“If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you.”
These words are still as fresh in my mind as the feeling I felt from the barrel of a .22 derringer pressed against my neck. That night marked a series of evenings that would leave me laying in tears—and sometimes blood—violated and ravaged by someone I looked up to. Someone I trusted.
If you have ever been molested, raped, or sexually abused, then you can understand the mixture of emotions I felt. You can understand going through life, hoping to wake-up from a nightmare that never seemed to end.
And while I am not an expert in the study of psychology or counseling, I am an expert in the painful effects of molestation. I’ve lived with the effects of sexual abuse for over twenty years, and while the power of God allows me to experience freedom and a heart that forgives, the long-term impact that the abuse has had on my life has been devastating.
Sexual abuse affects so many areas of our lives, from the physical to the metaphysical, that simply telling someone what had been done, is not enough. Confronting your abuser, and telling someone what they did to you is only the beginning of a lifetime of dealing with the pangs of molestation.
Here are two of the most evident ways in which being sexually abused has impacted my own life. And while I do not intend for this to be an exhaustive treatment on the subject, my hope is that it will shed some insight into how sexual abuse affects its victims, and a couple of practical ways in which the Christian may begin to experience freedom.
If you were a growing young boy at the time of your abuse, like I was, and your abuser was another male, you have undoubtedly experienced identity issues. Perhaps you were asking yourself whether or not you were now “gay” as a result of your abuse. Or, like me, out of disgust at the very thought of being violated by another man, you decided to sleep with as many girls possible in order to prove your manhood, leading into a lifetime of homophobia and sexual immorality.
Or maybe there were times when you became aroused as a natural reaction to stimulation and, thus, minimized the fault of the attacker. Because, after all, you enjoyed it right?
For years—and, at times, even now—I’ve lived my life trying to prove I am a man. I’ve let my abuser have control over my identity as a man. In fact, his subconscious control over my life had inevitably fostered control issues within, which aimed to “take back” my life from my abuser through always trying to control my situations, circumstances, and relationships. Yet, be that as it may, I had no control. I was lost and broken. He told me I was at fault, so I was at fault. He told me I was the one that was sick and twisted, and so, I was sick and twisted. He told me that I was insufficient to please anybody, and so, I was. I lived for far too long believing these things about myself.
But God did not create me to be viewed in any of the ways in which my attacker viewed me. God created me (and you) in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). I am a man, because God created me as a man, and no one has the right to redefine that which God has created.
God did not create us to be violated, to be used like lifeless instruments of gratification for the purposes of serving man’s sick and twisted sinful desires. When we experience the trauma of sexual abuse, we are experiencing the depravity of man, not the will or the purposes of God.
What you’ve done or what has been done to you, should never serve as the basis for understanding your identity. You must never let the sinfulness of mankind affect that who you are, in Christ. You are a son or daughter of the living God, fearfully and wonderfully made—a new creature. Find yourself in Him, and you will begin to find yourself liberated from the effects of your abuse.
When I started having children of my own, I was afraid. Not because I felt that I might abuse them too, but because the way in which my abuse has shaped the way I view boundaries.
Honestly, for years I was uncomfortable being naked and exposed around anyone, much less my own bride. Second to that, came the fear of performing what we would consider “normal” parental duties, like teaching your children to use the potty, or giving them a bath. Any of those things reminded me of my abuse. In the same sense, I didn’t want to violate my children’s boundaries. This, however, produced an unhealthy effect in the way in which I parented. I needed to move beyond having my attacker in view, and love and lead my children in a way that was healthy and fatherly.
This leads back to our identity. Our identity as sons or daughters of our God the Father, gives us a sense of what it looks like to be loving parents to our own children. To father and and mother in grace and truth, warmth and compassion, from the example set fourth from our own Father, who is in Heaven.
Yet perhaps the most devastating sense in which my abuse has affected me relationally, is in the area of trust.
All I have to do is try and count my closest friends, and this is where I will fail miserably. In fact, I have no close friends. Sure, I have plenty of Facebook friends that will occasionally post a “Happy Birthday” message on my wall and maybe “like” a status here or there, but I have had no real lasting friendships. Neither am I close with any of my family members, besides my immediate family of course.
When I look at how I have failed in relationships, I see, not only the result of a broken childhood, but also the result of my abuse, once again holding the reigns of my life in the palm of its hand. Not only has it affected friendships, but it has also infected my marriage.
While I was dating my now-bride, I ended up breaking up with her at least five times. I was constantly trying to find ways to end the relationship, to keep her at a distance—I didn’t want to let anyone in. But she kept pursuing, and loved me, despite my unhealthy attitude towards relationships. This, in turn, has had a profound impact on the way in which I now view trust and love working together.
It’s easy to distrust people, especially in light of being sexually abused. Our trust has been supremely violated; often times by those closest to us. Our view of people has been marred. But rather than building up a wall of distrust around us, and keeping ourselves from establishing healthy relationships, we must learn to trust, with the same love that God has shown us. God will not leave us nor forsake us—He is our God, whom we can trust, and depend upon.
Sure, trust is taking risks, but the benefits of it allow us to begin to see the world through the lenses of love, rather than viewing everyone as the one who betrayed our trust, and hurt us deeply. We mustn’t play the victim the rest of our lives, because then it becomes an excuse, and a means of escaping reality and responsibility. Not everyone will hurt us the way in which we’ve been hurt. In fact, you’ll be surprised at the amount of love you’ll experience from the church, family, and friends, when you begin to tear down that wall of distrust, and allow trust to be established and rooted in love.
Proverbs 3:5 encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (emphasis mine). Here, it is our own understanding that leads us away from the very gifts that God has given us in family and friendships, in life itself. We must trust that God will lead us into true and lasting relationships that will allow us to be built up and encouraged in love and life with Him.
Have you forgiven your abuser? If not, I invite you to experience the freedom that comes from forgiving those who have wronged us. We don’t forgive merely because we are told, but because we know that all people have wronged God and others, in some shape or form. Even us. And just as Christ came to die for our sins, and offer us the gift of life, so has He died for them, extending to them the same forgiveness and everlasting life with Him. When you forgive your abuser, you are also freeing yourself from the power of sin over your life—freeing yourself from the control that your abuse has had over you for so many years. You are being found in the grace of God, and becoming the man or woman that God has created you to be—a reflection of His own love and mercy.
Finally, when you allow your identity, found in the image of God, to shape your relationships with others, you learn to be a forgiving people, a trusting people, a people who can live together, in love, and grow together, in Christ.