When adults come forward after being abused, it can feel overwhelming to friends and family. Not realizing the complex nature of adult abuse, well-meaning loved ones can cause the victims further pain and suffering. Helping adult abuse victims heal then requires education about what abuse of power, grooming and abuse look like in adult victims as well as the obstacles adult victims face.
As someone who has experienced adult abuse first-hand, I am hoping to shed light on this type of trauma so that victims can more easily come forward and find healing and so that the people in their lives can better help them. Loved ones don’t need to feel helpless. There are certain things they can do and not do to make the tumultuous journey a tad smoother for victims.
These are some of the things we need you to do…
We need you to be patient with us as we move through the healing process.
The keyword here is process. We won’t heal completely this side of Heaven, but with God, we can achieve far more than we ever thought possible. We can shed the anger and the hurt and we can forgive our abusers, becoming almost indifferent to them. We can learn to trust others and build deep, meaningful relationships once again.
But let us set the pace for healing. And please do not ask us to look on the bright side. Evil has no bright side. There is no light in the darkness. “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” Ps 18:28 (ESV) God alone can bring good out of our suffering, and we can get there, but it may take time, especially if our abusers acted as representatives of God.
My abuser loved to point out his large cross necklace and told me frequently that he never took it off even to sleep. Pictures of Jesus decorated the office walls, and he began our “grooming” sessions with prayer—that is, until he had me under his spell and didn’t need to bother with such things.
Sit with us, listen to us, and pray with and for us. Let God reveal the “bright side.” He will when the timing is right, when we have healed enough to see it.
We need you to understand that it was more than sexual assault.
The damage created by a betrayal of this magnitude is difficult to fathom. Some liken it to a “rape of the soul.” It is much more than physical rape. This is in part because of the intricate grooming process whereby predators force victims to play a role in their own abuse, take part in their own destruction.
Victims don’t recognize the strings that keep them tethered to their abuser. They don’t see that they are a puppet being controlled by a sadistic puppet master. As a result, victims feel they are willingly participating and are therefore to blame. That is why many never report.
If we speak up, we have to admit that they duped us. That we were gullible. That we were stupid. We shouldn’t feel that way, but we do.
Even worse, we can’t explain why we stayed. It all happened under our radar. By the time we could fully see it, it was too late. We had already done things we would never do, say things we would never say, allow things we would never allow.
And once we have entered this stage, we feel utterly horrified and ashamed, but we can’t seem to break free from the abuser’s grip. We need help to escape, but asking for help means admitting the things we have done, things we have allowed another human being to do to us—things that are unspeakable.
The abuser has not just robbed our physical body. He or she has taken a piece of our soul and left oozing black shame in its place.
We need you to help us see the abuse for what it really was. We need to realize that we were never special. We must dispel this myth for healing to begin.
In the weeks after my abuse, I realized that the doctor groomed me and not just at the end of my time with him. It started on day one. It began with the very first session when he waltzed in and offered me tea and reached into his cupboards and chose an afghan to cover me up with—it was these seemingly innocent gestures that set the stage for later abuse.
I so wanted to believe it had not been premeditated, but rather a momentary lapse in judgment. Maybe he just accidentally fell in love with me? Maybe he tried to do well by me but just messed up in a big way? I knew I was clinging to a reality that never existed, but oh how I longed for it to be real. I wanted to believe I was cared about and not merely a pawn in a sinister game.
God allowed me to find and speak with another victim. After comparing stories, we realized that we had almost identical relationships with the doctor. I told her how he brought my tea in a mug decorated with hearts for Valentine’s Day, and she laughed and said he had an entire cupboard full of heart mugs.
I laughed along with her, but the laughter was tinged with sadness. After all this time it still hurt that I had meant nothing to him, that it was all one colossal joke, all part of his scam to use me and toss me out like yesterday’s garbage, just like all the others before me.
Accepting that notion was a painful but necessary step in my healing. The sooner victims make that realization the better.
We need to tell our stories, and we need you to hear us.
Victims desperately need to be heard. Especially early on, we want to relay our stories over and over and over. We need to analyze the details, process what happened. I couldn’t rest until I could finally assemble the puzzle pieces of my experience and see the bigger picture. We need to know what our role was if any.
Once we have determined that we did not want what happened, we must figure out how we allowed it. My therapist was a father to me, a grandfather really, and sex was the last thing I associated with him. I couldn’t rest until I understood why and how I allowed myself to participate in behaviors wildly out of my character. For me, it was an important step towards self-forgiveness.
I’m a writer, so I poured my feelings out on paper. I wrote and wrote until I could see the manipulation unfold on the pages before me. For some, it might help to talk it out or sort it out internally, but do not leave it a muddled mess inside. That is too much for any one person to carry around.
Find a therapist or a trustworthy friend. Talk about it. Write about it. Sort through it, make sense of it, and then toss it.
We need you to remind us that the chains our abusers used to restrain us were not of the physical sort but were every bit as powerful and effective at holding us captive.
My abuser had an inextricable hold on me and try as I might, I could not escape. It wasn’t until I reached out to my pastor and his wife and asked for help that I could finally break that tie. At first, I hated myself for staying so long. I couldn’t see the invisible chains that kept me so powerfully linked to my abuser.
One link in that chain was the belief that I was special to my abuser—what a powerful elixir that was. He used gifts, flattery, extra time, free sessions, personal phone calls—whatever was necessary to convince me that I was special. He told me he had adopted me and craving a father figure, I found this enticing.
Another link was pity. He portrayed himself in such a fragile, broken light that abandoning him after all he had done for me seemed cruel. He told me he had never loved his wife romantically, that he had never had friends growing up, that he was guilt ridden over his mother’s alcoholism and eventual death. He told me it would kill him if I left. That he wouldn’t survive it. It was a play on my empathy, and it worked for a long time.
There were many other tactics the doctor used against me, and all of them tightened the noose he had around my neck. We need your help in recognizing this because we feel the unspoken judgment—you could have walked away. There was no gun to your head, was there? Yes, there was a figurative gun to our heads and we must recognize that so that we can forgive ourselves and begin to heal. Please help us see it.
We need you to be sensitive to our feelings when you make snap judgments about other victims who come forward.
It happens all the time. A news story breaks. Someone accuses yet another celebrity or well-known figure of sexual abuse. And the murmuring begins—it’s ridiculous that they are just now coming forward, after all these years, they are clearly seeking attention. Or maybe it’s about money or fame. Perhaps they just want to destroy the other person’s reputation.
Although every human being wants to be known, no one wants to be known for this. I understand there are no absolutes. Some people may assert such claims for bogus reasons, but I would suggest it is not as often as you think. Victims feel a tremendous amount of shame and embarrassment in coming forward. Most never speak up.
So the next time a story breaks, remember that an actual victim may be sitting next to you or maybe you are talking to one. Realize that it crushes us inside every time victims are mocked, minimized, or flat out blamed. Because when you say those things about them, you are saying them to us.
We need you to be honest with us if you feel overwhelmed by our emotions.
It’s ok if you need to tell a loved one that you feel unequipped to handle the extreme emotions that he or she may be experiencing as a result of sexual abuse. I highly recommend that all victims seek professional help to sort through the many layers of trauma.
My abuser was a therapist, and it terrified me to go that route again, but in time I found one who was trustworthy and competent. It helped me tremendously to know that the person on the receiving end of my emotion was trained and capable of receiving it.
We as victims need to understand that friends and family may be unable to handle the complexity involved in this type of trauma. And there is no shame in asking for professional help. If your abuser was a therapist or clergy, don’t let one evil individual rob you of the chance to find someone else who can help.
Finally, we need you to point us towards Jesus Christ.
When I sought counseling with my psychiatrist and eventual abuser, I thought he held the key to healing the depression that had followed me most of my life. A brand new Christian, I thought God led me to him for this piece of my healing journey. Ironically, in my upcoming memoir, PRAYED UPON, I describe how true healing began the minute I got away from the doctor, the minute I realized that I was worth more than that.
In my pain and desperation, I poured over the scriptures and I could read God’s outpourings of love for me, but they stayed right there on the page. They didn’t sink in. Again, I turned to pen and paper and I wrote love letters to myself from Jesus, poem after poem after poem, until the words oozed off the page and seeped into me.
Jesus is the only source of true healing. He is the medicinal ointment that reaches into all the nooks and crannies of our psyches. He brings light where it was dark. He makes new what was old and decrepit. He collects all of our broken pieces and reassembles them, making us a brand new creation. All we have to do is cry out to Him.
So, friends and loved ones, remind the victims in your lives that Jesus is more than capable of taking their pain and their anger and their disbelief. He is hoping they will turn to Him.
After all, He is really all that we need.
“If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry.” Ex 22:23 (NLT)
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:19 (ESV)
To read my companion post, What Adult Victims of Sexual Abuse Want You to Know, click here: https://amynordhues.com/what-adult-victims-of-sexual-abuse-need-you-to-know/