Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm A Christian. Why Write About Sexual Abuse?

My intent is to write science fiction that helps people. If you haven't been sexually abused, look around you. One in four has been at some time
in their lives. How to help them? It makes my spirit hurt!

When I write about bad things happening to people, I draw heavily on what I learned in school as a psychology major. Before I had children, I read a lot about parenting and problems parents have with teens, because I wanted to be an expert at communication. I also learned a lot about communication and how it's affected by any self-esteem issue, including abuse.

I cover three things in every story that has abuse or some trauma happening:

The event itself. I say just enough so my reader knows something bad is happening, and usually I tell the story in the victim's point of view. That way, not only the event, but how the victim thinks and feels about it, is the story. It's not just an emotional thing to draw the reader in. I want the reader to know how the event impacts the victim. Abusers often don't think about or care what the victim thinks. For the abuser trying to reform, the therapist tries to get him to think about how the victim must feel. This is very important.

How it impacts the victim's life. Any abuse lowers the self-esteem. A victim of sexual abuse feels guilt, even though it wasn't his or her fault. Most sexual abusers are male, but a few are female. Most victims are children at the time of the abuse, which just makes all the self-doubts of adolescence a lot worse! But, sexual abuse does happen to adults, too. It can occur between a married couple. The object of the sexual abuser is power over another person, domination, not sexual pleasure. Rape is a form of sexual abuse, and often causes physical injury to the victim. In my stories, the victim often has to undergo traumatic healing. Picture a woman who has been raped. She has pain, she's embarrassed and ashamed, she somehow feels that she brought it on herself, and she's scared he might come back! Going to the emergency room means a doctor has to look for evidence, and the whole process is traumatic, though the caregivers try to ease it. The caregivers may not know about these issues, and it only takes one who's not entirely sympathetic to make it even more traumatic to the person. I say 'she' because mostly women are raped, but it can happen to men, too. For men, it has to be worse, in my opinion, because who's going to believe them? My stories often are about men who are drugged and forced to participate, but any victim of sexual abuse is going to have trauma at some point. A child who's too young to understand that what happened was wrong will eventually realize that it was, and feel horrible about it.

Aftermath and healing. The victim may feel hypersexual, or not sexual at all, or might even waver between the extremes. Usually, there is guilt. For a religious or highly moral person, he or she might feel that sex itself is evil, and condemn themselves to be unredeemable for even feeling such emotions. Children who have been sexually abused often have overwhelming sexual feelings that are inappropriate. Parents may misunderstand the expressions of these urges and think the child is perverted, without knowing there was another person who evoked those feelings. Some of these kids seek out sex as a teen, and people just label them as bad kids. I personally feel that a lot of teenaged pregnancies have their roots in a sexually abused little girl, and maybe she never told anyone. Sometimes kids repress the memory and they don't remember being abused, only later to remember it and be criticized for making it up. Victims have a rough enough time, even with a supportive family. Feelings often resurface throughout the victim's life. It's not a matter of getting some therapy and getting over it. A person can't get over sexual abuse. But, he or she can learn to cope with the aftermath, and learn to value the self again. In some of my stories about sexual abuse, the victim doesn't have a lot of support from family and friends, but there's always someone the person can learn to trust, to help him or her.

It doesn't just get healed and everything is like it was, as it is in real life. But, I try to show the difference one person who loves the victim can make! The key is to listen. Accept the person's behavior; a lot of victims feel unlovable, and may act so at times. Give them lots of love, and respect their space. At times, they may want to be hugged, and at other times, it might feel overwhelming. Reassure them that Heavenly Father loves them, and that the abuse wasn't punishment because they did something wrong, even if the predator tries to convince them that they did. I try to show how victims might feel, might act. What helps. What doesn't. I believe that someone who was sexually abused might even find my science fiction therapeutic, especially if they feel alone, like no one understands. My story victims always have that supportive person in their lives to help them cope, though, ultimately, they have to do the coping. They have to learn to trust again, not an easy process. They have to get on with their lives and find their own happiness. There's no magic formula that works for everyone. But, if you think of family and friends as giving the kind of supportive atmosphere that makes breathing easier, maybe the victim can learn to breathe deeply and feel the love. Maybe the victim can learn to pray, even when he or she feels very unworthy. Healing begins with the victim, no matter how eager the healers in his life are to heal him. What happened wasn't the victim's fault. But, how much healing the victim can accept depends on the victim's belief that there can be healing, that Heavenly Father can still love him, that his family can still love him, even though he is changed forever. Once he can cope, maybe he can help another person work through the anger, the guilt, the confusion, and the religious issues. Satan wants us to ignore sexual abuse and the many casualties of this war between good and evil. Heavenly Father wants us to help everyone who hurts. We can't be everywhere. We can't help all the hurting people in this world. But, we can all help one.

One in four people have been victims of sexual abuse. Think about your family, your friends. Most of them won't talk about it. You might know a person for a lifetime, and never know that your friend suffered so! But, you can help. Listen. Be there. Give 'em Christian love. Try to be understanding if they get grumpy. At the same time, don't be a victim yourself! If your friend is abusive to you more than 60% of the time, your self-esteem can suffer, and then you can't help someone else. Always pray about your dear ones, and the Spirit will guide you. We always, as Christians, think about others as victims, never ourselves. But, all of us need one person in our lives that we can trust. Sure, we love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Our friends of other faiths might call Heavenly Father something different, and may follow another Son, or not. But, all who believe in a loving Father can have that Person to trust and gain strength from their faith. Heavenly Father loves everyone, and so does Jesus, even if they don't believe in Him. Let us all work towards world peace, one person at a time. We can only share that peace if we have it. Abusive people take advantage of our sweet natures. But, abusive people can have that mighty change of heart, and repent. Love everybody, but if someone is abusing you, get help. Go to your religious leader. See a therapist. Find a friend you can trust. If you're a victim, don't stay a victim! It's not being a good Christian to let a person whallop your psyche often. Get another point of view. Most of all, never let guilt keep you from having a strong relationship with Heavenly Father. If prayer seems not to help, keep praying. Satan loves to fool people into thinking they're too unworthy to pray. So many Christians accept guilt that's not justified. There's a big difference between guilt for the sins you did commit, and those you didn't. Let yourself feel enough guilt over the sins to work towards overcoming them, but paralyzing guilt can make you think, what's the use of trying? Heavenly Father and Jesus never give up on a repentant person, and they don't blame a victim for anything forced on them. Many people speak of sexual abuse as if the victim somehow caused it, and the poor victim almost always accepts this as true. Don't believe it! Sexual abuse is an act of domination and control. The predator will try to convince the person that he or she wants the abuse, that the abuse is deserved or is a good thing. Even if the words go unsaid, the act convinces the person that he or she is helpless, that the victim deserves it. Don't believe it! Abuse needs to stop. Some victims of sexual abuse go on to abuse others, and the cycle can carry down for generations. But, never assume that a victim of sexual abuse will automatically become an abuser! Many victims seek help, and stop the cycle before it even happens.

It may seem that the world is filled with sexual predators, but the figures are low, even though a lot of it goes unreported. What makes it seem that way is that sexual predators aren't satisfied with abusing just one person. They collect victims. Many of them prey on children or women. They learn to act as if they are innocent, and people believe they are, even their victims--for a while. What can we do, to protect ourselves, to protect our children?

Sexual abuse takes 5 minutes or less. It can occur without removing clothing. Even fondling or talk about what a perpertrator would like to do to the victim is enough to do damage to the victim's life. Never disregard anyone who says they were abused. Often, if the victim says the person didn't have sex with them, a sympathetic listener might say, 'Oh, that's nothing!' It's not nothing.

I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child. Her step-father touched her when they were alone together. He never had sex with her. He never took her clothes off. She was seven years old, and didn't want to be touched that way. Over the years, when she went through adolescence, she felt ugly. She never enjoyed innocent comments that she was pretty. She didn't have any confidence to talk to fellas that she might have ended up dating. For a while, she became sexually active. All of these relationships were short, and the men were unfaithful to her. She felt as if she were a woman in a red-light district, after so many sexual relationships. Finally, she went into therapy. She learned that, even though it was just touching, it lowered her self-esteem and brought feelings that overwhelmed her. This good woman turned to the Lord and repented. She still doesn't feel pretty. Sometimes the bad feelings come back, but time has made it easier to fight them. She had a lot of guilt about not being a virgin when she married, but she admitted it to her husband, and he still loved her. I feel bad, because she told her favorite teacher about the abuse when she was in junior high, but the teacher didn't tell anyone. So, the abuse continued until she left home. Her therapist told her that her stepfather was probably abused at age 7, about the time he began abusing her. She said that it's normal to have sexual feelings towards children, but it is NOT normal to act on them. The carnal man is in all of us, and none of us want to admit sexual feelings towards anyone except husband or wife! But, usually, we think of something else, and the feelings go away. That works, for normal people. A victim of sexual abuse feels such guilt over bad thoughts, that they have more bad thoughts. Fight the guilt, but keep the part of it that motivates you to be a better person.

Good guilt motivates us to be better people and good citizens of society. It moves people to repentance.
Bad guilt paralyzes. It convinces the victim that the bad feelings are punishment. It brings hopelessness. It might even lead to acceptance of bad behavior and belief that the person is too bad to repent.
Victims often have bad guilt. Sometimes they learn to ignore all guilt, good and bad, and 'go wild' for awhile.
Never give up on a person. Don't be a victim of abuse trying to help the abuser, but try to be supportive if you're up to it. Ask for help. Pray.
If you're the victim, forgive yourself. That's what Heavenly Father and Jesus want. They love you. They're cheering for you! Let yourself feel it, through the Spirit. It's not your fault. Use your experience to help others. Find people you can trust, and learn to trust them. Be wary of people who might take advantage of your victim situation, but reach out to people anyway. If you pray about it, Heavenly Father will send you help. Don't be discouraged if people blame you for the abuse; they just don't know what you know, or they'd help you. If people ask how to help you, just ask them to listen without giving advice, unless you specifically ask for it. Helpful people always want to fix it, and fast! They give advice, thinking that's the way to fix it. But, giving advice can make matters worse, if the person giving it doesn't know about sexual abuse and how awful it makes a victim feel! When listening to my poor friend, I wanted to give her all this helpful advice I'm putting down here. But, this is a one-way conversation until you post a comment. When you're talking to a victim, you're not listening. The way to help is more difficult. Let your friend talk. Nod or say uh-huh to let him/her know you're listening. Keep eye contact. That's hard when a person's upset because you don't know how to fix it, what to say that makes it all better. But, the only way to help, is to bear your own responsive feelings and keep listening. Be strong enough for the one you care about, to bear your own discomfort, and to listen anyway. He or she needs you. He or she also needs a therapist to help.

Note, that therapists are not all equal. A therapist may be a general therapist or specialize in sexual issues. The therapist has studied psychology, but there are many flavors of psychology. If they approach problems with one flavor of attitude and help, and you need a different flavor, the therapist may not be very helpful. But, it's normal to feel bad towards your therapist when good changes are happening. My advice is, stick with a therapist for at least a month or two. If you don't feel that you're getting help, what are you saying in the session? Are you talking about the problem, or the weather? Remember, you are paying for that therapist's time. It's your job to talk about what hurts. If you avoid talking about the hurt and stick to safer subjects, like you do with people at school or work, you won't be helped by the best therapist! If you are honestly opening up, and the therapist's suggestions don't work for you, give it a month or two and really try what they ask you to do at home. Then, if you don't feel any better, it might be time to switch therapists. Or, if you really have a problem with the therapist's attitude or personality, you might want to consider another therapist. If you can't open up, you can't heal. You need to decide if it's you or the therapist hampering you from opening up. Your therapist should have a degree in psychology or social work, preferably in psychology at the graduate level: a psychologist. Psychologists aren't for crazy people. They are for anyone who has trouble coping with normal life. They don't prescribe medicine, so they might send you to a psychiatrist if you and the therapist think meds might help, usually for a year.

What do therapists do?

- they listen
- they might ask you to role-play the part of what you might say to your abuser [I know, that sounds silly, but it helps]
- they might ask you to talk to your abuser at some point, to tell him how the abuse affected you [usually, they don't repent, but sometimes, they do]
- they might ask you to write a letter to your abuser [you don't have to mail it!] Writing is extremely therapeutic for some people.
- they might have you practice some communication skills at home
An Example:
Being assertive is telling how you feel or what you want without being pushy, with consideration for the other person's feelings. A good way to do this is the I-statement.
When I hear you say ____________________, I feel sad. Notice, I didn't put that, "You make me feel stupid when you complain about my game!" or even, "When you____"
Starting a sentence with You puts a person on the defensive.

My characters use a lot of I-statements, the ones that are helping another. The characters with the You Statements usually learn to use I-Statements to solve problems. A lot of my stories are about diplomats and what diplomats in my universe have to put up with!

So, to all my Christian friends, this is why I write about sexual abuse. I hope I am doing so in a delicate manner, and without shocking your sensitive spirits. Please leave me your comments. Thanks!

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