Healing Scars of the PastMarch 4, 2016
Wounds leave scars. Nicole Braddock Bromley talks about her ongoing healing from sexual abuse, which included forgiving her abuser.
Wounds leave scars. Nicole Braddock Bromley talks about her ongoing healing from sexual abuse, which included forgiving her abuser.
Healing Scars of the Past
Bob: The scars that childhood sexual abuse can leave on the soul of a young man or a young woman can affect all kinds of relationships into the future. Here is Nicole Bromley.
Nicole: I believed two lies about men growing up—one, that no man can be trusted; and two, that all that a man wants is sex. I lived out of those lies—that’s the way that I treated men / that’s the way I engaged in relationship with men. That is one of the effects that would stay with me for a number of years.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Nicole Bromley joins us again today to talk about the road to recovery from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know, I was in a car wreck—this was more than a decade ago. As a result of that, I had a fracture in my wrist, and they had to put what they call an external fixator on my arm. Do you remember—
Dennis: I remember that.
Bob: —seeing that? It was kind of stuck out.
Dennis: You kind of looked like an antenna there for a while. [Laughter]
Bob: It did have kind of a Frankenstein quality to it; but you can see here, on my hand, there is still just a little bit of a scar from where that fixator was attached.
Bob: And those kinds of things stay with you as a reminder—
Bob: —those physical scars from events in the past. Our souls get scarred as well. In fact, we’ve been talking this week about one of the deep soul scars that can happen to somebody. Even when God heals, there can still be scars that remain.
Dennis: I think of my friend, Dr. Dan Allender—what he says about sexual abuse.
He says that sexual abuse is the hardest stone the devil of hell can throw at a human being—just the visual picture of someone evil throwing a stone and hitting them. It is going to make a scar—there is no doubt about that.
Joining us again on FamilyLife Today is Nicole Bromley. She has written a book called Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse. Nicole speaks around the country on behalf of OneVOICE, which she founded. Welcome back to the broadcast, Nicole. We sure appreciated your honesty this week.
Nicole: Thanks for having me, guys.
Dennis: Bob mentioned scars. You write in your book how people, who have been abused, have difficulty forming relationships. Is it because of the scars of the past, Nicole?
Nicole: Yes; definitely.
I second what Dan Allender says. In my own words, I have said it is like a lightning bolt. Sexual abuse is like a lightning bolt that strikes a child at their very core. I think it is true that the effects of sexual abuse will last for a lifetime; and though there is healing that comes and there is freedom that comes, it is still something that stays with you. It will affect relationships. It will affect different things along the whole course of your life.
Healing is a lifelong journey—had I not believed that, and then got married, and entered into intimacy, and then later had a child—I would have really been rocked by these kinds of things. But recognizing that there are always new phases of life, where we can receive healing, is really important. Relationships are a huge factor in all of that.
Dennis: Before you met your husband, had you had any serious dating relationships with a guy that you thought you wanted to marry?
Nicole: I definitely had quite a few dating relationships.
I don’t know that I was ever with anyone that I was very serious about marrying. I think there was always something in the back of my mind that told me that it was not the right one. Maybe, in my way of relating, I wanted to turn them into that. I was the kind of girl that always tried to change men and create them into this perfect, safe, little trustworthy package; but that didn’t really work. [Laughter] God kind of hit me over the head with that one day.
Bob: Do you think that your ability to relate to guys—to members of the opposite sex—what was the impact of your childhood sexual abuse on just your ability to have opposite-sex relationships?
Nicole: I think one of the biggest things that I’ve dealt with and struggled with in relationships with the opposite sex was trust, but that’s an overall issue that I have struggled with as a result of abuse anyways. But trusting men—for so long, I believed two lies about men—
—one, that no man can be trusted; and two, that all a man wants is sex. I lived out of those lies—you know, that is the way I treated men / that is the way I engaged in relationships with men.
Dennis: In all fairness, though, Nicole—that is how you have been related to by the number-one man in your life, your stepfather—
Dennis: —from the age of five to the age of fourteen.
Bob: So, you can understand where you come across thinking that is true about guys; right?
Nicole: Exactly; yes. So, that is one of the effects that would stay with me for a number of years. Honestly, it is something probably I’ll still have to deal with from time to time; but I am grateful that the Lord has brought amazing men in my life that have modeled integrity for me. My mom remarried an amazing man. My stepdad, now, has really modeled for me what it looks like to be a godly man—a man of integrity, a man who can be trusted, a man who is not selfish / just looking for something to please himself— and also, what a head of a household looks like.
Also, growing up—in college, there were men in my life who proved to me what that godly Christian man looked like, where I’d never really thought that was possible. But
all these kinds of men I have encountered throughout my life have helped me to be able to dispel these lies that I had carried for so long and open myself—my heart / my mind—up to being with someone like my husband Matt, who is a prime example of what a godly man of integrity looks like. For me, to be able to trust him took a lot of healing / took a lot of work in dispelling lies and replacing those lies with the truth.
Bob: So, what did that look like in your relationship with Matt? For example, as you guys were dating—and you were finding yourself, reflexively, going, “I can’t trust him—he’s a man,”—how did that play out? How did he win you over?
Nicole: I think that a lot of it had been worked out before I met him. Like I said, I had been in and out of other relationships, where I was constantly trying to turn this man into something that he wasn’t.
I was trying to do that for me—any changes were for me.
I came to a point where I realized: “I do not want someone who is just changing these little things about himself for me because let us say we get married, and we hit a rocky spot, and he does not care about making these changes for me—he is just going to go right back to who he is at his core for himself and for the Lord.” I came to that realization. It was me—surrendering my life and my relationships to God and asking God, “Bring me a man who, the day I meet him, is who he wants to be for You—not for anybody else—because that is what is going to stick.”
So, when I finally met Matt, I saw that in his life. I saw the way he interacted with people. I saw how he respected women. I saw how he was seeking after God and God’s work in his life and God’s will and plan.
It just all stuck out to me as things that I wanted in all these other guys, but I was trying to force that on them.
Bob: It sounds like you’re saying that the fact that Matt had a heart for God that was bigger even than his interest in you—
Nicole: Exactly. I heard a quote one time—I am not sure who said it—but it was that “A man should get so lost in God that that’s where he is finding your heart,”—the woman’s heart. He should be seeking after God’s heart because that is what is most important. That’s what would stick.
Dennis: Nicole, one of the mistakes, I think, young people are making, as singles, is they are sharing things with one another that are really inappropriate before there has been a commitment in their relationship that—
Dennis: Well, it is a transparency that is not appropriate to the commitment of the relationship.
Bob: Too emotionally intimate?
Dennis: Yes; indiscriminately so. I think what happens with single people, who do that, is—they get attached emotionally before there has been any kind of verbal definition given to the relationship.
With you and Matt, when did you have the conversation with him, where you began to unpack what had happened to you, as a little girl?
Nicole: Well, I speak on a lot of college campuses. They call this DTR—“Determining the Relationship,” where you actually sit down and talk about where you are at. Matt and I had a DTR a couple of months into our relationship. Now, the unique thing about Matt and me—we were set up—and we were setup a couple of years after I had graduated from college. I had already been in ministry. I had a website that said, “Nicole, sexual abuse survivor / speaker.”
Nicole: So, he already had a little bit of a background on where I had come from; but at the same time, it was still very important for me to open up and share with him personally. And you know—you’re right. These kinds of things really will bond you to another person when you share intimate details of your past—
—your hardships / all those kinds of things. This can even happen in same-sex relationships. You can get enmeshed with people to a point where it becomes very unhealthy. I think it is important to really set boundaries in that, but that is probably for another show with another speaker. [Laughter]
Dennis: But he defined the relationship and let you know that he was committed to you—
Dennis: —and had some interest in pursuing a relationship with you, long haul.
Nicole: Exactly. Once you know that this is a relationship that, like you said—it is for the long haul / this person is committed to you and you trust them. This is a very intimate, very serious, very important part of you that should not just be broadcast to everybody. This is saved for people that you really care about, and you believe care about you, and to not take that lightly—and I did not. I never did—if I told my secret to anyone—before I became a public speaker about this—it was because I really trusted you. I think that those people should understand that—that if you hear someone else’s story / their secret like that—I mean, treasure that trust.
That means a lot to a survivor.
So, for me—yes; I always tell people it is important to talk about this before marriage. It is so important. Do not wait until after you are engaged and all of that. It needs to be dealt with in the context of a very trusting relationship that is going somewhere.
Dennis: So, do you remember the time you told him—
Nicole: I do.
Dennis: —what happened?
Nicole: Actually, now, that you bring up—it is funny—it was also in the car. And really, the purpose of it was I wanted to tell him about this. Sometimes, for people, it is easy to talk about things while you are driving in a car because you do not have to look them in the eye. That was sort of my reason for doing it that way. You just have their complete attention.
I told him: “I know that you know my background. I know that you know this is my ministry. I talk about this all the time, but you are very important to me. We have a future we are talking about here. I want you to know more about this—and not just that it happened to me—
—“but how it affects me.” I sort of unpacked a little bit—not details of what happened to me / not actual incidents—but explaining how it affects me today.
And what they need to do is come to understand—and this is what Matt has had to learn—that sometimes I might fly off the handle at something that makes no difference to him / doesn’t makes any sense; but to me, it made me go back into that childhood. What he has had to learn is come to me—and that takes a lot out of him / to not take something personal—but it is not personal. I think that—that, right there—is the foundation of our marriage. It has really helped us through a lot of things. He is the best husband I could ever ask for.
Bob: Let me ask you about the damage that is done to the whole issue of your sexuality with this kind of sexual abuse that you experienced. Now, you are a wife / you are a mom, but there are still triggers that affect things.
What is the impact of the brokenness that occurred in your childhood on your adult and marital sexuality?
Nicole: I believe that sexual abuse drums into your mind the belief that sex is bad. If sex is bad and you have sexual feelings—which we do because we were created as sexual beings—it makes sense in our minds, as victims, that we must be bad. If we have sexual feelings, and we are required to be intimate, then, we must be horrible people.
I think that that is something that is a really big struggle for a lot of people, who have gone through sexual abuse, because coming to the understanding that sex is a gift—it is good / God created it for our enjoyment—does not make any sense because all of our lives it was a horrible thing meant to control us / meant to hurt us. So, I think, this is an area that takes a lot of work and takes a third party.
I think that marriage counseling is really important here to really rework the experience of sexuality and to be able to view it the way God intended it. It takes a lot of time, and it takes someone else helping you work through it. I really encourage people to seek out a good counselor who can help guide them in that area.
Bob: Have there been specific things you’ve had to reprogram yourself on?
Nicole: I think so. I think, for me, it has been looking at sex the way it was intended. I have had to understand that what happened to me was not sex—it is not the way God intended it—so I have not even labeled it as that anymore.
I have also had to come to the understanding—this was one of the most freeing things that I came to understand in my personal healing journey—was that, for so long, I felt responsible for my abuse. I felt like it was my fault. I felt like I had asked for it. I felt like I had wanted it, even though I had read and heard a million times from other people that that is not the case.
But there was one final piece for me that I held on to for so long because I was so afraid to speak about it / to say it out loud; but I will say it here today because of how freeing it was for me and how freeing it can be for you—and that is, for—all growing up, I thought I must be the most horrible, disgusting person on this whole planet if what my stepfather did to me ever felt good. There was a day that came when I understood how God made our bodies, and He made them to respond to touch. This was a gift He has given us. It just wasn’t supposed to happen in the context that it had happened with me as a child.
That understanding released me from feeling the shame and the guilt of my body responding to my stepfather’s touch and understanding that my body did not betray me—my stepdad did.
I think that understanding that also helped me to rework sexuality into my own life and seeing the way it was meant to be—not the way it was pressed upon me.
Dennis: Nicole, I want to take you back to kind of the big story / the overall story of what you shared here and take you to the toughest question of all, I think: “Were you able to forgive your stepdad? And if so, how in the world did that happen?”
Nicole: Forgiveness is such a difficult topic for sexual abuse survivors. So I am always very careful with that word and acknowledge that there is a lot of hurt and pain that comes into people’s lives with the issue of forgiveness because so many times, people in the church will say: “Well, you just need to forgive and move on. That’s the first step.” It is not the first step—in my opinion, it comes down the road.
You have to be angry at your abuser. You have to place blame where it belonged before you are ever able to forgive what he did. If I had forgiven my stepfather before I had let myself feel free of the fault / the shame, it would not have made sense. So it comes later for me, and I think for everyone else.
Bob: I want folks to really hear what you just said because I think what you are saying is—until you really capture the depth of the sin, you cannot experience the depth of the forgiveness. You can’t embrace forgiveness at its fullest level until you have really understood and entered into the reality of the depth of the sin / the transgression against you. You’re not saying you have got to go through some therapeutic cycle related to getting to forgiveness, but you cannot forgive what you have not fully understood is wrong.
Dennis: Well—or if you did like some Christians do—which is they make light of the sin, and kind of brush by it, and want to move and rush toward forgiveness—what Nicole is saying is: “Stop and ponder how you have been betrayed,—
Dennis: —“how you have been hurt, how you have been wounded so that, when you do utter the words of forgiveness, it has context and meaning”; right?
Nicole: Exactly; right. We cannot rush forgiveness. We do not expect someone with a broken leg to run a marathon. A survivor, who has yet to get in touch with that pain, still has a broken leg. So we cannot make him run that marathon yet. Forgiveness comes later. Like you said, you have to acknowledge the enormity of what you are forgiving before you can truly release it.
For me, I had to come that understanding. I had to walk through that part of my healing and place blame where it belonged—to say: “What he did was wrong.
“This is how his sin has affected me, but I am to a place where I am ready to forgive him because I want to move on in my life.”
I saw how this situation in my childhood was affecting my choices / it was affecting my relationships. It was almost like I was dragging my stepfather around with me everywhere I went—like attached to some kind of a cord. Forgiveness, for me, was cutting that cord. It was like the scissors that cut off the pain of the past. It really released me from feeling the need for revenge or feeling the need to hang onto this for the rest of my life.
Christ has forgiven me for the things I have done / I know that He would forgive you. I am not above God—I must forgive as He does. I cannot explain forgiveness as anything else other than a complete spiritual gift—a transformation that happens. It is an amazing thing. The peace that came / the joy that came that replaced the humiliation / the betrayal—
—all of those feelings were amazing. It did not end that day. Forgiveness is something I have to come back to. Jesus said we are to forgive seventy times seven times. So, this is something that—if healing is a lifelong process, forgiveness is too.
Dennis: I like what you said there about: “You’re not above God. If God forgives, certainly, we must as well.” Ephesians 4—the last verse of the chapter says, “Forgiving one another in Christ just as God has forgiven us.” You have modeled that here—to give up the right of punishment of another person.
Nicole, I just want to thank you for the work that you are doing on behalf of victims of sexual abuse—for sharing your secret publicly so that others can get out of the darkness as well—and for writing this book, Breathe, because I think it is going to be more than just a breath of fresh air to a lot of men and women.
I think it is going to help, perhaps, family members better understand what has taken place, and maybe, a family member they are attempting to love and attempting to support in the midst of sharing their secret. Thanks for being on the broadcast. I am grateful to God for your ministry.
Nicole: Thank you.
Bob: Well, I am thinking about the people who may be the ones who are confided in—the people who are going to hear from someone else, who decides to come clean. They are going to hear about a past history of childhood sexual abuse. Your books can be a resource for those folks to say, “Here, I can help,”—because in your book, Hush, you tell the story of what happened in your life and in your family / in the book, Breathe, you talk about how you find wholeness in relationships after the kind of abuse you experienced.
We have got copies of both of these books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy. Again, that is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329, and we will let you know how you can have a copy of either or both of Nicole’s books sent to you.
Now, today is the 4th of March. You know what that means—at least, you know what that means if you are Ian and Karen Groh, who live in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. They are celebrating four years of marriage today. “Congratulations!” to the Grohs on their fourth anniversary.
We are celebrating 40 years, this year, as a ministry. What we’re really trying to focus on is all of the anniversaries that have happened because of the ministry of FamilyLife. The Grohs have been to two Weekend to Remember ® marriage getaways already. I think that’s probably why they live in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, because they’ve been to two Weekend to Remember getaways.
I don’t know when your anniversary comes up this year; but whenever it is, we’d love to help you celebrate it and make it one of your best anniversaries ever. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and give us your anniversary date. About a month before your anniversary arrives, we’ll send you some emails or text messages that will give you some—just some ideas on things you can do to make the celebration extra special this year.
We’re all about anniversaries, here at FamilyLife—the proud sponsor of a whole lot of anniversaries over the years. And we want to thank those of you who help make this program possible. We’re grateful for the partnership of listeners who provide the financial support for FamilyLife Today. We’re listener-supported and couldn’t do what we do without your participation in this ministry. So, “Thank you,” to those of you who support us—especially those of you who are Legacy Partners and give each month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today—we appreciate you.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday. We just got back, a couple of weeks ago, from the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise. We want to share with you some of the great messages that we heard onboard the cruise—not only was it a lot of fun—but it was great time of growth. We would love for you to hear some of what we shared onboard. That happens beginning Monday. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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