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The Mission of this group is to heal and stop the bleeding, looking at the scars from the secrets that we hid, the hurt, shame, and pain. It is not easy to pay attention to ourselves and what has happened to us.
There are distractions, powerful ones. There are lots of reasons to look away. And there will be people who will reinforce our fears that the slightest effort at self-focus is dangerous. Memorizing that biblical text: “Pay close attention to you.” Timothy 4:16.
In the end, the sustained effort it takes to “pay close attention” to ourselves and the abuse we have experienced is a lot less exhausting than the relentless and ultimately doomed quest to avoid what can’t be avoided.
There are a lot of reasons why paying-close-attention is difficult. But the bottom line is that a sustained focus on abuse comes with an emotional price. Here are some reasons why it is so difficult.
“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social impact are too terrible to utter aloud: their unspeakable.”
Pride, hurts, pain and shame, keep us from our healing. Excuses are a natural defense to avoid the pain or trauma we experience, but we must pull out the tooth in order to remove the pain or it just gets worse.
To speak of abuse has implications at several levels. At a personal level it has to do with breaking up family ‘don’t talk’ rules, so, anticipate that you may experience some anxiety about speaking or about paying attention as you work on this material. Anticipate some internal resistance to a sustained focus on these issues.
Expect distractibility - plan for it.
Unnecessary suffering is confusing and disorganizing. Most training in pastoral care focuses on helping people who struggle with various kinds of ‘necessary’ or ‘unavoidable’ suffering (e.g. the death of a loved one by natural causes, tragedy, natural disasters, an unfavorable medical diagnosis). As a result the emphasis tends to be on grief-work. Grief in these circumstances can be painful and difficult but is usually relatively uncomplicated. But what if the suffering is unnecessary? What if it didn’t have to happen? What if the event is not a disaster but an atrocity? How do you do pastoral care when someone chose to do this? How do you care for both the person harmed and the person who did the harm? Well…it’s a lot more complicated. And it can be profoundly disorganizing and confusing. Things that seem like helpful things to say in situations involving ‘necessary’ suffering often empty of meaning or inadequate when the situation involves ‘unnecessary’ suffering. So, anticipate some confusion and disorganization when working on these issues. It probably can’t be avoided.
Evil is terrifying. It is very difficult not to speak about evil when dealing with abuse. So…expect some fear. Plan accordingly. How are you planning to deal with the experience of fear related to the content of this course? If you have no answer to this question, it is your first assignment. If your support system needs to be reinforced, do whatever you need to do to make that happen.
Abuse is controversial. There is disagreement about almost everything we will cover here. People fight over this stuff all the time. The resulting sense of uncertainty, ambiguities, lack of clarity can be frustrating - or it can feel unsafe.
Abuse is personal. There is nothing abstract about abuse. It is close to home. Up front. Personal. You must view from an ‘objective’ position, to view things from a dispassionate distance. Depending on where you are in your own personal journey, this valuing of “dispassionate” and “objective” experience can be quite triggering. It might seem like the intense emotions you sometimes experience are being ignored. You will probably know that this is not the case…but knowing may not make much difference. Anticipate this dynamic…how will you take care of yourself and be kind to yourself if it feels like something important in your experience is being ignored?
Abuse is systematic. Abuse is systematic in several senses. First, it is systematic in the sense that the consequences of abuse impact lots of people. It is not just one person who has been harmed. Everyone in a family is impacted. Sometimes the impact can go on for generations. And sometimes you can look backwards and see that a family system has been working its way toward this abuse for many generations. Secondly, abuse is systematic in the sense that sometimes it can be so common that it is unrecognizable. It can be like water to fish. The fish doesn’t notice the water. The water is just “the way things are”. Many people in abusive relationships can’t imagine how things could be different. And thirdly, abuse is systematic in the sense that it requires a systematic response. This is particularly true in a pastoral context. In ministry situations it is common to need to respond to both the abused and to the abuser - and sometimes to children, parents, friends, and the congregation as a whole, government agencies, etc. Navigating complex situations of this kind in a way that is helpful to all concerned, is not easy.
Remember that this is a class - not a therapy group, not an intensive, not a counseling session. It is primarily an exercise in education. It may be a rather more personally dangerous educational exercise than some of the other classes you will take in seminary but this is still fundamentally ‘education’.
An important goal is to find some personal boundaries that you can live with during this class. If you protect yourself personally from the content of this class - if you try to ‘hold your breath’ for 10 weeks - you may miss an important opportunity for growth. On the other hand, if you do not protect yourself personally from the content of this class, you may get so entangled with your own subjective experience that you will miss out on an important opportunity for growth. Only you can decide what kind of personal boundaries will be most helpful to you during this class. Pay attention to this. Talk about it with people you trust.
Journal after each class session. This is not a requirement, just a suggestion. In most classes you don’t need to pay quite this much attention to your subjective experience of the course content. But this material is rather ‘closer to home’ than most. So take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Use your resources. Keep talking. Ask for help. Tell the truth. Be kind to yourself. We invite you to click below to request more information today, about our Overcoming Through Christ Recovery Program!