How to Break the Cycle of Abuse

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Abuse can scar you forever with painful memories. Here's how God broke the cycle of abuse in Alice's life. (iStockPhoto | camilotorres)

Can we ever really be free from painful memories? Yes, God can heal you completely.

The small, south Texas town where I grew up has Spanish moss drooping from the trees, winding narrow streets and stifling humidity to which in time I became accustomed. The lazy days of summer brought us a good game of baseball, fishing at the lake or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Children filled the placid streets with bikes and roller skates. It was a simpler time, and our town—population 5,000—was a simpler place.

The closeness we shared as friends and family gave us a sense of security. Most everyone knew one another, so there was little need to lock our doors at night or fear walking the streets alone. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1956, I encountered a reason for insecurity: sexual abuse...mine. I was 6 years old.

The abuse ended after several months, but the gates of my soul were flung open to life-altering trauma and pain. I had become a victim, and at age 12, I experienced victimization once again. This time it was a stalker, who made obscene phone calls to our home when he knew I was alone.

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At 17, I was nearly raped by a young man with whom I was working in ministry, and at 18, a trusted male friend, who's romantic overtures I'd rebuffed, appeared at my home in the middle of the night, screaming nonsensical words and throwing stones at my bedroom window.

It would be years before I would recognize the pattern of this cycle in my life and know how to stop it. Once the door of victimization and trauma is open in your life, it remains open until you slam it shut.

Today, almighty God has rescued me from the web of victimization. I've shut that door for good, and you can too.

When abuse of any kind occurs, memories form. Over time our minds often either diminish or exaggerate our recollections because our ability to remember is imperfect. This is one reason why investigators interview witnesses right at the scene of the crime or as soon as possible.

As we meditate on our memories—whether accurate or inaccurate—our emotions engage and we can easily build a house of lies about the situation or about ourselves. Here is a sampling of some of those lies:  

  • We assume new identities—as "victims"—and allow our experiences to define us, determining who we are.
  • We judge and demean ourselves because we have mentally embraced the idea that we're "worthless damaged goods." We lose self-respect, which affects the way we dress, the friends we make and the things we do.
  • We fall victim to false guilt. Absorbed in denial, agony, or escape, we sometimes assume we deserve the abuse we received, otherwise it wouldn't have happened.
  • We blame God for what happened. It's easy to forget that we live in a fallen world where men and women choose to be ungodly. We assume God controls people, but humans are not puppets—we have moral freedom for which we, not God, are responsible.
  • We believe God abandoned us in our trauma. Therefore, He can't be trusted. I'm surprised by the number of people I encounter at the altar asking for prayer, yet admitting they can't trust God because of past hurts. God didn't abandon you—He grieved right there with you.
  • We conclude that everyone is out to get us.

As we meditate on memories, whether accurate or inaccurate, our meditation establishes a mind-set. As attitudes are formed, mental strongholds are built. Unseen signals are sent, like when young boys secretly tape signs to each other's backs that say, "Kick me!"

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