Monday, September 29, 2008

Forgive Yourself

We didn't ask to be abused, but healing from abuse requires forgiving ourselves for our reactions and our vulnerability. When we look back at our past it is easy to feel shame over both the things we had some control over and the things over which we had no control. It can be a tangled mess that we either wallow in or avoid at all costs.

Some of the things I have needed to forgive myself for include the following:

--not succeeding in my attempts to protect myself from my abusers (in reality, my experiences as a minor were beyond my ability to stop--but I tried to end the abuse and I judged myself for the failure. I needed to let go of harshly judging myself as a failure)

--the years of my life that were negatively affected by my attempts to suppress all memories of abuse

--marrying at 19 to escape abuse--only to marry another abuser

--the lies of omission that I participated in to keep the abuse a secret

--the decision as a teenager to not tell the family doctor about the abuse

--continuing to date one of my abusers for several more months after he raped me, giving him the opportunity to heap more physical and emotional abuse on me

--being unsuccessful in protecting my little sister from my Dad (I'd already been a victim as incest and took it on as my responsibilty to protect her from incest)

--the times I have not trusted trustworthy people because of my past abuse

--the times I have allowed lots of my energy to be sucked away in codependent relationships

--the times that I have doubted God because of my history of abuse

--over-reacting emotionally to something because of my past experiences of betrayal

--under-reacting to my internal cues of danger (which have been amazingly accurate)

--ignoring my radar that tries to tell me when a new acquaintance is prone to codependency relationships

--the years of blaming myself as the cause of abuse

Each time I forgive myself for a real or perceived "failure" I move forward in my journey of healing and claiming an abuse-free life.

You have your own list of things that are crying out for forgiveness. Abuse is not your fault--you do not need to spend the rest of your life punishing yourself. Resist being your own emotional abuser! Giving yourself the same compassion and forgiveness that you would be willing to give to a friend, or even an acquaintance, is not too much to give to yourself.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Abuse is like an uncollected debt.

A small business owner feels used when a client knowingly writes a bad check with no funds to back it and then won't pay the money they owe. As long as the owner leaves the account open, he will be reminded of the unresolved problem each time he examines his accounting books. His aggravation grows as he tries to collect, sending reminder bills and legal paperwork that go unheeded.

In many cases, the business owner eventually decides to report the debt as a loss or write-off, so that he can at least move the offensive uncollected funds to a different page or column of his ledger to lower his tax liability for the job that has cost him time and stress. Forgiveness is similar to a write-off.

Forgiveness does not mean that the one has not been wronged and it does not fix being wronged--but it does allow the wronged party to move on, without constant pressure to try to collect on the debt. It eliminates the ever-present reminder of the person who has been abusive. It helps one to move on with life, allowing the forgiver to stop obsessing about how to "make" the wrong-doer take responsibility and make restitution.

True forgiveness:
--Acknowledges the debt/sin that has been done
--Understands that the offender cannot ever make the survivor's life the way it was before trust was violated with abuse
--Empowers the forgiver to set future boundaries
--Releases the one who forgives from trying to "fix" the wrongdoer
--Frees the survivor to be accepting of her or his emotional responses to the whole ordeal
--Lightens the emotional load on the survivor's shoulders
--Ends the tendency to feel stuck in the past, allowing any continued processing of the past to occur on a timetable that works for the victim
--Promotes spiritual growth as we trust God to help us forgive things we didn't think we would ever be able to forgive
--Gives us peace as we realize that Jesus has paid for all sins
--Allows us to put our trust in God as the final judge of all those who refuse to repent of sin

Forgiveness is part of the healing process. But don't rush forgivenss. Review the post entitled What Forgiveness Isn't to help you avoid false forgiveness that scars instead of being an effective part of the healing process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Forgiveness Isn't

I believe forgiving those who have wronged us is a vital part of healing, but I regularly encounter abuse survivors who are harmed by some well-meaning counselor pushing them to quickly forgive their abuser. I've also talked with many survivors who do not have a clear understanding of what forgiveness means.

Over the years, I've learned what forgiveness isn't. True forgiveness:
--does not assert that the abuse was "no big deal"
--does not claim there is no pain
--does not insist that the abuse is forgotten
--does not pretend that the abuse never really happened
--does not shield the abuser from natural consequences
--does not require telling lies to keep the abuser's reputation untarnished
--does not "fix the family" or "hold the family together"
--does not mean recovery is completed
--does not terminate feelings about the abuse (including anger & sorrow)
--does not change the abuser into a caring, responsible person
--does not demand that the survivor be a selfless martyr
--does not by itself make a survivor whole
--does not grant trust and access to the abuser
--does not have to be spoken to the abuser
--does not result in the victim feeling re-victimized

On the next post, I'll share some thoughts on what forgiveness does involve.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Interview with an Abuse survivor/Novelist

Yesterday, I had the privilege of interviewing an author, Beth Fehlbaum, of a novel that was published this month. Talking with other survivors who have engaged actively in a healing process always inspires me. Each story is unique, and yet we each have some things in common as a result of our past abuse. I haven't met Beth face to face, but I recognize certain important things about her: she is a survivor, she is courageous enough to face deep pain, she cares about others, she is healing from trauma, she is humble and at the same time is busy learning that she has value and worth regardless of how sinfully a relative mistreated her in her childhood. I hope the interview inspires you in your own journey of healing.

Tanya: Why did you write a story whose main character (Ashley) has been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually?

Beth: Courage in Patience came about, in a way, as a therapeutic suggestion. I have been in counseling for almost four years, dealing with my experience of being sexually abused as a child. About two years in to the process, I had been writing short stories and poems as a way of processing my feelings. One day, my therapist suggested that I try writing a novel. Initially, I was writing it for myself-- and the story as it is did not take shape until about four months in, because it was not until I was able to pull myself out of my head and be an observer to someone else's experience that Ashley Nicole Asher, age fifteen, came into being.

Tanya: What hope do you wish to give other survivors of abuse through this book?

Beth: I want other people who are on the same road that I have been on to know that they are NOT crazy to have feelings like Ashley has, and that they are not alone in their struggle to heal. Above all, I want to give them hope that they can make it through the darkest days of being on the journey to recovery, and come far enough to be able to SEE how far they have come.

Tanya: The episodes in the book that describe Ashely's PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) panic attacks and her skill at disassociating from painful incidents are vivid and authentic. If one of my blog readers were to read your book and its realism "triggered" a PTSD or disassociation attack, what would you like her or him to know?

Beth: That is a great question, and one that I do not take lightly. I will be really honest with you-- I am protective of myself with respect to what I read and watch on TV and in the movies so that I am not triggered-- and I hope that other survivors will also be protective of themselves. I sincerely worried about the possibility of triggering other people when I decided to publish Courage in Patience. At the same time, it is Ashley's story, just as we all have our own stories, and I felt it was important to tell it so that the healing that takes place would be just as true. I would never, never want anyone to be triggered by what I wrote, though, and if it does have that affect, please know that I know where you are in your struggle, what you are dealing with.

Tanya: I love the structure of your novel. The first 1/4 gives us an intense introduction to how Ashley is being abused by her stepfather and the remaining 3/4 of the book immerse us in Ashely's beginning healing process and the healing process of other teens with an assortment of different painful life issues to face. You could have made the book 1/2 abuse and 1/2 recovery. Or you could have done 1/4 Ashley's abuse and 3/4 only about Ashley's recovery (without the other subplots involving the new adults and teens that entered her world). Talk to us a little bit about how the structure ties into the themes of the book.

Beth: In creating the sub-plots, I was guided by this idea: "Nobody gets out of this life without a scratch." Ashley spent her formative years living inside her own head, and becoming an expert at disconnecting at what is painful. It was important to me that Ashley be a witness to other people's struggles and pain, to see that courage comes in all forms, and that all of the victories are realized when the characters lived in the light of the truth. Thank you; I'm glad you liked the structure. I love each of those teenage characters as if they were my own children.

Tanya: Ashley has to deal with not only an abusive stepfather but also a mother who does not believe her when she reports the abuse. I know this happens frequently in real life. Can you share with my readers what you've learned about how someone can cope with this horrible situation of additional betrayal?

Beth: I've learned that it takes hard work, time, the guidance of a skilled therapist, the unconditional love I find in my support system of my husband and daughters.. and that there are days that it still hurts like hell.

Tanya: I was glad that you did not try to have Ashley wholly healed in the three month period of her healing journey that we read about. Healing is a rewarding but slow journey for abuse survivors. What encouragement would you share with readers who are currently stepping out of denial and seeking healing for their battered hearts? What would you say to the reader who has already spent years working through healing issues but still struggles sometimes?

Beth: I am glad you appreciated that there is not an altogether "happy" ending-- but rather a hopeful ending. And, I'm working on the sequel to Courage in Patience now- it's called Hope in Patience. I agree with you-- healing IS slow. For those just starting on the path, I would say, "Hold on for the ride of your life." My therapist described recovery from sexual abuse to me in a few ways. One was, "It's like a roller coaster." Another was, "It's like walking, barefoot, from Texas to Alaska and back again." And, "It's like a walk through hell." I think most people who have been working at it for a while would agree that it feels like all three of those at once sometimes, and other times just one. It's NOT easy. It should be undertaken with the guidance of a competent therapist. You may not stick with the first therapist you find. And your journey may have stops and starts. Mine did. It was only when my life came to a critical point that I undertook the task and did not look back.

A strong support system helps immeasurably. There are going to be times that you feel very alone. But you're not. And that's a big message I'm trying to send with this book. With regard to people who are still working through the pain and still struggle-- well, join the club. As Bev, Ashley's stepmom says, "The side effects of sexual abuse are kind of like chemotherapy. You're going to have good days and bad days."

Tanya: You address self-injury desires and suicidal thoughts in your novel. What would you like to say to my blog readers who struggle with one or both of these issues?

Beth: From what I have learned, the desire to injure yourself and the suicidal thoughts are quite common for people who were sexually abused. But you don't have to act on them. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with a competent mental health professional. Don't try to be your own brain surgeon. This is too important an effort to try to do it, armed with just a self-help book.

Tanya: Courage in Patience includes some ugly portraits of hypocritical, judgemental, and unkind Christians. It is such a travesty when any religion is twisted and misused to abuse others. It leaves deep scars. I enjoyed reading that ZZ's grandmother, who urges mature and compassionate responses to the horrors of racism, carried her Bible into a meeting populated by a misguided group of people being led by a corrupt preacher. Would you like to share something about how faith can be a help or a hinderance in journey of healing from abuse?

Beth: I don't really have much to say on the subject, other than that some of the worst advice I got when I was in my early 20s and trying to start to deal with my "stuff" was given me by a person in a counseling center run out of a church. The advice was "Count your blessings" and "Forgive your abuser." I had not even started to deal with this stuff and I was being told to forgive? Unlike a lot of people, I do NOT believe that forgiveness of the people who were supposed to love and protect a child but did not is necessary for healing to occur. So, I guess I would say, anyone who tries to make that kind of forgiveness into some kind of litmus test for who's going to heaven (or not)-- is twisting religious faith into a toxic thing.

Tanya: What tool has helped you the most so far in your own healing journey? Is it something that is included in the novel?

Beth: Writing has helped me the most, along with a very talented therapist who, along with my husband and daughters, make up what I call my ROCK.

Tanya: Near the end of the book a character says, "I think there are a lot of us [those who were sexually abused as a child] in the world, a lot more than people want to believe. Nobody wants to think that adults force sex on children." What final thoughts would you like to share with those who have carried the shame and fear of sexual abuse and incest?

Beth: Even though it may not seem like it right now, you are not alone.

Tanya: Indeed, you are not alone, Reader. No matter what type of abuse you have experienced or who abused you, you are not alone. Thank you, Beth, for your honest answers.

Readers, if you would like to read Courage in Patience or would like to learn more about the author visit her blog:

Friday, September 19, 2008


What do you do if you are in the middle of watching a movie or reading a book and you are triggered? What do you do if your heart beat starts pounding rapidly, you break out in a sweat, and you are overwhelmed by emotions?

The first times these things happened to me as a young adult, I had no idea what to think or to do. I had buried the abuse deep down and did not acknowledge it consciously. My body and my subconscious, however, did not live in the same denial.

Those traumatic reactions gave me hints that I had things I needed to face. Now, many years later, I have opened up the closets and have dealt directly with many abuse memories--but I still feel triggered once in a while.

I've learned some things that help when I am triggered:
1.) The intense feelings pass quicker if I acknowledge them respectfully/gently. Recognizing that I am reacting to a present situation from unresolved past abuse helps me to take it easy on myself. I no longer tell myself that I am acting "crazy" or "stupid" or "over-emotional."
2.) I am less stressed when I remember that God is with me in the present and He knows everything about my life. I ask Him to comfort me, and to help me to remember what I need to remember in His perfect timing.
3.) It's okay to do something comforting while my mind is locked. I can snuggle under a warm blanket or go on a brisk walk or pace or talk to a friend or listen to music.
4.) After the panic has subsided, I can make an appointment with myself to explore what happened. I can choose to journal or draw or paint or talk to a counselor or a friend.
5.) The past is easier to face when I remember that it is the past. It already happened. I already survived it. It may feel as if remembering abuse will destroy me or rip apart my world, but I will ultimately feel much better after I examine what creates such big emotions.

What helps you when your body is traumatized by something you read or see on a screen?

Saluting Courage

Monday, September 22, 2008, I will be posting an interview with an author, Beth Fehlbaum, who has published a brand new novel about a teenage girl's journey through incest and the beginning of recovery.

I am pleased to salute the author's courage in delving into a difficult subject authentically. This is not a biographical book but the author writes with the power of someone who has been there. I will be asking her questions about healing from childhood sexual abuse in the interview.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Being Kind to Yourself

Being kind to oneself is challenging when you are in the process of healing from former abuse. It is easy to neglect your needs and be harsh with yourself.

Do you recognize this struggle in yourself? I sure do. I see myself denying myself the grace I give to others. I see myself neglecting my physical needs.

I don't have any quick fix. But I do have encouragement. As we focus on God, he heals our understanding of ourselves and helps us to recover the ability to love ourselves and others.

God is helping me to stop and ask myself new questions. If my child were feeling the way I do at the moment what would I say? do? think? Can I give myself the same loving attention I easily give to my child? What would happen if I were kind to myself in this situation?

Each time I succeed in catching myself in the old behavior and succeed in doing something kind for myself is a sweet victory!

Being unkind to ourselves perpetuates the abuser's work. Each time we risk trying new and kinder behavior we are participating in redeeming the former abuse damage. We can overcome and claim a much better life for ourselves!

Friday, September 12, 2008

To Stay or to Go?

As an abused child I remember standing in my bedroom at around six years old planning my escape. I was ready to run away. My Dad wanted to do things with me that hurt and weren't right. Even at that age I knew it was wrong. But I couldn't figure out a practical plan for running away that would keep me safe. I had no money and no where to go. I was stuck.

Many years later in my thirties, I prayed urgently for God's guidance as I struggled to stay awake one night. I could feel crisis coming. Each time my eyes slid closed I could sense the danger. My husband had been escalating, the next round of abuse was hovering, it wouldn't be long. I knew the children and I were in danger but I didn't know what to do. Fears clawed at me. I felt trapped by my fears about what he'd do if we stayed and frightened by what might happen to us if I took the children and left. I was a stay-at-home wife with three small children. I had no money and no where to go. No one knew about the abuse; I doubted anyone would believe me. I was stuck.

In the middle of the night there was another confrontation when my eyes snapped open to find him towering over me in the dark, his eyes full of anger in the light coming through a window. The tension was like sparking electricity--ominous and dangerous. The explosion was inevitable. It would happen soon.

I cried out to God again. What should I do? And then God's quiet voice let me know that I needed to get my children to safety in the morning after he left for work. I numbly did just that the next day. Once we were out of explosion range, I was able to hear more from God. He was inviting me to consider a new question. He didn't urge me to continue thinking about my fears that pushed and pulled at me. He asked my heart to think about what would be the most loving things to do. Should I return in a day and pick up where we left off or should I go report to a shelter and refuse to return until the abuse problem was directly faced and dealt with? what was the most loving thing to do for my spouse? Should I let him continue abusing without any consequences? I felt the God of love urging me to make these life changing decisions based not on my many valid fears and the huge unknowns that terrified me, but to act based on love.

I didn't feel in love anymore but I was very aware that I loved my husband and extremely committed to making my marriage work. I wanted to be loving. I wanted to be a God-honoring wife. These very things had motivated me on a daily basis to hang tough through lots of crisis.

But suddenly, once I was out of the home, God was shaking my soul with questions about my willingness to love. Did I love my spouse enough to challenge his sinful behavior that had become our way of life? Did I love my children enough to protect them even though it might cost me my marriage? Did I love God enough to let him lead me into a future I had never envisioned?

Over the next week, I wrestled with God, with all my old ideas of love, and with my broken heart. At the end of the week I knew the answers. Staying with my abusive husband was what I most wanted--I wanted things to magically get better, I wanted God to make my husband see what he was doing and make him get the help he desperately needed, and I wanted my marriage to be beautifully redeemed to be a glowing testimony of God's power to heal the broken. But, the most loving thing I could do for my husband of fourteen years was to refuse to return to our abusive home-- so he could understand that the abuse was unacceptable. The most loving thing I could do for my children was to protect them from further abuse, no matter what it took. The best chance our family had for health required that I let go of trying to force the marriage to work and allow my husband the opportunity to turn to God for help. And if none of my marriage mess worked out as I wanted, I could best love God by trusting Him anyway and following Him wherever He was leading me.

Fear can sound so practical, but it does not enable change--it actually feeds abuse. Love has the power to transform lives.

My husband did not choose healing or restoration. I ended up a divorced woman with three children to raise. I didn't get the happy ending I unrealistically kept demanding in my fear. But I did get deep and wonderful redemption. God was with me every step of the way--my trust in God became stronger than I could ever have imagined. The broken marriage was a tragedy--but one that had already been forged by years of abuse, not by my courageous act of love. Love in action is never futile; it bears eternal fruit that far exceeds the pain of laying our will and our plans aside. God has been incredibly faithful and has built for me a life that is far better (more joyful, peaceful, and rewarding) than the abusive marriage I tried for so long to hold on to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Don't Let Money Rule

Being responsible with money is a wise attribute--except when you are trying to decide what to do in an abusive marriage or dating relationship. When it becomes clear that your partner is willing to injure you physically to try to keep control over you, safety becomes more important than worrying about how you will survive financially if you separate.

Financial fears are one of the top reasons that abused women and men stay in harmful homes. They hope the other person will get better and they can't visualize how they will make it financially on their they remain.

It breaks my heart to hear the stories of people living in dangerous and painful situations because of money. When my children and I left my abusive spouse we had no income. I was a stay-at-home mom. I had absolutely no idea how things would work out financially. But when I felt God telling my heart that it was time to leave to protect my children, I left. God is our provider regardless of the existence or absence of paychecks. It may have been easier for me to leap because my spouse had already been unemployed multiple times during our marriage and I had personally experienced how faithfully God provides. It has to be much more difficult if you've been experiencing poverty already and are not sure how much God is or isn't helping. Perhaps more of my story will help. I left with my three children and rented an apartment with my parents as co-signers. We slept on the floor with borrowed blankets and pillows. But God consistently provided. I started a housecleaning business under God's leading even though I'd never considered starting any business, my separation timed with when my Dad received his first retirement money and my parents were able to help me with my basic needs for months, friends and family sent the children school supplies and gifts, the counselors discounted their rates, doctors discounted their services, people tipped me at the perfect times, neighbors thought of me when they moved and had food to leave behind, garage sales had just what we needed right when we needed it at ridiculously low prices, and fellow church members blessed me multiple times at God's urging. My kids and I had all our needs met by our gracious God.

Yes, we were financially well below the poverty line. But we ate three meals a day, every day. Even when it didn't look possible the day before.

And we were happier and less stressed than we'd ever been in our middle class suburbia home. We didn't walk in fear any more. We didn't have to hide tons of pain behind denial. We had priceless gifts--freedom, safety, and grace poured out abundantly upon us. God was in charge of meeting our needs and he came through with flying colors.

So cling to God and trust Him. Your safety matters.

P.S. And by the way, separating from an abuser is the biggest way (really the only way) that you can inspire him or her to get help for his or her issue with using violence as a power tool in your relationship.

Monday, September 8, 2008


When a memory haunts you and arouses your physiological responses as if you were back in the original trauma, it is extremely upsetting. Talking to others doesn't always work to take away such flashbacks. One particular incident of abuse tormented me for years--I kept seeing the delight in his eyes as my abuser saw my pain and my fear in response to his physical abuse. Whenever those eyes filled my mind, I was caught...lifted out of my present and stuck in a moment of horror that had happened long before. I was beginning to wonder if this memory would ever become just a memory. A few EMDR sessions with a qualified counselor turned out to be miraculous in transforming this trauma-producing memory into an old fully-processed memory of past abuse.

EMDR is an effective tool but I wasn't sure about giving it a try at first. I thoroughly trusted the counselor and had always done traditional counseling with her. I doubted that remembering while holding two hand devices that alternated vibrations would make any difference. I was wrong. The bilateral stimulation of the brain used in this technique makes a huge difference in how the brain can deal with a traumatizing memory.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The technique developed by Francine Shapiro uses eye-movements or bilateral sound (with ear phones) or bilateral tactile stimulation (with vibrating mini-paddles or tapping)along with traditional psychological therapy. It is an eight step process that helps the brain to look at what seems too horrible to examine and allows the person to process the memory.

If you have traumatic flashbacks, PTSD, or feel stuck with processing a bad memory, consider EMDR. If you decide to give it a try, make sure that you are working with a counselor who has been trained to use EMDR.

Claiming New Territory

Abuse bludgeons our acceptance of ourselves. Shame, false guilt, and ugly words tear at our perceptions of our value. Even after leaving abusive relationships of the past, I've needed to work on accepting myself.

I Will be Myself

by Tanya T. Warrington

I will not accept their words

Deep into my soul;

I am not selfish for stating my needs,

I am not too sensitive for feeling the pain of abuse,

I am not small simply because others took from me

I am me, after all, no matter what is said;

I am a caring person, who has been a victim,

I am a courageous soul, who has separated herself from abuse,

I am a maturing child of God, who isn’t done growing

I’m going to feel my own feelings

Even when someone tries to tell me I’m wrong,

I’m going to think carefully and trust myself

Even when others try to rush me,

I’m going to soar above my past

Even when others try to put me back in chains

I can’t change them, I know it is true,

But I can change my own thinking;

I can celebrate my healing,

I can accept who I am--

I’m ready to just be me,

Without paying heed to the old voices telling me I can’t--

Today, I will be myself

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft