The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation.

Over the years, I have seen these beliefs fall into a number of predictable categories. And several of these beliefs are patently false. Here are five false beliefs that are often found with victims of abuse or assault, whether they experienced this as children or adults.

This is my fault/I am to blame

Amy was invited to go on a sleepover with her friends, so she wore a new outfit she loved. She admired how she looked in it. Her dad was supposed to drive her to the event, but he was late coming home from work. Her grandparents lived with them, and grandpa volunteered to drive Amy to her friend’s house. Along the way, he told Amy they had to make a stop. He took her by the levy road and stopped at a secluded curve. Over the next half hour, he molested her.

After the assault, he told her that she looked especially sexy in that outfit she was wearing. He let her know he couldn’t help himself when she looked like that.

Amy admitted to me in counseling that the one thing she believed coming out of that weekend is she bore the brunt of the blame because of what she wore. It was all her fault. Even when her brain told her it is ridiculous to think that any victim is at fault, she still believed it.

There is a reason for this. Victims find it impossible to reconcile how a friend or relative could hurt us. They ask the question “how could they do this?” Even though illogical, the mind gravitates to taking responsibility instead of laying the blame on the attacker.

Amy spent much of her teen and adult life living in shame. She also rarely stood up for herself in confrontations. She came to see me after a suicide attempt. Her boyfriend of two years had broken up with her and she assumed it was all her fault. Her world came crashing down. The crash, however, had started when she first accepted even the tiniest bit of responsibility for the abuse.

Something is Wrong With Me

This false belief seems like a variation of the first one, but it is much different. This belief supposes that there is something broken about us, at our core, which causes other people to do bad things.

Donald was the oldest son. His dad was an abusive alcoholic. Many times, Donald went to school with bruises and even a broken arm. He never told anyone what had happened to him, not even his mother.

When his dad started to beat on his younger brother one time, Donald stood in between and began to hit his dad. This enraged the father who beat his son unconscious. They had to take him to the Emergency Room. But even there, he told the doctors that he had been in a fight with neighborhood bullies.

From that day, Donald believed that was all he was good for–to be someone’s punching bag. Whatever he did in life, he kept being treated badly by others. As an adult, he was the scapegoat at work many times. Narcissistic bosses always picked on him.

In counseling, I asked him what he believed about himself. Here was his response: “Everyone must see this. Everyone knows there is something wrong with me. That’s why everyone treats me so badly”.

I will never be clean

Her story is like almost every girl involved in the porn industry or in stripping. She had been abused by her brother as a young girl. She remembers all the details of the many times he used her as his sex object. She played all the abuse events over and over in her mind.

She had performed as a stripper in San Francisco clubs for over two years. The club owner had insisted she get breast implants which he paid for. She did it willingly. She reasoned “I will never be clean from what my brother did to me. No matter how well I live, I am only good for one thing. Stripping was the obvious profession, and therefore implants were simply equipment for her job.

But when her boss insisted she get involved in their porn production company in order to keep her job, she came for counseling. During the first session, as she was processing her first time being abused, she admitted that was when she began to believe she would never be clean again. At age 22, she still believed it, and she lived it out every day she took off her clothes for men.

I have no control over my life

Brenda had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She washed her hands 50-100 times a day, but they never felt clean. It is commonly believed that OCD sufferers have a deep inner belief that their life is out of control. They seek to control it by repetitive activities of their own choosing.

At age 16, Brenda was date-raped. Her date, the pastor’s son, had taken her into his basement to watch television. She left dazed and confused half an hour later. He told her not to tell anyone or he would personally make her life a living hell. She never told a soul.

Her OCD started a year later.

As we processed the memory of the rape, the one belief she clung to in that moment was this: “I am not in control of my life. Other people can do whatever they want to me.” Her chosen reaction to this was to orient her life so that she planned every moment of every day. She became obsessive about her date planner and her daily duties. She never did something unless he had planned it out the day before. Eventually, most of her friends abandoned her because her day planner ruined their friendships with her.

When she got sick her second year of college, she determined never to let it happen again. She started to wash her hands after touching anything that might have germs. It didn’t help that she was a biology major and knew that almost every surface had germs.

She believed she was out of control, and she compensated by OCD. Other people may use compensating behaviors like cutting, anorexia, drug use, BDSM, lying, or abusing others. The root of it all is the idea “my life is out of control.”

No one will believe me

Janny was 10. Her uncle was one of the local sheriffs. For months, her uncle casually mentioned to her how little girls had been molested by someone and how the people who did this were not charged. One time, he told her how police officers often did this to children and no one ever believed the kids.

All of this was grooming her to accept what he did next. When he molested her the first time, he concluded by saying “no one will ever believe you if you tell them.”

She never told anyone.

At age 27, she told someone for the first time. In counseling, she revealed all he had done to her on three separate occasions. When we processed it, I asked what she believed about it all. “I could not help coming to the conclusion that if I told someone, I would be a laughing stock. No one would think a police officer would do that to a child.”

This prevented her from ever telling anyone about this abuse. It prevented her from telling people about any problem she had in life. She struggled with opioid addiction because she could not admit her problems to anyone. She came to me to counsel for the addiction, but her real problem was isolation. She assumed she was all alone with her painful memories and her lonely life.

There is a Solution to False Beliefs

I have permission to use the stories shared above. Each of these survivors came to counseling to deal with their immediate problems. They were all compensating for years of pain caused not only by the abuse but also by the false ideas they had decided to believe. Each of these ideas was embedded in the memory of the abuse and pain. This made the idea hard to dislodge, since the details of the abuse were so hard to fathom.

In therapy, we re-processed the memory with the idea that we would bring light into the dark place. As we walked through it, I would ask what was happening, what they were feeling, and what they were believing. Some of the beliefs were contextual (eg. “what they are doing is bad”, or “I am hurting”). Some of the beliefs were conclusions. Some of those conclusions were accurate. One of the survivors said he believed that his dad was an evil man. This is probably an accurate assessment.

But some of the beliefs were not accurate. Let’s take the most common one: “I must have done something to cause this.” For example, as we re-processed Amy’s memory of her grandfather’s assault, I asked her what she would say to that little girl about this belief. At first, she called the little girl a “slut” for wearing that outfit.  Then, I asked her if she would be willing to listen to what her Creator God said about the little girl.

Into her mind came a different idea. She saw that her grandfather was a man who despised everyone but himself. He hurt her. He used her for his sexual pleasure. God showed her that she had done nothing wrong. As she saw this, she stopped victim-shaming herself.

Each of the survivors mentioned in this article re-processed their memories this way. Two of them did not believe in God, but it didn’t matter. They were able to let go of the false beliefs and accept a more adult version of the events. This helped all of them to let go of their problems and start living a more healthy life.

You do not necessarily need a therapist to start doing this. Here are a few guidelines I use.

  1. If you can, have a friend with you who can monitor your progress and ask you what’s happening.
  2. If you find you get re-traumatized, then immediately stop and seek out a therapist who does some form of memory processing and/or EMDR.
  3. Go slowly so you don’t miss any of the beliefs
  4. Keep searching the memory until all of it feels settled and cared for. The only thing left may be emotions like anger, grief, and sadness. These are normal and will often dissipate once the false belief is gone.
  5. Return to the memory again some time later to see if there is any other beliefs that were subtly left over from the last time.

An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling

I won’t bother giving them fake names to protect their identities. I don’t have permission to share the details of their story and I’ve lost touch with them. But it really doesn’t matter; their story is universal these days. He worked too much and distanced himself from his wife over many years of being married. Every year, she grew more angry at him. She let that anger color her decisions and, as a result, she easily entered into another relationship. Her husband found out she was cheating on him and she freely admitted it.

I do know the details of that initial fight and I don’t really have to share them here. It wasn’t any more dramatic than the confrontations in a million other relationships. Both of them spent a sleepless night wondering if they should contact a divorce lawyer. They both cried. They spent that night in different places, both physically and emotionally. But for some very unusual reasons, their story did not turn out like millions of others.Though each of them did go for counseling at some point, they never went together for marriage counseling. And they never got a divorce. They eventually solved the problems in their marriage (for the most part) even though they both unveiled other secret sins.

By telling their story I am not saying they are better than other people. But their choices do shed light on an alternative approach to marriage counseling. Continue reading “An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling”

How Others Treat Us – What is it based on?

Emily is 26 and has just gone through a horrible separation. Her husband was physically abusive, hooked on drugs and alcohol and verbally abused her in front of their daughter almost every day. It was the same way her father treated her mother, and the same way at least three boyfriends treated her in high school. She started to see me for Memory Processing because her current boyfriend started hitting her and calling her names.

Which brings me to this question: why is it that certain people go through the same treatment in life over and over again. There is no sense that they want this is there? In order to answer that, I have to go to one of the tenets of lie-based thinking. In LBT, a person doesn’t just believe something, but that belief also colors the way they act toward others. It affects how they will interact. It affects what they will put up with and what they won’t,.

But, and here is the crux of the matter for Emily, what we believe about ourselves is often what others come to believe about us as well. If we are firmly believing that all men will hurt us or take advantage of us, or lie to us, or all women will cheat on us, or hurt us etc., that is often what continues to happen in repeating patterns.

As Emily went through Memory Processing, she noticed the beliefs about men were consistently lived out, even with men she had only known casually. It never happened with any of the women in her life. Since getting rid of the lies, she doesn’t run into men that try those things on her any more. It brings up another axiom of life: Healthy people tend to attract healthy people, and unhealthy people attract unhealthy people.

Group Theophostic

Some of you are part of my prayer team for teaching, so this story will not be entirely new. But this week I am teaching at the Youth With a Mission Base in Lakeside Montana. My topic is “Hearing God’s Voice” and how that relates to prayer and Christian Living. One of the events of the week is a time when I do an evening teaching. It is often preceded by worship. In the past, this has often been a time where God shows up and brings a manifestation of His Presence on the students and the staff. At least, that has been the case most years I speak here.

Wednesday night was awesome. God’s Presence was a tangible reality and it seemed like His love and joy were becoming more intense every minute. Several students were feeling overwhelmed with God and crying, laughing, shaking and repenting all merged together. At one point, a young girl got up and stood on her chair. She said that the Lord had been expressing his love to her, but her heart didn’t believe it. Now, you need to remember that I wasn’t teaching on Theophostic or lie-based thinking at all. She declared in front of the entire class that she wasn’t coming down until her heart believed what her head did. I knew if I didn’t jump in, she was going to be up there for a long time.

However, before I could go over and help her with reaching to the point of her lie, she invited anyone else who felt the same way (lies that were getting in the way of the Truth) to bring their chair over and make a stand. Four other girls did the same thing. That made me turn around and go back to where I had been kneeling. After all, you can’t do TPM with five people at the same time, right?

I apparently don’t know the power of God or the effectiveness of what I believe. The Lord pushed me over to the group and had me do a 10-second explanation of what we were going to do. I asked them to focus on how the lie felt inside. Several of them became very emotional. I asked them all if they wanted to go to the source of the pain and the lie. They all agreed. We waited on the Lord as He showed them each memories where the pain emanated from. I then asked them if they felt this belief was true. They all did. Then I invited the Lord to come into each memory and speak to them. As I said this, it seemed like chaos began to reign. One girl fell off the chair. Another began to rejoice and the other three were crying uncontrollably. One by one, I asked them what the Lord showed them. It was completely the Voice of God for every one of them. By the end of the time, all of them had been set free from lies and reported peace in the memories. They all said they felt that their head and heart were in agreement.

All of this took about 20 minutes. God is so effective. It makes me believe that I probably don’t believe that God can do anything. But I am becoming a believer more every day.