I have five siblings, and all of us grew up with an extremely abusive mother. As the oldest child, I seemed to receive most of the abuse. I’m talking about physical, verbal, mental, and spiritual abuse. Her favorite quip was, “God hates you as much as I do. You’re no good and God knows it.” As a result, I have been out of church for years, with no prayer life and wondering why a God who is supposedly “loving” would have allowed such abuse of me. Now I’m going to be a grandmother, and for the first time, I want to deal with the damage my mother (now deceased) did to me. Where do I start? ~ Eileen
Dear Eileen: first I want to tell you how sorry I am for the pain you’ve carried for so long. Next, I want to tell you that God is sadder than I am at what happened to you. There will be a reckoning someday, but in God’s time. He gave us free will and with that comes the flip side of doing damage to others in our choices. I know if I tell you God loves you, it will not mean anything to you right now. I know because I’ve been there, too. But I can give you some practical advice on where to start in your recovery.
Seek help. It is important to have experienced help to walk with you on this journey. You might want to consider finding a pastor or other clergy member to help you with the spiritual damage, or a licensed counselor to help you resolve your childhood/adolescent abuse. Knowing that you need help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom and strength.
Read. There are excellent books that can help you address the issues of abuse. Some you might consider are:
On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Mandt Langberg, Ph.D.
A Safe Place (specifically written for teens who have been sexually abused) by Jan Morrison.
My Father’s Child by Lynda D. Elliott and Vicki L. Tanner, Ph.D.
The Wounded Heart and The Wounded Heart Workbook by Dr. Dan Allender
Keep a journal. Write what you feel and think in a journal or notebook. If you don’t want to write, then draw in a sketch journal to capture your thoughts and feelings. Do this several times a week, or even daily if you need to. It will help you to move your internal voices and pressures outside of yourself where you can see them and think more clearly.
Pray and meditate. Spend time each day quieting your body, mind, and spirit. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, you can start now. Begin to engage God in this process – even if you feel isolated and distant from him. Start to practice honest communication with God. You can pray out loud, silently, or even write out your prayers. God wants to be in a relationship with you. If you’re angry with God, he already knows. God is not afraid of your anger, your doubts, your fears, or your questions. He loves you and wants you to find true healing.
Find a community of faith. A place of worship can sometimes peace to your soul, teach you to grow in a relationship with Christ, and help you connect with spiritually mature people. Worshiping with other people can be a healing experience. There is great spiritual, mental, and physical value when you participate in worship with a community of open and respectful people.
Meditation, Prayer, and Sacred Reading. Some people find comfort from the Bible, some prefer other kinds of sacred writings. Either way, find inspirational books to help cultivate your spirit. If you choose the Bible, (we suggest the New International Version – NIV) New Testament book of John, followed by the book of First John may be a good place for you to begin. While you’re waiting and seeking, study the life of Christ and see what you have in common with the One the Bible calls “Immanuel” – “God with us.” The more you know about the teachings of Christ, the more you will be able to recognize the lies that abuse taught you. Sacred texts help the process of exchanging the lies for the truth.
Cherish yourself. Be kind to yourself. Go for a walk, swim, skate, bike, dance. Take a hot bath, get a massage, or change your style. Eat healthy food with lots of vegetables and fruit. Drink water in abundance. Occasionally, treat yourself to dessert. Take a nap or sit in the sunshine. Abuse teaches you that you have no value. That is a lie that can be countered by treating yourself with respect and value.
Re-parent yourself. Even at your age, you must learn to see that little girl inside as beautiful, special, smart, pretty, and a gift from God. You are obviously a mother, and now you’re expecting a grandchild, so your maternal instincts are flowing. Put them to use! Find a photo of yourself at 2-3 years of age, put it where you have to see it several times a day – I put mine on the table in front of the toilet! – and talk to that little girl. Tell her you love her even if you feel no love for her right now. Talk to her as if she were following you around, and say things that will make you feel protective towards her.
>- Watch out, honey, if you step over there you could get hurt.
– Oh, look, we’re lost again. That’s OK, I’ll take care of us.
– Be careful, darling. Don’t get your pretty dress dirty.
– You are so smart! I love the way your eyes sparkle and your smile is wonderful! You are such a precious child! >
You get the idea, Eileen. Even now, if I get lost while driving, I no longer panic. I say, outloud, “That’s OK. I’ll just stop and ask someone for directions and we’ll be on the right road in no time! No big deal, honey!”
I would love to hear from you again, Eileen. Let me know how you are progressing. I will be praying for you, of course.
(c) 2009 April Lorier