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Fitting childhood sexual abuse into a biblical worldview

Last week, I once again compiled a list of the effects of childhood sexual abuse. Each time I make a list, I am reminded of how broad sweeping and deeply troubling are the effects of childhood sexual abuse. Don’t just read the following list. Take time to consider the traumatic impact of childhood sexual abuse. Clinical psychologist Clark Barshinger said that childhood sexual abuse is “akin to psychic murder.”

• Anxiety disorder
• Panic attacks
• Depression
• Eating disorders
• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Sleep disorders
• Suicidal ideation
• Sexual dysfunction (promiscuity, aversion)
• Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
• Self-injurious behavior (SIB)
• Self-hatred
• Self-blame
• Revictimization
• Substance abuse
• Somatic disturbances (affects the body, immune system, etc.)
• Interpersonal problems
• Fear
• Hyper-vigilance
• Shame
• Guilt
• Intrusive thoughts

Given the severity of the effects, it’s no wonder that if your wife is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, she will experience some bad days. It’s also no wonder that husbands of victims experience some frustrating days as well, like when you want to put your fist through your computer.

Each of my blogs is intended to help husbands lovingly respond to their wives as they each work through the challenges and navigate towards individual and relational healing. Join with me now as I seek to put the tragedy of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), the trauma of its effects, and the trials encountered into a biblical worldview. In other words, how does all this “murder of the psyche” fit into our Christian faith? How can the effects of our wives’ abuse and its affect upon us as husbands be integrated with our faith?

Integrating the abuse and trauma with our faith
Our biblical worldview begins in Genesis. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). To be made in the image of God was to be made without defect because “He [God] is the Rock, his works are perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Assessing the history of mankind since creation, the Apostle Paul stated that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). God’s original work was distorted. The human race that had been perfectly designed became infected by sin and with sin.

Sin infected all of life including marriage and family relationships. The record of family life in the book of Genesis is rife with deceit, conflict, control issues, sexual perversion, and other dysfunctions and distortions of God’s design. Eventually, children were even offered as sacrifices, an act so abhorrent that God stated, “nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing” (Jeremiah 32:35).

The sanctity of a child’s life was held in such low regard that it was viewed as expendable for “spiritual” purposes. At some point, the body of a child became expendable for sexual purposes as well, what has come to be known as childhood sexual abuse.

Second Samuel 13 records a sexual assault on Tamar. Though the violation was inflicted upon her as an adult, the sexual intrusion and its effects mirror the trauma of CSA. Her social, physical, and personal boundaries were cruelly violated. Holcomb & Holcomb stated, “her experience includes manipulation, force, violence, negation of her will, emotional trauma, debilitating loss of sense of self, display of grief and mourning, crushing shame, degradation, forced silence, and prolonged social isolation with desolation” (pp. 18-19). This is all the same stuff experienced by our wives who are victims of CSA.

Tamar’s audible cry revealed her pain and her gesture of placing ashes on her head revealed her shame. Her brother, the perpetrator, instructed her to keep silent, indicating his refusal to validate her pain and relieve her shame. David, Tamar’s father, failed to take action against his son, the perpetrator. Tamar’s family exacerbated her pain and shame through their secrecy and inactivity. Tamar’s experience was the experience of our wives who are victims of childhood sexual abuse.

One more lesson from Tamar
There is one additional lesson that I’ve gleaned from Holcomb & Holcomb. Sin and the effects of childhood sexual abuse are similar to the laws of inertia. The law of inertial states that a person (or object) in motion will continue on that trajectory until acted upon by an outside force. Similarly, traumatized people need something from the outside to stop the downward spiraling of CSA’s effects. Multiple research projects indicate that a supportive partner can have significant impact for positive outcomes of a CSA survivor. In other words, we husbands can serve as that outside force to counter the downward spiral brought on by the effects of CSA.

Husbands can serve in concert with the nature of God whose historical pattern is to accomplish restoration.

So on the really bad days, here four principles we need to remember so that we are navigating in a godly way rather than further aggravating our wives and our situations in an unnecessary way.

1. Place greater focus on being angry at what sin does rather than on what your wife does or does not do.
2. Listen more to what your wife says; she’s been silenced long enough.
3. Be pro-active in your expression of love rather than passively assuming that she is going to perceive it. For example, pause each day, and while making good eye contact, tell her you love her.
4. Inquire of your wife if she feels safe, and then make any healthy adjustments necessary to ensure her sense of safety.

I sure wish we guys could gather in a room together and talk about these ideas and how they could be applied to our personal experiences. In the absence of that opportunity, feel free to submit your comments.

“And the God of all grace,
who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen”
(I Peter 5:10-11).

 

Resources Cited

Barshinger, C. E., LaRowe, L. E., & Tapia, A. T. (1995). Haunted marriage: Overcoming the ghosts of your spouse’s childhood abuse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Holcomb, J. S., & Holcomb, L. A. (2011). Rid of my disgrace: Hope and healing for victims of sexual abuse. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

 

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