Imagine that as a child your house was burned to the ground (or some other horrific event) but no one at school, church, or in the extended family knew it. You go to school the next day and everyone acts like nothing happened. You go home and live in the charred timbers.
Friends talk about the cool new way they decorated their rooms or ask if they can come over to your place. Yet for some reason, you don’t think you can tell them what happened. You don’t want to disappoint them or ruin their excitement about their new room. Teachers ask you to write a paper about giving someone a tour of your home. You don’t want to fail or upset the teacher so you make up a paper. An aunt asks the color of your room because she wants to get you something for your birthday. You don’t want to seem ungrateful or like you’re lobbying for a larger present than your cousins so you tell her blue.
Secrecy demands lies. Shame reinforces secrecy. Pretty soon you are protecting everyone else from the truth of the reality you have become insulated within. It’s not long before you are living in two completely different worlds (one with real events and the other with real people).
This is a small picture of the effects of sexual abuse. A tragedy happens that radically disrupts life, but no one knows it. You go on living and people ask you relevant questions, but the situation doesn’t seem to be able to handle the magnitude of an honest answer and you don’t know how they would respond, so you lie. Lying gives a little bit of relief. It is almost easier to live in the world you write with your words… if only it were real.
Now imagine the world of a sexually abused child. People make positive comments (get close to your father for the picture) and ask awkward questions about the tragedy (why don’t you go to church anymore, you used to love pastor so-and-so). Each time aggravates the pain and further confuses the two neat realities the abused child was trying to live in.
It is not enough that you can’t live in one unified world, now (with each comment and question) you can’t even live in two neatly divided worlds. Worse still it is only the make believe world that obeys the law of cause and effect. In the real/hidden world there doesn’t seem to be a reason why people get hurt (for being a pretty little girl?). So you either learn that nothing you do matters enough to change the abuse, or you desperately try to control everything because it is the only chance you have at survival.
Then you step back into the fake world (the one with real people) and other people talk as if cause and effect is absolute (sowing and reaping). This either makes you feel incredibly guilty (tying to figure out what you “sowed”) or like you really do live in a different world with different rules from everybody else.
But whenever you try to just surrender to rules of the “your real world” people tell you “You’re doing it wrong.” The result is you don’t know how to win. The temptation is to give up on life (despair) or give up on people (callous anger). Yet you’re too human to do either one for very long, so you ping-pong between the two.
The goal of the sexual abuse seminar is to help you understand the effects of what happened to you and the effects of how you tried to control what happened to you. With this understanding you can begin to live out of one story (that God is redeeming) rather than in two worlds (that are pulling you apart).
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.