ABUSE RECOVERY PROCESS-PROBLEMS, Forgiveness, Mental Health and the Church, Personal Stories, Sexual Abuse/Assault and Churches, SURVIVOR STORIES

What Can Happen to Sex Abuse Survivors When They Are Not Believed or Supported?

Sex abuse survivors need to be believed and supported

What happens when sex abuse survivors spend years trying to tell others of their abuse and it is met with deaf ears? What happens when family and friends turn their backs and ignore the abuse?

In the next personal story, we will read a response to an article I posted about Lorraine. IncestThrowaway1983 responded to Lorraine’s story sharing her personal story on Reddit and gave me permission to share it here. While reading this personal story, I’d like you to consider what happens when one spends a lifetime holding their dark secret alone. More importantly, what would have been the outcome had someone believed and supported this survivor? 

Tunnel mørk 007 til lyset
Tunnel mørk 007 til lyset

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IncestThrowaway1983’s Personal Story

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In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said,

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

**

I contemplated posting this under my regular Reddit name and I just couldn’t do it. I want so hard to embarrass the crap out of my family, but I still have this lingering shame inside of me, like I had done something wrong.

This isn’t a problem that is only for Christians. I mean while my family, which was involved deeply in politics in our home state, would profess Christianity behind closed doors, they were anything but.

It all started when I was seven. I had been orphaned at 7 years old and my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents. That was the summer everything started. My older brother began molesting me. He went to live with his father during the school year, but every summer up until I was 10, he would do deviant things to me.

I happened to have seen a special report on Nick News about molestation and realized suddenly and all at once that what had been happening to me was wrong. I felt it was wrong but couldn’t really put anything in words about how it was wrong.

So, I worked up some courage and told my school counselor. My family went thru the motions doing everything that the cops had them do. But every time they brought it up, it was, “You’ll laugh about this in the future,” and “You just have to get over this.” Come to find out from my younger brother, they believed I made all of it up.

They’ve hated me ever since. I finally got the balls to confront them about it when I was banned from coming to a family member’s funeral, but my rapist older brother was allowed to come. I mentioned how is it that I wasn’t allowed to come, but that my rapist brother was? And they said, “You really need to stop all that.” My grandfather, before he passed, told me that he didn’t believe that it had happened because I should have said something sooner.

And according to my younger brother, the ones that did believe me thought it looked bad on my family, and that i should have just kept it in the family and never told the school counselor, and because of that, I was (I’m paraphrasing her) a jerk.

All this is to say, it’s about keeping up stupid appearances, not religion. It’s about people who have this ridiculous belief that appearance is more important than truth. That it’s trivial – that what happened to me and others like me doesn’t have far-reaching consequences.

As a result of all that, I ended up with a bad drug problem, PTSD, self-harm issues, anxiety and a low self-worth. I still struggle with knowing if God loves me. I’m the only real Christian in my family and I’m probably the least sure of God’s existence. After all, I wonder where was He when those things were happening.

All this is to say, religion or none, it’s not about that, it’s about people who care more about what it looks like than what it actually is. (Source)

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Observations

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In both personal stories, we can see a common denominator of people who failed to help, listen, and believe these sex abuse survivors. These young ladies did not have advocates for them. They had to wrestle in their minds the messages that others told them.

When people don’t believe survivors, sometimes survivors ask themselves if they did something to cause the sex abuse. They might ask themselves if they were imaging it. Or they may question whether they could have done something differently to prevent it. And sometimes, they will begin to doubt their own recollection or reality of what happened to them. The inner turmoil a survivor must deal with can be paralyzing.

People I knew, loved, and trusted failed me.

**

Although I was not a sex abuse survivor, I was a victim of child abuse at the hands of my father who legally adopted me (now deceased). He physically beat me from the age of 3 until 19 years old. I’ve shared parts of my story before. While some of the pain had to deal with my dad using me as a punching bag or an object to kick around, the most emotionally painful part of the abuse had to do with people that I knew, loved, and trusted who failed me, who turned the other way, who dismissed my story, and who defended my fun-loving dad instead. The real kicker for me was dealing with my mother, whom I adored. She stood by her man instead of defending me. Coming to grips with that shocking realization sent me on a very dangerous emotional downward spiral. It took several months of therapy to process that painful hurdle.

Untreated abuse can cause harm for survivors, the emotional toll sometimes lasting for years.

**

Are you seeing a pattern here? All three of us had trusted family members who did not believe us or help us. Some of our trusted family or friends actually put blame on us. All three of us – abuse survivors – have had to deal with difficult mental health issues which were diagnosed years after the abuse.

Untreated abuse can cause harm for survivors, the emotional toll sometimes lasting for years. If you recall, Lorraine has dealt with PTSD, anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, anxiety, and depression. IncestThrowaway1983 has had to deal with the challenges of drug problem, PTSD, self-harm issues, anxiety and a low self-worth. I was diagnosed with PTSD and after treatment, recovered from it.

We absolutely must get rid of the wrong message of “mental-health-equals-Satan” stereotype that many leaders in the Christian church have spewed. The idea of forgiveness and repentance is appropriate when it comes to our spirituality, but when it comes to living a life where one needs to be able to trust again, to risk, to be intimate with others relationally, it’s going to be difficult to be a whole and healthy person without some help recovering from these damaging abuse issues.

There are a lot of messages that abuse survivors tell themselves in order to survive that pain. There are many techniques abuse survivors learned to protect themselves from harm or potential harm, and those methods no longer work; in fact, they can be detrimental in current-day relationships. How to respond appropriately to perceived threats need to be relearned, and with the help of skilled mental health professionals, people can get back on the right track and be free from the extra emotional baggage.

**

How You Can Help

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Will you please be an advocate for survivors? Here are some ways you can help survivors:

  • The most important gift you can give a survivor is to believe them.
  • Encourage the person to get help from licensed mental health providers skilled in abuse issues.
  • If you know a crime was committed, report it to authorities. You can report anonymously.
  • Keep checking in with the survivor regularly.
  • Give of your time and let the survivor share their story without prodding.
  • If the survivor says untruths about themselves, putting blame on themselves, tell them the truth, it wasn’t their fault.
  • You do not need to have answers, the best gift you can give is a listening ear.

**

photo credit: Tube Child via photopin (license)

147 thoughts on “What Can Happen to Sex Abuse Survivors When They Are Not Believed or Supported?”

  1. You linked to an article which criticized psychology for having the goal of ridding people of guilt and said it represented your view.

    Of course that is NOT the general goal of psychology. However, it WILL be a goal when people feel guilty for things that are not their fault/things which have been done by others. Often that is an abuse victim.

    Thus I disagree with the article that represents your views in two ways: first that ridding each patient of guilt is the goal of psychology and secondly that this is never an appropriate goal.

    Again, the writer either does not understand psychology or is willfully misrepresenting it in service of their own agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here is something to think about. When Christians discourage a depressed or anxious person from getting psychiatric treatment (medication and psychotherapy), we are promoting progressive brain damage. Depressed and anxious people were compared to healthy controls and it turns out that over time the former progressively lose brain volume in the prefrontal cortex (where planning and execution of activities take place), the anterior cingulate (the conflict resolution center), and the hippocampus (where memories are processed).

    Early intervention can interrupt this process. Delaying treatment just makes everything worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Right, Marsha, and it’s not just the person who is affected, but all close relationships, too.”

    That is a what sin does.

    In a sense the article is saying (not that the abused should feel guilty for what someone else did, which a person should not) that if a person blames their personal sin or sins on past victimization, how will they come to grips of their own need of a savior i.e. Jesus, and find salvation (eternal salvation).

    Some peoples livelihood depends on psychology and it been said ‘never get between someone and their livelihood’ (in which case, said person should recuse themselves) Others just care about the victims and truth, without pay.

    Like

  4. how will they come to grips of their own need of a savior i.e. Jesus, and find salvation (eternal salvation).

    Why are you assuming that the Survivor is not already a Believer?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My living never depended on doing psychotherapy. I evaluated the effectiveness of programs for states and nonprofits and later I did some medical science writing.

    My caring for victims and truth is entirely unpaid. However, when a friend’s problems are beyond my capacity to help, I don’t hesitate to refer them to a competent therapist who is paid (as I am sure you are for your own professional work and as pastors are for theirs).

    Like

  6. “Why are you assuming that the Survivor is not already a Believer?”

    Good point.

    Why is the surviving believer looking to psychology?

    Like

  7. The surviving believer is looking to psychology and psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help them just like people with cancer or heart disease are looking to medicine and doctors.

    Do you think believing in Christ magically takes away the believer’s problems?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Do you think believing in Christ magically takes away the believer’s problems?”

    No.

    Paul suffered greatly, did he need psychology and psychotherapists and psychiatrists. No.

    The mind is outside of science, it is God’s domain and Paul relied on it?

    Like

  9. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Paul thought that he should suffer for the sake of suffering. If physicians in his time could have cured him, I am sure he would have sought treatment even if only to have more energy for his mission.

    The mind is not outside of science. Of course it is God’s domain. The body is also God’s domain. 1st Corinthians 6:19-21 says our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and yet we do not forgo medical treatment when we need it.

    I have always liked the old joke about the man in the flood who climbed to the roof of his house as the flood waters rose, refusing help numerous times and telling each would-be rescuer that God would rescue him. He drowned and when he got to Heaven he asked why God didn’t save him and God said, “What do you mean? I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Knowing Jesus will never add to your psychological problems. External problems are another matter of course. We see our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East being beheaded for their faith by ISIS and we know the fates of the Apostles. However, following Jesus will never cause mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Why is the surviving believer looking to psychology?

    Because sometimes there is a mental health crisis that needs to be addressed, just as I’d go to a doctor if I had a heart problem.

    You are confusing emotional or mental health issues with spiritual and sin issues. Please read this: https://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2015/06/01/my-personal-mental-health-story-when-christians-say-potentially-harmful-words-to-someone-in-a-mental-health-crisis/

    Liked by 1 person

  12. In fact believing In Jesus may greatly add to your problems.

    Not the believing part, but focusing on sin as the root problem of a survivor’s mental health could definitely add to problems.

    Like

  13. “However, following Jesus will never cause mental illness.”

    Exactly.

    ” I am sure he would have sought treatment even if only to have more energy for his mission.”

    Hmmm. Well since you are sure, that settles it. Not.

    Maybe God just left the whole psychology thing out for some mysterious reason, or maybe psychology is bogus and wants to usurp the word of God.

    Again it is not science, it is not observable.

    But God’s word is true.

    God’s word is true. Right JA?

    Like

  14. Julie Anne, Paul said if our only hope in in Christ was for this life we should be most pitied, because believing in Jesus will bring many tribulations.

    Can psychology remedy what Jesus said?

    Like

  15. Paul said if our only hope in in Christ was for this life we should be most pitied, because believing in Jesus will bring many tribulations.
    Can psychology remedy what Jesus said?

    Was it Paul who took wine for his stomach ailment? Why did he do that and not pray for Christ to heal him?

    Like

  16. Q, do you have any Bible verses that show that Paul finds suffering of value in and of itself such that he would not seek an available treatment if one existed? I cannot find any.

    Like

  17. Marsha,

    Have you ever read this?

    Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

    I think you and JA may be biblically illiterate.

    Like

  18. “Q, do you have any Bible verses that show that Paul finds suffering of value in and of itself such that he would not seek an available treatment if one existed? I cannot find any.”

    Yes.

    “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

    Like

  19. Biblical scholars have debated for centuries about what Paul meant by the thorn in his side. While some scholars argue that he meant persecution, noting how enemies are several times referenced as thorns in the side in the Old Testament, it seems to me that the strongest evidence is for the idea that it was some kind of physical ailment.

    I also think the idea of a mental illness was unlikely. Would God have entrusted the work he gave Paul to do to a man with a mental illness that might have called into question his credibility of his testimony? We know that his Vision on the road to Damascus was not a hallucination because others heard the voice.

    Many scholars have concluded that he had a problem with his vision since he remarks that a letter he writes is written in large letters, since he dictated other letters, and since he notes that when he was with the Galatians they would have plucked out their own eyes to give to him if it were possible.

    In any case, he did want to be rid of his suffering and prayed to God to remove it, three times. When that did not happen, he relied upon God’s grace and strength and looked for any good that could come from his suffering. There was very little a physician could do back in that time but Paul says nothing against physicians nor does the Bible suggest we should not use them when they can help. In fact, Paul refers to Luke as a physician and calls him beloved in the same sentence. Paul’s prayers for healing suggest to me that he would have seen a physician for treatment if it was available. Luke was with him in his last days and very possibly did what he could for him as a doctor.

    Jesus responded to the Pharisees that the healthy do not need a physician, the sick do. This matter of fact use of the analogy suggests that Jesus himself accepted the role of the physician.

    So if you can find somewhere in the Bible where Paul says he would not accept treatment for his ailment were such available, please share it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. No I am not Biblically illiterate. As you yourself quote, Paul was willing to endure suffering for the sake of Christ, not because he found value in suffering in and of itself. He was persecuted with imprisonment and beatings and stonings. He was shipwrecked on his travels. He endured this suffering to preach the Gospel! But when he could avoid these things he did. When the authorities were attempting to apprehend him in Damascus, he escaped by having his supporters lower him outside the wall of the city in a basket.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. My argument that Paul would have accepted treatment had it been available is argument from silence and stupid.

    Your argument that he would not have is argument from silence but correct.

    My interpretation of Scripture shows Biblical illiteracy and stupidity and can lead to sin. Your interpretation however is correct.

    I am going to bed now that we have reached this impasse. I am sure that the Bereans here can come to their own evaluation of Scripture and of course I would encourage anyone to do so.

    Like

  22. You are the one who brought Paul and his suffering into the discussion which puzzled me because I believe the evidence is that his ailment was physical. Do you think Paul ‘s suffering was a mental rather than physical illness?

    Liked by 1 person

  23. “Some peoples livelihood depends on psychology and it been said ‘never get between someone and their livelihood’ (in which case, said person should recuse themselves) Others just care about the victims and truth, without pay.” Q

    Could say the exact same thing about every paid pastor, bible teacher, and evangelist. That includes salary and “love offering” payments.

    Like

  24. Dear Q,

    The mind is outside of science, it is God’s domain…

    Uh, do you think God is afraid of the competition?

    More seriously…

    Maybe God just left the whole psychology thing out for some mysterious reason, or maybe psychology is bogus and wants to usurp the word of God.

    Again it is not science, it is not observable.

    Q, what gives you the right to say this? How much have you studied psychology? Marsha has done so, and she’s been a patient of it. I think that qualifies her to say whether or not psychology is a science. I grant you that it’s a relatively young science, but to say it’s not a science at all is hardly fair.

    As to why God “left out” psychology from the Bible: Most likely because it didn’t exist back then, any more than penicillin, vaccines or the Heimlich maneuver. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention a particular branch of human knowledge doesn’t mean that God disapproves of it.

    And regarding the notion that “psychology wants to usurp the word of God”: I’m not aware of anything in it that’s opposed to the teachings of the Bible. How exactly are modern psychology and Christianity in conflict with each other?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. “The mind is outside of science, it is God’s domain and Paul relied on it?”

    Perfect example of dualism. However, We know the mind operates within a PHYSICAL environment and I don’t even have to be a PhD to have seen the PHYSICAL differences going on in brain imaging with certain mental illnesses. It is out there if anyone wants to do a bit of interesting research. Brain health is becoming a huge industry.

    Years ago, they controlled certain behaviors/thinking with Lobotomy’s.

    A corollary to what Q is trying to push here is that cancer patients should pray it away. Oh, and reading the bible will cure it. After all, in his mind the brain is not a physical part of our bodies. God inflicted it the problem so God can heal it. It is really that type of thinking. If science has not caught up and it cannot be healed then that means God wants you to suffer.

    Is it any wonder people are becoming “dones” at an alarming rate with this silliness around? Of course I am surrounded by Nouthetic counseling nuts (they are changing the name of it at SBTS). Basically it was employed by Mohler’s buddy SGM when the pastors told victims of child molestation they were just as big of sinners as the molester so they had to forgive instantly.

    That “Christian” world is a great place for predators, creeps, perps and charlatans these days. They can get you to believe just about anything if you fall for their tactics.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. “Q said.. The mind is outside of science, it is God’s domain…”

    Uh, do you think God is afraid of the competition?”

    Q has Luddite thinking. The history of Christianity bears out this problem until man started to throw off the state church mentality of tyrants and the authoritarians who want to run our lives for us. Then the trajectory of inventions to improve life soared.

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  27. “Some peoples livelihood depends on psychology and it been said ‘never get between someone and their livelihood’ (in which case, said person should recuse themselves) Others just care about the victims and truth, without pay.” Q

    L Ron Hubbard would agree.

    Psychology is unwanted competition for both Noutheics and Dianetics.

    Like

  28. This line wrecked me:

    “People I knew, loved, and trusted failed me.”

    So grateful for your “How you can help” advice. Especially the reporting the abuse to authorities, listening, and believing the survivor points. Thank you!!!

    Like

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