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Consoling Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma

Consoling Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma

THEY were an outgoing young couple, highly respected in the congregation. But his tone was urgent when he asked if the elder would call on them, and she had tears in her eyes. She was suffering from episodes of severe depression and self-hatred, even thoughts of suicide. She had been sexually abused as a youngster. Thankful that Jehovah’s organization has provided direction on how to help the victims of such crimes, the elder studied the Society’s letters to elders as well as the October 8, 1991, Awake! articles and the October 1, 1983, Watchtower article that dealt with this subject. Here are a few useful points derived from these sources.

  1. Listen, listen, listen. When a child skins his knee, his first impulse is to run to Mommy or Daddy for comfort. But an abused child may never even have had that option. So as an adult, he still has that same need—to tell, to talk it out, to be comforted by a sympathetic listener. (Compare Job 10:1; 32:20.) When the elder visited the couple mentioned above, the husband was surprised by how little the elder spoke and how much he listened. The husband, a very practical, helpful man, found that he had been trying to fix the problem by answering emotion with logic, trying to correct feelings that seemed irrational to him. He learned that his wife needed empathy more than answers. (Compare Romans 12:15.) She needed to hear that she had valid reasons for feeling the way she did.

  2. Expose the lies. Abuse teaches children that they are dirty, unlovable, worthless. Like false religious doctrines, these ideas can make a healthy relationship with Jehovah very difficult. So expose the lies, and replace them with the truth—gently, repeatedly, patiently. Reason from the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5) For example: “I understand that you feel dirty. But how does Jehovah feel about you? If he allowed his Son to die and provide a ransom for you, doesn’t that mean he loves you? [John 3:16] In His eyes, did the abuse make you dirty, or did it make the abuser dirty? Remember, Jesus said: ‘There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man.’ [Mark 7:15] Did the abuse really issue forth out of you, a little child? Or did the abuser purpose it in his own mind?”

  3. Speak consolingly. Each individual is unique, so Paul’s counsel to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” applies differently in each case. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Simplistic talk, however, rarely seems to console. For instance, merely telling an abuse survivor to read the Bible more, preach more, or ‘just throw your burden on Jehovah’—helpful though these suggestions are at times—may not produce results. (Psalm 55:22; compare Galatians 6:2.) Many are already doing these things as best they can and berate themselves mercilessly for not doing better.—Compare 1 John 3:19, 20.

    Similarly, telling abuse survivors simply to forget the past may do more harm than good. If they could do so, likely they would have—and would not have needed help to arrive at such a simple solution. * Remember, theirs is a severe emotional trauma. For comparison’s sake, just imagine coming upon a car crash victim lying moaning amid the wreckage. Would you just tell him not to think about the pain? Clearly, more is needed.

    If you are not sure that what you are saying is consoling and helpful, why not ask the depressed one? After all, even counsel that is true and Scriptural needs to be timely and appropriate as well.—Compare Proverbs 25:11.

    After a few visits, the sister began to see some improvement in her outlook, and her husband was better able to help her through the hard times. Both have since been able to speak consolingly to others who have been through similar traumas. How faith-strengthening to see Jehovah, “the God of all comfort,” working through his Word and his people to “bind up the brokenhearted” in these troubled times.2 Corinthians 1:3; Isaiah 61:1.

^ par. 6 True, the apostle Paul did counsel Christians to ‘forget the things behind.’ But Paul was here referring to his former prestige and worldly success, which were now “a lot of refuse” to him. He was not referring to his past tribulations, of which he spoke freely.Philippians 3:4-6, 8, 13; compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.