’ve ever been about the scope of this crime, we can spot it and put a stop to it if we choose to do so.

I hope you will choose to do so.  Someone needs to protect the victims, whether the abuse is actively taking place, or took place many years ago. It’s wrong, every single time. There is NO excuse, reason, explanation that does away with the enormity of the crime.

I read about a man–a pastor, mind you–who said he did it because he had prostate problems and needed some relief.   Good grief.  Good. Grief.

All right. In summary, understand clearly that abusing a child in any way is evil. Sexual abuse touches not just the body, but the heart, soul, and mind. It corrupts the victim and sets her up for a miserable future if nothing is done to help her when she is still young.

There is a profile, if you will, of those who have been sexually abused.  Go back and read the posts from March 22 to now, and you will clearly see the pattern.  A good Christian pastor, experienced and compassionate in this field, is of invaluable help. If no such person is available, find a Christian therapist who knows about the symptoms and treatments. EMDR is my treatment of choice, but it is not the only option.  Play therapy is also a wonderful tool, especially for very young kids.

Please, above all, do NOT tell a victim that she just needs to get past it now, just get over it. She can’t. She’s been trying for years, and she can’t.  Even if she is a believer, there is so much twisted up in her heart and mind that she needs help to sort everything out, and to feel whole and clean again. Be compassionate. Be thankful it wasn’t you; but don’t be quick to judge if the person isn’t doing as well as you think she should, as quickly as you think she should.

You haven’t walked a mile in her mocassins. Don’t criticize. Pray, support, love, encourage.

We tend to dismiss or, worse, mock the things we don’t understand.  Pray for wisdom, and God will give it to you so you can be a blessing to the one who has been so seriously wounded.

If you have specific questions, please post them here in the comments.  I will do my best to respond.

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Trauma Treatment

What you see above is a short news story describing the treatment I use to help victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).  It is not the only treatment, and it isn’t necessarily the best choice in ever single case.  However, it is highly effective and requires no medication.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is psychobabble for a simple process.  Last week I suggested you go to emdria.org if you wanted to learn about this process.  What I’ll give you here today is a very simplified description of this treatment, which I have used very successfully with several CSA victims.

During sleep studies done on traumatized Viet Nam veterans back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the connection was made to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and a state of deep relaxation.  During REM sleep, the traumatized veterans were not plagued with nightmares and hallucinations that destroyed their sleep, thereby increasing their dysfunction during the day.  These soldiers were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for which there were very few treatments other than medication.

The connection to deeply relaxed sleep, a calm state, and the periods of REM led a human behavioral psychology doctorate candidate, Francine Shapiro, to enlist some of her classmates in a series of experiments.  She theorized that if she could help traumatized people get to that state of deep relaxation through the use of eye movement, then ask them to relive their trauma verbally, that perhaps the event could be separated from the strong negative emotion that caused so much distress.

That was the beginning of EMDR, which has since become the treatment of choice in the military. EMDR providers have been enlisted to help in major events such as the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001; the tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, school shootings, and so on. People who survive these horrific events are often left to struggle with the symptoms of PTSD, including depression, nightmares, night terrors, hallucinations, hyper-vigilance, and extreme anxiety.

So why is it used for CSA?  Is that really a trauma?  Can’t people just get over it?

Any time you have an event tied to extremely negative emotion, you have trauma. We can’t erase the event or the memory, but we can help the person separate out the emotion so that the memory no longer interferes with daily living, or with sleep. It’s a fascinating process.  When I was first introduced to it, frankly, I thought it was baloney.  But after watching presentations, reading and studying what has been learned about the brain and stimulation of both sides of the brain, and taking the intensive training, I have to say that I’ve never found a more useful or successful way to help people deal with overwhelming anxiety linked to a trauma. It has literally changed the direction of my work, which now centers on helping victims of CSA.  Those who have stayed with me and done the work send me new clients, who in turn send me others.

The difficulty for me, of course, is that I hear such heartbreaking stories of abuse, betrayal, and the subsequent misery that accompanies CSA.  I’m thankful that for the most part I’m able to leave it all behind me when I leave the office.  Prayer and scripture are good for me, as well as for my clients.

Again, if you’d like to learn more about EMDR, go to http://www.emdria.org.  It’s the best internet source for accurate information.  Be careful about believing everything you may read on other websites. Some of it is just not true. Some of it is based on only a partial exposure to EMDR, and some of it is based purely on ill-informed opinion.  It always amazes me how people who have no idea what they’re talking about can speak with such authority 🙂

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Resources

Do you get this message?  It’s time to STOP being quiet about this issue!  If you could see the damage that I see whenever I’m working with a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) you’d be ready to speak up, speak out, do something to stop what seems to be a growing crime in our society. There is an ongoing debate about whether prevalence is truly increasing, or if reportage is increasing and seeming to show more instances.  I tend to believe more that the latter is true, simply because the nature of mankind is what it is.

I was listening to the radio on my way to work (I’m writing this on Thursday) this morning, and heard about the increase in the VERY active sex trade. The discovery of those three women in Ohio, their captivity and abuse right in a “normal” neighborhood, has helped to blow the lid off the fact that children and women are daily being taken and forced into a life most Americans wouldn’t have thought possible here in the good old US of A.  How naive we are, how ignorant, and how willing to turn our eyes away.

Even more appalling to me is that we sometimes tend to blame the victims.  That makes about as much sense to me as blaming the Africans, who were captured and shipped like cargo to our shores, for their own slavery.  What on earth are we thinking!

Last week I promised you a list of resources to help those who are struggling to heal from CSA.  Below you will find some books that I recommend, and two websites as well.  There are hundreds more out there if you take the time to search.

BOOKS:

Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual AbuseBy: Nicole Braddock Bromley

Healing the Wounds of ChildhoodSexual Abuse I-II By: Lisa Harper

The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse [Paperback] by Dan B Allender

On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse byDiane Langberg

Websites:

http://www.shbi.org/content/BibleLessons/studysheets/Abuse.htm

I also mentioned last week that I would share with you a therapy that I use for people struggling with trauma as in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).  I think I’ll wait until next week for that.  It deserves a post all to itself.  Today, just a brief description of PTSD.
Symptoms: I’ve copied and pasted this section from the website of the National Institute for Mental Health, Symptoms of PTSD:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Most survivors of CSA have some, if not many, of these symptoms; in severe, chronic cases, all the symptoms will be present to some degree. It’s an awful way to live.

Next week, I’ll tell you about EMDR.  In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can look it up at http://www.emdria.org.  I am a fully certified provider.  It is the most effective treatment I’ve seen for any kind of trauma.

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.

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Generational Incest

Every week, as I prepare for these posts, I pray daily for guidance. I ask the Lord where I’m to go next, and He always shows me. Sometimes I go willingly. Today is not one of those days.  This time, I’m kicking and screaming because I DON’T want to study this; I don’t want to know any more than I already do; I don’t want to deal with it.

You will notice there are no illustrations this week.  No way in the world was I going to go looking for that.

But I have to write about it.  I know this is where He’s leading me this week. There are too many reasons to list here. It is enough to say that I have no doubt in my mind or my heart that I’m supposed to write about generational incest this week.  All I can do is pray that someone out there needs to read this; that doing so will help someone begin the painful process of healing and recovery; that the chain of incest will be broken by even one single person who says, “No more! It ends here!”

Incest is the practice of have sexual relations within one’s own family, with people that are related by blood  or by marriage.  It’s an ugly word.  We try to avoid it; we don’t think we know anyone that practices such evil, or who has been touched by it.

That’s one of the reasons it continues to exist.  It’s the elephant in the bedroom.  No one talks about it.  It stinks, and it takes up all the space. Doesn’t matter. It’s invisible, because most of the time we just simply don’t know what to do about it, so we do nothing. The suffering continues; the warped ideas about sex and sexuality continue; the evil continues.

When the Bible talks about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the third and fourth generation, it is not speaking of judgment or retribution for those sins.  It is speaking of the tendency for that sin to show up in succeeding generations (Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 24:16). Each generation holds the power to stop the chain, if only they will.

The Bible is very clear about incest. Don’t. Here’s a good place for you to start looking if you have any doubts about this: http://carm.org/incest

Why does one generation that has been corrupted by incest then go on to corrupt the next generation?

Did you see the word corrupt?

Why does someone who has been bullied often turn around to bully someone else? Why does someone who has been verbally and emotionally abused for years turn around and find someone else to verbally and emotionally abuse?

We are sinners. It’s in our nature.  We may not be able to get revenge on the person who hurt us, but we can make someone else hurt the way we did, and so we do.  There’s no logic to it. For most of us, it’s a thoughtless behavior done in anger and hurt. One victim begets another.

Incest abuse survivors are so hurt, so full of distrust, and have such a warped view of themselves that it takes intensive and often long-term therapy to begin to identify the lies they believe, and that result in harmful behaviors like cutting, alcohol and drug abuse, and promiscuity.  The abuser lied to the victim, and used his lies to control the victim. When the victim hears these lies over and over from someone who is an authority in her life, she easily begins to believe them.

Here are three things to think about:

  1. The abuser uses lies to control his victim(s).The victims take the lies as truths… and  they build core beliefs about themselves and their world based on these lies and manipulations.
  2. The victim’s thoughts,  transformed by the abuse, are often warped out of context from the normal healthy world. Usually, these lies and deceptions  are carried forward into adulthood and affect relationships, sexuality, self-confidence, and quality of life.
  3. Thoughts that are unaltered by the abuse,  that are naturally occurring but haven’t been affected by the abuse, also develop into truths and can be carried into adulthood. These thought often affect authority figures in the lives of incest survivors; they also color the way a victim thinks of God and all things religious.  Often, the abuser has used the Bible to convince the victim to submit to the abuse.

It takes time and a knowledgeable, competent therapist who is experienced in this field to unbraid all the tangled thinking and emotions that result from incestuous abuse. I can’t begin to tell you how deeply this behavior changes people, and how lasting is the damage.

Early in my career as a counselor, I worked with a family in which the oldest boy, a fairly young teen, had been caught molesting his next younger sister.  There were many children, I don’t remember exactly, but at least nine or ten. As I worked with the oldest boy, I learned he had been introduced to porn at age 11 by his grandfather. Later, we learned that the grandfather had molested his own son, and the behavior was instilled in several uncles and cousins. It was a family-wide epidemic.  Before this family left my practice, four of the boys were in either Juvenile Detention or foster homes where there were no girls; the parents were in the process of divorce, and one of the uncles finally had the courage to press charges against the grandfather, whom I had never met.

I’m just about certain he had been molested as well, in his childhood, by his father, or uncle, or grandfather.

I’m pleading with you now. If you suspect, or know that such a thing exists in your own family or in the family of someone you know. please confront it; tell someone who can help you; get OUT of there as fast as you can.  Go to the police; go to Children and Youth Protective Services or whatever your state calls that agency; do something so that this evil of incest is stopped before it infects another generation.

Please.

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Who is Vulnerable?

Every child is vulnerable.  We parents have a huge responsibility.  We need to know where our children are, who they are with,  and what they are doing.  Parenting is more than a full-time job. It is a lifetime commitment.

I want to talk about just one type of vulnerability today. It’s rather personal, and I’ve rarely talked about it, but I think it will help to alert whoever is reading this to at least a couple of things to watch out for.

When I was pretty small, I wanted desperately to be able to play the piano. There was no money for lessons, so that dream stayed just a dream until I was about 10 years old. We got a piano! I don’t remember how, or why.  I was just thrilled beyond words to have that piano in our living room.

While my dad was in Bible college, my mom had taken piano lessons for a short time. She loved music too, and had always dreamed, as I did, of being able to play. Sadly, life took priority and she didn’t continue her lessons. But, wonderful surprise for me, she had kept a couple of the beginner piano books she had used.  I sat down with them whenever I could, and began the laborious process of teaching myself to play.  I am not one of those who can just look at a keyboard and know what to do.  It was a difficult process, but I was determined.

A couple of years later, we moved to a different house in a different neighborhood.  My dad was in the process of establishing  a new church, and needed to be closer to the downtown area where the church building was.

One day, a man showed up at church.  My parents invited him to have dinner with us, and he began to spend some time in our home.  To my delight, he was a gifted pianist.  He played, and I was completely fascinated. It seemed like magic to me.  He saw my interest and offered to spend some time teaching me, which of course thrilled me right down to my toes.

And so our lessons began.  I learned things from him that made a huge difference in my playing. I looked forward to his coming. It was like Christmas for me every time he showed up. I couldn’t get enough. He showered me with attention, complimented me, urged me to improve. I loved it.

Now, back to my dad for a minute.  My dad was very affectionate with my mom, but that was about as far as he was able or willing to go with outward signs of affection. When we were little, we would go to him every night for a quick kiss on the cheek at bedtime. That was a very big deal to me as a small child.  I often wished I could crawl up on his lap and just sit there, but I don’t remember doing so.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love us.  I know that he did. His primary love language was acts of service.  What I craved was physical touch, and loving words.  Still do. Like many men of his generation, my dad seemed to think that showing too much affection would spoil a child and make him vulnerable.  He carried his own bag of bricks, as we all do.

And you have to understand that I’m saying all this from the perspective of a nearly-66-year-old grandmother.  I didn’t understand this when I was 12.

One day,  this man came to the house for our regular lesson when no one else was home. I opened the door and let him come in.  Nothing unusual there.  We sat side by side on the piano bench, with him on my right, and began to work.  At some point, in order to show me something with my left hand, he put his arm around me and moved my left hand closer to my right. At that precise moment, my dad came in through the front door. I will never, ever forget the look on his face.  I thought, of course, that I was in trouble for something.

He told me to go upstairs to our bedroom.  I heard voices, not raised or loud, but mostly my dad. Then I heard the door open and close, and my dad called me downstairs.  He told me my friend would not be back, that he had other obligations somewhere. And that was the end of piano lessons for me for quite some time.

I was crushed.  I didn’t understand my friend’s sudden departure.  Of course, years later the whole situation became clear and I began to realize that my parents had been concerned from the beginning, when this man first appeared on the scene. There had always been someone else at home when he came; on this day, my dad’s sudden presence may have saved me from something I had no inkling about.  Back then, a lot of twelve-year-olds were pretty innocent. I certainly was.

Here’s my point:  I was vulnerable because I craved hugging, approval, physical affection.  When  it came, I felt like a princess.  I had a need for approval, and this man gave it to me.

Fathers?  Are you listening?  Please, hug your little girls.  Hold them close to you. Compliment them. Tell them you love them and will always be there to protect them and take care of them. Don’t be afraid you’ll spoil her with too much attention. You won’t. What you will do is provide the love, acceptance and approval she needs so that she won’t look for it from someone who has no right to give it to her.

All children are vulnerable.