Thursday, May 26, 2016

Healing from Incest Sexual Abuse

It's been nearly 4 years since I told my mom I was sexually abused by one of my cousins.

The Lord has done a lot in those 4 years and I wanted to write again in more detail. I am more than happy to write about this, so please email me or comment below if you want to see more articles about this part of my life.

The first part of the healing process involved me becoming born again and believing in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had been raised in the Catholic church, but it was never personal in my own heart.

Jesus says in John 3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10 “...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

On June 16, 2012 I made the decision on my own faith to believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Prior to this, I was completely lost, insecure, broken and always looked to myself for my strength and for answers in life. I was always wanting to be in control of everything. Even my aversion to having faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ, was largely influenced by the psychological issues that arose from the abuse. I always looked at those who believed in God as weak minded people who needed to believe in something to feel better about themselves. I didn't want to be seen as weak, so I didn't see any reason why I needed God in my life.

Well life began to show me many reasons why I needed God. Life began to show me that I wasn't quite as tough as I had thought. Life began to show me that I was not in control as much as I had thought. There were a lot of other things going on in my life that finally lead me to the Lord.

Often times, due to our own stubbornness, it may take hardship and trials in order for a person to realize just how much they really need God! When we can make all the loose ends in our life work out (even if it's quite messy), we tend to think we have no need for God. It is this mindset that keeps a person away from God their entire life. If you do not know and love God in this life, then you cannot expect to know Him or be with Him in heaven when you die. That's the reality of it.

We are All Sinners in Need of a Savior

For me the first major step towards healing was recognizing that I was a sinner and was in need of a Savior to forgive me of the many sins that I committed in my life. Many of those sins were actually in response to the abuse that was done to me. The sexual abuse left me as a confused teenage woman. I continued to put myself in terrible situations where I could be taken advantage of by people and had little confidence or love for myself. I burned my arms. I starved myself. I hated everything about me.

Those who have been abused have to recognize that they too have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Although your sins may be different or “lesser” in your eyes, those sins still separate you from the Lord. The good news is there is no need to carry them around like baggage because forgiveness of sins and salvation is a free gift from God to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

I Wasn't Looking to be Healed of the Abuse

Once I was born again and baptized, I'll admit I wasn't looking to be healed of the abuse. I was pursuing God to be healed of long term chronic illness and for a sense of meaning in my life.

But in my pursuing of God, the Lord knew what was to come and He also knew the things that needed to be done in my heart. Even though I denied it, God knew how much the abused had effected every single aspect of my life. God cares about our whole being! It was only 6 weeks after I was born again that my cousin's mom died and I knew there was no way I could go to her funeral. I knew this was going to bring up some awkward questions, uncertainty from family members and even contact from my cousin himself.

My cousin did in fact contact me a few weeks after the funeral. It pushed everything that had happened a decade prior to the forefront. I was in absolute panic and terror.

Abusers will use anything in order to try to get back into your life. They thrive on you “needing them” or they will look for situations where they want you to give them sympathy. Many even create situations where you need them in order to continue to abuse you. With my cousin there was always manipulation and control. Nothing was ever as it seemed and there was always something in it for him.

When my aunt died, I had to face a lot of parts of my life that I never wanted to face. Previously I had determined that I would probably take all of this to my grave. I figured no one needed to know about it.

God disagreed with my plan! Haha! Part of the healing process was God taking the veil away from my eyes and heart and letting me see what my cousin did to me. For a good part of 12 years, I thought what had happened was actually my fault or something that I wanted to happen. There were so many lies. There was so much shame. There was so much pain. All of that was keeping me silent and locked in a prison. God also let me see that my voice was important. He had things He wanted me to say and He still has need of me to be used by Him in ministry. This blog and everything the Lord has shown me in His church is just one example of that.

It may be hard for people who have not gone through incest sexual abuse to understand these conflicting emotions. However when sexual abuse is done by a person you thought you could trust and love, it really messes up your mind. Looking back I was trying to protect myself and I went along with a lot of things mainly because I was so scared! I remember during that time I was mostly just terrified and in shock. It was too much for me to bear.

After my aunt died and my cousin contacted me on Facebook, I cried out to the Lord in complete desperation. God spoke to me very clearly that morning and told me to call my mom and tell her what happened. I don't know how my mom dealt with it all since it was her sister who had died just a few weeks prior, but she listened and believed me! She said that my behaviors in the past were now finally making sense to her! I truly believe today that it was God who set that phone call up.

Groomed to be Abused

One of the hardest parts for me to face was the fact that my cousin and his father (my uncle) hand selected me to be abused later on in my life. I'll be honest, I often wonder if others in my family have also been abused. There was a lot of flattery from them in my youth. There was a lot of attention given to me. Despite being warned by my parents to stay away from my uncle, it was his son that deceived me. I remember the whole family came together and celebrated when my cousins would come in to visit. It was always such a great family event. There was such joy and excitement associated with my cousin(s) that I didn't normally have in my life. There was a lot of lying and story telling where my cousin always made himself the hero. Most of these stories involved violence of some sort and him defeating a 'bad guy'. My uncle was also known for being violent and abusive, so there was also a sense of danger too. Whenever you are a small child these things affect you more deeply than you realize at the time.

I had many cousins growing up and we were all very close like best friends! It was not uncommon to have sleepovers and hang out all the time. My cousin used these situations to his advantage to push the boundaries of what a cousin would normally do together.

Grooming tactics can often times look like innocent child's play or can sometimes be brushed off as “just a misunderstanding”. I specifically remember as I got older (13), there was more physical touching like grabbing my hand or brushing against my abdomen or wrapping his arm around my waist or tickling me in a very flirty way. I specifically remember asking my other cousins if they saw him acting strangely around me.

It's important to recognize that the kind of abuse that I suffered was not a single traumatic event that happened by a stranger or acquaintance.

I was groomed. I was manipulated. Boundaries were pushed each time him and his family came in for a visit. He pushed his limits to see what I would take or if I was going to stop him. At first I did stop and say no, but over time I became too scared to say anything at all. Most of my journal entries in that phase of my life said something like, “Does my cousin actually love me and want a relationship with me?”

In my mind the concept of sexual abuse wasn't even on my radar and the only logical explanation I could come up with was that he must actually love me. It was at this point in time that I began to experience what is known as Stockholm Syndrome. I began to experience a bond and sympathize with my abuser. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.”

All of this only added to my confusion. The shame, guilt and dirty feelings kept me trapped in a cycle of abuse. When he was not visiting the area, the emotional and psychological abuse continued online via instant messenger and emails. 

He said, She said

When it comes to sexual abuse, it is unlikely there will be witnesses to the crimes. The shame, guilt and confusion one feels normally keeps a person from getting help from family, friends or the police. As I said previously, I was groomed over a long period of time before the abuse began. They get you comfortable being alone with them, so they can do it all in private and secret. 

Many who have been abused, fear that they won't be believed when they do finally speak up. Unfortunately most of the time they aren't believed and the more status, fame or cherished the abuser is by friends, family and the community he or she is involved with, the less likely the victim will be believed.

Since I didn't even believe myself, I didn't expect anyone to believe me. I am blessed that some people have believed me. Many don't understand and haven't given me any further emotional support, but they do in the very least believe me. 

Looking back over my own story, I thank GOD that my mom believed me! I think my healing process would have gone quite differently if she had not. However at this stage of healing, I honestly don't care if people believe me. Most of my family is still Facebook friends with my abuser and they still talk to him as far as I know.

Denial of Evil in Our Midst

I understand that for most families, friends and communities, it is hard to accept that a person you love, lived with, laughed with and shared memories with could be an evil abuser. Imagine how much harder it is for the person who was actually abused?

Most people think that kind of stuff happens to other families and could not possibly happen in their own families or communities. I think it is because we project our own kindness and perceived goodness on to others, so we can't think that someone so evil could hide in our midst. Sadly evil can look good, sound good, be quite convincing and charming. 

Evil people do not run around with horns and a pitchfork.

Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15. “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

Unlike what is shown in pop culture, the devil can be disguised as someone who is good and righteous; not evil and wicked. The devil also doesn't live in hell as it is popularly portrayed either. He prowls around on the earth " a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). He is the father of lies who schemes and deceives people. This is why abuse can happen in churches, charities, good families and other places that one would not expect it to happen. Abusers take advantage of people's compassion, trust, love and forgiveness to carry out their own dark desires.

God will one day judge these people accordingly just as Scripture tells us. They may not be held accountable in this life by our own justice system, but they will not escape the judgment of God at the end of time. Knowing this brings me great rest that ultimately the Lord will set everything right. I still pray for the repentance and salvation of my abuser, but if he never comes to that place, then I know God will bring righteous judgment upon him.

Lord God Can Bring Healing

The Lord God can heal you from sexual abuse. I'll take it a step further and say ONLY the Lord God can heal a person from sexual abuse. I looked at other secular paths, but none of them did me any good. I tried to heal myself with self-help techniques and an EFT counselor, but it just left me feeling worse.

The veil was always there.
The lies were always there.
The pain and shame never went away.
The dirty and unclean feelings simply remained.

On the outside maybe I looked OK, but inside my heart was still dying.

There are many who are quite open about their abuse yet still suffer in their personal lives in various ways. It's important to be honest with ourselves and look to see how exactly the abuse may still be affecting us today. Even if it's 10, 20, 30+ years in the past we may see areas in our life where the effects are still present. It can manifest in so many different ways and it will likely be different for you than it was for me.

Some may not be able to hold a job or may be unable to remain in any long term relationship. Some may be using alcohol and drugs to cope. Some may still be trapped in a prison of shame, anxiety, insecurity and anger.

You can read more about the effects of child sexual abuse on the adult survivor here.

You also read more about the effects here.

Sexual abuse can even cause people to question their sexual identity too. I know in my own walk, I had questions and confusion in that area for a short time. I found myself in a gay club from age 18-19 in an attempt to hide from men who might hurt me. There was a brief time in my life that I thought maybe I was bisexual too.

The Limitations of Counselors

There are many limitations when using a counselor especially a secular counselor who does not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

A counselor cannot take away your shame.
A counselor cannot take away the guilt.
A counselor cannot take away the painful memories.
A counselor cannot give you the ability to forgive your abuser.
A counselor cannot give you redemption, love and life.

It's important to recognize that a counselor is an imperfect human being (like you and me) who has their own set of problems and insecurities. They can make mistakes due to their limited knowledge and may even have a bias towards your situation. Even the kindest therapist with the best intentions can do harm to you unintentionally. Sexual abuse counseling is a very delicate process.

Many counselors and psychologists are unhealed from their own mental health issues and the job itself brings about serious mental and emotional problems too.

The EFT counselor I saw for a period of time was very liberal in her morals and values and tried to get me to accept things that went against my conscience. Some of her suggested treatments were for me to partake in sexual behaviors that I considered immoral. It was absolutely devastating to me! The Lord had to undo damage that this woman did to me psychologically.

If you need to see a counselor, then I would only recommend seeing a Christian counselors and even still, I think you must be selective in who you see. Some Christian counselors bring New Age ideals into their practices or use "inner healing" techniques that I completely disagree with. Many use practices that ask the individual to go back to each traumatic memory and to “look for Jesus”. 

I disagree with this kind of therapy because the victim can easily fabricate images in their mind that might soothe them temporarily, but may be detrimental to their long term healing and trust in God. 

In contrast to the limitations of a counselor, with the Lord all things are possible!

The Lord can take away your shame.
The Lord can take away the guilt.
The Lord can take away the painful memories (or at least make them less emotionally painful).
The Lord can give you the ability to forgive your abuser.
The Lord can bring redemption, love and a new life.

I think it's important to recognize that the healing process will likely be slow and quite painful at times. The Lord gave me instant freedom in certain areas of my abuse, but He has also had me in a very difficult wilderness season the last 4 years. It was during that time that He built a connection in me to Him. 

I truly believe the journey to healing will be different for everyone, but the most important thing is to be connected to the Lord and to listen to Him. Learning to know God as your Heavenly Father is so important to healing. Pray to Him and tell Him all of your struggles and get into the Word of God so that the Lord can impart His truth to you and begin to erase the lies you believe about yourself. The Lord can be trusted to take you through the process.

God Can Be Trusted to Guide You Through the Journey

The Lord is holy, righteous and good. He is perfect. He does not make mistakes. He is patient, loving, kind, longsuffering and most importantly loves us and knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves. He is all knowing and has unlimited understanding, compassion and knowledge.

The Creator can heal you in ways that a man or woman is unable to do so.

The secular counselors say you have to take charge of your healing by learning to change your thoughts, emotions and your reactions. They give you activities to distract you from the pain, but they cannot heal a wound in your heart. Many of them also bring in spiritual elements that are not compatible with Christianity.

In contrast when you come to the Lord, we simply surrender ourselves to Him.  

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Only the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly hung on the cross for you, who bore your sins, shame, guilt, condemnation and pains, can free you from those chains. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you the grace (or the ability) to forgive those whom most would deem unforgivable. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you the peace and rest you are looking for in your heart.

When it comes to healing with the Lord, some of it will include a renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) and an understanding of our identity in Christ. However, there is also a supernatural element to it that you won't be able to fully understand or even grasp. When a person is born again, the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of the person and they are washed clean and made righteous in Christ. For me that was so important because when my cousin stole my innocence and virginity from me, it made me feel like a whore, dirty, unclean and stained.

But the Lord Jesus Christ washed me clean of all those sins and impurities and He imputed to me, His righteousness. I traded my dirtied rags for a clean white robe! All of that dirt and grime and sins I had committed in my life, God forgave in the blink of an eye.

This is why I believe only the Lord can completely and fully heal a person from the trauma of the abuse and every other effect that goes along with it. Only He can wash us clean and make us whole and righteous. If you have gone down other paths for healing and have sought counseling, I am not here to condemn you for your choice. I am appealing to you as a fellow sexual abuse survivor to come to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If you need to go see a counselor or therapist, then please do so! If you find though they are not helping you or it is just masking your emotions, then all is not lost. There is hope and healing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only our Heavenly Father can get down to the very depths of our being and reach in and heal those pains, hurts and fulfill our hearts, minds and souls with His truth.

Come to Him in your brokenness, in your shame, in your pain, in your anger, in your confusion, in your contempt, in your depression, in your anxiety, in your sexual confusion and everything in between. Despite all of that, He loves you and died for you on the cross and wants you to know Him in a personal way.  He already knows what you are thinking, feeling and He knows everything that happened to you. He is the only one who can make you a brand new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Only the Lord Jesus Christ can save your soul, forgive you of your sins and give you eternal life. I believe the words of Jesus when He said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Call out to Him today and begin the same healing process that the Lord has done in me. I'm very thankful for everything the Lord has done and I continue to seek Him for physical healing in addition to more emotional healing as well.

If you would like to read more about my walk with the Lord, then please read some more of my blog posts below:

Healing the Wounds From the Past (Original post about the abuse from 2012)

Rejection Leads to Confidence-There is hope!

Knowing God's Love in the Storms

God bless!

Disclaimer: I am not a trained professional counselor or therapist and am only sharing my testimony and experience with healing from incest sexual abuse.