Three Steps to Becoming Whole After Being Sexually Harmed

Nobody wakes up one day and says, “Today I want to mess up.” You have a story. You came to be where you are from somewhere. That’s especially true when it comes to sexual matters. How you’re behaving now comes out of the beliefs, experiences, and even traumas you’ve accumulated. Is it possible to become whole after being sexually harmed?

I’m one who believes, as many do, that we have all been sexually harmed in some way. Finding wholeness requires, as Dr. Dan Allender says, “giving up the presumption that we have not suffered sexual harm. We all have. Each and every individual on the earth has known some assault against their gender and/or their genitalia. Some of the harm is obvious and severe. Other harm is so subtle and normalized that it seems ridiculous to call it abuse. But sexual abuse is often far subtler and extensive than most of us have considered.”[1]

Some of that harm may have been obvious and severe; childhood sexual abuse or molestation, rape (including marital rape), sexual exploitation by someone in power (including a Christian leader), etc. Or that harm may have been more subtle and pervasive, such as early sexualization through dance or similar environments, early exposure to pornography, lies or unhealthy sexual messages from culture or the church, and more.

You responded to that harm in ways that have consequences. But to become whole after sexual harm you will need to not only address current behaviors; it will take addressing your sexual story. Here are at least three important parts of that process.

  1. Looking at Your Story with Honesty and Compassion

If you’ve tried to deal with your sexual harm by ignoring it, minimizing it, or pretending it doesn’t affect you, how’s that working for you? If you’ve been acting out sexually (using porn, sleeping around, having an affair, stuck in a sexually dysfunctional relationship), trying harder to “do better” doesn’t work unless you deal with how you got to where you are.

Looking at your sexual story is uncomfortable. You may well prefer to stay hidden, continuing the pattern of hiding that human beings have engaged in ever since the Garden of Eden. Looking at this stuff usually brings up so much shame, and you don’t want to “go there.”

And yet part of you probably agrees that to become whole after being sexually harmed you’ll need to address your story. As you contemplate doing that, let me remind you that Jesus knows your story already. He doesn’t only see what you’re doing or not doing right now; He sees everything about how you came to be where you are. And He looks at you and your story with both complete honesty and deep compassion.

That’s the way to look at your story, and especially the sexual harm you experienced – with both honesty and compassion. You really did experience that, and it affected you in these ways. You were sinned against, and yes, you have sinned in response. In some respects you’ve been shaped by what you experienced.

And compassion; that doesn’t mean what you’ve done or not done doesn’t matter. It does mean, however, that self-contempt is never helpful. Condemnation is always the enemy’s tactic. Jesus always looks at you with compassion.

  1. Tell Your Story

In my work with people over many years, this is almost always the hardest part of the process for someone dealing with “stuff.” You might not be able to imagine ever speaking about it to anyone. Or perhaps you’ve tried to tell someone and it didn’t go well, only leading to more harm.

Yet there’s something powerful about sharing your story, including the sexual harm, in an appropriate context. God designed healing to come through “confessing” to one another (James 5:16). There are some powerful results of doing so:

  • Your shame loses its power. Shame gets disinfected when you bring your sexual harm into the light.
  • New brain pathways get formed. Being seen, truly seen, by someone who doesn’t leave the room is a powerful neurobiological part of healing.
  • The meaning of your story changes. The facts don’t change, but how your mind holds those memories becomes more integrated and whole.

A frequent response I get to this is, “I don’t have anyone to talk to.” Friends, I know how hard this is; it’s not easy for me either! But if you want to become whole after being sexually harmed, this is perhaps the most important place to invest your time and energy.

You can do the hard and sometimes messy work to find your people. If necessary, start by telling your story to just one person. Choose thoughtfully and prayerfully, but just do it! And if you’ve tried before and it didn’t go well, look for someone safe and try again.

  1. Invite Jesus Into Your Story

Jesus doesn’t offer robotic tele-health options on His menu of services. The only way He works is when you allow Him to come in. When Jesus was here on earth nothing stayed the same when He showed up. Broken people became whole when they came into His presence. And your story won’t stay the same when He shows up there either.

Your internal picture of God has been affected by your sexual harm, and that may make you reluctant to invite Jesus to come that close. Tell Him that. You might start by imagining Jesus right in the room with you, and write Him a letter telling Him just what you feel. Please don’t use King James English! Let the emotional R brain part of you speak. Be honest. Allow Him to be with you.

The way Jesus works is almost always through a process of transformation. You make the ongoing choice to allow Him in, just as you choose to take physical food into your body and actually metabolize it. He changes you from the inside out.

And that’s how you become whole after being sexually harmed.

The Process of Becoming Whole

These three points are abbreviated aspects I unpack much more deeply in my new book Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships.

If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources, download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.

CHECK OUT THE BOOK

Your Turn:  Where have you been sexually harmed? How did it impact you – your body, your mind, your relationships, your picture of God? What next step do you need to take in becoming whole?  Leave a comment below.

Want More? On the latest podcast episode I talk with Dr. Shannae Anderson about PTSD, including sexual harm, and the process of becoming whole as a Christian. Listen or watch.

Tweetables: Why not share this post?

  • It IS possible to become whole after being sexually harmed. That process is not a mystery, but it takes your specific engagement to look at your story, find someone to tell, and then invite Jesus right into your story.  Tweet that.

[1] Dan. B. Allender, Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016), 22.

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