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Susan* is a lovely lady. She is 55 years of age with two adult children. She is married, a grandma and actively involved in her church. If you met her  you’d never guess that she walks around in constant low-level apprehension that others will react poorly to her. She is nearly always concerned that others will be disgusted. After a year of therapy she explained why.

Over forty years ago, her mum asked her to take a meal to her mum’s cousin down the road. At his house he would commit violent sexual acts against her that are to this day almost too hard for her to talk about. She was so confused and ashamed at the time that she was unable to report what happened. She felt revolting and dirty. She tried to get out of going back to this relative, but her mother insisted she go and deliver a meal. She thought that her mum would never understand so she complied with her mother’s directions and went back again. And again.

I told her that this man was a criminal and a pedophile who deserved to be locked up for a long time in jail. Even as I said this to her you could tell that it was not nearly as therapeutic for her as being listened to. Being heard precedes being understood or defended. When I thanked her at the end of our conversation for her courage, she thanked me for listening, and for not being ashamed of her, when she was so ashamed of herself.  

Susan is like a lot of people who have been harmed; she began to describe herself in a way that had not existed in her heart until that point. She said, “I am dirty”. For many reasons, people become tagged with similar sad and damaging labels, for example, “I am defective”, “I am weak”, “I’m not a man”. When we consider the experiences that cause us to adopt such negative labels, it is understandable that we might do so. However, these negative labels are hugely damaging. The labels are either given to us by others or we give them to ourselves. Either way, they greatly impact us, affecting the way we feel about ourselves and the way we think others see us.

So what can you do if you have been harmed and you’re struggling? I encourage you to Face what has happened and share it with someone you trust. You may not need to see a therapist if you are listened to and are safe. It all depends on whether or not the incident has got to your heart.

Only when we are known for who we are can we hope to get a sense of acceptance for who we are.


* Not her real name. Demographics have been changed.

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