Monday, September 17, 2012

The Old Wound

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse tend to have patterns of behavior in their adult life, regardless of whether or not they recall everything about their abuse.  Typical manifestations include ...

  • Finding it difficult to develop or maintain close personal relationships.
  • Having a strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
  • Enduring physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
  • Experiencing feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem unmanageable or overwhelming.
  • Undergoing panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or having suicidal thoughts.
  • Finding themselves depending on alcohol, other drugs, or developing eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-esteem.
  • Experiencing problems like low self-esteem, avoidance of sex, promiscuity, or inability to experience orgasms or erections.
  • Exhibiting signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.

  • Now if a person exhibits these behaviors, does this mean he or she was sexually abused? No. We all have symptoms that match some items from the above list.  But abuse victims exhibit these behaviors in spades.  Some could check off every item on this list.

    What interests me about this is that even if the abuse occurred some 45 years in the past, adult survivors live their lives based upon a reality that is no longer temporally present, and no longer valid as a reality.

    In other words, even though someone can be a fully grown adult, he can manage his life as if he were still a three-year-old being abused and in order to shield himself from future abuse.  Intense fear of abandonment or loss of control can manifest itself in either his becoming manipulative and power-hungry and a control freak, or in his becoming submissive and a push-over, constantly desiring to please others for fear of losing them or losing control over an artificial relationship with them.

    This oscillation between two poles can even take place within the same person's life.  He can seem to be a bum, chronically under-employed and living a life of low-balling it so that he never has to deal with the engagement of his Eros in anything that challenges his real self; or he can become a workaholic, driving to succeed at whatever he throws himself into, to the exclusion of his family or his private life.  In both cases, the goal is control - for a disengaged man is in control by not being drawn into anything exciting, compelling or risky; and an over-engaged man is in control by forcing everything to go exactly the way he wants it - which takes a phenomenal amount of work.

    The point is - a person's entire life can be lived in order to avoid the horrors of an event or events in his or her past.  The fear, anger, loss of control, sense of abandonment and existential terror that a victimizer gives his victim can dictate an entire life's misery, without intervention of some sort.

    Thus the Old Wound from childhood continues to dictate the way fully grown adults live.


    In the same way, the Old Wound of Adam dictates the way we all live.  The damage done to our natures by that Original Sin continues to create a false reality in our hearts that we strive to compensate for.

    And in the same way that some survivors of sexual abuse don't recall clearly all the details of what they endured, so we as God's people don't know exactly what the first few chapters of Genesis really and fully tell us.  We know we had some sort of original set of parents who committed some original sin that corrupted our natures, creating an Old Wound that has dominated our thinking and acting ever since.  Was there really a garden?  Really a snake?  Really an apple?  Literally?

    Well, perhaps not - but for adults who ask, "Did this abuse really happen when I can't remember all of it clearly?" and yet while asking that, live all ten of the ten manifesting symptoms, the question is in some sense beside the point.

    The point is our healing.

    For more on this, check out Dawn Eden's book My Peace I Give You - Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    I’m one of the guys who hits 8 for 8 on your list. :-) First of all, thanks for writing this. It’ s nice to see someone else actually gets it. Regarding the use of the “wound” analogy. I wonder if considering the reality of formation would be more appropriate to this. My event, happening as it did during my “formative years,” had an almost universal impact on all aspects of my ongoing formation. One could even say that it was an intentional deforming, or malforming influence on me. In that sense, I don’t simply guard a painful wound when interacting with the world, like shaking hands with my left hand if my right arm is injured. My interaction itself is shaped and influenced, sometimes utterly determined, by my malformation. And it is MY malformation. I’m not blaming myself, but the nature of the person influences the impact of the offense. And predators always seek those they can cull from the herd; the lonely, the neglected, those in need. So, I don’t “manage my life” as though I were ten years old. But I do live, and worship, and work and love…and hate, and hurt, and mourn… as someone irretrievably altered when he was ten. I guess the big difference for me is that wounds heal, and deformations don’t. I remember seeing a beggar in the carribean. Both of his feet were suspiciously club-footed. I know that can just happen, but I also know that some parents will break their child’s legs so they can beg and increase the family income. His knees were bare, and he had developed large pads of calloused skin on them, because he “walked” on them; they were his feet, with his atrophied calves and broken, useless, real feet trailing behind. His “gait” was a rocking, swinging thing because I imagine that after 30+ years walking on his knees, his hips had degenerated. With a wealthy benefactor he could have had reconstructive surgery. This might, with sufficient physical therapy, have enabled him to stand with crutches, or maybe even attempt some shambling approximation of a semi-upright walk. But it wouldn’t be healing, no matter how many promises were made. And I would bet that when he was home, with no one else around, he would walk on his knees.

    8 for 8