Loving the abused is being Jesus to the hurting, a God-glorying privilege. And as you consider moving forward in your soul care, you want to discern many things, including the individual’s fears. Give her time to trust you, as her emotions may be oscillating.
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You may want to read:
- Twelve Universal Assumptions You Can Make About All People
- How To Overcome Being Controlled By Others
- Listening To Sexual Abuse, Part One
While you don’t want to refrain from speaking the truth to her, you must do it in patient and compassionate love (Ephesians 4:15). As you progress to this stage of your care, you’re continually saturating your truth-speaking with your affirmation of her (Romans 8:31).
There is a delicate tension here that you will not be able to navigate flawlessly. Prepare yourself for some “tough-delicate” conversations. To give up on her would be unloving and a setback that could compound her struggle, and it would be unloving to withhold the truth from her.
One of the things she needs to experience from you is your loving strength. You are not going anywhere, and you care for her so much that you can’t help but speak the truth to her. At some level of her soul, she will respect your careful courage.
There is a similarity here between how parents shepherd their children. Kids have more respect for parents who speak the truth in love than those parents who are afraid to show courage in the face of potential rejection. They will disrespect the equivocating parent.
Interpret Her World
Part of listening to her will require you to hear what she is not saying. While you are digesting her story–the story of her abuse, you will also be listening to the things she is communicating to you about her heart.
This component is a key to Christian discipleship. Christ understood how the stories the people told were the clues to how they thought about life and, thus, how they lived their lives. This approach to caring for her is why empathetic listening is not enough. You need biblical listening too.
This kind of listening will lead you from what has happened to her in her external world, to how it has affected her in her internal world. The way she tells her tragic experiences will reveal her heart because out of her heart flows her thoughts. As you listen to her thoughts, you will be discerning who she believes she is before God and others (Luke 6:45).
Mable will not know herself clearly or how to work through her problems, which is why she is coming to you. If she knew the depth and complexity of her struggle and how to resolve those things, she could fix herself, but she can’t. She needs you.
It’s imperative that you filter her story through the grid of God’s Word. On one level she will feel your care as you listen to her story. On another level, she will receive your care as you rightly interpret her story as part of God’s story and what He wants to do in her life.
Don’t Be Intimidated
Mable is not entirely different from you. Her struggles and your struggles have an echo of commonality. The most apparent difference is the trauma.
By way of analogy, it is like EMS workers after they stabilize the traumatized person. Once the stabilization has happened, the EMS team begins working on the victim just like they would work on any person.
You have not been traumatized; she has. After you stabilize her and are ready to bring care to her, this is where you’re going to find that she is not a lot different from you–at the level of the heart.
This concept is why you want to work hard on the front end by stabilizing her through love, hope, trust, compassion, and listening. Let her feel your care, patience, and perseverance.
As her guard begins to come down and as she becomes more receptive to what you have to say, you’re going to have an appropriate influence to do the things that you need to do to help her.
Before coming to you, she lived in a world that was fortified by many barriers. She had learned how to keep people away from her and, thus, no one stuck with her. Erecting relational obstacles is one of the ways she could protect herself because no one has defended her from horrific suffering.
- Her parents did not protect her.
- Her abuser did not protect her.
- Other authority figures did not protect her.
- And, it must be addressed, according to her, God did not protect her.
When you look through her lens, those four realities are what you’re going to see. So when you show up, there will be a defense against you. She does not want to be hurt by another person in authority. As you begin to prove yourself to be different from the others, you can address the hidden matters of the heart.
Though her issues will be unique to her, and it will require wisdom in how you care for her, there are still “universal issues.” Permit me to give you a few of the common problems that you will begin to discern as you listen to her story.
Unbelief – This will be the biggest one of all. There will be a separation between Mable and God, even if she is a believer. Her abuser had shattered her trust in God and people.
I’ve had more than one sexually abused person ask me not to use the word Father when talking to them. In those situations, it was usually their fathers who abused them.
Mable will have skewed thinking about God in real and powerful ways that have affected how she lives in His world. This is why I mentioned earlier that you have to address the “Where was God when this happened to me” question.
- Why didn’t He rescue me?
- How does He view me?
- Does He care?
- Why doesn’t He change me?
Don’t avoid the God questions because they will have the most significant impact on how she continues in life. You may take each one of her issues and spend a couple of hours walking her through a better understanding of God the Father. I highly recommend this.
She needs the real and true God most of all and, as you probably know, there will be hindrances that will impede her desire to run to Him.
Shame – This will be another significant anchor point for her. She has experienced the deepest defrauding of the soul. In the last chapter, I called this the double damage effect.
She was born in Adam, which makes her defiled and broken like the rest of us. Doctrinally, this is called total depravity. You don’t have to state this to her. She has a high awareness that there is something wrong with her. She does not need your reminder about this unless you frame it as a universal problem rather than a unique challenge to her.
In addition to being born in Adam, her abuser has abused her. Mable has an acute experience of this double whammy. She has been spiritually pummeled by Adam and by her abuser.
Biblical shame is a crippler, and when someone compounds an already complicated problem, you will need much patience and grace to walk them through it. An exceptional book on biblical shame is “When People Are Big, and God is Small.”
Guilt – This is different from shame, though connected to shame. Mable’s guilty feelings will be all over the map, and it will be real and false guilt. Here are a few examples:
She will be guilty in the sense that we all are guilty before God, but she will have a hard time separating the violence that her abuser did to her and the “normal” guilt that we all have before God.
She may blame herself for what happened to her. Maybe her abuser accused her too. As in Mable’s case, her daddy would not believe her–a passive way of blaming her, so it would be easy for her to blame herself.
She may have found pleasure in the sexual aspects of the abuse because there is an enjoyable aspect to sex, though what happened to her was violence, abuse, insanity, and defrauding. This convoluted dynamic will be convoluting to her, especially if aspects of it did feel good.
She may receive your correction as more guilt, which is why I talked about the “world’s worst sunburn” in the previous chapter. You have to help her, but you are supporting a person who may be in bondage to the complexity of true and false guilt. Be careful how you correct her.
She may be legitimately sinning in specific ways, e.g., anger. If she is transgressing, she may have a hard time sorting out her sin from the abuser’s.
She may also respond in anger as a way of protecting herself. Being angry could be all she knows. This reaction from her has a double-effect. She is sinning but also feels a sense of justification because she perceives the need to protect herself: “It’s wrong, but I have to do this,” a guilt-conundrum.
While you don’t want to be intimidated because–on one level–her problems are not different from yours, it is also true that her difficulties are exponentially more acute than yours. If you know how to counsel yourself through your unbelief, shame, and guilt, you will be able to bring some help to her.
If you do not know how to counsel yourself through these patterns, you will not be able to bring adequate care to her. And if this is the case, I appeal to you to get some help for yourself as a matter of first importance.
Fear – Mable is afraid. Everything I have said thus far has a fear-component to it. Here is a short list of what intimidates her and makes her soul anxious.
- She is afraid of God.
- She is afraid of authority figures.
- She is afraid of herself.
- She is afraid of you.
- She is afraid of the church.
- She is afraid of relationships.
- She is afraid of commitment.
- She is afraid to make decisions.
- She is afraid of new things.
- She is afraid of being hurt.
- She is afraid of being afraid.
The level of her Christian maturity before the abuse will determine the breadth and depth of her fears. You will have to discern this.
Ancillary Sins – Because of everything listed above, there will also be other sin problems in her life. Most of these will be there as a way for her to cope with what has happened.
For example, I mentioned anger, which could be her way of testing you to see if you will stick with her. It could also be a protective act, as she is insulating herself from future hurt.
Understanding these things will keep you from misinterpreting what is happening between the two of you. Let’s say Mable lashes out in anger, and you respond with frustration, or you stop persevering with her and end the counseling. She will go away, blame you while affirming her mind that she was right in her anger.
She won’t admit the truth–that it was her fault. She can’t do this because she must live in a hermetically sealed bubble of self-deception and self-protection to cope. She can’t take the hit by admitting that she was wrong.
In such cases, the victim of abuse will choose their current pain rather than the pain of trying to change. Sometimes, for some people, their pain becomes their identity. Being a victim of abuse is who they are, and if you attempt to dismantle the only life they have known, they may run.
Give Her Community
You may be reading this and thinking there is no way you can do this. You’re partially right. You can’t do this alone. This job is for you, God, and His community. Mable needs full-body help.
- She needs God.
- She needs a local church.
- She needs a female friend.
- She needs a small group.
- She needs regular spiritual disciplines.
- She needs accountability from close friends.
- She needs your care.
- And, she needs time.
I will probably say this to my dying day, but “counseling is not the best option for progressive sanctification.” A God-centered local church is the best option for you, Mable, and me.
Counseling can be an excellent “means of grace” in any person’s life, but it was not meant to be the only means of grace. I have seen the best “sanctification results” in a person’s life when they come to counseling, and they are actively engaging their local church.
Sanctification is progressive and unending. Counseling is temporary. It has a start date and an end date. Build a vision in Mable’s life to find and engage a solid local church.
Caveat – I do realize finding a local descent church that actively biblically engages you can be hard to locate, even in the United States. This problem is one reason I began this ministry–to serve folks who are looking for help.
If our ministry can be a help or resource to anyone, please let us serve. While we are not the local church, we can be a partner with the local church.
There are thousands of people in our world like Mable. My heart’s desire is to help them in any way I can. But I’m no different from you. I’m one person, and the cry for help is tremendous. We all need community. We need each other.
Be her friend. Address her issues. Direct her to the family of God. Pray the Father will fix what a mean person broke inside of her. Ultimately, it is the Lord’s work that He does through us as we partner with Him.
Also published on Medium.