Do you remember playing with a cube box with different shaped pegs (square, star, crescent) that went in the holes? Probably not, but you’ve likely seen children play with them. This is a good picture of childhood development.
Children try to match the peg with the hole. If they’re wrong we say, “Not quite. Keep trying.” When they get the right peg with the right hole, but the block is turned the wrong way we say, “Oh, you’re so close. Turn it just a little bit.” Gradually a child trains their senses (sight, shape recognition, fine motor skills, depth perception) and learns to trust their judgment.
We see from this that a child is dependant upon their parent to teach them what things are – not just shapes but also right/wrong, good/bad, safe/unsafe, acceptable/unacceptable, funny/offensive, and so on. These lessons are much more significant than colors and shapes. They have major implications for most every significant area of life – self-perception, emotions, relationships, sense of hope, whether effort will be rewarded, and many more.
Imagine again a child who is playing with her cube. She manages to get the right shape to the right hole turned in the right way and pushes it through. Instead of praise, she is scorned. “What are thinking? You are such a bad little girl. If you wouldn’t do things like that I wouldn’t have to yell at you like this. Why do you make me do this? You bring out the worst in me. If you tell anyone I treat you this way they will take you away from me and you’ll never see me again. It will be your fault too, because you did that stupid thing with the blocks to set me off.”
The child just learned a lot. She learned that blocks are not safe. She learned that adults and authority figures are not safe. She learned that life is full of set ups and you better be on guard. She learned you can do things “right” and still catch Hell and it still is your fault. She learned, “I should protect my family from outsiders even when my family is dangerous.” She learned that good was bad; right was wrong; unacceptable was acceptable; her feelings are irrelevant; hope is dangerous, and effort gets you in trouble. Oh yeah, she also learned not to put a square peg in a square hole.
Take all of those distorted lessons and multiply them by intense physical pain, confusing intermingled expressions of affection, possible sexual arousal, and the real need to believe that your parent is a safe person and you have the distorting influence of sexual abuse. Now with that raw material step into a “normal world” where nobody knows you’re dealing with that and try to learn at school, engage in relationships, make sense of emotions, and pursue your dreams with the life experience of a nine year old.
You may think this sounds too awful and that I should be more “positive.” Real hope begins in the depth of our suffering. Hope that does not begin in the depth of our struggle is more platitude than Gospel which began with incarnation – Jesus entering our world in all its brokenness.
My goal in writing these words is not to be dark, but try to get past the defense, “You just don’t understand” when I say, “There is hope.” And I do believe there is hope. It is a hard road and one that should not be walked alone. You were alone in your abuse. You were alone when fear kept you silent or when your plea for help was not believed. You were alone in your confusion when you tried to make sense of your life with what you “knew.”
Damage was done in relationship and healing will occur in the context of relationships. The goal of this seminar is to give voice to your experience, overview what the process of restoration looks like, and point you to valuable resources to help you continue on that journey.
This post is an illustration from the Hope and Restoration After Sexual Abuse seminar.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sexual Abuse” post which address other facets of this subject.