Build Healthy Relationships after Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 2010 4 Feb
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Nicole Braddock Bromley's book, Breathe: The Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse, (Moody Publishers, 2009).
Childhood sexual abuse is a sin that's often kept secret, but it affects many Americans. Recent statistics show that one out of every three women and one out of every six men in the United States has experienced some form of sexual abuse. If you're one of them, you know that the aftermath of abuse can make it difficult to develop healthy relationships in your life now. But it is possible to enjoy the kinds of relationships God wants for you.
Here's how you can build healthy relationships after childhood sexual abuse:
Pursue healing. Follow God's leading through the healing process, relying on His strength to help you every step of the way. Share your secret with someone you trust. Realize that the abuse wasn't your fault, so you shouldn't feel guilt or shame about it. Forgive the person who abused you to free yourself from bitterness that will poison your soul otherwise. Take advantage of opportunities to use your story to comfort other hurting people around you.
Create a circle of inspiration around yourself. A circle of inspiration is a network of caring people who are willing to be present, listen to you, love you, and support you. It's a safe space where you can let go of isolation, a false identity, and addictions that prevent you from continuing to heal. You can choose anyone you'd like to participate, such as friends, your spouse if you're married, mentors, siblings, and adult children if you have any.
Talk it out. Get real with the people in your circle, telling them the truth about what you've been through. Release what you've been bottling up inside by talking about it openly with others who care. Let people listen, encourage you, and pray for you.
Embrace the love that Jesus offers you. Childhood sexual abuse survivors too often believe that they're bad people because of what they've experienced, even though it wasn't their fault. But remember that Jesus doesn't view you that way. Ask Him to give you His perspective on you and your life, so you can see that your past doesn't diminish any of His great love for you. Realize that Jesus meets you where you are and calls you to enjoy a close, growing relationship with Him. Don't hesitate to accept the love He offers you.
Overcome addictions. Sometimes, to cope with their pain, childhood sexual abuse survivors fall into addictions: unhealthy sexual relationships, drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, or self-injury habits (such as cutting, burning, or beating themselves). If you're caught in an addiction of some kind, recognize how much valuable time and energy you're wasting on it. Pray for the strength to stop, and get practical help through a counselor or support group.
Deal wisely with your family's response to your abuse. If your family members acknowledge the reality of the abuse you've suffered and want to help you heal, thank God for them and accept their love and help. But, sadly, many families of childhood sexual abuse victims aren't willing to admit or talk about the problem. If your family is one of those, know that your heavenly Father - God - won't minimize your suffering. Express yourself fully to Him, and trust Him to help you and bring other people into your life who can support you.
Break the generational curse. If you have children of your own, be sure to talk with them about sexual abuse so they'll be informed and prepared in case they ever encounter abuse themselves. Pray for the wisdom to know what to share about your own experiences with them in age-appropriate ways. But don't neglect discussing this important topic with them. If your parents hurt you - either through abusing you or by failing to stop the abuse after you told them about it - be willing to answer God's call to forgive them, with His help.
Find a mentor. A spiritual mentor can help you discover your true identity, passion, and calling. Ask God to lead you to a mature Christian you trust and admire. Then set realistic expectations for your relationship, schedule regular meetings together when possible, and enjoy the benefits of wise counsel and fresh hope.
Build committed friendships. Pray to find some faithful friends who will stick with you through both good and bad times, and commit to being that kind of friend yourself. Invite your friends to speak the truth in love to you about all aspects of your life, so you can grow.
Set boundaries when dating. Set whatever boundaries you need to set to help keep your romantic relationships sexually pure until marriage, and emotionally healthy. Ask God to bolster your confidence so you won't tie your self-esteem to how a boyfriend or girlfriend treats you, but remember that your value is based on the fact that you're God's beloved child.
Develop a healthy sex life in marriage. Remind yourself that your spouse wasn't the person who abused you. Separate the past from the present so you won't project your hurt and fear onto your spouse. Work with a counselor to learn how to look at sex in a new, healthy way, and enjoy it with your spouse.
Grow closer to God. Seek to learn more about God every day so you'll get to know who He really is and be able to separate that reality from any warped image of Him you may have gotten through your childhood abuse. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind so you can replace lies with biblical truth. Invite God to breathe new life into you.
Shine your light in the world. Whenever you encounter an opportunity to encourage others by sharing your story or helping to stop or prevent abuse, take it. Do your part to shine Christ's light into the world's darkness.
February 4, 2010
Adapted from Breathe: The Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse, copyright 2009 by Nicole Braddock Bromley. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill., www.moodypublishers.com.
Nicole Braddock Bromley is the founder and director of OneVOICE enterprises, an organization that is bringing healing change into the lives of victims of sexual abuse. Her message has been heard by thousands of students on college campuses around the country. Nicole and her husband, Matthew, live in Columbus, Ohio. For more info, see www.onevoiceenterprises.com.