This season is tough on some of us. We all know it. Some are grieving. Some are struggling with depression. Others have recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness…and the list goes on. There are countless reasons Christmas, with all of it’s joy, can be a really difficult time. And one particular group on my heart this year are those who have survived sexual abuse. Why? Because this is a time of year when many are encouraged to stay silent – pretend everything is okay – and stand by swallowing the thick gag inducing reality of what really happened.
And maybe it’s you this year. And maybe it’s someone you know. Maybe the trauma is fresh, and maybe it happened 20 years ago – but still feels like it was yesterday. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse, so chances are, it has affected someone you know in some kind of way. But what can we do?
As a therapist, there are 2 things I have noticed that are more healing than any theoretical process or research driven therapy could ever be. And what are those 2 things?
Victims of sexual abuse need to know they have a voice, and they need others not to shrink back from their story. It’s that simple and that complicated.
I think of it in the same way my husband was once described as a firefighter. He was the one who chose to run into a burning building when everyone else was running out.
And that’s just it.
When someone has been hurt by sexual abuse, regardless of the extent of the abuse or how long ago it happened, there is a part of them that was on fire. It was in pain, it was hot, it felt like burning, afraid, alone, and trembling. A really scary space. Family may run away, friends may not understand, and many people just pretend it never happened because no one wants to swallow that it really did.
And I don’t think it’s intentional, this way we go about avoiding what happened. As humans, because of the way we are wired or the way we are raised, these kind of things make us uncomfortable. And so it seems easier just to sweep them under the rug than to get real and honest about them. But where does that leave the vicim?
Powerless, voiceless, undone…feeling alone and afraid. And it’s wrecking.
When something comes along and devastates your sense of humanity and innocence, everything in you wants to hide and scream all at the same time. And because we don’t know what to do with the jumbled up traumatic emotions and memories – we often do whatever we can to lock them away as if something is wrong with us, and disengage. And that my friend, is why offering a listening ear, being there for someone, regardless of what they need to talk about – is of utmost importance.
And a step beyond that, we need to help them find their voice
One of the most empowering things anyone has ever done for me was a sweet friend who told me it was okay not to engage with those who prompted my pain during the Holidays. That I didn’t have to give into pressure or demands. That my feelings mattered, and that my feelings were okay. And you can be that friend for someone else. You can empower them to have a voice during the Holidays. To let others know that some things are just too much for them to engage in – and that is okay.
And so as we celebrate the birth of God’s one and only Son tomorrow, it’s my prayer that we remember the true reality of why He came. That He was not afraid to get in the middle of our stark barren humanity and He never shrinks back from our pain. That He is the Wonderful Counselor and that He calls us to share His good news with others in any and every way that we can.
Sometimes the best thing we can do to celebrate Jesus is to sit next to the person who bears the burden of the undisclosed, let them know they are seen/heard, and that Jesus will never shy away from their pain because they are the very reason why He came.