Felicity was nine years old when her cousin first starting going into her room. He was twelve. They weren’t particularly close, but did hang out some. He lived across the street. That was the beginning of many years of sexual abuse, though she would not call it that.
She had no idea about the birds or the bees and sexual abuse was not even remotely in her thinking. He said he was just playing and this is what “all the kids were doing.”
She oscillated between being confused and being disgusted. It made no sense to her and asked him to stop many times. At some level of her awareness, she knew it was wrong, which is part of the reason she never told her parents.
The other reason she stuffed her secret down was because her parents did not have much of a relationship. The kid’s concerns were not at the forefront of their minds or care. While mom was mostly preoccupied with running the home, her daddy was mostly angry and distant.
Felicity knew her dad would not believe her if she told him and even if he did believe her, she figured he would blame her. Stuffing things inside seemed to be a better approach. Though Paul, her cousin, threatened her if she told, she had no plans of telling anyway.
That was 23 years ago. Felicity is 32-years old today. She’s married with two darling toddlers. They go to a good church, but her relationship with her husband is rocky and she feels emotionally numb most of the time. He’s not capable of helping her.
Though the abuse stopped years ago, the impact of the abuse on her soul has never left. Even after becoming a Christian in college, her mind was still encumbered with the complicatedness of the abuse. She’s never figured out how to work through the internal pain. Now she has come to you for help.
Listen to her sexual abuse
One of the most important things you can do for her is listen to her. There will be many levels of dysfunction in her mind. Her soul will be like an intersection in gridlock. You will have to carefully listen to what she is describing so you can help her unlock what has been binding her.
You will have to listen on two levels. She will tell you her story, but she will not tell you what all the problems are. She will mostly identify what happened to her, but not be able to walk you through how it twisted her heart.
Your care for her will help her understand how what happened has shaped her and how God desires to walk her through this major, traumatic, shaping influence. Being abused, which she understands, and being changed in spite of the abuse are two different things.
Felicity is not normal. There is double-damage. She has been damaged because of the fall of Adam and she has been damaged by the sin of Paul. Your task will be to walk her from where she is to the only un-damaged person known to man–Jesus Christ.
There will be a clear disparity between who she is in Adam and how she has been shaped by Paul and who she needs to be like–Jesus Christ. This will be hard for her.
Therefore, it will be hugely important you move slow through this process. In the beginning you want to listen more than you instruct. There are several reasons for this:
- She knows something is broken inside.
- To some degree she will blame herself for her brokenness.
- The more you try to change her, the more it can affirm what she believes about herself, that she is wrong.
- She needs to earn your trust first.
Teaching (or counseling) always has an instructive feel to it. This is good, but when you are counseling an insecure person, she may hear and upload what you are saying through critical ears.
They have lived in compounded condemnation for many years. I’ve described it like trying to put soothing lotion on a person with the world’s worst sunburn. They need what you have, but are afraid of receiving it because it hurts. Be careful. Go slow.
Typically a person like Felicity has overly interpreted the abuse as being her fault. While she is asking for your help, your help is designed to change her. She can easily misinterpret your desire to help her in order to change her as more affirmation that she is the one at fault.
While empathy and a careful approach is essential, she will also need to change–a fragile juxtaposition of needs. At some point you will need to adjust her heart. Empathy without a call to change will turn her even more inward and make her more awkward.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15 (ESV)
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. – Hebrews 13:3 (ESV)
Christ was the perfect example of a person who could weep with those who wept, but also correct and help a person to change. While Felicity has been abused and thrown in a deep hole, she will have to do some hard things to get out of that hole.
Though it was not her fault, she must change. This is why you must listen carefully and lovingly and at some point in the future you will have to call her to change. It can’t be any other way. Her thinking is outside biblical lines.
In a sense we all have been thrown in a deep dark hole and Christ lovingly comes to us and calls us to change. We are wonderfully aware of His love and soberly aware of His call.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. – Psalm 40:2-3 (ESV)
Build trust and hope
If you build patiently, she will begin to trust you. As you probably already discerned, this is one of the weaknesses of counseling. Counseling is a short-term solution for people in long-term trouble.
Someone like Felicity has been in trouble for 23 years and you’re called upon to walk her through it. This is not how things are supposed to be. You need more time to enter into her abuse, listen to the nuance of her pain, build trust with her, and walk her to the Savior.
The more effectively you listen, the more she will trust you. At first she will want to know you are there for her and that you care. Listening by asking a lot of questions will help. As you learn more about her, you can begin giving more instructive care because she now trusts you and has biblical hope.
Trust and hope are two of the biggest deficiencies in her soul. They both relate to how she thinks about God. These are the things she does not functionally experience from God.
You will be a representative of God the Father to her (Ephesians 5:1). You will be antithetical to her abuser. The abuser robbed her of hope and broke all trust. This is what you want to build into her life as you model the Father to her through your care (1 Corinthians 11:1).
As you may have discerned, your initial and primary care comes more through modeling than anything else. You do this by listening and asking questions. This was how the Savior initially cared for people.
He did not withhold His instruction or correction, but there was a logical order in how He provided care: love, listen, learn, and then instruct. As she begins to understand you’re not the enemy, you will be able to bring corrective care into her life.
Begin transitioning the session
-  This article was written in response to a one of our Members, who also is one of our Distance Education Students. He is counseling someone who has been abused. A core component of our DE Program is to develop students to care for others, by walking them through situations they are dealing with now. ↩