“You need to learn to trust men again.”
When she said this just moments after I admitted I had been sexually abused as a child by a man I trusted, I got mad . . . really mad! She didn’t understand the depth of my fear, disgust, anger, and helplessness. She didn’t even acknowledge my emotional scars.
As with many women, my scars of abuse felt unique. I was confused about what was normal and used a variety of defense mechanisms to get through life.
If you’ve been sexually abused, you may be coping in one or more of the following ways. You hide or keep people at extreme distances, afraid of being hurt again. You remain numb through adulthood. If married, you find it difficult to respond sexually. You fear biblical submission—afraid of losing control.
You may feel damaged, see yourself as a sex object, flaunt your sexuality, and descend into promiscuity and other sexual sins. Or, like me, you pour yourself into being “good” or embrace ministry. You may not understand the power of the Gospel, and focus instead on pleasing God to gain His favor.
You might respond to your abuse with anxiety, depression, self-loathing, self-harming actions, intimacy problems, homosexuality, fear, indecisiveness, perfectionism, a need to control, eating disorders, or addictions.
Satan doesn’t care how we react to the sinfulness of sexual abuse . . . as long as we don’t turn to Jesus. The enemy knows when we find our identity, security, and dignity in Christ, we can live in victory.
It took me awhile to get there, though. For years, I felt the need to protect my abuser and not hurt others who loved him. It was twisted thinking, but the enemy delights in warping thoughts. In high school, I had poor interpersonal skills. By college, I felt suicidal and alone. Abuse distorted my image of God and affected my ability to seek and trust Him. My confidence was shattered.
After college, I joined Life Action Ministries and began a journey with God that changed my heart and life. One day as I was singing “Do You Know My Jesus?” on stage with the team, I suddenly realized I knew all about Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. I left the microphone, went to the prayer room, and placed my life in Jesus’ hands.
The most astounding changes came as I learned to trust Him with my past hurts. Some basic lessons I learned:
- God loves me. Deeply and completely (Jer. 31:3, Rom. 5:6–10).
- God did not condone the abuse; He hates all wickedness (Ps. 11:5).
- I can entrust justice to the righteous heart of God (Ps. 103:6; 146:7; Jer. 17:10).
- I can forgive others because I have been so greatly forgiven (Matt. 5:23–24; 6:14–15, 21–22; John 8:7).
- I can pray for my abuser’s change of heart and repentance (Luke 6:28; Prov. 28:13).
- Peace and victory come as I study and rest in who I am in Christ (Eph. 1:3–8; 2:10; Col. 2:9–10; 3:1–4; Rom. 8:31–39; Phil. 4:13).
- I can use what the enemy meant for evil to bring glory and praise to God (Joseph’s response: Gen. 50:20).
- I can learn how to communicate clear, pure boundaries in all relationships, and speak truth in love (Prov. 4:23; Rom. 13:14; Eph. 4:15).
- I must be aware of the Enemy’s schemes to control my responses and defeat me, I must saturate my life with Scripture (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:8; Titus 2:11–12; Ps. 119:11).
- My thoughts will control my actions and responses, so I must allow God to transform my thinking (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8).
- I will grow and heal as I rub shoulders with godly women who model how to respond with the pure love of Christ (1 Pet. 3:3–5).
- I can, as a member of the body of Christ, be a part of holding abusers accountable—especially within the church (James 5:19–20; Jer. 22:3a; Matt. 18:15–17).
- I can also encourage girls and women who still struggle toward freedom from the pain of sexual abuse (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 14:19).
I’ve grown in Christ, but it hasn’t always been easy. Although Jesus said He came to give me abundant life (John 10:10), sometimes I resort to survival mode when I allow myself to feel ashamed. In those moments, I forget who I am—or rather, Whose I am. Jesus bore my shame on the cross; I don’t need to bear it for one moment.
Though scars remain, God gives healing grace.
*If you are struggling, you might want to watch this video about a young woman who was sexually abused.