Dear Fellow Survivor Blog: Not Powerless

Dear Fellow Survivor - Not Powerless


This is a blog post series by the author who wrote the devotion series "Dear Survivor". Follow along as he blogs about the background of his experience on his continued journey of healing.

Sensitive content advisory: In this post, I describe an intense session I had with my therapist in which I pictured myself being abused and imagined violent actions by which I escaped from that abusive situation.

Dear fellow survivor,

Not Powerless with God's Strength

Sexual abuse is about power. Yes, it’s also about sex and sexual desires. But as I’ve read research about the sexual abuse of children (and sexual abuse in general), it has become clear to me that in almost every case power is involved. There is a power differential that allows the abuser to take advantage of the person being abused and makes the person being abused feel powerless to stop what is happening.

That power differential can be one of physical strength. It can be one of authority. It can be emotional or psychological. It can be a difference in age or maturity. It can happen as a result of trust or familiarity. It can be anything that gives the abuser some sort of power over another person and which they can exploit to exert control over the person whom they are abusing.

For me, the power differential occurred on several levels. The person who abused me was a little older than I was. Physically, he was much more developed, bigger, and stronger. Because he was older than I was, I felt as if he had some authority over me. Like many young people, I was extremely trusting. I also was very eager to please others and hated making anyone upset. So, when the abuse started, I went along with it. I trusted this person. I thought he was someone who would look out for me. I wanted to please him and didn’t want to make him angry.

Very quickly, however, I felt trapped. Perhaps I felt trapped more because of my immaturity than because the person who abused me consciously exploited the power he had over me. But regardless of whether the person who abused me consciously exploited his power over me, he had power over me. We now had this awful secret that no one else could know. That secret gave him power. If others found out, I’d get in terrible trouble with my parents. They and everyone who knew me would be disappointed with me. My life would be ruined. I’d anger this person whom I trusted, whom I wanted to please, who was bigger and stronger than I was. I wanted it all to stop, but I felt powerless to do anything to stop it.

Those feelings of powerlessness lasted long after the abuse stopped. I experienced a lot of teasing—and some bullying—in high school and college. I did not feel as if I was allowed to stand up and defend myself against that. My wife has said several times during our marriage that her one fear has been that I would not fight for her if ever she were threatened. It hurt a lot to hear that, but I now understand her fear. I don’t think that I felt as if I had permission to stand up and fight for her. I felt powerless.

I didn’t consciously realize just how powerless I felt until a few months ago. I was in the middle of a session with my therapist when suddenly I began to picture in my mind one of the times when I was being abused. My therapist noticed that something was going on and asked me, “Where are you right now?”

“I’m on a bed,” I told him, “and X [the person who abused me] is standing in front of me, naked, getting ready to lie on top of me.”

“Stay there,” my therapist said. “Stay there and picture what is happening. Only now I want you to think about what you can do to get yourself out of there. You can do anything. Anything at all. What will you do to escape?”

I thought for a while. At first, I couldn’t think of anything I could do to escape. I was trapped. I was powerless. There was nothing I could do.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Anything you want,”my therapist responded.

“Anything?” I asked again.

“Yes, anything,” he replied.

Suddenly, I had a thought. It was a disturbingly violent thought. But I let it grow until I could imagine myself doing it.

“What are you doing right now?” my therapist asked.

I told him what I imagined myself doing. I won’t go into the gruesome details here, but what I imagined doing to the person who abused me made it impossible for him to abuse me—or anyone else—ever again. Then I imagined myself getting up off the bed, calmly getting dressed, and walking out of that room and into safety.

I wept uncontrollably as I told my therapist all this. I was horrified at myself. “What kind of person could ever think of doing something so horrible to another human being?” I cried.

“The kind of person who has felt powerless for a very long time but now realizes that he’s not powerless,”my therapist replied. “You would never actually do that to X, but the fact that you can now imagine it means you’ve taken a step toward not feeling powerless anymore.”

My therapist was right. That very difficult therapy session was a turning point for me. Suddenly I realized just how pervasive my feelings of powerlessness were. I realized that I didn’t have to let those feelings of powerlessness control me anymore. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt powerful. I finally felt that I had permission to stand up for myself. I had permission to say no. Even more, not only was I ALLOWED to defend myself, but I also was ABLE to defend myself. I was strong, and I didn’t have to lie down and take it when others wanted to take advantage of me.

What I experienced in that therapy session is not something anyone should try except in a clinical setting with the help of a trained mental health professional. But I’m glad that my therapist led me through that exercise. I’m also glad that he didn’t stop there as he helped me overcome my feelings of powerlessness. From my violent imaginings, he led me to see where my true strength lies. It doesn’t lie in what I can imagine myself doing. It doesn’t even lie in what I can physically do as a grown man. No, my true strength lies in Jesus and who I am in him.

In Jesus, I am not a powerless young teenager who was easily taken advantage of and abused by someone else. I am not a high school or college student who didn’t feel as if he had permission to stand up and defend himself against those who bullied him. I am not a husband whose wife doesn’t trust him to fight for her. No, in Jesus I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). Even when I feel weak and powerless, I, like the apostle Paul, can “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). With David, I can shout, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me” (Psalm 28:7). David’s confidence is mine: “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident… For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:1-3,5).

I am confident that I will never be sexually abused or assaulted again. However, it is good to know that even if such a situation ever arose, I am not powerless. I am a grown man now. I have permission and the ability to defend myself—and those around me. Even more than that, I am God’s child and have God’s power at my disposal. With him by my side, I will never be powerless.

Dear fellow survivor, I don’t know what power differential existed between you and the person who abused you. I do know, however, that even after all these years, you may still feel powerless. If that is the case, as it was with me, I encourage you to talk to someone about this. Talk to your pastor, a mental health professional, a trusted friend or family member, or any combination of these. You are not powerless anymore. You have permission and the ability to stand up for yourself. You don’t need to let these feelings of powerlessness control you any longer.

Most of all, recognize where your true power lies. Yes, you can do a lot more now than you could do when you were younger. Yes, you’re much more mature now and can better recognize when someone is trying to take advantage of you. But ultimately your greatest strength comes from who you are in Jesus.

In Jesus, YOU are more than a conqueror.
YOU are strong in God’s strength.
The Lord is YOUR strength and YOUR shield. He helps YOU.
He is YOUR light and YOUR salvation.
In him, YOU have nothing to fear.
YOU are God’s child with God’s power at your disposal.
With him by your side, YOU will NEVER be powerless.

In Christ,
Your Brother Survivor

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