Recently a Facebook Friend was talking about sexual abuse. I said, “People should read Dan Allender’s new book Healing the Wounded Heart. Then she would know her feelings are universal amoung sexual abuse survivors.”
If you have been sexually abused, or if you work with those who have like I do as a Licensed Professional Counselor, you probably know about Dan Allender’s original book, now 25 years old: The Wounded Heart.
Last month, a new book released because so much has changed in the last 25 years. This book is called Healing the Wounded Heart.
Allender is a professor of counseling psychology and former president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle. He travels and speaks extensively on sexual abuse recovery. His chapter on Caring for Another’s Story absolutely nails it. Here are a few excepts (though I pretty much underlined the entire chapter):
The privilege of being given access to the story of a victim of sexual abuse is holy. It is a gift few on this earth are honored to receive. It it difficult terrain to enter, but healing requires the sumission of one’s story to the heart and mind of a guide and a community of pilgrims whose passion is set on the kingdom of God. The harm of the sexual abuse was done in relationship and it is only through relationship that victims regain the vision to live in freedom.
An abuse story must be heard not as the telling of an event but as an entry into a journey. The telling must be received with one’s shoes off and hands open to take in all that is said.
A trusted hearer is given access to the rooms most lived in, but there are many locked doors entered only by the owner, and vast wings of the mansion are off-limits to everyone, including the teller of the story.
Whether the listener is a therapist, minister, spouse, or friend the announcement of abuse can’t be presumed to be an offer to enter the home. One must ask for permission . . . One can’t command, will, or teach shame away . . . Entering the domain of abuse sounds scary—and it is. No wonder many view this terrain as too dangerous to walk unless they are an experienced therapist. The fear of doing harm is legitimate. But if the person who is sharing trusts the listener enough to offer their story, the caring friend will do more harm by trying to defer.
Most often the story is first told to a trusted friend or therapist. It is not told to engage and explore the story but to see how the telling will be received.
A healing community desperately needs to be courageous enough to enter the realm of shame and arousal without spiritualizing or cutting off the engagement through a cheap trick of quick healing. This process is not going to be finished by one prayer, confession, or renewal of the Spirit. It comes when the war is truly faced and fought.
The truth is, trauma, is an encounter with the unspeakable. It disrupts the victim’s sense of self, of time, and of meaning . . .Because an abuse story is full of so much heartache, most listeners feel overwhlemed and offer little but sympathy. I am so sorry for all that you have endured. I don’t know how you lived with this harm for so long. Thank you for sharing.’ Imagine what this offers to the victim who has finished and now looks at the listener. The burden is back on the victim to speak, and likely any sense of relief is mixed with shame, fear, gratitude, numbness, and intense body sensation. In most occassions the story ends, the conversations shifts, and tragically the hearer succombs to offering advice: ‘Have you thought of seeing a therapist?’ ‘Have you forgiven the abusesr?’ Or the hearer lauds the teller and remarks,’You are so brave. I could never share what you just did.’
These kinds of responses, though tempting in their avoidance of another’s overwhleming grief and anger, will only enable both hearer and teller to maintain a thirty-thousand-foot view of the debris . . . Greater healing requires greater entry into the story of harm. Every human being is desperate to be known, to be heard; every human being is also terrified, and often contemptuous, of being pursued and indwelled. We are ambivalent. Or more concretely stated, we have one hand up, saying, ‘Keep your distance,’ and the other hand gesturing, saying, ‘Come, come, please don’t leave me alone.’
Shame boils to the surface in the form of contempt when we are closest to the deepest desires of the heart. Where there is hidden shame, contempt will surface.
Countless victims have said to me, ‘I have told this story again and again to friends and other caregivers, and each time I feel worse.’ More often than not, the person has not learned how to do self-care, especially during intimate exchanges, because the pain is too severe. As basic as this may seem, we long, to our core, to be honored and delighted in. For an abused person, however, the prospect of this kind of intimacy is more than he or she can bear.
Far too long the story has been hidden. When it finally surfaces, well-meaning people want to blow the acrid heartache away with platitudes. But we gift others when we live in their stories long enough to see the bricks that indicate a path. If we follow those themes long enough, they will take us to the brokenness and debris of the work of evil as well as the beauty of God’s plan. What is most stunning, when one follows the path long enough, is to see the redemptive reversal of evil in the master craftmanship of God.
I promise you, Allender’s book is worth reading.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."