Definition of Sexual Abuse
According to mental health professionals who treat sexual abuse victims, sexual abuse is one of the most crippling experiences a child can endure. This violation occurs when a child of any age (including adolescents) is exploited by an older or more powerful person for his own satisfaction while ignoring the victim’s immaturity or inability to fully understand the situation. Despite a persistent myth, strangers harm only a small number of children. Family members abuse 30 to 40 percent of victims, and another 50 percent have been abused by someone outside the family whom they know and trust.
Sexual abuse takes many forms and does not necessarily involve penetration or physical harm. Overt forms include sexual kissing, fondling, other inappropriate touching, oral sex, or penetration with body parts or objects. Sometimes the adult performs sexual activity on the child; sometimes the adult asks the child to perform sex acts on the adult; and sometimes both parties engage in sexual activity with each other. Statistics about sexual abuse cover all these behaviors (usually without discriminating about the specific abusive activity).
Effects of Sexual Abuse
Survivors often say that sexual abuse creates “a hole in the soul.” Sexual abuse is a deep violation of all that ought to be safe, and it affects every aspect of a person’s being: physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Most survivors do not realize their problems stem from their sexual abuse. Many suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues or physical problems like gastrointestinal distress or unexplained body pain.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse share certain characteristics in common. The most crippling is an overwhelming sense of shame. Victims do not believe something bad happened to them; they think they are bad personally and that is what caused the abuse. The debilitating shame perpetuates the secret and keeps victims silent. Over 30 percent of survivors never disclose the abuse to anyone. Of those who do disclose, approximately 75 percent disclose accidentally. Almost 80 percent initially deny abuse or are tentative in disclosing. Additionally, more than 20 percent of those who disclose eventually recant even though the abuse occurred.
Sexually abused people have problems with trust. Victims expect to be hurt, and they can be extremely critical, demanding, and easily disappointed in an effort to protect themselves. Because the vast majority of perpetrators are people the child trusted, experience has shown them people are not trustworthy. Survivors have difficulty believing someone, including a pastor, is safe and willing to help. A pastor must earn the victim’s trust and be patient while the victim regularly tests that trust.
Control is another big issue with survivors. Some become perfectionists as a way to cope. Because they are powerless during the abuse, victims often feel a desperate need to control themselves, their surroundings, and other people. This characteristic often makes interpersonal relations difficult.
Sexual abuse victims usually have trouble regulating their emotions, especially anger and fear. Sometimes survivors overreact to small transgressions with unreasonable anger. At the other end of the spectrum are those victims who are so afraid of the rage within that they shut down emotionally. Underneath the anger is deep-seated fear. For example, victims are often afraid of the dark, of their nightmares, of being alone, of being touched, of people, or of authority figures in general.
Childhood sexual abuse victims suffer disproportionately from mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, one of these difficulties, along with substance abuse, is the most common presenting problem for survivors, not specifically the sexual abuse itself. Often the abuse is only revealed after the person is stabilized in regard to the psycho-behavioral problem that brought her into treatment.
Finally, sexual abuse survivors struggle with spiritual issues. If during a child’s early years the significant adults in her life harm her, she transfers those negatives into her view of the Heavenly Father. If the abuser was a member of the clergy, the effect is especially catastrophic. The victim loses faith in a loving, trustworthy God, and she questions His role in her life. If God did not protect her, where can she turn?—————
I posted this excerpt from a write-up that is on a website for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In the bold type, are the statements that are so gut-wrenchingly how I feel. I am 56, trying to get my entire life back on track after the arrest of my husband and all the crap that came with it. But I am still dealing with the abuse that ended over 40 years ago. The line about “a hole in the soul”–I don’t know how many years I have felt that, how many times I have said it while trying to explain the emptiness I felt.
I just read someone’s blog who said there is no Biblical reference for God not giving us more than we can handle. He said He would not allow us to be tempted more than we could withstand, but there’s nothing about God not layering us in stress, trials, pain, grief and humiliation. If you are suffocating under a dozen scratchy, wool blankets of hurt, abuse, rejection, loneliness and sorrow, that is not good news.
Neither are promises that God made to the children of Israel in the Old Testament. Not every promise made in the Bible is necessarily for us today.
I’m not trying to depress anyone; I’m trying to share the reality of my life for the last 14 months. Yeah, I get through the days, but it is not very often in a pretty way.
Some people are just drop-kicked by life more than others. Trying to get God to explain that is pointless. How else can I explain the layers of pain that have been added to my life in the last 14 months, even to the point of a narcissistic therapist treating me like absolute crap?