Road to Recovery
Steps to Recovery from Sexual Abuse
Dr. Miriam Mollering
did my father keep fondling me and telling me it was okay?
I grew up thinking it must be normal for fathers to have
sex with their daughters; after all, Dad said it was his
duty to teach me. As I grew older, I felt dirty and ashamed
for I knew it was not right. I blame myself for letting
him do it. I feel like "soiled material." I don't
want to live. What can I do?"
is only one example of the cries for help that
I've heard from clients who were sexually abused
as children. While abuse is rarely an isolated
incident, it is always a destructive force.
It violates the deepest realm of privacy, forcing
its victims into a tangled web of torment, fear,
depression, inadequacy and self-hatred that
can last a lifetime if help is not received.
in a cocoon of denial and secrecy, victims of abuse wrestle
with the fear that someone will remove their protective
mask and unveil the scars. Any type of abuse whether sexual,
physical or emotional encapsulates victims in a devaluing
cycle that can hinder and destroy their quality of life
and ability to establish quality relationships.
a way to be free from the emotional wounding? Can a person
be healed and recover from the devastating effects of abuse?
Can the devaluing cycle be reversed so that victims can
live productive, happy and whole lives? The answer is "yes."
say "yes" not only because of the many clients
I've counseled who have successfully conquered the tormenting
pain and shame of abuse, but because I too am a survivor
of sexual abuse.
first violated my private world at the age of ten. I still
remember how dirty and devalued I felt. My childhood innocence
was gone forever. From that time on my constant companion
was a taunting voice that said, "You are no good."
I desperately sought approval and affirmation but because
I lived in denial and secrecy, no one and nothing could
placate the deep pain that governed my life. I constantly
questioned the intentions and motives of people and my ability
to make good decisions. Life was a lonely journey until
my mask was removed and I was able to admit first to myself
and then to others what had happened to me as a child.
it difficult to attach the words "sexual abuse"
to my life. It was not uncommon for me to say, "sexually
traumatized" until a friend looked me straight in the
eye and said," Miriam, why don't you call it what it
is? You were sexually abused." Verbalizing and attaching
truth to a situation is liberating and therapeutic.
is A Process
and healing we must remember that healing is a process that
begins with a decision - a decision to believe in yourself,
and believe that you have value. A decision that says, "I
want to be free from those tormenting memories. I want those
ugly roots that hold me captive and cause me to sabotage
relationships and ensnare me in depression and bitterness
uprooted from my life."
a decision is made, you then embark on what can be an emotionally
painful journey. For perhaps the first time in years you
remove your mask and come face to face with reality as you
allow yourself to confront the hurtful memories of the past.
The end result, however, is self-acceptance, freedom and
purpose for living.
journey to recovery is a process that takes time and the
time element may vary from one individual to another. Permit
yourself the right to heal and the time to heal. You may
respond quickly while others may take several months or
even years to finally break out of their cocoon and enjoy
the freedom that awaits them.
leaves a trail of pain, guilt, low self-worth, self-hatred,
anger, fear of intimacy, aberrant sexual behaviors, bitterness
and the inability to trust and establish quality, wholesome
relationships. Many clients also express that they have
a deep sense of shame. Shame is a sense of being belittled,
humiliated and dishonored.
litany of pain that accompanies abuse may affect your whole
life - physically, socially, sexually and spiritually. Soul
wounds or emotional wounds take longer to heal than physical
wounds and are usually hidden from others. They are personal
and private and thus you feel isolated, misunderstood, unapproved
and alone because you are afraid to remove your mask and
let people see the real you lest you are again violated,
abandoned and discarded.
are the victim of sexual abuse I encourage you to speak
with someone about it. Someone you trust, believes you and
is in a position to help.
you decide to seek professional help, be careful in choosing
a therapist, counselor or psychologist. Don't be afraid
to ask them questions about their credentials, what they
understand about abuse and if they believe you can truly
be free to enjoy life and do more than just "cope."
have come to me after having been in therapy for years.
They have said, "I felt like my psychologist opened
me up and then let me walk out of his office to survive.
I felt naked, used and abandoned again. He didn't seem to
know how to help me do more than 'cope'. I wanted to be
healed on the inside but now I feel more exposed and violated
client expressed that her psychologist exposed the root
of her anger but he did not seem to know how to bring healing.
The key rests in bringing the person beyond the exposure
of pain and into healing from the trauma of abuse. Lasting
healing for deep emotional wounds must involve forgiveness.
A reality of a Dream?
is not an elusive dream. Recovery is possible. It begins
with a decision to believe that you are worthy of love and
that you are a person of value. Secondly, you must be willing
to remove your mask of denial and dare to confront the truth
of the secretes that have held you in captivity. Recovery
also involves allowing every painful memory to surface at
rate that is comfortable to you.
NOT FORCE your memories nor try to unlock doors. These
may take the form of recurring dreams or "blacked out"
memories where you have no recall of a certain time period.
Such things may be nothing more than a distraction to keep
you from dealing with the real issue, or it may be that
you are not ready to see behind those closed doors.
been my experience that with the intervention of healing
prayer, God allows memories to come to the surface within
the framework of what an individual can handle at the time.
Every feeling and emotion attached to the memory is allowed
to surface and is brought into a place of preparedness for
healing. Recalling the specific circumstances that caused
the pain is not always necessary, and should not be forced.
clients have begun their journey to wholeness encountering
intense emotional pain but discover that when another incident
is brought to light months or years later it is much easier
to conquer the memory because of the healing that has already
occurred in their lives. Time does not heal you but in time
you will be healed.
my own personal experience as well as in my counseling practice,
it is my observation that the healing psychology of Jesus
Christ can adequately and completely bring wholeness to
a wounded soul and stop the vicious cycle of abuse that
affects families from one generation to the next. The greatest
psychology on forgiveness is found in the biblical teachings
of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that if you want healing
you must learn to forgive those who have offended you. Leanne
Payne says in her book Restoring the Christian soul Through
Healing Prayer, "The failure to forgive another is
a most formidable barrier to wholeness."
is not an easy task but certainly an essential component
to wholeness. Forgiveness does not mean that you deny that
the offense took place nor does it imply that you must trust
your perpetrators. Forgiveness is given but trust is earned.
to forgive your abuser permits him to maintain a subtle
control over your life. You will remain tied to him I an
unhealthy way through a cord of "unforgiveness."
He is still dictating your responses to life based on what
he did to you. By choosing to forgive, whether or not he
ever says he is sorry, you in fact release yourself from
his grip. Through forgiveness you declare your freedom from
the prison the sexual abuse has kept you in. Remember, when
the violation occurred you were helpless but now you can
choose to position yourself to make quality decisions that
are in your best interest.
I chose to forgive my perpetrators I experienced a dimension
of freedom and wholeness that I once thought was unreachable
for someone so "soiled."
principle of forgiveness as a criterion for healing postulates
that you release your offender from your judgment, thereby
releasing yourself to get on with life and begin the journey
does not mean that you will not report perpetrators to the
authorities for they are still accountable for their actions.
Several of my clients who were sexually abused as children
by parents or others in positions of authority believed
it was necessary to seek legal advice, especially in situations
where they were concerned about the present safety and welfare
of others and to bring a sense of closure to their lives.
This would be your personal choice. I would suggest that
you be motivated by a desire to help stop the destructive
cycle of abuse rather than motivated by a desire for revenge.
Healing Presence of God
is possible when you choose to see yourself through the
eyes of your Creator, God. When God looks at you he does
not see "spoiled or damaged goods." He sees a
person of value and worth. Prayerfully allow His love to
flow into every wound of your life, choose to release and
forgive your perpetrators, and forgive yourself for any
hatred of bitterness that you have allowed to dominate your
life even though you may feel justified in being bitter.
clients who have been sexually abused, I have witnessed
the most dramatic results in individuals who have focused
on Jesus Christ as the Person who can restore them to wholeness,
spiritually and emotionally. Just as receiving the grace
of God can save us from sin, it can also free us from soul
wounds or wounded emotions. Jesus Christ stated, "The
Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me
to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal
the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives,
and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty
them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18).
Christ came to set us free from every type of bondage, whether
it is sin or wounds from the past. He is able to pick up
the garbage of our past and remove the effects of it forever
from our lives. We do not have to remain a product of our
have not made a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your
personal Savior, I would encourage you to do so. Then, if
you decide to seek a counselor to help you deal with the
wounds of sexual abuse, I suggest you look for someone who
is offering you counsel based upon the sure Word of God
- not on some method, technique or philosophy of life from
a textbook. Beware of those who rely on 'inner healing'
and concentrate on your past, rather than focusing on the
One who provided deliverance for the inner person at Calvary.
There is no substitute for biblically based prayer therapy
and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
involves a deliberate choice, a determined act and a decisive
tenacity that propels you to keep walking through the maze
of past hurts until your see the light of day shining forth,
declaring that you are free at last. Recovery does not depend
on your perpetrator's contrition. It involves your desire
to be whole, your willingness to forgive and a determination
to develop healthy, life-changing attitudes that will make
quality relationships a reality for you. Combine these elements
with the healing presence and power of God and you too can
enjoy life and experience this wonderful gift of wholeness.
Mollering is a counselor and published
author with a Ph.D. in Biblical counseling.
Currently she is a divisional pastor with Centre
Street Church: www.centrestreetchurch.ab.ca