Spirituality often becomes more important to us in times of tragedy, loss, suffering and illness because it connects us to both our higher power and those around us, helps us to find meaning and purpose, and brings us hope and healing. Sometimes, these very same conditions can make us question ourselves, our spirituality and all we know. In our Spirituality and Emotional Health blog series, our clinicians and chaplains explore what it means to be spiritual beings, how it affects our interactions with the world and how we sometimes struggle with and question our own spirituality.
“Then Amnon said to his sister Tamar, ‘Now bring the food into my bedroom and feed it to me here.’ So Tamar took it to him. But as she was feeding him, he grabbed her and demanded, ‘Come to bed with me, my darling sister.’ ‘No, my brother!’ She cried. ‘Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! You know what a serious crime it is to do such a thing in Israel…’”
2 Samuel 13:10-12
The rape of Tamar by her half brother Amnon is one of the more disturbing texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, it is a picture of reality.
A Los Angeles Times national survey found 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men reported being sexually abused prior to age 18. This means approximately 1 of 4 women and 1 of 6 men have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Time does not heal all wounds
I have served as a chaplain for approximately 20 years. During this time, I learned that through adult and even senior years, survivors continue to deal with the impact of childhood abuse. Unfortunately, time does not heal all wounds.
I have visited with patients who begin talking about a “problem” and in the course of exploring the core issues, the patient tells me that he or she has been struggling with dreams, flashbacks or issues of abuse that occurred in childhood.
Just recently, this occurred on one of our Pine Rest units. After I finished leading a Spiritual Growth Group, a patient stayed behind. She was a new patient to our unit, so I approached her to introduce myself, even though I had already done this at the beginning of the group. Following the brief introductions the patient said to me, “I was abused sexually by my father.” I was saddened but not surprised. I responded with empathy.
Shame and grief become increasingly heavy burdens
These courageous survivors have taught me that they re-experience the pain, grief and shame of the abuse often while trying to live with a ”happy face” mask they show to the rest of the world. They also have taught me that sooner or later the “happy face” mask takes its toll. The shame and grief become increasingly heavy burdens.
I have learned that one of the most devastating aspects of experiencing childhood abuse is that survivors can live well into their adult and senior years with the belief, “There’s something wrong with me,” or “I am unlovable.” Survivors feel that somehow, if only he or she would have been a “better” child or “loveable,” then the abuse would not have happened.
The truth is that there is nothing “wrong” with the survivor
Seeking a professional counselor can help a survivor continue to work through these issues toward healing.
Along with professional help, it is also helpful to remember that there is another source of hope and healing. Finding unconditional love from God can be a tremendous source of healing. God sees everyone as loveable. Each of us is created in God’s image by God and for this reason alone God values and loves each of us.
My prayer for anyone struggling with childhood abuse issues is that they would find help, healing and a sense of feeling loveable.
Rev. Kathy Bird DeYoung is the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Supervisor/Chaplain at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. She is an ordained minister with American Baptist Churches U.S.A. Rev. Kathy has been a Board Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains.