Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's Not About Sexual Abuse Part 2

What About the Guilt and Shame They Feel?

In the posting I did the other day "It's Not About Sexual Abuse", I was writing largely in answer to a statement made by a reader, to a previous posting.  Here is the statement I made in the original posting "What do we Learn from the Main Stream Media Coverage of the Pope?":
"The last thing that sexual abuse victims want typically is to have the shame they felt, and the sorrow they live with daily brought into a public forum. It is humiliating to them, and is an act of further victimization."
The response from Lady Janus, a reader was as follows:
You're right, and it should not be that way. Being a victim of abuse should be no more shameful than being a victim of robbery or arson. But the very reason for that shame is centered in the teaching of your church -- that anything to do with your genitals is your own sinful fault unless it takes place within the confines of marriage. The shame needs to be removed. But the members of your faith are the only ones who can do that, and they will not.

You really do bring it on yourselves -- not the crime, but the shame of its having happened. But there is nothing anyone can do to help you because y'all will not allow it. "The faith" and its teaching are deemed to be more important than the feelings of mere victims of abuse that has been facilitated by the secrecy of system in which they live. What I don't understand is why you can't see this for yourselves...
In the second piece linked above, I thought I dealt with her comment appropriately, because I felt that it was a disingenuous statement, in truth.  However, she clarified her position, and it warrants further input.

Here is her reference to my response statement:
"Yet, my commenter wanted to lump the shame that they universally feel (in my experience with them) as something that was the fault of Catholic Church teaching on sexuality. That is a disingenuous comment, and frankly not worthy of her, nor me, and especially not worthy of all the men, women, boys and girls who have had their lives turned upside down by sexual abuse."
And here is her further comment:
Apparently, I wasn't making myself clear. I wasn't "lumping" anything with anything -- I was actually trying to clarify a point about the shame that is often felt by some victims of abuse. Let me try again... The feeling of shame is not something with which we are born. It is something we are taught. Ditto for the concept of sin and forgiveness and wrongdoing and all those other emotionally driven negativities with which some of us beat ourselves up (mostly 'cause we're also taught that if we don't beat ourselves up, then somebody else will). The Church teaches that sex outside the confines of a proper marriage bed is a sin, and that you need to be ashamed of your sins! It makes no exception to the rule. So...what happens when a bigger, stronger person -- especially one with authority and knowledge on his side -- subjects a smaller, weaker, meeker person to an ordeal that the smaller person knows is sinful. He's not consenting, but he cannot refuse. He has been taught that such things are sinful, but he has no choice. And so he becomes ashamed -- shamed by his inability to prevent his being abused as well as shamed by the nature of the abuse itself.
I've known people who were severely depressed about their past as abused children who were told to "offer up their pain" and pray. That. Does. Not. Help.
Abusers depend heavily on the victim's shame to keep him silent. Shame wounds the victim further and helps the abuser get away with his crime. That needs to stop. But it won't stop until the Church's teaching on sexuality changes (and first and foremost, it must start teaching that sexual abuse is not about sex -- it is about abuse!) It has changed in the past. It needs to change again. 
 As she states, and I agree "shame" is a taught/learned response.  After that we tend to differ.

She states:"Ditto for the concept of sin and forgiveness and wrongdoing and all those other emotionally driven negativities with which some of us beat ourselves up (mostly 'cause we're also taught that if we don't beat ourselves up, then somebody else will)."  The concept of sin, forgiveness and wrongdoing are not emotionally driven negativities, but things that are written into our DNA.  In our hearts, we know that God loves us, and wants us to love Him/Her in return.  Because of that love, we learn to form our consciences to reflect that love to the best of our abilities.  But, some of us work very hard to negate that which is written in our hearts.

She goes on to say: ``The Church teaches that sex outside the confines of a proper marriage bed is a sin, and that you need to be ashamed of your sins! It makes no exception to the rule.``  Lady Janus is a little shaky on Church teaching about sex, rules, and shame.

The Church teaches that the proper place for sexual expression is in a marriage, though it does not have to be expressed in bed.   A married couple can actually do "it" wherever they choose.  The Church teaching about the expression of our sexuality is actually a teaching about love, and about Natural Law, and as such is far too broad for this article.  But, I have written elsewhere about, as have others who are far better equipped than I to describe, Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II`s Theology of the Body, which describe sexuality and marriage.

The Church does not teach us to be ashamed of our sins.  It does teach us to have sorrow for our sins, which is far different.  I agree that shame is a taught/learned emotional response, but it is the farthest from Church teaching.  My mother and a large cross section of North American mothers and fathers of the 50's-70's taught their children that certain things were shameful.  For us, it was anger.  "Good Catholic boys and girls don't get angry."  What a crock, that is.  Anger is an emotion, and it is what you do with your anger that can be the problem.  But, in defence of my mother and her consoeurs, they could only deal with what they knew, and cannot be held responsible for knowing what we now do.

People who have sexual relations outside marriage know in their hearts that it is wrong, even if society is pushing it on us.  I knew all along that what I was doing was wrong.  And yes, I felt shame for it.  That was my mother's voice, not God's.  God's voice was telling me that He loved me, and kept calling me to come to Him.  It has taken me most of the 60 years of my life to realise that God does not want me to feel shame.  He wants me to feel love, His love, and then to reflect it back to others I encounter.  One of the ways that He shows His love for me, is to forgive me for the things that I have done that I know offend Him.

So, when a child or youth, is sexually abused by an adult, that child or youth has not committed a sin.  And even though that child or youth is scarred possibly for life, and goes on to commit what could be called reasonably sins of the flesh, God knows that the heart of that person has been wounded severely by others, and holds the others to account for what they did to that person to damage them, as well as and possibly even more than the damaged one.  God is infinitely merciful to those who have led what would be thought of as sinful lives.  He wants none to perish without knowing Him.  His mercy and forgiveness spans time and space and is for all of His children.

He calls us to repentance, not shame, to His forgiveness, not a life of sorrow and dysfunction.  He alone understands an abused person, because He, Jesus, was unjustly murdered for us, and for our transgressions.  He knows what it is like to be abused, to death.

My commenter says that she has known abused people who have been invited/told to offer it up, their pain that is, and to pray.  She opines that "That. Does. Not. Help."  Depending on the circumstances and the position of faith of the abused, in fact, it might help.  But, I can see in many cases that that is a premature request to make of someone hurting, and feeling lost.  It is not quite the pathway in the desert type of teaching.  However, I think from my own knowledge of hearing such statements, that it is said with good intention, usually by someone who has no ability to empathize with the wounded one.  Before I met My Dear Wife, I had no knowledge of this awful sickness, the abusing, and the pain it had caused so many young people.  As I walked with her, I learned that platitudes were not the answer, but compassion, understanding (even when the source of the anguish is difficult to fathom - in my own case as a father of 3 girls), and mostly just listening were better answers.  Oh, and by the way, I prayed for those I met who were abused - a lot.

And finally, Lady Janus opines that the Church must change its sexuality teaching, as it has changed before, and so must again.  On the contrary, the Church's fundamental teachings on sexuality has never changed.  It has adapted to changes in the times, but the teachings remain intact.  It needs to be taught better, and its critics need as well to try and understand the teaching, before jumping on the hate the RCC bandwagon.

As she concludes, sexual abuse is not about sex, but about abuse.  Largely I am in agreement.  However, the abuse is an abuse of power.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your sensitive insights.
I have come to you via Father Gordon Macrae's blog
I hope you can reach more readers because it helps people realise that abuse is a widespread societal issue and the only antidote is pure love and obedience to God's laws.

Lady Janus said...

"The concept of sin, forgiveness and wrongdoing are not emotionally driven negativities, but things that are written into our DNA."

No they're not, Michael. They're not in my DNA, nor anyone else's that I know. They are taught. A member of a culture alien from your own, with no exposure to your culture, would have no idea what you're talking about.