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Incest & Sexual Abuse–the Oldest Taboos

One of the oldest taboos in the civilized world may be that of incest. The Bible addresses this issue in 2 Samuel 13 with the story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon was King David’s firstborn son. Tamar was his younger sister for whom he lusted. Amnon devised a plan to fake illness in order get the virgin Tamar to come to his residence to cook for him. He then lured her to his bedroom and raped her. Once finished, his lust turned to hatred. (This may be common in instances of incest, as it absolves the attacker of blame and places it on the victim. It also probably involves some transference of self-hatred as well.) He cast her out and shamed her. The passage says she “remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s home” (NKJV). Interestingly, it says that when David found out what Amnon had done, he was angry, but it doesn’t say that he took any action to provide justice for Tamar. That would have compounded the feelings of betrayal, injustice, and humiliation she must have felt. Several years later, Absalom murdered Amnon for his transgressions.

Approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children know their abuser. Incest is the cruelest betrayal of trust between a child and parent and understandably has emotionally devastating consequences. When an older sibling or relative is involved, it’s just a damaging. Sexually violating children is probably the worst evil most people will ever experience. When people who are supposed to protect you end up violating you, it is thoroughly destructive. Statistically one in three girls and one in six boys will suffer unwanted sexual experiences before the age of eighteen. That number is probably higher, as it is estimated that a high number of people never tell anyone they have been molested. Regardless, those conservative estimates alone translate into about 60 million people in our country having been victims of sexual abuse. Literally, everywhere you go, you will be in contact with someone who has suffered this fate. Look around you. In a room full of women, at least a third of them have been sexually abused as a child. This has to stop. If this is your legacy, you can stop it in your lineage by following some of the steps detailed throughout this book.

It’s estimated that up to 90 percent of all incest victims never tell anyone. Why? Because they are afraid of breaking up the family. Susan Forward and Craig Buck say, “Incest may be frightening, but the thought of being responsible for the destruction of the family is even worse.”

And the damage is even worse if the victim experiences any pleasure from these acts as their shame is magnified. Our bodies are designed to be sexual beings. In addition, it is biologically programmed to respond (often as a form of physical protection) to sexual acts even in cases of non-consent and assault. This causes many victims to feel responsible for the event. Understand, as a child you were always the victim, whether you derived pleasure or not. The adult is always the one to blame in those circumstances.

Additionally, people do not tell anyone because incest abusers are very adept at psychological manipulation and fear-mongering. They use threats and manipulation to keep their victims quiet.

Threats Used by Incest Abusers

Tell and I’ll kill you.

Tell and I’ll kill your parents/siblings/grandparents.

Tell and no one will believe you.

Tell and your mommy will be mad at (or hate) you.

Tell and people will think you are crazy.

Tell and I’ll go to jail and there won’t be anyone to support the family.

Survivors of incest often report feeling worthless, bad, dirty, and damaged. Depression is a common result of incest. Women especially may allow themselves to become overweight as adults. This serves two purposes: (a) she imagines it will keep men away from her, and (b) the body mass creates the illusion of power and strength. Like many victims of abuse, incest survivors frequently self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol.[i]

Men who have been sexually abused have a special set of challenges to deal with, as it strikes at the heart of their masculinity. Men are not supposed to be assaulted, vulnerable, dominated, raped, or controlled. They may feel emasculated or that they are destined to be a homosexual.

Men generally find themselves uncomfortable dealing with and expressing emotions. In part, it’s how they’re brought up. Any form of sexual abuse creates intense emotions. Here are some common emotions men feel in these situations:

  • Dehumanized—They feel like they have no value and constantly compare themselves to other men.
  • Shame—They transfer false shame and guilt to themselves.
  • Ambivalent—They can understand the emotion of anger, but not love. During the abuse they were feeling horrified and scared but also aroused. Their mind was saying, “This is not right,” but their body is designed to respond when stimulated.
  • Impotent—A word no man even wants to think about. They believe they have no voice—that no one will listen to them.
  • Disrespected—They don’t feel other men will respect them. That they will make fun of them. That they never measure up. Often they will become very promiscuous in an attempt to prove their masculinity (to themselves and the world).

Understand that incest affects its victims in very subtle and damaging ways. This is another type of abuse that may require very intense counseling in order to heal from. Don’t wait! The longer you put it off, the more difficult it becomes.

[i]Susan Forward, with Craig Buck, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life (New York,: Bantam Books, 1989

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.

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Inside the Abusive Family

Our family constitutes our entire reality as a child. It teaches us who we are and how we are supposed to interact with the world. Good families give us the skills and encouragement to interact successfully with the world and other people. They teach us to lead a successful life. Toxic families teach us survival skills that may or may not translate into leading a successful life. Because of this, many abused people make self-defeating choices like believing they can’t trust anybody, that they aren’t worthy of being loved, or that they will never amount to anything. They are programmed to conform to the dysfunctional behaviors of the family. People from abusive families are taught that to be different is bad—they must conform and obey the rules of the family at all costs. To be different is to be a traitor—and being a traitor or turning on the family is high treason in abusive families.

Many families take on role-playing to perpetuate the family system. For instance, if Dad’s role was to drink, Mom’s role was to be codependent, and the children’s roles were then to be the parents in the home. Children from dysfunctional homes often take on specific roles in the family.

Here are some common roles (my three siblings and I fit into these roles pretty clearly):[i]

The Rebel gets into trouble and is known as the “bad boy” or “bad girl.” Their behavior often warrants attention, distracting everyone from the real issues at home. They are also known as the “scapegoat.” They are ashamed of their family life and often the first to get into “recovery.”

The Mascot/Clown uses comedy to ease tension and calm explosive situations. The humor helps a family in pain but is a temporary balm. This child is kind and goodhearted but never seems to grow up.

The Good Girl (or Boy) or Golden Child is dutiful and respectable. They get good grades, don’t make waves, and are often a confidante of a parent. They are fixers of the family but never get their needs met. They can be rigid, judgmental, and controlling. They are very self-sufficient and usually very successful in life but lack emotional intimacy.

The Lost Child becomes invisible. They stay out of the house by escaping into activities, friendships, or sports. They escape from reality but are generally very sad and angry, which they deny and avoid.

How Toxic Parents Cope

Toxic parents react to threats to their balance by acting out their fears and frustrations, with little thought for the consequences to their children. Here are some common coping mechanisms:

  • Denial—Denial that anything is wrong or that it will never happen again. Relabeling is also denial—an alcoholic becomes a “social drinker.”
  • Projection—Abusive parents frequently accuse their children of the very inadequacies they suffer from.
  • Sabotage—In dysfunctional homes, other family members assume the roles of rescuers and caretakers. If any family member begins to change or get healthy, it threatens the balance of the home, and the other members may unconsciously sabotage their chances of success so that things get back to normal.
  • Triangling—One toxic parent may enlist a child as a confidant or ally against the other parent. The child is pressured to choose sides and becomes an emotional dumping ground for their parent’s discomfort.
  • Keeping Secrets—This turns families into private clubs. Children who hide abuse by saying she “fell down the stairs” are protecting the club from outside interference.[ii]

Parents are godlike in their positions in the home. They provide sustenance and shelter, make rules, and dole out pain, whether it’s justified or not. Without parents, children instinctively know they would be unprotected, unfed, and unhoused. They would be in a constant state of terror, unable to survive alone.[iii]

Abusive homes tend to have common characteristics, including the appearance of normalcy, emotional isolation, secrecy, neediness, stress, and lack of respect.

All children have certain rights. They have the right to have basic needs met, such as being fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. They also have the right to be nurtured emotionally, the right to make mistakes, and the right to be disciplined without being physically or emotionally abused. Unfortunately, these rights are seldom honored in abusive homes.

However, most people (especially abused ones who crave parental nurturing) still have a need to deify their parents—no matter how bad they were. Many victimized people still believe their parent’s behavior was justified: “I guess I probably deserved it” or “Sure I was beaten, but I turned out okay.” Abusive parents have a propensity to deny that any abuse happened or they justify it. Just because inadequate parents “didn’t mean it,” doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt and cause harm. Intentionality is not a prerequisite of abuse. We hear people excuse these parents by saying things like, “they didn’t mean to do any harm” or “they did the best they could.” Too often inadequate parents expect their children to somehow take care of them and meet their needs—tasks children are not capable of fulfilling. I truly didn’t believe that many of the behaviors my parents exhibited were abusive until enough counselors and friends pointed it out or asked if I would ever treat my children that way.

Since many of us either deny we were abused or justify our parent’s behavior, we will look at some specific types of abuse in upcoming posts. It’s hard to break a behavior (and heal a wound) if we are not aware of it or refuse to acknowledge it.

[i]Lisa A. Miles, “Early Wounding & Dysfunctional Family Roles,” World of Psychology, PsycheCentral, August 8, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/08/10/early-wounding-dysfunctional-family-roles/.

[ii] Forward with Buck, Toxic Parents, 169–70.

[iii]Ibid., 15.

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.  To find out more or to get a signed copy, click here.

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Mars, Venus, and Pillow Talk

Several years ago I was asked to speak at a large men’s conference. Besides speaking from the main stage I was scheduled to give two breakout sessions. One of the breakout sessions was on the topic of my book, Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half. Upon arriving at the venue I discovered from the participant guide that the event producers had advertised this workshop as “How to get more sex in your marriage.” Needless to say, about 580 out of the 600 men in attendance showed up at the workshop. The twenty who didn’t come were the teenage boys who were forced (somewhat reluctantly) to attend the workshop on sexual purity.
Rather than discussing just the act of sex, though, I talked mostly about a woman’s needs and how best to fulfill them. I told them that understanding a woman’s need for romance would be a key factor in having an enjoyable sex life – that women are physically stimulated through romance because it meets their need to feel cherished and loved. To be romanced is to feel special and valuable. To be romanced is to be pursued. Nearly all women derive some self-esteem or sense of worth from knowing a man wants and desires her. It makes her feel loved and attractive. When her need for non-sexual affection is met she is more able to respond with physical affection.
I explained that many women are unable to separate sex from the context of their daily lives and relationships. It seemed strange to some of them that if they’d recently been arguing with their spouse or the kids were sick, they weren’t likely find their wives in the mood for sex. While men use sex to heal the problems of life, women are just the opposite. In fact many women report that if the house is messy or the dishes dirty, they are unable to relax and concentrate on having sexual relations.
I let the men know their wives need to hear them speak words such as “I love you” and “You’re beautiful” daily. When a woman hears confirmation that her man loves her and finds her beautiful, she is more likely to be sexually responsive. She needs to hear these things frequently. Most women are insecure about their appearance. They mentally magnify any imperfections or flaws they perceive in their physical appearance. I use the word perceive because what a woman perceives and what others see can be two different things. It’s a great mystery that even the world’s most beautiful women can think they are ugly or can have features they are insecure about. These negative whispers in her ear are strategies by the evil one to strike her where it hurts most and she is most vulnerable.
As I discussed the need to actually “talk” to their wives, I could see an almost pained expression come over the faces of the men. I reassured them by letting them know that sometimes it was equally important to just listen to a woman without trying to solve her problems.
Frankly, the men were pretty stoic during the presentation. I hadn’t presented this workshop before so I didn’t know what to expect. But surprisingly, many came to me afterwards, some with tears in their eyes, and expressed genuine thanks for the epiphanies they had received regarding their wives’ needs. I have since received a half-dozen emails from men at the conference commenting on how much, according to their wives, the information I shared has already improved their marriages.
I believe the average guy is sincerely confused about his wife’s needs and how to fulfill them. Women are pretty complex creatures to most men. Every man I know wants to make his wife happy, and most guys would be willing to do whatever it takes – provided they knew what to do. Rather than advice from a Lothario’s perspective (which is what most secular books in our culture promote), we need to teach men (young and old) practical, common sense advice on how to fulfill their wives’ deepest needs – to create harmony, joy, and contentment in the lives of their spouses.

And if they happen to get a more fulfilling sex life because of it – well, so be it!

To find out more about Rick’s books or speaking schedule go to:  www.betterdads.net 

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Can Marriage Today Still Last a Lifetime?

Marriage today seems less binding than a cell phone contract. The average first marriage in this country lasts seven years. The average second marriage lasts five. As if the challenges of a first marriage weren’t tough enough, anyone who has been in a blended family will tell you about the myriad of additional trials this scenario presents; two sets of kids, two separate histories, two completely different life philosophies, parenting styles, and sets of baggage. And when two sets of careers and monies are mixed in along with the obligatory pre-nuptial agreements, it’s almost like admitting that the marriage is doomed to fail anyway.

Because of the legacy they’ve observed from their parent’s generation, most young people today are fairly pessimistic about the chances of a marriage lasting a life time. When you talk to them about marriage you can see that they yearn for the kind of intimacy possible only through a long lasting relationship, but they have little hope of having one themselves. Couples may spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on the actual wedding day, but no energy, resources, or forethought whatsoever toward the marriage that follows.

Many people quickly discover that being married and staying in love are just plain hard work—too hard. Combine that intense struggle with our society’s instant gratification mantra, the court’s “no fault” divorce laws, and a cultural legacy of relative truth, and you have a recipe for divorce. Our Western culture does not like to suffer and so we shy away from anything that is uncomfortable or difficult. When marriage is tough, many people just think its broken and go look for another mate who won’t be so much work. Unfortunately, the problem is generally with us and so follows us from relationship to relationship.

Ideally, a Christian marriage begins with both parties committed to loving God and each other. But later, after the “buzz” of love begins to fizzle, communication tails off, and spouses can start taking each other for granted; losing empathy, respect, and love for one another. Life is tough and instead of working as a team they begin fighting with each other in an attempt to get their individual needs met. We scream at and accuse our mates and then expect them to want to satisfy our needs. Each spouse soon loses the desire to meet the others’ needs and each loses sight of the fact that love is an action not an emotion. That is why the very action of meeting the other’s needs (acting loving) can lead to feeling the emotion of love. Without that action it is natural to slide into a state of need and self-indulgent gratification.

Marriage can still last a lifetime. My wife and I recently celebrated our 30th anniversary together. We could have gotten very good odds against our marriage succeeding—no one thought we would last. One of the things we’ve found has helped our marriage immensely is every evening we try to sit down and pray together before reading a portion of a book. Generally I read out loud to her while she knits or does some other repetitive task. Other times she reads aloud while I am fixing something that doesn’t require much concentration. This activity has allowed us to grow together and it helps us spend quality time together each day. It also creates great intimacy between us and prompts us to have quality discussions about important topics that we might never have talked about. However, this takes a significant amount of effort and commitment on the part of both spouses. It is very easy to take a day off and then never get back into it again. But I have noticed that when we as a couple are consistently praying and reading together, our relationship and marriage are at peak performance.

Your marriage relationship is a living, dynamic entity. It needs continuous nurturing, refining, changing, and fine tuning. Those that take it for granted and do not work at it are doomed to fail.

Gleaned from Rick’s book, Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half, by Revell Publishing, 2010. To find out more about our resources please go to www.betterdads.net.

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How to Love a Woman

Fathers are instrumental in modeling to their sons how a man is supposed to love a woman. This is not something that comes naturally to most males. Merely watch the difference in how a young man who grew up with no healthy male role models treats his wife (or more often live-in lover) versus one who grew up with a father that loved his mother. To give oneself sacrificially for the sake of another is not a natural male trait. In fact, the opposite might even generally be true. I know women look hard to find and hang on to admirable traits in all their men, especially their sons, but to be loving, kind, gentle, and compassionate in non-feminized males is unusual.

Loving a woman is a modeled behavior for a male. Learning to lead his family in a healthy manner is another modeled behavior that boys seldom learn from any other source as well. The respect that a father gives a boy’s mother is the level of respect that he will think all women deserve. Appreciating the value that a woman brings to a relationship and the family is another gift that a father gives to his son. Learning to cherish and love a woman in the ways that she needs and not the ways that he feels more comfortable with is a lesson that boys cannot get from any other venue than from watching his father every day. Recognizing her more tender heart and the devastation that his words can have on a woman are taught to a boy by his father. And perhaps the greatest lesson he passes along is the ability to admit he is wrong, apologize, and ask for forgiveness.

Without the modeled behavior from a father boys are left to try and navigate through life and all of the difficult circumstances that he will be faced with. Boys without fathers are at a big disadvantage in every area of life, especially relationships. He’ll never learn how to love and treat a woman without your guidance. Remember, he’s watching you every moment of the day to see how a man thinks, acts, and faces life’s problems.