Marriage Missions International

In The Mind Of A Sexual Victim

Image credit: powertochange.com

Image credit: powertochange.com

When someone has been a victim of sexual abuse, it is often difficult to separate the past from the present. Though I clearly understood what happened to my past certain things in the present sometimes still triggered unpleasant memories and emotions. It was similar to what happens to war veterans. The technical term is post-traumatic stress disorder. A present event becomes the traumatic stress disorder. A present event becomes the stimulus that triggers a flashback. It can be anything.

For me, it was the way my husband Don touched me at times, or a sound he made when we were being intimate, or his attempts to embrace me when I was sleeping. All of these could flash me back into my childhood bedroom where I would relive a segment of the abuse I endured as a child. It was a frightening experience, one that Don didn’t understand at first. It hit home one night about 3 years into our marriage.

As Don tells it, he wanted to be intimate with me, so he showered, put on some aftershave, did a few push-ups and prepared for bed. We went to bed and he began caressing me. All of a sudden I froze. My entire body became stiff as a board. I couldn’t move. I felt strange. It was like I was there in bed with my husband, but I wasn’t there. I knew enough from being I therapy to know something had triggered this flashback.

Don and I talked for a few minutes and ruled out several possibilities. It wasn’t the way he touched me; it wasn’t the lighting in the room; it wasn’t anything obvious. As I lay there, Don just held me close. The trigger suddenly became clear as I nestled to my husband’s chest. He had put on the very same aftershave my stepfather had worn for years. My memory made the connection before I knew what was happening.

The victim of sexual abuse begins to believe many lies about herself as a result of the abuse. Some of those lies are centered around her value as a person. The victim often feels her only value is determined by her sexuality. Many victims find themselves sexually active prior to marriage, only to marry and then have little desire for sexual intimacy with their mate. Some of this is due to faulty thinking.

My step-dad had told me as I was growing up that young men were interested in me for only “one thing.” The underlying message I received was that only my “body” had any value. When I married, I desperately wanted Don to love ME, separate from sex.

Unfortunately, the only way to gain proof that he really loved ME was to stop engaging in sex to test his love. Don had no idea of my thoughts, nor did he enter into marriage to be celibate. We have had to work through this erroneous thinking through the years. It has taken time for me to really believe Don loves ME. I have had to understand it is possible for me to feel that love without withdrawing sexually.

I do believe there will be times in the healing process when a victim may need to have some space and to be given a choice about participating in sexual intimacy.

It Takes Two
For the first six years of our marriage, I assumed that all the difficulties we had I our sexual relationship were due to my being a victim of sexual abuse. Don had no trouble performing, so it was all too clear who had the problem.

After writing the book, A Door of Hope, I went back to school to get my master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling. That program requires each student to obtain at least 10 hours of individual therapy. I prayed about where I should go for more counseling and felt the Lord leading me to a female counselor who had been one of my professors. At this time, I was doing quite a bit of speaking across the country and had clients of my own. I entered therapy; sure I would have to spend only a month or two in it.

Don and I were still having some sexual difficulties, so I determined this would be the area I’d focus on. At the third session, Dr. Basbas sat down with me to go over some test results. Confidently I asked, “Well how long do I have —a couple or three months?”

Dr Basbas looked across the room at me and said “Considering these test results, you could leave early at six months, or you could stay two years and really let God do the healing He wants to do in your life.”

I’d love to tell you that I said, “Oh, thank you, wise counselor…,” but I didn’t. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “You don’t understand—I’m famous. I’ve written a book on this subject.” She calmly said, “Well, it’s up to you.”

I left that session angry. How dare she tell me I wasn’t okay?! I went into a depression. I was ready to call the publisher with instructions to take all my books off the market. I thought, “If I’m not healed by now, I’ll never be.”

Then the Spirit of God seemed to speak to my heart: “Jan, this does not mean I haven’t healed you. It just means I want to do more. Are you willing?” I said, “Yes, Lord.”

I have shared this with victims all over. I spent two years in counseling, and it was the richest time I had spent so far. In the middle of that therapy I told the Lord I would be there five years if that’s what He wanted. He touched areas I had total avoided. God is faithful in our lives to keep “removing the debris.”

Repairing the Damage
To men, we would encourage you to learn to develop intimacy outside the bedroom. How is that done? By being willing to share your feelings with your wife. Sit down at the kitchen table and talk to her about things like where you want to be in your career in five years. Tell her about your childhood; hug her when she’s cooking dinner—no strings attached— and pray with her, sharing your innermost desires; ask her what she cares about most deeply; be willing to spend an evening caressing and kissing—agree in advance that that’s as far as it goes. As you invest in your relationship by sharing yourself, you will begin to see a response.

Be careful not to do these things with an ulterior motive; she will pick it up if you are insincere. You want to create emotional closeness with her. When she feels that closeness, she is better able to respond sexually.

A woman who has been sexually abused needs first of all to feel safe. She needs to know that she can trust you, that you love her for who she is, and that she has a choice with regard to sexual intimacy. If she feels she has no choice, watch out! Be careful of making demands in the name of “submission.” Many men I have counseled have made this mistake, only to inflict more damage and cause more distance and hostility. Remember, Jesus laid His life down for us. In the same way, according to Ephesians 5:25, the husband is to lay his life down for his wife.

To the women, we encourage you to seek help if you have been a victim of sexual abuse. Some women who are going through the healing process need time to withdraw from sexual intimacy; however, you must recognize that men physiologically different and may need your sensitivity as well. Work on recognizing some of the lies you believe about yourself, about men and about sex. Root those lies up with the help of the Holy Spirit, and ask God to replace in your heart the truth about what He intended the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife to be.

This article comes from the book, “WHEN VICTIMS MARRY -Building a Stronger Marriage by Breaking Destructive Cycles” by Don and Jan Frank, published by Here’s Life Publishers. Unfortunately this book is no longer in print so unless you can find a used book somewhere it would be almost impossible to obtain it. But we want to thank the authors Don and Jan Frank for being so open and candid in sharing their stories and reaching out to help others who are victimized in their earlier years which can deeply affect their marriages. As Don and Jan show, you CAN reach out for healing and help so you don’t have to live as victims for the rest of your lives. What the enemy of our faith causes for harm, God can redeem for good!

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Comments

8 Responses to “In The Mind Of A Sexual Victim”
  1. Karin says:

    (SWAZILAND) I can relate to everything in this article. I was sexually abused when i was 9 and 10 yrs. When it happened at the time I didn’t know it was abuse. I just felt it was what I had to do to reward my cousin for helping me with my studies. I grew up living with my aunt, her husband, and cousins, but not my aunts children so even if I could tell her she would not be able to stand up for me coz these were not her kids but her husbands. So many things happened to me.

    This has affected me so much that I can’t be alone with a man in his house. I feel like he is going to sleep with me. But am in the process of healing and God is faithful. This article has made me realize what is going on in my mind, why i act the way I do. I never told anybody about this but God is healing me through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. LT says:

    (USA) Hi Karin, My thoughts and prayers are with you. I, too, am a victim of abuse (not sexual) and I truly, with all my heart, have come to believe, in my walk of faith, that when God allows things like these tragic events to happen to people it is so He can use them to so much greater glory than he can use people who led charmed, wonderful, relatively stress-free lives.

    The greater your past struggles in life, the more you have to overcome. The more you strive to overcome and have overcome, the more glory is revealed. In other words, the greater one’s testimony, the more powerful it is and the more credibility that person has to others.

    God be with you. Your thoughts and reactions toward men and being around them are completely normal because of your past. But, as you already stated, God is faithful, and I believe and hope that he will bring your mind and heart the healing it needs. God bless, LT

  3. Hope says:

    (JAMAICA) Well, I shared this article with my husband and he got mad at me. I feel so hopeless in all this. How am suppose to help our marriage if he won’t do anything to help? I reached out to him because I thought this article expressed lots about what I am going through. Instead he threw it back in my face. I feel so alone in this world. I feel defected and his behaviour towards me just compound that feeling.

    I really think that if I am out of the picture then he would be happier. I feel like I have ruined his life by marrying him. I hate myself everyday for that. If I had known that my abuse would create such problem I would have chosen to be alone. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. What am suppose to do to fix this??

  4. Cindy Wright says:

    (USA) Dear Hope… what a lovely name and how appropriate! I pray you do not allow yourself to live another day of being robbed of living out your name, knowing that no matter how much you have been hurt in this life, there is always HOPE.

    I’m so sorry that you have been so deeply hurt in your past — what a horrible injustice! No one should have to live through any type of victimization! My heart goes out to you — truly, we are kindred spirits in this way. I have known this pain as well… that is why I cry with you. And yet, as you reach out for understanding to the one person who is supposed to interact as your partner in life — your husband, you suffer further (and probably deeper) hurt because he does not understand. Again, I am so sorry. Your heart must be breaking all the more!

    I’ve been praying for you the last few days, knowing God wanted me to respond to your letter, and yet not knowing what I was to write. Today as I was in a prayer gathering, God spoke to my heart to convey to you His message — not to lose hope. Your name is yours for a reason. God chose it for you so you never forget to embrace that which is yours. He loves you.

    God wants you to take your eyes off of your husband as being a participant in your healing. It is tragic that he doesn’t convey God’s heart to love you as unto the Lord, but unfortunately, that is the sad choice he is making. Look to the Lord instead alone for this. Realize your husband has blinders on the eyes of his heart. Forgive him because he does not know what he is doing. Concentrate on the love and strength of God instead of the inadequacies of your husband. Live out the principles God gives in Philippians 4:8-9.

    Fall into God. He can be a soft place to fall and will love you in purity and grace. There are a few Bible verses that I believe God gave me for you to read and embrace. One of them is Psalm 71:20-21 which talks of restoration, increase in honor, and comfort. Also, Proverbs 18:10 tells you that “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” Run to him with your every hurt and care… there is safety as you declare His name. You might even look up on the internet, the names of Jesus. I did that and the names are powerful! Claim those which you need when you need them.

    Psalm 91:1-2 tells you that “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” I have something written near those verses that says “If you are in someone’s shadow, then they’re standing in front of you. Everything that comes your way encounters them first.” Realize this as true. Read Isaiah 49:1-2 and Psalm 73:28 as well. God is your refuge.

    From this day forward, I encourage you to stand tall in Christ. You are a child of the King of Kings. Don’t allow the enemy of our faith to continue to rob you of the peace and the hope you can have in Him. I had to finally come to that place in my own heart and life. If I keep feeling ashamed of who I am and what the enemy of my faith would like me to succumb to — I am telling God that He is not my Redeemer. He is and I will live accordingly… I pray you will as well.

    I finally realized that I was not going to allow myself to be further victimized and was going to reach for healing. God has helped me in this. And because I finally woke up, He is better able to help me become the person He created me to be.

    We have several articles on our web site that I encourage you to read: “Living in Confidence Because of Who You Are in Christ” (in the Mental and Physical Health section). “The Conviction of the Holy Spirit vs the Condemnation of the Enemy of Our Faith” (in the Spiritual Matters section) would be good as well for you to read so you can recognize the difference. I was fooled for a long, long time! And from what I read about your thinking you “have ruined” your husband’s life “by marrying him”, I can see that you have been fooled as well. Your past does not have to be your future. Turn hurt into blessing with God’s help.

    I encourage you to read these as a starting place to get you to think in healthier ways. You can read through “Related Articles” posted at the end of these articles (before the Comment Section) as well. Let God be your guide. God wants to work in and through you and help you to break out of the prison of hurt that you are drowning in right now. Take a journey to healthier thinking and living with God. The Holy Spirit, our Wonderful Counselor can guide you if you lean into His ways instead of “your own understanding.” Hopefully, eventually, your husband will participate with you in this. If not, God will hold your hand even if he won’t.

    For me, it was a painful journey at first. But I declared to God that I was willing to go through it with Him so I no longer had to live in the agony of my past experiences robbing me of joy in my present and future. God faithfully helped me and I can stand tall, knowing that in Christ, my past is not who I am. I am redeemed. Despite that which hurt me, God has helped me to walk victoriously!

    I pray that for you. May God bless and help you every step of the way. And may your husband and others who witness God at work within you, stand amazed in His presence! My love and prayers are with you.

  5. Hope says:

    (JAMAICA) Cindy, thank you so much for your words of encouragement. They were just what I needed to hear. I haven’t been encouraged this much in a long time. It was just last night, that I was crying and asking God which way to turn.

    You are right, God wants me to turn to him for deliverance because my husband is not at the place to help me right now. I am looking at my situation in a new way. Thank you for that.

    The scriptures you gave me spoke so much to my spirit. I look forward to the day when all this will be behind me. Again thank you so much for the kind words you gave.

  6. Rafael says:

    (USA) I have read your article and I am grateful that you have shared this with the world. I am a husband of someone who has been abused. I tried to be understanding but I realize now that I never will. All I can do is be supportive of what she is going through at times. We husbands don’t act like we are supportive but we mean no harm. We just want to help the women we love.

    It hurts me when she pushes me away but in my heart I know she doesn’t do it on purpose. I’ve never had to deal with this kind of issue. This has affected our love life and I know it makes my wife feel bad. But it’s not about sex, it’s about her not being able to show affection towards a person who only wants to help and protect her. We both have children from prior relationships and we try hard to be a family. She has been through a lot in her life because of what happened to her as a child. I just feel that it’s time for her to have a life with someone that truly loves her. She won’t let me in and it hurts cause all I want is the best for her. I feel like what happened to her is being taken out on me. I know she doesn’t mean to.

    My marriage is suffering because of it and I feel like I’m losing her in the process. I’m not willing to give up on us but I don’t know what to do to fix it. I believe that God put us in each others life for a reason. She deserves to finally be at peace. But it’s hard for her to let go and everything I do seems to trigger a bad memory about her abuse. I’m starting to feel like her life would be better off without me cause all I seem to do is hurt her without meaning to. I don’t want to be just another man gone wrong in her life, I want to be the man she can spend the rest of her life with to face whatever life brings as a family. I want husbands to know that they are not alone in dealing with this and for women to know that just cause we don’t seem to understand that it doesnt mean we don’t support them. May God bless all women.

    • :D says:

      (UNITED STATES) Raefel, It is important to understand that healing from sexual abuse is a life-long process. Thinking that somehow this process will disappear for your comfort and happiness is wishful thinking. She is the person who suffers the most, and as a loving husband it is your responsibility to accept her healing process throughout her lifetime. Not being supportive “while not meaning to” will not help her in the least.

      You made this statement: “I’m starting to feel like her life would be better off without me cause all I seem to do is hurt her without meaning to.” The heart of God is stated in the Bible as such: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Abandoning your wife will create more trauma and pain in her life. Abandonment is centered around your happiness, not hers. However, if you continue in selfishness you would be correct in assuming that her life WOULD be better without you. If you excuse yourself of the responsibility to understand, empathize, and respect her boundaries you are choosing unloving behavior. Her avoidance of intimacy will be the direct result.

      The sexual abuser often carries a sense of entitlement: “I have sexual needs, and I am entitled to demand/take what I want.” It is that very attitude that drives women who have been sexually abused away from their husbands. No one likes to be pressured and guilted into sex or physical contact. Yet many husbands who claim to love their wifes do just this –relentlessly. Do they not understand that that is also a form of sexual abuse? It is time to get back to our VOWS: to love, honor, and cherish. That is what you promised to do, for better or for worse. She deserves that after what she has been through, don’t you think?

      • Pierre says:

        (SWITZERLAND) D, This is a rather unfortunate comment of yours. While asking Rafael not to heap on more guilt on his wife, pleading with him to support her in her pain and journey of recovery, you seem to forget that not only his wife has legitimate and justified needs. There seems to be no trace of mutuality in your argument. In the end, a marriage can’t last if mutuality slips out of the equation. Mutuality is what marriage is about in the end. No doubt, Rafael seems desirous to help his wife and has made efforts to do so. He simply is coming to an end of his rope. Asking him to be stronger, more committed, more faithful, more understanding, all the while insinuating that he is excusing himself, being selfish and showing the marks of a sexual abuser, is no wise counsel. Unfortunately -you’re dishing out the same kind of unhelpful advice via guiltying Rafael into helping his wife – that you want him to avoid doing with his wife.

        In the end -an honest assessment of both Rafael’s and his wife’s needs -an honest conversation of what is healthy for both -is crucial and biblical. If after many attempts at conversing, after much counseling and after a lot of real effort shown on both sides, things remain stuck, it may be best for both to separate since the marriage is no longer functioning as marriage was intended by God himself. A man shouldn’t have to play God in the life of his wife. Nor should she be the fulfiller of all his needs. Those are simply unrealistic expectations that have no basis in balanced biblical thought. The needs of both must be taken seriously, but if mutuality is taken out of the equation in caring for one another’s needs, the result always is and will be resentment, anger emotional withdrawal or grudgingly accepting unhappiness as the unavoidable status quo. And that -most definitively is and never will be our good God’s will for our lives.

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