Monday, August 20, 2012

The Ripple Effect


When a young person experiences mistreatment, they are more likely to become victims of other abuses throughout their lives.  So if they find their way to the church, there is a real risk that they might fall victim there too.  It is a sad reality but real just the same, so we need to be mindful of this when we are in the mist of a faith community.  When abuse happens within a young person’s connection to family and/ or faith, it can really mess them up.  Abuse and mistreatment is experienced differently by different people yet the effects take on a similar feel no matter the personality of the individual.  It is for this reason that I am taking time to focus on this issue in my writing.  I was a young person that was injured by abuse.  Then I was an adult in the world trying to survive.  Then I found healing and it’s in the healing where the hope truly lies.  We do not have to be the product of the mistreatment we have endured.  It can be transformed and since no one can experience transformation without help, it is important to have a conversation about what is helpful to those who are hurting.

It would be an understatement for me to say I was a messed up young person.  I moved through life in survival mode, and though I escaped the hurtful situations, I was wounded and the effects did not end when my childhood and adolescence did.  I grew up and then became a messed up young adult, who found herself drawn to a helping profession working with children and teens...which was no accident.  That is where things took a sharp turn  for me interpersonally and professionally, and I am not alone in that experience.  I was now expected to be able to live life on my own.  It was my job now to make balanced decisions for career path, romantic relationships, finances, friendships, faith involvement, and many other adult endeavors.  And that is when things spun out of control for me.

Yes chronologically I had reached the age of maturation, but emotionally I was way behind.  I had learned about power in all of the wrong ways.  I had a very dangerous misconception of what boundaries were and why they mattered.  I blocked the good from deeply touching my soul, and I welcomed unhelpful, often dangerous relationships and experiences into my life.  I was miserable at communicating my needs, and I was hypersensitive and hyper vigilant.  So while I was trying to make my way in the adult world and sometimes faking it very well, I often could not care for my own needs, or represent myself very effectively.  Here’s the sticking point though...being victim of abuse did not relieve me of my adult responsibilities, so I needed to work hard to catch up.  My experience with the effects of abuse is not uncommon, and so I want to give a little glimpse of what moved me from victimhood into healing...not that healing is ever really complete in this life, but more so that I have experienced transformation and grace covers the rest.

My healing came from very specific interventions and though we are not all called to engage deeply with the healing process of those who have been victimized, we are all called to compassion.  I think we can glean a few insights and tools to make ourselves and the communities we find ourselves in safer and more welcoming to those who are hurting.  

Here’s what helped:

Good Therapy- Lots, and lots of good therapy.  I know that our culture in general and our christian subculture in specific, struggles with the idea of talk therapy.  Sure it’s good for helping people who are mentally unstable, or victim to tragic natural disasters, but as a way of life?!?  No way.  For a victim though, therapy is a path towards restoring most of what was taken during the abuse, and what can’t be restored gets grieved fully.  Grieving then gives way to moving forward into a new day.  We need to emotionally, politically, and sometimes even financially support those who need therapy.  So yeah.  Therapy...lots and lots of good therapy.  

Intentional and Consistent Presence- When people are intentional about getting to know someone, yet move at a very slow rate, it helps tremendously.  For me, I am extremely cautious in adulthood and I choose that now, which is a common response to trauma.  I have a handful of women who are older than I am that have done this very well for me.  Each of these women are diverse, but they understand two things.  1.  There is a very good reason I am extremely cautious, so they practice presence with me.  2.  When I am not engaging, it is not about them.  They don’t take my withdrawal personally.  They love consistently in the present tense, regardless of my response to that love.  

Eye Contact-  Actions and words can deceive, but the eyes are the window to our soul.  People who practice eye contact have helped me immeasurably.  Even if a hurting person cannot reciprocate, it does get noticed and that matters more than words ever do.  

These three examples are small shifts we can make to be a healing agent in this world.  We can change our knee jerk response to therapy.  Those who need it aren’t less spiritual, and probably aren’t less mentally capable than others.  It’s just that abuse is a wound of relationship, so it takes relationship to heal the wound.  Be mindful of language about mental illness and taking cheap shots at the discipline/ art of talk therapy.  Practice presence with everyone you can and practice that presence specifically with the art of eye contact.  Don’t stare down, but invite connection.  It works when we are newborns and it continues working throughout our lives.  Human connection begins with eye contact.  

So as in most things, it is quite simple, but we often miss it because we are too busy keeping pace with “the world”.  I promise you there is more than one victim of abuse in your life right now.  The statistics are mind boggling, and those statistics only give a glimpse of the real dilemma, because for every reported case of abuse there are more cases unreported. We require stillness to be able to access what we need in order to help those around us who are hurting. Which is yet another reason why we need stillness in this life; it opens us up to the possibilities of how we can be God’s hands and feet in this age and to follow the path Jesus laid out for us.  It is a path of reconciliation.  It is also a path of suffering but such suffering is never the end of the story it’s merely the lead up to a redemptive climax.  Grace covers it all, and for that I am eternally grateful.

P!nk is a musical artist that rarely shies away from the difficult issues facing young women in our culture.  I respect her and her art very much.  Her lyrics often touch on the darkness within us all, yet she does it in a way where I feel hopeful by the end of one of her songs or videos.  This video is a cleaned up version of an amazing song on her last album.  I think she visually and lyrically tells the story about the journey from circumstance to wholeness.  If you have experienced trauma, it will be triggering.  If you have not, this video will be hard to watch.  I think it is important to this conversation, even with the severe imagery; but I want this disclaimer upfront so that you can choose whether you watch this video or not.


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