Pressing Into the Conversation
About the Guest
Does evil play a role in sexual abuse? Dan Allender, author of the best-selling book, "The Wounded Heart," reminds believers that there is a thief who is out to kill, steal, and destroy, and he's still alive and well. Dan tells parents the symptoms of sexual abuse in children, and what a husband can do if he suspects his wife has been abused.
Dan AllenderDr. Dan B. Allender has pioneered a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy over the past 30 years. Central to Dr. Allender’s approach are the categories of Faith, Hope and Love and their converse betrayal, ambivalence, and powerlessness. Through engaging these categories and in learning to identify them in one’s personal story, healing and transformation can occur by bridging the story of the gospel and the stories of trauma and abuse that mark so many. Having rec...more
Dan Allender reminds believers that there is a thief who is out to kill, steal, and destroy, and he’s still alive and well. Dan tells parents the symptoms of sexual abuse in children.
Pressing Into the Conversation
Bob: How does someone find healing and hope if their childhood experience included sexual abuse? Dr. Dan Allender says, “The process includes forgiving the one who abused you, but it doesn’t end there.”
Dan: So often, people will say, “Well, I forgave the abuser,” or “I forgave myself and asked for forgiveness for what I think to be immorality,”—fantastic, of course! But just forgiving does not change your brain. The reality of that narrative still exists within you that needs the redemptive work of Jesus engaging.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How does someone find healing and hope when sexual abuse has been a part of their past? We’re going to talk about that subject today.
Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. This is one of those days when you kind of have mixed feelings because it’s great to have a good friend joining you and it’s hard to talk about what we’re going to be talking about.
Dennis: It is. And just for any parent right now, who is within earshot of children, you might want to think a second time about whether or not they listen to this broadcast. We’re talking to Dr. Dan Allender about sexual abuse in the culture today. Dan—welcome back to the broadcast.
Dan: A delight to be with you both.
Dennis: Dan has written a new book called Healing the Wounded Heart. He wrote a best-selling book back about—what?—25 years ago—
Dan: It was—yes.
Dennis: —25 years ago called The Wounded Heart.
And Dan is a teacher; he is a counselor; he’s a speaker; he’s a fly-fisherman.
Bob: He’s a provocateur.
Dennis: He is that!
Bob: I mean, we could come up with all kinds of—
Dennis: He is that!
Bob: —descriptions for Dan.
Dan: A grandfather. Come on!—that’s the best, as well as being a father—
Dan: —and a husband.
Dennis: Well, Dan just to kind of cut to the chase on this discussion here—and this is a hard question, but I know you feel strongly about this: “What is the role of evil around this subject of sexual abuse?” You believe—we were walking into the studio, and you were starting to unpack it. I said: “Stop! I want our listeners to hear this.” But you believe there are forces of evil behind this massive culture of sexual abuse today.
Dan: Well, John 10:10 talks about the thief who is stealing, and killing or murdering, and destroying. And if you just take those three words and to go: “Well, let’s talk about sexual abuse,”—
—it begins with a kind of grooming. That grooming binds you before the abuse ever occurs into the heart and the being of the other. And in that connection, evil’s working to steal innocence to bring us to that point of: “I will never trust again.” Well, isn’t that evil’s design?—to destroy faith?
When you destroy the capacity to trust, your heart will be ever, ever in that war of: “I can’t rest with you. I can’t let down with you,” and so, it’s looking to destroy. I think, actually, a better word is the word, mar. It wants to mar your face / it wants to mar your sense of identity so that you are always bound to a sense: “There is something ugly and violating within me.” So, it’s out to destroy faith, hope, and love primarily through that means of creating trauma.
Trauma is the doorway evil uses to capture the human heart.
Dennis: I have heard you say this—and this is a pretty strong statement—you say that sexual abuse is the hardest stone the devil of hell throws at a human being.
Dan: Oh, emotional abuse—terrible / physical abuse—terrible—but nothing that quite gets to the heart of us like sexuality. So, evil is working on almost all occasions for emotional/physical trauma; but almost always, in the human heart, a violation of our sexuality is a violation of our core identity.
Bob: We talked earlier about how you define sexual abuse. It’s anything that you are led into that is outside of God’s design for sex—the marriage relationship. That can be anything from direct physical touch, which is how we generally classify abuse, to—I remember you saying one time—
—when an ad pops up in the middle of the Super Bowl, you’ve just been sexually abused by that ad / by what it’s presenting.
When we broaden the definition, obviously, we are kind of all victims of sexual abuse. When you narrow it down to people who have been touched / people who have been violated with direct physical touch, what percentage of the population is experiencing that?
Dan: Well, the research that has been done would say—for example, about 38 percent of women have been sexually abused in a way in which it is against the law. When you broaden it to categories, where there is no touch, like an uncle walking in on you while you’re showering—not a mistake / a clear ogling of your young body—well, it jumps to 52 percent of women. The research for men has never been as clear and concrete. It is a strange thing. Men don’t want to address abuse in a way that women have often been culturally, over the last 30 years, much more willing to do so.
So, we’re living, if you will, in this drenched darkness of harm that, if we don’t name, we’re not going to address what needs to occur for hope.
Bob: And we’re not naming it—as a culture, we’re not. All of the things you’ve described—we call it the hookup culture / we call it the Playboy culture—we’ve got all kinds of names for it. We’re not calling it the sexual abuse culture that we live in. As a result, we’re kind of living like it’s the new normal.
Dan: Well, and that—I will never minimize sexual immorality. But we also have to bring up that it’s traumatic. It has an effect on your body, your brain, your heart, your soul, your relationships. So, whether you walked out in front of a car or you were hit accidentally, the bottom line is you’ve got broken bones we’ve got to deal with / that need change.
Dennis: I want to talk about the symptoms that are found in a child of having been sexually abused—perhaps, molested. I also want to talk about the symptoms, in a marriage of an adult, who is in a marriage relationship where sexuality is a part of two becoming one.
But I want to go back to the children first because we have a lot of listeners, who get babysitter’s for their kids. They go out on a date / they hire someone to come in the home and stay so they can go to a Weekend to Remember®. They are terrified, Dan: “How can you check this out?” You can’t, but are there symptoms that parents can know whether something has taken place or is taking place, if not with a babysitter, perhaps, with an extended family member?
Dan: Exactly. Well, first and foremost, where you find your child changing almost suddenly—to a point where you’d go:
“That’s not my child. My child is usually effusive,” or “…angry,” or “…engaging; and now, they are not the way they seem to be.” Major, quick changes should be your first point of notice to go, “Whoa!” So, you’ve got a normally angry child; and they’re now withdrawn. You’ve got a child who is pretty active and pleasant, and they end up becoming much angrier than they were. Major, quick changes ought to alert you there has been some trauma. Now, I’m not going to say it is sexual abuse, but let’s just say there’s been a major change.
Second thing is where you see that child far more interested in sexuality than they were before. So, major changes—but the third is—and this is the hardest to say—your child will hint. Your child will literally drop hints of: “I don’t want to be with that babysitter,” “Ah! They’re great. They’re fantastic!”
They may not ever say directly, “I was sexually abused by this lovely old aunt that you think is a great human being,” but there will be ways that you need to start paying attention to the reality that your child may be trying to tell you. So many parents will say, “Well, I never knew because they never told.” Well, because you weren’t listening for that possibility.
Now, the last thing I want to do is create paranoia. You can’t keep your children from being sexually abused in our culture. I’m not saying, “Well, it’s no big deal.”
Dan: But if you live with paranoia, you will create even more harm or, at least, equal to your child being abused.
Bob: But if you are going to Thanksgiving and the child says, “Is Uncle Fred going to be at Thanksgiving?” and you go, “Yes, everybody is coming,”—even if he doesn’t say anything after that, the fact that he asked about Uncle Fred should cause you to go: “What? Do you like Uncle Fred?”—
Dan: But Bob, I just want to underline: “Don’t ask directly if there has been sexual abuse.” Why?—because your child feels ashamed. You’re not going to be able to pass through the sentry of their shame until you get a larger conversation.
Bob: We’re talking with Dan Allender about a new book that he’s written called Healing the Wounded Heart, which is a follow-up to a book he wrote a quarter of a century ago called The Wounded Heart that deals with this subject of sexual abuse.
It’s hard to be a parent today, Dennis, with this being the reality of our culture—hard to know how to navigate this.
Dennis: And I’m glad, Dan, you said what you did about: “Don’t make a bigger deal out of this. Don’t create paranoia with your child.” That can also almost be a form of abuse in and of itself.
Dan: Exactly! When you are constantly asking: “Now, did he touch you? What went on between the two of you?” you are creating almost a sexualized atmosphere by your concern.
Oftentimes, the parent who is paranoid is often the one who has not addressed their own sexual past and the harm that’s there. You’re working so deeply to make sure your child doesn’t suffer—
Dan: —the way you did.
Dan: But on the other hand, what I want to say is—if you were to see the redemption God has for you in engaging your past harm—it’s not that you would be lax with regard to your child—but you wouldn’t be living with such fear.
Bob: We’re going to talk later this week with Justin Holcomb about some things parents can do proactively in this regard—how you can help equip your children to be their own protectors—because kids can be equipped early to know how to have power in situations where they might otherwise feel powerless; right?
Dan: Oh my goodness; yes! I mean, our children have to be trained to address a wide variety of harm.
We need the ability to have these conversations with far more comfortability and wisdom than we often have had in the past.
Dennis: Justin wrote a book called God Made All of Me, and it’s a children’s book. I think it’s brilliant because it allows parents to engage in a conversation about how to protect your body.
Bob: And we’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about that book; and of course, we’ve got Dan’s book, Healing the Wounded Heart, in the Resource Center as well. So, if our listeners are looking for good resources on this subject, we’ve got it at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: Dan, let’s talk about a spouse who—obviously, in a married relationship—who is listening to us and going, “I wonder if I was abused back then.” What are the symptoms? What would you say to a husband in terms of, maybe, spotting something taking place in his wife’s life or her responsiveness or unresponsiveness to him in a marriage relationship around sexual abuse?
Dan: Well, I think the first category is a lack of presence—a lack of being able to be full of joy, and delight, and honor with regard to our sexuality, as a couple, and the inability to talk about sex, the inability to enjoy physically being together in a way in which we love being able to pleasure each other. So, one of the first key signs is evil wants to take away sexual joy; but far more than that—just wants to take away delight and honor from a couple. Where there is shame; there will not be delight and honor. I don’t mean so much shame between the two of you, but where there is shame in your past.
Again, so often, people will say, “Well, I forgave the abuser,” or “I forgave myself and asked for forgiveness for what I think to be immorality,”—fantastic, of course!
But you need to engage—just asking for forgiveness or just forgiving does not change your brain.
Dennis: And so, what would you say to the husband who is in a relationship with his wife where he’s noticed this? I think the question would be: “Can he counsel his wife? Can he guide her in terms of discussing this?” or “Do you need a third party in that relationship to begin to unpack the bags?”
Dan: Oh boy! Let’s just begin by saying the last thing I want husbands to do is to go: “Hey, you don’t seem to have a whole lot of joy in our sex life. You’ve been sexually abused.” That would be grievous.
But what we can begin to do is to ask, “Did the two of you have profitable and honoring discussions of sexuality when you feel hurt, or confused, or not present? Is this something you can do together like planning your summer vacation?”
If the answer is: “Are you kidding?! No, there is too much tension, hurt, anger,”—already, what I would say is: “This is a war zone.” Now, let’s make sure we don’t create a DMZ. Because when you create a DMZ—a demilitarized zone, where nobody can walk there—I promise you—someone is walking there, and it’s the kingdom of darkness. Evil will be walking there, sowing seeds of dissention, discontent, and ultimately, resentment. We know what happens with resentment—it gives ground for evil to be able to divide the two of you. So, so many couples end up—five, twenty, thirty years in—dividing into divorce because they’ve not had the courage to deal with what’s broken about [their] sexuality.
Now, again, I’m not going to claim every couple has someone in it who has been sexually abused; but when you get down to those really deep realms of heartache, shame, brokenness, and contempt, I want a good guide.
You know, if I am going into a dangerous place, I want somebody who has been there before.
Dennis: And what I hear you saying is—is that love creates safety. It’s the opposite of a demilitarized zone. It’s a safe place where you can have a civil conversation in seeking to understand one another. A good question to ask your spouse might be: “Do you feel safe with me in having these discussions?”
Dan: Oh my goodness! And “What have I done through the years that have made it not safe that I can literally come back to and go, ‘I ask your forgiveness,’?”
Bob: Okay. So, I’m imagining somebody listening right now and thinking, “I’m going to go home tonight and I’m going to say: ‘I was listening to FamilyLife Today. They had this guy on talking about sexual abuse. I’m just wondering if, maybe, we could talk a little bit about our sexual pasts and stuff even before we were married and what might have gone on in our lives.’”
And the other spouse goes: “No. No. No! I’m not—why do we need to talk about it?”
I’m just imagining this collision happening. The guy going, “I’m never listening to FamilyLife Today again and taking their advice!” [Laughter] What do you do if you’re that husband and you go, “If I even bring this up, my wife is going to say, ‘I’m not interested in this,’ and leave the room”?
Dan: Well, I think, first of all, before you jump in, why not gain a sense of what’s true about your own life. Open your heart to pray / open your heart to ask Jesus to begin to engage your own sexual history and where there has been harm.
So, rather than just jump in, step back—ponder. I’d love for people to buy the book and begin to read, and then, go: “Look, I’m starting to deal with things in my own life. And whether you want to deal with yours or not, I want you to join me in thinking through, praying through, fighting against the kingdom of darkness.”
When you begin to have this be a realm in which “I’m committed to engaging my heart for the sake of the kingdom of God,” that’s a much more alluring opportunity than simply coming back, going: “Hey, you’ve been abused. Let’s deal with this so we can have better sex.”
Bob: And a husband will say, “I’m willing to be vulnerable—and be vulnerable around my own past,”—he’s opening the door and inviting his wife. As they do that / as she sees he is willing to do this, she may get to a point where she’s ready to open that up too.
Dan: Well, it’s the: “Will you die first? Will you go through the door first?” If you’re working for the other to do so, it’s not a means of honor.
Dennis: What you’re talking about—in the life of a husband, who is inviting this—is a tough word—it’s called humility. And if you want to invite your wife into some tough areas— where you may have had arguments or discussions or ended up, as you just described, bunkering up / having a war zone in between you—
—you’ve got to do something in your own heart that softens it, and your wife can see it so you can engage in that conversation. That means you’re going to be teachable. That means you’ve got to be willing to admit how you have brought harm, or hurt, or wounded your wife. I think that is hard for a lot of guys—we don’t want to admit that.
Dan: Well, in some ways, I don’t think there is anything more courageous than being humble. You’re the first boot into the battle, and you’re the last boot to depart. That’s what it means to lead your wife in this arena. Enter into—you don’t have to go back and share every story of how you’ve encountered pornography or where it was in your life five years ago.
It’s the beginning of trying to say: “Evil has been trying to capture my heart through my sexuality since I was almost a baby.
“Now, how do I begin to expose the schemes of the devil in a way in which all my sexual trauma is, indeed, being used by the kingdom of darkness?”—but it’s also the realm in which God is inviting you to a whole new level of intimacy with Him, not only in the sense of what it means to be forgiven, but to know the tears of God / to know the anger of God on your behalf—all moving your heart to a sense of new freedom.
Bob: Just having a copy of Healing the Wounded Heart on the bedside table is—somebody is going to notice and say: “What’s that book you’re reading?” and “What’s that about?”
Dennis: And could I just add one other word where I think humility really shows up? Offer to pray for your wife—to name her in a prayer, and ask God to merge your hearts together as a couple, and to help you, as a husband, understand her to guide her and to gently know how to create safety.
I do—I think a book like this, Bob—and here is what I’d suggest: “Get the book and begin reading it, and underlining it, and then invite your spouse to reading and underlining it as well. Then, you can start talking about your underlined portions to have conversations about.”
Bob: And there is a workbook that goes along with this as well, too; right? So, a couple could get both the book and the workbook. I think you’re right, Dennis—to go through it together in that kind of, “I go first and you kind of follow along the journey I’m on.” I think the point you’re making is—that for a couple to go through this together—there’s real power in that.
And of course, we’ve got both the book and the workbook in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can order from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. The title of the book and the workbook, Healing the Wounded Heart:
The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation. Both the book and the workbook are written by our guest today, Dr. Dan Allender. Again, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, here on the last day of May, we want to let regular FamilyLife Today listeners know that this is the last opportunity you’ll have to help us take full advantage of a matching-gift opportunity that has been made available to us, here at FamilyLife, this month. Some friends of the ministry—who came to us and said, “We know summertime can be a challenging time for FamilyLife Today. We also know that this is your 40th anniversary year, and we’d love to think that you can make it through the summer with a solid, financial foundation underneath the ministry.” They have agreed that, during this month, they would match every donation we receive, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $350,000.
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Now, before we wrap things up today, we want to say, “Congratulations!” to Mike and Kathi Erosa. You know we’ve been talking about anniversaries all year. Well, Mike and Kathi are not celebrating an anniversary today—they’ll be doing that a year from now because today is their wedding day.
“Congratulations!” to Mike and Kathi as they get married in Pine Grove, California. In fact, they went to the Weekend to Remember® back in February. They listen to FamilyLife Today on KYCC. We just want to say, “God bless you guys, and may your marriage be everything that God wants it to be.”
And by the way, you guys [Mike and Kathi] can have the day off tomorrow—you don’t have to tune in to listen to FamilyLife Today. The rest of you—hope to see you back tomorrow.
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. See you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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