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Archive for July, 2012

The Blame Game

To make my psychology studies relate to my research and career goals, I have been reading books on various aspects of trauma and recovery alongside studying less interesting topics of perception, learning and other topics that arise in an introductory course. Right now I am working my way through Mending the Soul: understanding and healing abuse (by Steven R. Tracy). Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to read it because it is published by Zondervan, a notably Evangelical publishing company. While I would consider myself an evangelical at heart, I have often been disappointed by the response (or lack of response) by Evangelical Christians when it comes to abuse. Indeed, I was told that if I had gone to a more evangelical and experienced pastor with my problems, he would have sent me back to my family to work out the issues within the family. I have heard countless stories of well meaning Christians who tell abuse victims to forgive (basically meaning to move on, forget the past and to never talk about it again) or to work on their anger issues and an unrepentant heart.

It never seizes to amaze me how the victim takes on the blame of their abuse – whether they were told explicitly that it was their fault or not – and how frequently disclosures are met with disbelief and even blaming the victim. I remember being told by family members that what my dad did was bad, but what I did (reporting to children’s aid) was WORSE! And this was said to me by people who would watch the news and hear of sexual predators and proclaim that they should be castrated and in jail for life. As Bruce Cockburn aptly puts it – everyone loves justice done on somebody else.

Within the history of psychiatry, there was a diagnosis called “hysteria” that has now been removed from the diagnosis manual. This diagnosis accounted for symptoms of women such as flashbacks, seemingly irrelevant fears, panic attacks, self-hatred. Sound familiar? Psychiatrists at the time noted that a common factor for women who exhibited these “crazy” symptoms was that they had been sexually traumatized as a child or youth.

Freud took this on and is known for his elaborate case studies and listening at length to people’s problems hoping to uncover the deeper meaning attributed to their thoughts, dreams and behaviours. Freud too found that there was a consistent link between hysteria and sexual abuse. Hearing so many atrocious stories made him unable to handle what he was hearing. So unfortunately, he concluded that these stories that he was hearing must not be true – a sentiment that is way to prevalent even today. Further, he claimed that the real issue at hand was that these women had a secret childhood lust and fantasy for their fathers which led them to create wild stories of indecent acts that never really took place. Once again, the victim is blamed. And the perpetrators are protected.

I’d like to think we’ve come along way since Freud. But my experience, in hearing others’ experiences and in reading this book, I am saddened by how common this remains today, in an educated world and in a world where police checks and screening are so commonly used by any organization dealing with vulnerable populations. We have a wealth of stories and insurance companies breathing down our backs. And still, the victim is blamed and the perpetrator is protected.

I read about a woman who went to her pastor after multiple treatments at hospitals for physical wounds inflicted upon her by her husband. These wounds were VISIBLE. And this woman was told that she has an angry and unrepentant heart and that she needed to go back to her husband, love him, and pray that God would forgive her anger. This was one of many stories.

I’m starting to realize – and it is a sad realization – that my story is far too common. The reactions of my family members are common. The culture of my family is common.

Tracy uses the story of Tamar in Scripture (who was raped by her brother) and his years of pastoral and clinical counseling to highlight primary characteristics of abusive families. This characteristics are shockingly familiar to me. I share Tracy’s list for two reasons. First, I want other victims of sexual abuse/assault within the family to know that they are not alone in their experiences both of the actual abuse and the resulting consequences of their disclosure. Second, to challenge others to listen to the cries of victims and to face the ugly truth that no one wants to admit – that sexual abuse is common and devastating.

  • The needs of individual family members are highly expendable (my note: he explains this further in the chapter. A few examples… the perpetrator’s desire for sexual contact, importance, and control trump the needs of victims to be nurtured, loved and protected… the family’s need to maintain a perception of the “happy family” or a particular status within the community trumps the victims need to be believed.)
  • Reality is very difficult to discern (my note: When you think of a sexual predator who comes to mind? Did you know that sexual violence pervades all levels of society, all ages, gender, religion? I can’t tell you how many times people referred to my family as the perfect example and spoke of what an amazing father I had who was involved in our lives…. and indeed, there are many good and wonderful gifts that my parents gave me and they are amazing people… but this is precisely why reality is so very difficult to discern – when people whom we have come to love and accept and even admire are accused of indecent acts, we find it hard to wrap our head around how this person could commit such heinous crimes – and yet, the alternative – that the accuser is a crazy liar doesn’t seem to fit either!!)
  • The victim is made responsible for solving needs they didn’t create and could never legitimately satisfy
  • The family’s shiny exterior belies a dark inner reality
  • Vulnerable family members are not protected because no one wants to know the truth (my note: Truth hurts. Truth requires action. If you accept that your beloved husband is abusing your beloved child, you cannot simply ignore it and hope everything goes away on its own – something must be done. Well, actually, much needs to be done. But you simply can’t stare the ugliness of abuse in the eye and then walk away. So we shy away from the truth and even deny it, because the action and decisions required in response are just plain to difficult. If you don’t acknowledge it, it never happened, right?)
  • The victim’s response is futile
  • Abusive families are emotionally unstable
  • The victims are shamed, blamed, and demeaned.
  • Members are isolated and lack intimacy
  • A strict code of silence is enacted
  • Abusive families deny and distort proper healthy emotions
  • The wrong ones are protected

(From: Tracy, Steven R. Mending the Soul: Understanding and healing abuse. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2005; pg.70)

Studying the brain

Basically, my life has gone from having my days free to do wild and wonderful things to basically doing one thing – study. I am proud to say that I am almost done my readings and will be able to devote this weekend and early next week to studying and hopefully doing well on my upcoming midterm. I am easily distracted, but I have been pleasantly surprised at my own study habits and that I have been able to be pretty efficient. And more, I think my hippocampus is growing by the day and I am able to store more information than I thought was possible! While i admit that I am feeling kinda daunted by the prospects of being a full time student in a science based program, I am starting to feel like such an aspiration is possible.

The brain is fascinating. I think if this was a pure rote memorization course I would lose interest – but I am making connections with all the things that I have been learning over the past 8 years and discovering a whole world of concepts that speak of an amazing and creative God who set humans into being. (During my review this weekend, I intend to post about some of the things that I am learning that have peaked my interest – stay tuned!)

If you want a little taste for what I am currently learning, watch this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snO68aJTOpM

Trust me – it will be worth your while.

(even serious students need to have some fun…)

Continuing to move forward

A couple of weeks ago, my one-on-one therapist through the trauma program expressed the need for me to find something to do with my time so I wasn’t sitting at home doing nothing.

Yeah, no worries there. I have my first midterm a week from tomorrow and somehow have to absorb 340 pages worth of a psychology textbook between now and then. After studying the brain for the past 6 days, I have reached the conclusion that the brain is not meant to absorb that much information in such a short amount of time. There is a reason why next unit includes chapters on abnormal psychology and treatment for abnormal psychology.

People have been asking me how I am doing since thursday. Thursday was brutal. I took friday and did absolutely nothing. Then Sunday I reflected a lot (my last  post was part of that reflection). And then I hit the books and have been pouring my mind into my psychology textbook trying to grapple with interesting concepts. I made a decision a few weeks ago that I am going to move forward. I was talking with someone tonight and explaining that for the first time I feel “other” to my family… perhaps this is a normal process of growing up and realizing you are your own person, separate from your family. But for me, this has been a long and painful process. I won’t bore you with the list of things that I have held of on because of my family – I have clung to the hope of reconciliation and that they will live in light and truth so much so that that focus has become all what my life is about. But now, I feel free. I am open to reconciliation. I want my family involved in my life. But I no longer need them in the way I used to. I am free.

Yes, the possibility of a retrial is scary and painful. And waiting for the judges’ decision, once again, sucks. But I have no control over these things. Moreover, there is no point in stewing any more until I have more information. I have already spent far too many hours fretting.

I am on a mission – I have a course to pass. Wait – not pass, but succeed at. I have 3 years of amazing studies and opportunities ahead of me with research and practical experiences that are super exciting. Then grad school and research and internships. And once again, I feel even more strongly that I am called to speak out about injustice, about abuse. I want to work with other trauma specialists to increase knowledge and trauma-informed care at all levels of society. I want to educate the public so that they are more equipped to respond to abuse victims and to walk alongside them in their recovery. I want to encourage victims that healing IS possible and that joy, peace and contentment CAN be found and that the journey of healing – as long and painful as it is – is totally worth it. I want to support victims as they challenge their abusers – whether through personal confrontation, restorative justice or the criminal legal system. I want to speak up for the rights of victims who so often feel totally trampled on by the legal system. I want to remind those in legal systems that it is not about a technicality or an interesting point in law, but rather it is about people – people who hurt, and people who have been hurt.

And so yes, the saga of the court drama continues. But it is no longer my main focus. It is in the background – a fading noise that I can turn off and focus on life giving and beautiful things.

I will move forward. I am moving forward. Legal issues and family dynamics no longer keep me from moving forward.

I am free.

thanks be to God.

Father, Forgive them

There has been silence in my soul these past few days. Thursday was a brutal day and I am struggling to find words to describe that experience. So much of what I experienced cannot be put into words – darkness, hostility and anger in the room was physically palpable. I don’t think I spoke very much at all on Friday – no words came. But my heart and mind continue to churn over the experience.

Yesterday, I went to a friend’s wedding which was absolutely beautiful. But tears and words came in the middle of a beautiful song part way through the service. So here are my words that have been born out of utter silence.

I went to the police five years ago out of concern for my siblings. I heard a rumour that one of them was being abused, a rumour that is left unproven, but it tugged at my heart so much that I wanted to do everything possible to protect them, so that they would not have to endure what I have. I believed (and still believe) that if my Dad continues to deny the extent of his actions and my mom sides with him and excludes me from the family, that not only are the children still at risk but the chances of any of them speaking up was pretty slim given that they now see what happens when you break the family rule. I’m reading an interesting book right now about the Evangelical church’s response to abuse and it astonishes me how similar my experience is to many others. It also confirms for me what I have always known – my Dad, who made multiple promises to me to stop, cannot stop until he stares his sin in the eye. I heard a story about a pedophile who wanted to join a church community who went to the pastor and said that he cannot be left alone with children – I think it takes a huge amount of recovery and courage and self knowledge to be able to admit such things and ask for help in order to live a healthy and life giving life. As long as there is secrecy and denial, there is room for urges to come to fruition. The literature/research out there is frightening and discouraging when it comes to chronic offenders and the only hope for recovery I believe is through the cross of Christ and through a God who works in people’s lives in amazing and wonderful ways. It is through God that I have hope for my dad – that when he finally admits his sin in his entirety, he will experience the incredible love and joy and contentment that I have come to know and that his life can be used in a powerful way to come alongside other people who struggle with the same temptations. Such is the economy of grace – that God can use our ugliest moments and turn them around for his glory. This economy of grace is where I find my hope.

Anyways, my main reason for going to the police was out of love and concern for my siblings – and this reason was read in court. Four of my siblings were there and heard this – and they all shook their head as if to say they did not agree with my concern. I do not read minds, so I cannot know for sure what they were thinking.

But as I watched them, tears filled my eyes. It seems my hope and prayer for them have been answered – it seems that they have not experienced the horrific things I have experienced. This is good – if this is true, then they will not know the nightmares, the flashbacks, the anxiety, the depression, the shame, the pain that I know. There is joy and thanksgiving that fills my heart in this.

But at the same time, if it is true that they have been spared, they will never know what they’ve been spared from. Nor will they know the cost of such sparing.

And instead, they may see me as the angry, crazy sister who caused the family trouble.

Yesterday during the wedding, we sang “Make me a channel of your peace” – a prayer that is attributed to St. Francis. The words are so beautiful that I can’t help but post them:

Make me a channel of your peace

Where there is hatred, let me bring your love

Where there is injury, your pardon Lord

And where there’s doubt, true faith in you

 

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul

 

Make me a channel of your peace

Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope

Where there is darkness, only light

And where there’s sadness, only joy.

 

Tears hit me during the phrase praying that I may understand, not seek to be understood. Well, truth be told, tears weld up with the whole song. My calling in life and as a Christian is not to satisfy my own needs… but to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love those whom God has placed in my life. Oh how I long for my family to understand – but I am to understand, and not seek understanding. I am to love without seeking love in return. I am to console without seeking to be consoled.

In that moment, I turned to God – for this seems impossible, the bar is too high. And then, I heard Christ’s words on the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Christ is the embodiment of the prayer of St. Francis. He loved, as those around him hated him. He was misunderstood with a vengeance. He suffered the brutality and humility of the cross and the scorn of the ones he came to save.

And while I do not wish to equate my suffering with Christ’s, I feel comforted in knowing that Christ knows what I am experience… in Him, I find understanding, love, consolation. There’s a verse that I can’t find right now, but keeps coming to mind over the past day – that in suffering for righteousness’ sake, we partake in the sufferings of Christ and that it is indeed a privilege to do so. I’m not sure I’ve come to peace with the idea of me suffering as a privilege. But there is great comfort and hope in knowing that God knows deeply the suffering I am going through and that there is nothing that will separate me from that love of God. And more than that – that I now share in Christ’s suffering.

And so, today I look back on Thursday, and picture each of my family who were there, and as I do, I cry out to God “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”

 

I bind myself today

In the next few hours, the judges will meet regarding my stepfather’s appeal to have the conviction and sentence overturned or reduced. Please join me in praying for the judges – that they might have wisdom and discernment as they wade through interesting legal questions that involve real people. That an answer will be delivered as soon as possible (preferably tomorrow!!!) so that all involved can plan for what lies ahead. Pray for my dad who has surrendered himself into custody tonight (required) – that he will look honestly at his actions, his life, and the impact not only on me but on my whole family and that he will let God’s light into the dark corners of his life. Pray for my mom who seems to be drifting farther and farther into a fantasy that nothing ever happened and all this is a product of my wild and emotionally disturbed imagination. Pray for my siblings who are clueless at best to what is going on. And finally, pray that this peace and joy and contentment that I have found so beautiful in my life over the past few months remains regardless of the outcome and that should a retrial be the outcome, that I too will have wisdom and discernment as well as strength to face the days (and years) ahead.

 

Looking for a bit of comfort, I turn once again to Steve Bell and his music. He didn’t write this song – but tonight it speaks to me. I bind myself to the Lord and giver of life.

 

The Lorica – Music and Lyric by Gayle Salmond

I bind unto myself today

The gift to call on the Trinity

The saving faith where I can say

Come three in one, oh one in three

 

Be above me, as high as the noonday sun

Be below me, the rock I set my feet upon

Be beside me, the wind on my left and right

Be behind me, oh circle me with Your truth and light

 

I bind unto myself today

The love of Angels and Seraphim

The prayers and prophesies of Saints

The words and deeds of righteous men

 

God’s ear to hear me

God’s hand to guide me

God’s might to uphold me

God’s shield to hide me

Against all powers deceiving

Against my own unbelieving

Whether near or far

 

I bind unto myself today

The hope to rise from the dust of earth

The songs of nature giving praise

To Father, Spirit, Living Word

To be humble enough to let God work

I am proud and stubborn.

Two qualities that probably make my life much harder at the end of the day. But both of these qualities are being challenged in new ways.

I have embarked on this new journey… things, as I’ve mentioned before, are falling into place. It’s amazing how God works and how he times everything so perfectly. If I hadn’t been procrastinating last week, I wouldn’t be in school right now and thus I wouldn’t be able to take courses this coming fall – at just the right moment, I discovered that the psychology program had changed in 10 years and that I need to retake my intro to psychology course. Had it been a week later, it would have been too late to get my ducks in a row.

Thanks to church politics and the disintegrating relationship between the church and our community, we are all rendered homeless in a couple of months. Having seen God’s faithfulness in providing over these past few years, I am not all that worried about housing. I can sleep in a tent or on a couch if I need to 😛 But alas, another variable in the unknown future weighs on me.

But most concerning at this point is finances. It looks like I will have enough to live on… food, rent, daily needs… for the coming year. And I praise God for that! I am truly blessed to be able to know that I will have shelter and food and clothing. I know many people who are homeless, or near homeless, who can’t for whatever reason make ends meet. But then there is tuition and books… not to mention the increasing unexpected costs that I hadn’t accounted for…I have found myself brought to my knees a few times just saying to God “please help”.

But as I say, I am stubborn and I am proud.

I recently came up with the bright idea of babysitting to offset tuition costs until I find a job. That seemed great, until friends wrote me and said that they would like to take me up on their offer – to which I told all of them that I can’t accept money from them but would babysit for them anytime for free! The entrepeneur in me thinks up great ideas, but the pride in me prevents such ideas to come into fruition. Part of it has to do with how I’ve always thought of babysitting – it has always been a ministry in my mind, and from a young age I would babysit for parents who couldn’t afford to hire a sitter so that they could go to Bible study. Only once have I made an exchange of babysitting services for money and honestly, that was only when my total ‘income’ was less than my rent!

But pride still has a stronghold on me no matter how hard I try to explain my efforts to distract from reaching financial goals. The other day, I refused a good friend’s offer to buy my drink – totally and utterly because of pride. My drink was all of $1 – both he and I could afford the splurge – but my refusal was more of a statement of stubbornness and pride than anything else. We even joked about my stubbornness, noting that in 8 years, this has seldom wavered.

But my expenses are increasing. And, funny enough, my bank account does not reproduce on its own.

I got an email from someone who wants to contribute to my tuition. I cried when I received that email. I cried because someone saw my need. But more – because *I* saw my need and I saw it clearly. And I saw my stubborn, proud self getting its back up. I saw that I cannot reach these goals alone. Money does not grow on trees. And I saw clearly that I need to learn humility. I claim to trust God with my needs for he always provides, and then I refuse ways in which he seems to provide.

I saw in a new way that I need to totally rely on God and that my stubborn and prideful self is getting in the way of that. I need to have the humility to let God work and let God answer my prayers and provide. This of course doesn’t mean I sit and do nothing and become a leech. But, maybe in a time of need, my job is to humbly accept and to honour those who love me by doing the very best I can at my studies. I need to have the humility to just be grateful.

I was talking with my psychiatrist today about how HARD this is for me. And he said that he has every confidence that I will put the love and care that God and people have poured into me over the past eight years into loving and serving others. And that maybe one day, I will have the financial resources to see others to their goals and to reach their potential. He said that maybe instead of stubbornly wanting to do it myself, maybe I could see others helping me as paying it forward – to investing in people around me.

And maybe, I can rest more and be at complete peace in fully trusting a God who provides and works in mysterious ways rather than fighting him and stubbornly insisting on MY way all the time.

And maybe, instead of worrying, I can focus more on the studies that will prepare me for a future of walking with people in their darkest moments and a future that enables me to give of my whole self – my gifts, my time, my money – more freely.

And maybe, in giving up my stubbornness and pride, I may have more energy to love and serve freely.

A new attitude

Today, I officially embark on a new journey. I start a psychology course with an “I can do it” attitude and a determination to succeed no matter what it takes. Things are falling in place for the summer and looking ahead, things are working out for the fall. How great is our God who can do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine! I am eating up the material – making connections with things that I have previously read or things that I have learned throughout the years of therapy. Studying (at least for the moment) is not a chore, but something exciting and fun even.

All the negative voices that used to be in my head are being challenged. I remember a saying that I grew up with that has really negatively impacted my confidence in learning and my abilities: “it is better to be silent and let people think that you are stupid, than to open your mouth and prove it”. I used to sit in small group Bible study, rehearsing over and over what I was going to say, only for the moment in which what I wanted to say was relevant to pass. I remember calling up friends and having cue cards of topics that I could talk about and things to ask them so that the conversations would go well. I didn’t dare raise my hand in class because how was it possible that I of all people would have something important to say or an intelligent question. In my trauma program we looked at negative beliefs that have impacted us, and the idea that I am fundamentally stupid has stuck with me.

But then things have challenged that belief over the past couple of years. I remember writing something in therapy and this well-educated, well-published psychiatrist told me that I “write with style.” I’ve been able to consistently get good marks on papers to the point that I could no longer say it was a fluke. my involvement in my community has been a huge blessing and huge source of encouragement for me as I have tested the waters in public speaking and various forms of leadership activities. My own psychiatrist has always said I have a good brain and great potential. But it has been through the constant and loving feedback from people who I admire, people who have read my writings and people who have engaged in discussion with me that I am finally able to see that I DO have gifts and I AM smart.

I wrote on the first page of my psychology notebook: I want to succeed. I can succeed. I will succeed. I have been finding that this new perspective has been enabling me to eat up the textbook that I have to read and is giving me the confidence to embark on this new journey. Interestingly enough, this textbook talks about the notion of ‘priming’ and how those who are primed to do well in life generally succeed – those who are confident in their own academic abilities study better, learn better and do better.

And so, I embark on this new journey with joy and peace and a newfound knowledge of who I am in Christ and that with Christ, nothing is impossible. I am employing strategies that I have been taught in previous courses or have learned from other people so that I can get the very most out of this learning experience. But most of all, I say with confidence that I want to do this, I can do this and in the coming days, I hope this new attitude, accompanied by hard work and persistence, will translate into me actually succeeding in this course and beyond.