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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.

What Happens to Children When They are Abandoned?

Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection a child deserves equates to abandonment. Being abandoned tells a child, “You are not important—you are not of value.” Abandoned children then develop a deep sense of toxic shame. They grow up to believe that the world is unsafe, people cannot be trusted, and they do not deserve love and care. Abandoned children often believe that they cannot live up to their parents’ expectations (which are often unrealistic), that they are held responsible for other people’s behavior, and that the parent’s disapproval is of the child’s personhood rather than their actions. Common beliefs include:

  • It’s not okay to make a mistake.
  • It’s not okay to show your feelings.
  • It’s not okay to have needs—everyone else’s needs are more important.
  • It’s not okay to have successes—accomplishments are not acknowledged or are discounted.[i]

My wife was abandoned by both her father (whom she only met briefly twice) and by her mother, who quit parenting her at ten years old (she subsequently left home at age thirteen). Hence she had great abandonment issues when we got married. She didn’t trust that I wouldn’t abandon her, and she jealously guarded her heart. Being abandoned again was her greatest fear. She even had a tendency to try to push me to the point where I would leave (probably an unconscious attempt to test my level of commitment). It has taken the better part of three decades of modeling commitment on my part for her to start trusting that I will not abandon her. My level of commitment has at best healed and at worst scarred over the jagged wound of abandonment in her heart.

Our ministry works with hundreds of boys and girls (and adults) who have been abandoned by their fathers. To a person, they struggle with issues like self-esteem, self-confidence, risk-taking, trying new things, fear of failure, and developing intimate relationships.

These problems manifest themselves in several ways. Like girls, who so ache for a father’s love, they willingly accede to the sexual advances of the predatory (and equally fatherless) boys who eagerly take their love before tossing them aside like used tissues. One of the effects of being fatherless is boys trying to feel like a man or cross the threshold of manhood through sexual conquest of girls. The effects of fatherlessness on girls is just as damaging, resulting in the longing and desperate search for affection through sexual encounters with boys. What a damaging collision of the effect of fatherlessness.

One woman said this about her childhood: “I think the biggest wound is abandonment from a father. Mine left when I was fourteen. This was especially devastating because our home was really a ‘happy one.’ We all got along, and there were no signs of problems. But then, midlife crisis hit my father. And he was gone. Everything fell apart.”

For this woman, abandonment has plagued her entire life: “Abandonment has been the greatest issue for me. Divorce and abuse plagued my life. Believing I am worthy and capable of a peaceful life has been a challenge. My core unhealthy belief I came to believe from my brokenness . . . I will never measure up to others expectations, therefore I’m not worthy of love.”

We even see children adopted into loving homes who still struggle with abandonment issues well into adulthood. Kids who are abandoned develop attachment disorders and fear close relationships. Sometimes even with God. If an earthly father (or mother) does not love you enough to stay, how devastating would it be for a heavenly Father to abandon you as well?

[i]Claudia Black, “Understanding the Pain of Abandonment,” Psychology Today, June 4, 2010,


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