Help for Witnesses Handling Issues of Abuse and Victimization in their Lives
by Mary Woodard
Douglasville, Georgia, October 1989
The breakdown of family life in the time of the end has taken a terrible toll on this generation. More and more of our brothers and sisters are facing the fact that their mental and emotional damage from growing up with family dysfunction and child abuse is deeper and longer lasting than they ever imagined. As they realize that their childhood experiences may not only have influenced but dictated the pattern of their adult lives, they begin to come to terms with issues of trust and intimacy that affect all of their relationships.
The following information is presented to help their friends and spiritual shepherds understand the spiritual and moral consequences they endure. It is hoped that this will enable them to express their love for the victims in the most helpful way, and specific suggestions are included as to how this can be done.
The author is a Christian Sister whose self observations provide insight into the thinking of someone facing these issues in her own life. The author would like to stress that though this is partly a personal account, the thoughts and feelings expressed herein are common to victims of abuse. It is offered with love and the expectation that the empathy of our friends and Jehovah’s spirit will accompany us into recovery.
I grew up in South Florida where long days at the beach are taken-for-granted part of summer. Walking under the palms in the grassy area near the beach is safe for bare feet. But, the sun heats the open sandy beach itself above a temperature tolerable to the touch. One day I forgot and ran toward the water heedless of my unprotected soles. When I realized I was being burned I stopped, hopping on alternate feet to look back and decide whether I would endure less pain dashing back to the grass or racing ahead to the ocean. I was equidistant from both, and since the reason I had come to the beach was to get in the water, I rushed on and in moments immersed my burned feet in the soothing sea water.
The problem with life is sometimes the same. To go ahead is painful, to go back is painful, and to stand still is intolerable. We have to remember that we came to the beach to get in the water, we came to life to live it, in order to plunge on ahead.
Who are the people for whom life is so painful that a real danger exists they may decide not to live it? I don’t know them all, but I know some of them. And I am qualified to write about them because I am one of them. We are adults who were hurt as children and are still hurting. I am writing this to help you, our friends and spiritual shepherds, recognize some patterns of behavior and personality that identify us and provide some insight into the moral and spiritual problems we face. This may help you feel more confident in dealing with us.
One elder, himself a victim of sexual abuse, commented that “Satan was the first child molester”. Satan picked the youngest and most vulnerable of Jehovah’s family to seduce. The resulting corruption of Eve’s character, including the guilt reaction, set the pattern for all future child abusers/molesters.
Sexual abuse of children, by no means new, is surely the crime of the time of the end. Through this activity, Satan accomplishes several goals. Sexual abuse may implant within the victim a tendency toward immorality much more compelling than that which follows naturally from inherited sin. Our abuse as children has damaged our self-identity and self-esteem. We feel like we have no control over our lives. We do, in reality, engage in out-of-control behaviors (compulsions) and out-of-control thinking (obsessions). Our lack of self-control is closely related to a feeling of not knowing who we are. Though we do not know ourselves, we hate and loathe ourselves. Our out-of-control thinking and behavior produces guilt, and the guilt reinforces our negative self-image and out-of-control feelings. This negative downward spiral may send us into a moral and spiritual tailspin from which recovery is difficult and painful.
Our lack of self-esteem makes it difficult to follow the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. How attractive to me are people who operate from a center of health and self-assurance. I wonder: What it would be like to love my neighbor as I loved myself? What would it be like to look out on the world from an inner room of peace and confidence? Sometimes I’m almost there. Oh, God! How I want to be like that!
If we hate, despise, ourselves, how can we ever love our neighbor? Blessedly, we have an inspired definition of love that describes love, not as a feeling, but, rather action. By training in the application of bible principles even those of us who are badly damaged by abuse can learn to show love to others. This engenders in others a loving response which, over time, can begin to build self-esteem and heal us.
Our interpersonal relationships are affected by our unclear self-identity and low self-esteem, and our relationship with Jehovah is also affected. Until recently I held the delusion that I could hide part of myself from Jehovah. I was sure that if I revealed myself completely Jehovah would hate me as much as I hated myself, condemn me as I condemned myself. What despair lay behind these thoughts! So, I maintained my delusion in spite of the clear intellectual knowledge that Jehovah knew everything about me, knew me better than I knew myself.
One thing we are good at is mental gymnastics. We are good at thinking one thing while feeling another; perceiving one thing while believing another.
Of all the precious benefits being in therapy and recovery have brought me so far, the breaking down of my barriers to freeness of speech in prayer is the one I treasure most. Sexual abuse produces in the victim a profound sense of shame. This is compounded by the fact that on a physical level, some forms of abuse are pleasurable to the victim. Youngsters who have a healthy childhood naturally experience a coming alive of sexual feeling in adolescence, but for some of us those sensations were overwhelmingly the major feelings of our childhood. Even with mature, loving parental guidance, young men and women find their awakening to sexuality confusing and hard to handle. Yet they have had thirteen or fourteen or so years to develop coping mechanisms such as self-control, communication skills, delayed gratification, etc. What skills does an infant or young child possess to cope with the intensity of sexual feelings? Little or none. At the same time the abuse itself retards the development of other emotions and qualities of character and personality.
Since the abuser is usually close to the victim — many of our abusers were family members — serious issues of trust are brought into play. Parents represent all good to the child. They provide food, love and security. They are all-powerful, all-knowing, and all right. Our very survival depended on believing in our parents. When our parents were abusive, we did not attribute bad to them, we attributed bad to ourselves. We internalized a negative self-image. Once we had done that we expected to be hurt; we believed we deserved whatever pain came our way. And, if the pain didn’t come to us we would go and get it.
Particularly in the case of girls abused by their fathers, a pattern of victimization is set up. Until released through therapy, some of us will, time and again, choose relationships with abusive men. We believe in our core that we deserve the abuse. If fact, the abuse feels like love. We may appear foolishly gullible, but in reality, we are armor-plated. We trust no one.
We are not attracted to “nice men”. We go for the ones who are addicted, abusive, or violent, and our radar is so sensitive that we have little trouble finding men like this within the Christian congregation. A relationship with a man like that lets us relive, and thereby “fix”, our relationship with our fathers. We desire someone who is unresponsive to our needs, someone with whom true intimacy is impossible because we do not trust enough to be vulnerable.
We are angry. Some of us repress our anger and turn it inward. It may be virulent enough-to damage or subvert our immune system and kill us by disease. We deny our anger because to feel our anger is dangerous.
In order to feel our anger we have to believe that we are deserving of better treatment. If we come to believe that the woman we are now deserves better, then we must believe that the child we were also deserved better. This logically leads to the conclusion that “Daddy” was the one who was wrong or bad. It may be less painful to continue to be abused by our husbands or boyfriends than to face up to who or what “Daddy” was.
This serves Satan’s plan well because it inhibits our development of a relationship with Jehovah as our heavenly father. I never related to Jehovah as a father. As God, Lord, Sovereign, Creator, yes, but as father, no! I did not trust Jehovah. I’m still working on this. This is not the same as faith. I have strong faith. The problem lies in trusting Jehovah with my feelings.
So the end result of abuse is adults who function in many ways like children. We are unable to be known to ourselves or to others. We cannot freely approach the throne of undeserved kindness, we have strong tendencies to engage in destructive behav¬iors. We are trained to be victims, perfect targets for Satan.
What is abuse? Abuse takes many forms. All parents mistreat their children sometimes; that comes with imperfection. What damages a child is a pattern of family life where the child’s emotional need for unconditional love is generally unmet. This can occur without overt physical or sexual abuse in a dysfunctional family. Anyone who grew up in a family with an addicted parent grew up in a dysfunctional family. But sexual abuse is such an overpowering violation of self-hood that just one incident may have tragic consequences. Rather than over dramatizing, many victims minimize the incident(s) and many who were abused do not recognize that what happened was abusive even when they fully recollect it. People who suffer from shame, low self-esteem, lack of self-identity and compulsive/obsessive behavior, were victims of abuse, whether they recall it or not.
How do we manage to function at all? How do we, with our damaged spirituality and emotions, carry on for years as participating members of the congregation of God’s people?
To answer that it would be helpful to have a working definition of what constitutes mental/emotional health. The following explanation (provided by a brother who is a Mental Health professional) is elegantly simple, immediately applicable and totally in harmony with the bible.
When someone is mentally/emotionally healthy the person they are on the outside, which they present to others, their personality (including their practices) is a reflection of what they are on the inside. What a person is on the inside is what the bible calls “the secret person of the heart”.’
When someone is mentally/emotionally sick, the person they are on the outside, which they present to others, their personality (including their practices) hides or conceals what they are on the inside.
There can be two reasons why someone would hide who they really are. They may be evil and be putting on a false front like Satan does when he “transforms himself into an angel of light”. Or, the person may have been so badly hurt when young that they have build up layers of defenses to keep the secret person of the heart from being wounded anymore. If these layers of defenses are strong enough and complex enough, they may form an alternate personality that is very different from what the person truly is inside.
What is it like for someone to be locked away inside these defensive barriers? I always felt disconnected and unreal, as though I did not exist in the “real world” with everyone else. .The barrier was almost palpable like a curtain or wall. I envi¬sioned myself tearing it apart or knocking it down and stepping through to the other side. Sometimes I even reached my hands out to do so, but there was nothing there that I could grab ahold of or beat down. Now, after some therapy, I feel like I am at least really here. But who is the “I” that is here? I don’t know who I am. I have no clear edges. My boundaries are fuzzy. I can’t tell exactly where I leave off and someone else begins. This makes it hard for me to set limits on my own behavior and on the behavior of others toward me. I tend to fade in and out like an out-of-focus picture. As my layers of defenses come down, I feel fragile. Sometimes I’m so thin and brittle I fear I might break apart, or so insubstantial I am afraid I’ll disappear back inside. But I like being here. So I fight hard to get myself in focus, to feel my edges, to feel solid and whole.
The defenses we built up in childhood were appropriate survival measures given the circumstances of life we were endur¬ing. When we persist in these behaviors and thought patterns as adults we are behaving inappropriately. The same defenses we built up to keep out pain now keep us away from what we need.
The negative messages we received as children — that we are stupid, a failure, unwanted, bad, unlovable and worthless — were not simply stated to us. They were transmitted with the volume all the way up, often accompanied by a hail of blows. They were loud, consistent and compelling. We erected strong defenses against these messages, but it was no good. They still got through. We believed them. Later, when people gave us positive messages about ourselves, our work, or anything, the positive messages could not get through the defenses. We never believed any good thing that was said to us about ourselves.
Because of the defenses we built, the outer person may have personality traits or engage in practices that are out of harmony with the desires of the secret person of the heart. We are all familiar with the teenage boy who hides his insecurity behind a facade of macho bravado. An abuse victim’s entire personality may be a “snow job”. We hide our lack of control by exercising extraordinary control over some aspect of our lives. We may appear very controlled and organized to cover up our internal chaos. We walk on the edge all the time. We are desperate. We cover up our low esteem with many genuine, (though often frantic) accomplishments, none of which nourish our inner self. We may seem arrogant or egotistical, while inside feeling inadequate or worthless. The elder previously mentioned said he can spot the victims who are always smiling and pretending to be fine, because “they have a hunted look in their eyes”.
When you are dealing with victims of abuse try to remember that many unpleasant personality traits we exhibit do not reflect the person we are inside. Even wrong practices may be part of our defense mechanism. This is because we behave compulsively. We do not make choices; we do not know ourselves enough to ask “What do I want?” We are controlled, not in control. Compulsive behaviors include either refraining from or over indulging in the following:
FOOD: Food may equal nurturing. This is a favorite compulsion for victims of abuse. In some cases the nature of sexual abuse may develop a desire to control what is put in the mouth. Because ethyl alcohol is similar chemically to sugar, children of alcoholic parents may be biologically predisposed to addiction to sugar as well as alcohol. Symptoms of malnutrition in a sister who has a family-of-origin history of alcoholism may indicate a binge-purge (bulimia) or anorexia eating disorder.
SEX: Compulsive sexual misconduct ranges from masturbation to promiscuity. Many female victims end up as prostitutes. Women whose personal boundaries are unclear are vulnerable to sexual advances that healthier women would reject automatically. They may literally not know how to say “No”. For sisters who have this problem, a commitment to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty by following his moral standards is their only protection. Precocious (early) sexual behavior in children or compulsive (repeated or multiple partners) misconduct in teenagers should be considered a red flag that may warn of a dysfunctional family with possible sexual abuse.
WORK: Many companies depend on a core of workaholics as the engine of their success. Healthy people find job satisfaction; a workaholic never does. This problem may be misdiagnosed as materialism. Even the most sublime work available to humans today — Kingdom Evangelism — can be engaged in compulsively.
MONEY: Money is representative. Its value is not inherent but attributed. This means we can hang all kinds of psychic baggage on money. Someone who is behaving compulsively with money may spend (shop) or may hoard. Severe and recurring disagreements about money between married people may represent power struggles and/or sexual problems.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are a major compulsion problem. This problem cannot exist in a family without causing the family system to become dysfunctional. As with sexual mis¬conduct, substance abuse by a young witness should be a red flag.
RAGE: The rage-a-holic gets his high from the adrenalin surge of anger. There is a build up period, then release, then recovery and the cycle repeats. Children of rage-a-holics suffer effects similar to children of alcoholics. Their environment makes no sense.
GAMBLING: Compulsive gambling involving wagering or betting is not difficult to identify, but gambling may also include: consistent tardiness to work; speeding; reckless driving; stealing (shoplifting) or other criminal acts; mishandling of checking accounts; unsafe sex; careless use of birth control; courting danger in sports, and disregard for safety procedures in handling tools and equipment.
CO-DEPENDENCY: This is an addiction to relationships. The most succinct definition I ever heard for “Co-dependency is being dependent on someone else being dependent on you”. It’s called co-dependency because the person with this addiction often links up with someone who has another addictive disorder. Or, two co-dependents get together. This is often called “love”.
These are the major areas where compulsion shows up. Even the most innocuous activities can be engaged in compulsively. We may be compulsive about organization of personal belongings, personal hygiene, house cleaning, exercise, appearance, T.V. watching, hand washing or protecting our own children.
When a compulsive behavior involves indulgence it becomes an addictive disorder. This is true whether or not actual physical addiction occurs. For this reason all of the different compul¬sions (work, sex, food, etc.) are referred to by mental health professionals as the Drug of Choice. Interestingly the most effective treatment for all of the addictive disorders is the same. It is a program of spiritual recovery.
Here is an important clue for someone questioning his own degree of control: IF YOU ARE TRYING TO CONTROL SOMETHING, THAT THING IS CONTROLLING YOU.
Being in the Truth mitigates the effects of the mental illness by providing the strongest motivation to avoid bad conduct. But there will be unavoidable breakdowns in this protection in someone who is sick enough. It is possible to live subject to compulsions and obsessions and not be seriously violating Jehovah’s law. Still, this behavior keeps us from taking responsibility for our own life. For many years I engaged in all kinds of compulsive behaviors while appearing sane, by constantly switching from one Drug of Choice to another. Whenever a certain activity got out of hand or I thought I might get caught or go crazy, I switched to a different compulsion. I often had a number going at once. This is a tortured way to live.
Obsession is to thinking what compulsion is to behavior. Obsession may accompany compulsion. A compulsive eater may be obsessed with thoughts of food.
Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors allow us who have no clear self-identity and who are out of contact with our feelings and desires, to pretend to have a real life. We cling to our obsessions and compulsions because they let us fake living and we are afraid that without them we will cease to exist.
We crave the up-down, high-then-crash, roller coaster ride our compulsions provide. The turmoil and pain these things bring into our lives are a substitute for the real feelings we have buried. A normal life feels like sensory deprivation.
Co-dependents measure the depth of love by the degree of pain. We are intelligent, insightful and generous. We are in touch with the conflicting feelings of everyone else but we have no idea what we are feeling.
We live in fantasy, never seeing things as they are, but seeing them as we want them to be. We try to manipulate reality to conform to our fantasy. And we can’t figure out why this doesn’t work.
We take more than our share of responsibility for our rela¬tionships. We even take responsibility for people with whom we have no relationship. Co-dependents are the women who marry convicts while they are still in prison!
We are caretakers rather than care givers. We do not just give needed care. Rather we take care of, for others, what they should take care of themselves. By taking care of others we are trying to make up, vicariously, for the care we did not receive as children.
Co-dependents over-function for others. This is control masquerading as assistance. In the Truth this can be observed among sisters who over-function spiritually for their husbands. Another common situation is that of publishers (usually sisters) who become entangled in the lives of their bible students. Even before the students have taken a stand for the Truth, the pub¬lisher is baby sitting for them, finding them a job, ferrying them about town, helping them with bills, etc. Co-dependents are the world’s greatest rescuers. We anticipate the needs of others and we will take care of them, whether our help is wanted or wasted.
The only person we do not take care of is ourselves. We believe it is noble to deprive ourselves. We may appear to be practicing Christian self-sacrifice, but that can only be prac¬ticed by someone who has a “self” to sacrifice. The truth is we do not believe we have the right to enjoy life or to be happy, and we will sabotage our own success if the pleasure in our lives rises to an “uncomfortable” level.
Some people who have “hit bottom” with co-dependency and alcoholism have said that the co-dependency was worse. Female co-dependents may be addicted to men and pain. We do not feel like we have any valid existence outside of a relationship. After all the years on the roller coaster ride, to walk on terra firms seems boring. There is no point to life when we are fully in the grip of our addiction.
I pass a traffic accident. A woman sits behind the wheel of her crumpled car, her face covered with blood. I am jealous of her physical pain, and I am jealous of the chaos that has come into her life temporarily relieving her of her day to day respon¬sibilities. People are rushing to her, their hands reaching out to her, making contact in their compassionate recognition of her obvious need. And I am jealous of that too. I am as hurt and traumatized as she is but because my injuries are not visible, I am often without caring contact. I know that my envy of her is a sign of how sick I am.
A school bus stops ahead of me to unload a group of high schoolers. One girl who gets off doesn’t get in step with the others who are filing around the front of the bus toward home. Instead, she faces the door of the bus expectantly. Moments later a tall young man bounds off the bus and kisses her. I watch them as they chat. He reaches his hand out in what appears to be the start of a caress, but suddenly he had made a fist and hit her on the cheek. She moves away from him, falling in line with other students as he pursues her. They are out of my sight for a few seconds, but when they reappear, his arm is around her shoulder and she is leaning against him as they walk. My stomach churns. Her future is my past, and there is nothing I can do to save her. In my recognition of her, and in my compassion, I have a sign of my progress toward health.
Our obsessions and compulsions represent a lack of self control. The ultimate loss of control is in death, so obsessions/compulsions are pathways to death. They are mini-suicides robbing us of control, bit by bit, and may lead us to actual suicide. On the other hand, self control is a fruitage of the spirit of God who is the source of life.
Our lack of self-control/esteem/identity, results from our being taught not to trust our own perceptions. Our feelings were denied rather than validated.
One sister remembers: “When my father finished beating me in one of his rage-a-holic fits, I went crying into my room. My mother followed me in and I turned to her and said, ‘I hate him!’ she replied ‘No you don’t you don’t really feel that way'”.
Victims internalize a set of rules:
We don’t feel what we feel. We don’t think what we think. We don’t see what we see. We don’t hear what we hear.
The most important rule is: DON’T TALK Any cultural, organizational or familial system that prevents the free and honest expression of feelings, or which encourages people to pretend that things are not as they really are, fosters mental illness within it’s members.
As young children we take on the role of protecting and defending our abusers. This is the beginning of co-dependency.
Even with all these problems we may function within normal parameters. We get married, raise families, work, carry out congregational responsibilities, preach, etc. Many of us have some rough times as teenagers, then settle down in our twenties into an apparently stable life. But, something goes wrong later on. We have some unfinished work to do.
At first we don’t know what’s going on. We increase our compulsive behavior as our internal controls start to break down. We think “This can wait until after Armageddon. I don’t have time for this now”.
Coping mechanisms we used in youth suddenly reappear. Our out of control thoughts and behaviors cause guilt and shame. We feel like we are falling apart. We may believe, or others may tell us we have a spiritual problem that can be solved by more field service, study, etc. When this doesn’t work we may start to think that our faith has failed us or that we have failed our faith.
Some of us have flashbacks of childhood experiences. This is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. We try to put the lid back on. Some of us have litanies, a phrase we repeat so we can get back on top. I sat for hours saying to myself: “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” over and over. If we cannot squelch the memories we may begin or go back to using drugs or alcohol to drown them out, or numb the pain. A real spiritual problem can develop if substance abuse goes unchecked. We get depressed and thoughts of suicide begin to seduce us.
What do we need from our friends, mates, and spiritual shepherds? We need to be participants in a very special kind of communication. There are a few essential things we do need to be told, but we mostly need to be heard. It is amazing how much work we can do on our own recovery, just having someone to listen to us. All the advice in the world will not heal someone. We heal ourselves. If you try to take away someone’s pain, you are disabling them and participating in victimization. It may be very difficult to listen and not jump in with a lot of advice or scriptures etc. But, if you will do it, you will be privileged to see miracles.
2. Acceptance and Approval
(1) Exoneration: We need to be freed from guilt and shame. We need to be told that we were victims, that what happened to us was not our fault, that we were not to blame. We may need to hear this message over and over. Remember, it has to get through the defenses to the secret person of the heart.
We don’t just feel guilty because of the abuse, we feel guilty because of the ways we coped with it; we are ashamed of our compulsive behaviors. We need to be told that whatever we did to survive was OK. We had a right to survive. Recovery cannot occur unless survival comes first.
Guilt and shame are not synonymous. Guilt is healthy, shame is not. The internal messages are different. The message of guilt is “I have done something bad.” The message of shame is “I am bad”. Guilt motivates us, shame debilitates us. Shame has to do with self-worth and may have no connection with conduct.
We did not go through the normal stages of emotional development. Some of us were trained in immorality from infancy. We feel shame because of the bizarre, intrusive, confusing, furtive or frightening nature of our first sexual experiences. Some of us have discovered perverted desires in ourselves and we are ashamed of these. We need to be told that we are not to blame for having these desires. It isn’t our fault. We are responsible for our behaviors. Most of us have triumphed over Satan’s programming of us. All of us can.
(2) Acceptance and Approval: If you could stand for a moment in the shoes of a victim of sexual abuse and feel the depth and intensity of our self-loathing, you would be shocked and shaken. One addictive disorders counselor said, “If we did to others what we do to ourselves we would be sued, imprisoned, and scorned by society”. We have figured out ways to pay for our “crimes” that truly constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But we are experts at enlisting others to punish us too. We especially enjoy the services of authority figures in this and Elders fall into that category.
Once we recognize ourselves as victims, we have taken the first step toward recovery. Now we need to learn who we are, we need to define ourselves. Your acceptance and approval affirms what is good in us. It takes many positive messages to counteract the negative ones we have stored in our heads.
We are almost psychic when it comes to reading others’ feelings. We have been tuning into others and blocking our own feelings all our lives. This starts with having to read what kind of mood our parents were in so we would know how safe we were from minute to minute. This ability may make us seem overly sensitive. We can’t help it. With our ill-defined boundaries, a flicker of irritation across someone’s face may assault us like a blow. If you are trying to help a victim and you cannot truly accept and approve of them, forget it. You are not the man for the job.
As I start recovery, If find I am hungry to hear good things about myself. Some Elders seem afraid to offer praise to me. Others are warmly supportive. From them up-building and encour¬aging words just flow.
When I get better, stronger, I will be able to say good things to myself. I will gradually replace the negative “tapes” in my head with positive ones. I will apply myself consciously and systematically to the task. I’ve already begun, but in the meantime, the acceptance and approval of others is important to my recovery. It is where I am right now and I accept that I am where I am.
If you are trying to help a victim, do not hold back your affirmations of their personal worth. Do not be afraid that your praise will make us “puffed up”. Remember how low our self-esteem is.
Accepting me means accepting my feelings. Denial of the validity of feelings is a form of emotional abuse. Never tell someone “you shouldn’t feel that way”. A feeling is a fact. I feel the way I feel.
It’s easy to accept positive feelings, but negative emotions may push the wrong buttons in you. Keep it in perspective, remembering who is sick and who is well. Don’t take things personally. Many of us have repressed anger. It may leak out and hurt those around us, even those who are trying to help us. We need to TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS. Victims who deny they are angry may be more comfortable for you to deal with than those who are feeling and expressing anger. But, the latter are further along in recovery.
We are emotionally retarded and confused. We may come across as rude, selfish, arrogant, demanding, cold or indifferent. Don’t be fooled; we are terrified.
Female victims are usually co-dependent, fearful and angry with men, yet craving their acceptance and approval. We may need to be encouraged to do a reality check. Question whether we are responding to a here and now situation, or reenacting something from the past. It may even help to say, “I am not the man that hurt you, I am not going to hurt you”.
Male victims are just as fearful as female victims, but they tend to be as afraid of their own potential to hurt others as they are afraid of others. One Christian brother went into severe isolation and depression when his first child was born because of his fear that he would, like so many male victims, become an abuser. Men who are adult children of alcoholics (ACOA’S), may have intense needs to control and dominate others. This is a reaction to the unpredictable conditions of their early life. They may be more difficult to reach than female victims because of reluctance to express emotions, fear of appearing weak, etc. As with female victims the key is getting them to share their feelings and standing by with acceptance and approval.
(3) Respect: Moving into recovery is hard work. It is clearly the hardest thing I have ever done and I have done a lot of hard things. But it’s not visible work and I don’t get paid for it. Sometimes I’m so occupied with this work that I am unable to carry out the other tasks of my life. So, when I’m doing the least work on the outside I may be doing my most productive work on the inside. That goes along great until I begin to worry that I am probably getting a reputation as self indulgent or as a malingerer.
I don’t expect everyone to understand this illness, but I do want those who are closest to me to respect the hard work I am doing. Still, whether they do or not, I will respect it. I will give this work the time and energy it requires and I will seek out those who respect me and are understanding and supportive.
When you work with victims of child abuse it may help you to be aware that the mental health profession calls us survivors. Like those who have walked, dignity and humanity intact, out of a concentration camp, we deserve your respect.
Have confidence in the body-mind tendency to heal. In medicine this is called homeostasis. Even in our imperfect condition this powerful tendency exists and functions well in most people.
Recovery takes place in stages. It is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. There may be a number of healing crises, these should be viewed positively. Always express confidence in the friend’s tendency toward health. Remember that people live up or down to the expectations of those around them.
I am fascinated by the progress of recovery. It is amazing to observe it is myself and to read or hear about it in others. I find I have to be patient with myself. I cannot force this along. I am cooperating with a natural process.
Overcoming obsessions and compulsions takes place in a pattern. First, I recognize the behavior. Now if I engage in self-recrimination over it, immersing myself in shame, I get nowhere in changing the behavior. Instead, I find it helps me to play a more detached role, like an observer. I accept that I own that behavior and that I am choosing to engage in it. I try to notice if anything triggers it, if there are practical changes I need to make in my life. I make everything as easy for myself as possible. Then I forgive myself and tell myself that when I am ready, I will change this behavior. Amazingly, it seems to disappear without effort. I find this incredible. I didn’t know I was so cooperative. I always thought I had to beat myself up to accomplish anything.
Children are victims, adults are volunteers. Many of us set up a life situation that replays childhood conflicts. Some of us realize first that we are being abused as adults and that leads us to explore victimization in our lives and finally get back and dig up the childhood experiences. Others of us start out dealing with the childhood stuff, and then come to see that the pattern of abuse is continuing.
If we are living with abuse or with an addict, we are co-dependent. Healthy people will not put up with what we tolerate. We will endure anything. I always thought, “If I could stand it, it must be O.K.”. It never occurred to me that life was to be lived, not just survived. Co-dependency is the normal response of someone who lives for an extended time in an abnormal situation. Everyone engages sometimes in some co-dependent behavior. But for some of us co-dependency is an illness that has taken on a life of its own. It is a progressive, fatal condition. Recovery is ongoing; it is one day at a time. Like an alcoholic, I can never stop recovering. My choice is not between sickness and health; it is between the process of the illness and the process of recovery.
What if you recognize a victim before the victim recognizes himself or herself? It’s very difficult to help a victim who is in denial. I read plenty of articles including the ones in the Watchtower and Awake about mental illness, child abuse, battered wives, etc. But, while I was in denial, I never believed any of this stuff applied to me. You will have to wait for the person to get ready to go through the process. Ultimately, our live become unmanageable. You can put yourself on standby; let them know, “If you ever want to talk about this, I’m willing to listen”. Be prepared, once the dam breaks and the friend starts to talk, they may not be able to stop until its all out. Provide appropriate venues for them to express themselves and listen, listen, listen, accept, accept, accept.
(Of course if the person is engaging in immorality, child abuse, spouse abuse, drunkenness, drug abuse, or criminal activity, the disciplinary function of the congregation provides intervention as well as the leverage to encourage treatment.)
For the victim who is ready .but is having trouble remember¬ing, some things that can help are: conversations with siblings, looking at old photographs, visiting childhood sites, listening to or reading others’ experiences. Reading this paper may help someone recognize their underlying problem. Writing as therapy is highly recommended. One therapist said that writing communicates what is learned by one part of us to another part of us. I found that writing puts my intelligence and creativity in charge of leading me towards health.
How do you know whether or not professional help is required? You don’t. But the victim probably will. We can tell in which direction we are headed. Since issues of domination, control or free-will may be involved, we should be encouraged to make our own decisions, and as much as possible, direct our own recovery.
This applies to people whose illness is the result of childhood abuse, but whose brain functions are otherwise normal. Prof¬essional evaluation should be sought for those who are severely depressed, suicidal, or whose coping abilities have broken down, so that medical treatment can be used where it would be helpful. One sister, for example, is being treated for a problem with brain chemistry, manic depression, and also having talk therapy to deal with childhood issues. Just as people can have more than one physical illness or injury at a time, they can have more than one mental illness at a time.
Thousands of people are moving into recovery by reading, writing, talking and listening, without individual therapy by a professional. Many others use a therapist to orient them to the task and then get on with it with the help of a support group. A support network is very important. Some Witnesses are getting this within their congregation, while others are finding it elsewhere.
Some of you elders may hesitate to get involved with people going through some of these things. You may not have a choice. Some of you are married to victims. Some of you feel unqualified and afraid. You can overcome that by education. Your best source of information will probably be the friend you are trying to help. We are often very clued in to what we need and if you listen we will tell you.
I’ve been helped toward recovery by an elder, by the staffs at the Mental Health unit of a hospital, and by a twelve-step group. But there was something I got from one of my Christian overseers that I could not get from anyone else. I grew up “in the truth”, my roots go down deep into Jehovah’s organization and I deeply respect His sacred arrangements. When I received exon¬eration, acceptance, approval and respect from one of his spirit directed servants, that elder represented Jehovah for me. The positive effect on my spirituality was immediate and dramatic. I was then able to take the security I felt in Jehovah’s care for me into the other therapeutic situations. This was something I needed and something I deserved as a faithful Christian. It would be a tragedy to withhold that from one of the friends because you thought a professional was more qualified.
I’ve come a long way and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that life is for living now, and not just for surviving until Armageddon. I’ve learned that the only person I have control over is myself. I’ve learned that my thoughts and desires are separate from my actions and practices. I’ve learned that love is not pain, poverty is not good, and anger is not bad. I’ve learned I have choices and its O.K. for me to make a mistake. I’m discovering that I have boundaries. I’ve learned that I don’t have to apologize for being here. I’ve- learned that just because someone gives me something doesn’t mean I have to eat it, use it, or wear it. I’ve learned that thee are enough good things in life for me to have some too, and it’s O.K. for me to want them.
This sounds good, but really I’m tricking you. I’m intellectualizing. Most of this I’ve read and heard, and I don’t really believe it. But I will. I will keep reading it and listening to it and saying it until I do believe it.
Most of this stuff probably sounds simple and obvious. One of the problems with mentally ill people is that we don’t see the obvious. We’ve grown up with a bizarre set of rules to fit our bizarre circumstances. We have to learn the things normal people take for granted. We have to find out what normal is. We have to find out what our feelings are.
I am driving down the road with all my kids and suddenly I have a feeling. At least I think it’s a feeling. I’m learning to pay attention to feelings. So I send all the kids to the back of the van and turn off the radio so I can concentrate on this possible feeling. It takes me a moment to identify what this feeling is. It’s shame; I am ashamed. I try to figure out why.
I think about what was on the radio and what I was talking about with the kids. Then I hit on it. Several blocks before I caught myself with that feeling, I had made an error in driving that inconvenienced (just inconvenienced, not endangered!) another driver. I thought at the time, “Boy, I’ll bet she thinks I’m stupid”. Now I’m having this terrible feeling. Before therapy I would have stuffed it down inside. I would have emotionally abused myself by saying, “I have no reason to feel this way.” So, I make a decision to let myself experience this feeling.
Great! Here I am driving down the street with a van full of kids feeling ashamed. Now what do I do? I decide to see just where this feeling will lead if I give it full rein. I find myself thinking, “I shouldn’t drive; I’m too stupid. I’m so stupid I don’t deserve to live”. Now I’m pretty surprised. I didn’t know THAT was still lurking around down inside. I start to argue. I bring my sense of fairness into play. “Well, if I don’t deserve to live because I made a mistake in driving, what about all the other mistakes everyone else makes all the time?” “They don’t deserve to live either”. Now, that certainly is fair enough, but I’m shocked. Have I really been walking around with all this misanthropy? Hate your neighbor as you hate yourself? I kick in my sense of humor. Maybe the next time my kids make a mistake I’ll stand them against the wall and shoot them. The ludicrousness of the whole thing is becoming clear. I decide I have had enough of this feeling and that when I turn the corner I am going to stop feeling this way. I will forgive myself and everyone else, and I do.
My head is a minefield and I never know when something is going to blow up. But if I walk and run and stomp and dance around in there long enough I’ll get rid of them. That is why my recovery has to be major priority in my life.
I am not alone on this journey, nor is the path uncharted. Many others have already been here and their stories give me hope and show me where I am headed. I’ve got some tough stuff to do real soon, family of origin work and healing my inner child, I’ve had little glimpses of how excruciating this is going to be. My personality has been shredded, now I have to rebuild it piece by piece. But I have Jehovah, the friends, my support group and my own courage. I’ll make it as those who came before me did, and as those who follow me will too.
We can move into positions of power in our lives. We can do amazing things. More impressive than the widow who gave all she ‘had and earned Jesus’ praise, some of us have managed to give to our children what we never had, self-esteem. What more could anyone give than to give what was never given them? This is a triumph!
Please listen to us, give us your exoneration, acceptance, approval and respect. Then, as our layers of defenses peel away to reveal who we really are inside, someone precious and lovable, we will come to have your affection as well.